16 Dec Queenstown and Milford SoundWe pick up a young woman, hitch-hiking from Wellington to Stewart Island. We take her to Queenstown, by way of the Crown Range Road. A plaque at the top tells us that this is the highest sealed road in New Zealand. No indication on our free Jason’s road map! 1076 metres above sea level, so well over 3 000 feet. Only sealed in 2000. Some road, some views! The lookout part way down is even better.
We rolled into Queenstown with plenty of time for a coffee and muffin, before phoning to check whether we can fly and cruise.
Tip for travellers: if you need to phone an 0800 number in a foreign country, kidnap a native and ask if you can use their phone.
The weather is deteriorating in the west, and there’ll not be time to cruise the sound, but a flight with a brief stop is still possible. We go for it, since we don’t have a day to spare. We leave our hitch-hiker by the road, and wish her luck.
We check in, and almost get a plane to ourselves, but two people cancel, and all nine of us go in one machine.
The views on the way over are staggering. I now declare officially that mountaineers are quite crazy. Vertical precipices, razor sharp ridges, multiply in all directions. Mordor on acid?
How is the pilot going to land the plane without clipping the rocks?
Of course, he does and we have half an hour to wander around.
But the Sound is very quiet. The only road in is closed, there’s been a rock fall, and danger of more with the rain. No cruises are running, and there is only one other plane. The cafe’s shut, but one set of toilets are open! We have time for a very short stroll, a few pics, and it’s time to go back. This time I grab the chance of the seat at the front, though it turns out the view’s not that much better. Spectacular in all directions. We climb to about 9 000 feet, before following one of the glacial valleys back to Lake Wakapitu and Frankton airport.
We still haven’t eaten our picnic lunch! Back to the town.
I still gape when I see Christmas trees in midsummer.
Lifesize statue of a moa.
We toy with the idea of a ride on the cable car, but by the time we’ve had our lunch on a bench near the lake, then a coffee, and listened to live music in the cafe, time is getting short, and we head back to Lake Hawea.
We take the low road via Cromwell this time.
On the way back we stop briefly to look at Roaring Meg, a stream named after either a fiery barmaid, or another woman who made a lot of noise when she was carried across the stream after a dance. In any event all the fuss,and noise of the stream has proved very useful in generating hydro-electricity in the Kawarau valley.
By the time we reached Cromwell, it appeared to have closed for the night, apart from a bar or two. It is obviously a centre of fruit growing.
19 Dec Christchurch
We arrange to leave the luggage at the Aarburg motel, and catch the bus into the city. A relaxed wander round the Re:start mall, a coffee and choc brownie, a few more souvenirs bought. There’s a huge Christmas tree, in the middle of trees in full leaf, and backed by a clear blue sky. We revel in today’s sun and warmth – why go back to a northern winter? Everyone here is in vests and shorts.
Christchurch Christmas tree
enjoying the sun in the Re:start Mall
We catch another bus and get back to the motel in loads of time, to find no one there. But she’s left a note that she’ll be back at 2pm. And she is, and gives us a lift to the airport.
A short hop to Auckland, with great views of Mount Taranaki on the way, before the big flight all the way across the Pacific, the Equator and the International Date Line. Triple whammy.
I watch Diary of a Wimpy Kid, though I don’t think my plot summary or critique would do it justice. Then I sleep a bit, wake a bit, and watch three episodes of The Big Bang Theory. The eleven and a half hour flight isn’t too bad. Time to touch down in San Fran six hours before we set off from Auckland.
We catch the Airporter out to Manzanita Park and Ride and then a taxi into Mill Valley. Luggage is deposited and we go to hang out in the Depot cafe. Sunny, but only warm if you’re in the sun wearing a coat.