Next stop was Queenstown, backpacker central and spiritual home of bungee jumping and white water rafting. We arrived in early afternoon after a wet drive from Te Anau, it was too early to check-in at the hotel so, as usual, we parked the car and went to explore Queenstown; first impressions weren’t good, Mark said it felt like Newquay with mountains! There were lots of bars and restaurants and endless shops vying to sign up tourist for a whole range of adrenelin charged activities. We dropped in to what appeared to be the tourist information office and asked a young man what he would recommend we do with our time, the least ‘exciting’ thing he could suggest was a jet boat ride on the lake so we gave up and left, turns out it wasn’t the official tourist office, when we found that it had a few more appealing options but nothing that really grabbed us. Feeling a bit down hearted we headed for the Rees Hotel which was about 2km outside of town. No B&B for us here, the Rees is a 5* hotel, and very nice it was too. We had a good-sized room with a view across the lake to the Remarkable Mountains (another good name!). The restaurant at the hotel was quite grand and we weren’t in the mood or the market for nouvelle cuisine so when the weather improved and the sun came out we decided to walk along the lakeside footpath back into town (the hotel ran an hourly shuttle to and from the town centre so we knew we could get a lift back). We wandered around town and eventually settled on a Vietnamese restaurant down by the wharf, we hadn’t had Vietnamese food before but it was very nice, Mark ordered lemongrass chicken and I ordered Chinese five spice beef, we shared the dishes and a bowl of steamed rice and finished up with a banana fritter with ice-cream. I’m not sure if that is an authentic Vietnamese meal but we enjoyed it!We had three nights in Queenstown and no plans for the first full day so we decided to walk back in to town to get breakfast at a café we had heard about in Wanaka. The Halo Café was great, good food, good coffee and lots of people enjoying brunch and newspapers. It was nestled in a little corner of Queenstown we had missed on our recce the day before, an oasis of old buildings and art galleries and next to the Queenstown Gardens. We enjoyed a wander around and spent some time in a gallery where we fell in love with a big picture of a woodland with flowering lupins, the woman in the gallery was very helpful and emailed us a photo of the painting and details of the artist, to tempt us further she sent us a quote showing 15% off the price (we wouldn’t have to pay NZ tax) and offering free shipping to the UK, she even converted the quote in to Stirling. We spent a long time looking at the picture and could easily imagine it on a wall in Cornwall but resisted the temptation to make an impulse purchase.
From the gallery we went to visit the gardens, spring has sprung here and the flowers and trees were lovely, we even saw tiny ducklings on the pond. We entertained ourselves watching a young couple playing Frisbee golf, a new game which we first came across in Wanaka, apparently, it is quite a big thing here. There are courses in parks and it is played just like golf with tee’s and fairways but you have to get the Frisbee in a metal basket. The couple we watched weren’t very evenly matched, she didn’t seem to understand how a Frisbee works but they were having fun. We discovered that people buy a variety of Frisbees to play with, driving discs, putting discs, some of them cost NZ$40 or more, serious stuff! Later in the afternoon we walked back along the lake to the hotel and took advantage of our lakeside balcony. A bit of research on Trip Advisor led us to a Brazilian restaurant in town for an evening meal, it was a small place mainly serving the backpacker crowd but it did excellent burritos (meat, rice and salad wrapped in a tortilla).
On Tuesday we were booked on a cycling excursion in the high country, we reported to the tour office at 9.20 to discover that, once again, we were the only people booked – another private tour! We boarded the vintage steam ship TSS Earnslaw which took us across the lake to Walter Peak High Country Farm, this is a working sheep station which has capitalised on the local tourist trade by building a jetty for the steamship and a restaurant for passengers to visit. Most of the other passengers stayed at the farm to view a sheep dog exhibition and have lunch. We were met by our guide Matt with a minibus and trailer and a selection of bikes. He drove us away from the landing out on to the sheep station and then stopped so we could choose our bikes and try them out. The plan was to drive about 50km through the sheep farm to a place called Mavora Lakes, a pair of alpine lakes 750m above sea level; have lunch and then cycle back with Mat in support in case of mechanical failure, rain or whimping out! Because the weather forecast was a bit mixed we decided to do some cycling on the way to the lakes, Mat dropped us off at some of the level sections and picked us up when the road got too steep, in particular he drove us up Von Hill which was a 400m climb. Along the way we rode through sheep farmland, across tussock grass planes, along the bank of the Von river and finally through a stretch of forest to the Lakes. Just as we got there it started to rain so we sat in the bus and had a picnic lunch while the shower cleared through. Back in the van we started to head back to the farmstead with two longish rides on the way (but not down Von Hill which was too step and too treacherous with sharp bends and steep drops). When we got back to Walter Peak farmstead there was a cream tea laid put waiting for us which we sat and enjoyed while we waited for the TSS Earnslaw to pick us up for the 40-minute return trip to Queenstown.
Not wanting to go back and forth to town for a meal later that evening we decided to visit a Queenstown institution called Fergs Burgers, it had been highly recommended by the Kiwi’s we met in Samoa and we have seen several mentions of it as we toured NZ; it was a fast food outlet, no tables to sit at and a constant queue outside all day. They only do burgers but they are excellent, cooked to order and served with plenty of salad in good quality bread rolls, we bought one each and timed it perfectly so we just had time to catch the shuttle back to the hotel before they got cold. It had been quite a day with lots of fresh air and exercise so we were glad to get back to the hotel, eat our burgers, watch Poldark, read our books and have an early night.