Much to my delight, we got to spend more time in and around Queenstown following our trip to Milford Sound. We booked airfare from Queenstown back to Auckland for Wednesday… driving all the way back to Auckland from anywhere on the South Island would not have left us enough time to get as far as Milford Sound, so we opted to leave the rental car in Queenstown and fly back instead.
We were unsure what to do with ourselves on Tuesday afternoon when we returned to Queenstown; none of us were really up for canyon swinging, whitewater rafting or bungee jumping, so we were looking for more benign activities to pass the afternoon. We considered the skyline gondola… but Mom doesn’t like heights so she wasn’t too excited about that idea. On a whim we decided to take the afternoon cruise on the old steamboat on Lake Wakatipu–the TSS Earnslaw. The cruise was a trip out to the Walters Peak farm site, a tour of the farm and a ride back to Queenstown. Although very touristy, it was a relaxing way to spend the not-so-sunny afternoon.
The boat itself was fascinating. Constructed in 1912, it has been well taken-care-of and looks to be in very good condition. Modified and updated, of course, but still featuring the coal-fired steam engine (burning one TON of coal an hour). Mom was excited because she got to chat up the coal shovelers on their break and even got a sooty photo with them (they were quite charming). Also onboard was a baby grand piano/pianist who played songs for singalong on the way out. Though souvenir singalong tapes were available for purchase… we did not buy one. We cruised across the lake at about 12 knots… not too bad for an old gal.
The farm at Walters Peak was a pristine tour site featuring venison, many varieties of sheep, Scottish Highland Cattle, working dogs, a sassy cat and two very unimpressed alpacas. The site is supposedly still a working farm, though my guess is that they make more money off of tours and gift sales than they do off of farming. Our guide told us that they run 5-6 tours per day of the farm site, which includes interactions with the animals (feeding pellets to the deer and sheep, and bottle feeding a lamb), an afternoon Tea, a working Border Collie demonstration and a sheep shearing demonstration. Our guide was pretty good at his job and covered a lot of ground in the short time that we were onshore with him. The buildings on-site were modest but very charming. The grounds were immaculately kept with an impressive flower garden, including some absolutely wonderful orange poppies that I died over. Tea was held in a dining/banquet facility, which is used daily for the popular [fine dining] dinner reservation packages off of the Earnslaw.
On the way back I enjoyed the breeze on the deck while people watching. My favorites were one of the little girls of a South African family we met–she had the most incredibly awesome short blonde frizzled hair; a group of three exuberant Asian girls who were fanatically taking photos of each other, the boat, the scenery, and of their stuffed animals that they had with them; and a very pensive young solo and not unattractive male traveler with an expensive camera taking many abstract and artistic photos of the boat, the rope, the black smoke billowing out of the stack.
That night, we took the advice of our staff at the Bella Vista Motel to go for pizza at Winnie’s Gourmet Pizza Bar (“best pizza in Queenstown”). Overall, an excellent choice. It is a very well done, if not slightly too-dark upstairs venue with an open air bar integrated with the dining area. As a result it had a very open feeling of movement in the space despite the limited seating area and the minimal lighting. We had beers, Beer Fries (steak fries… the best fries I had in New Zealand), and the Tri Factor and Luigi’s Pizzas. They were decent enough pizzas and we left full and happy. Also at Winnie’s? The pensive soloist.
The next morning we had hoped to hit the gondola, but were foiled by several layers of low-hanging clouds over the city. So we started the morning with $10 English Breakfast at the Red Rock (2 fried eggs, hashbrowns, toast, roasted tomatoes and either beans or bacon). Great value and good food, but the place is a bar after all, and I had to sit outside to keep from having my breakfast smell like a sticky bar counter and stale cigarette smoke. I was impressed, however, that there were people inside smoking and having beers before we got there at 9:00. After breakfast, I finished up my shopping and tried a latte at The Bean [Around the World]. A solid, solo operation with a woman who is clearly very passionate about coffee… simple, attractive decor with local art on the walls, corrugated metal as detail on the ceiling and a single espresso bar/barista making coffees for the handful of patrons. Impressive: the option of soy or organic milk. A pretty decent latte, but for some reason not as eye-popping as the one I’d had at Vudu two days prior. I believe this was the only place in New Zealand I saw that had house-roasted beans available for sale. Also shopping the streets of Queenstown this morning? The pensive soloist.
Now we’re headed back to the US after 25 days in New Zealand. I’ve got a new host family in Princeton for November-December which includes two Dobermans and a ferret (!!)… can’t wait to meet them. I had a very good trip, but am actually looking forward to getting back to the US. I think part of it has to do with having taken a full 10 days off of training and the itch to get back in to a bit of a routine.
But first things first: I do battle with the most fearsome bane of all air travelers: an ear infection. It was murder landing this afternoon in Auckland… and I get to do it three more times in the next 2 days (L.A., Chicago and finally Philadelphia). At least I will be looking forward to seeing my old friend Josh from UW in L.A. and then having Ellen pick me up at the airport in Philly! Also on our flight to Queenstown? The pensive soloist. I’m starting to think I may have an international fan.
Wish me luck and lots of Ambien.