As you’ll recall, the end of the last blog post brought us to Frankton, just outside Queenstown. Queenstown is on Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by mountains (the Southern Alps… including one bit called the Remarkables). It was described to us as being the adventure capital of NZ… loads of touristy adventure crap like skydiving, bungy jumping, Shotover Jet (a jetboat ride), etc as well as being cosmopolitan and a party town. This is true (just ask Chelsea)– there are A BAJILLION bars in the tiny downtown area, making barhopping remarkably simple. And that’s its own kind of adventure. And it’s absolutely gorgeous. Get ready for some scenery pictures!
From Frankton (where we stayed with the helicopter pilot guy who had pretty much nothing to say), we walked to town the next day along Lake Wakatipu (a lovely hour and a half walk or so), found swarms of tourists, ate at Fergburger (supposedly it’s world famous and you HAVE TO eat there… too bad we’d never heard of it. Well, but now we have!) and hatched a plan to escape our boring host, which involved accepting an offer from a friend of a Kiwi that Val met while traveling in Turkey (the same one who had told her to go to Queenstown), Will. His friend’s name: Nigel. And he is the biggest lifesaver of all time. We wandered into a bar (1876!) with all of our crap (got some good looks there) to meet up with him and some of his friends. The key players: Dennis (a fellow American with a confused accent at times) who is married to Alice (a Kiwi) and were invited on a ‘wee adventure’ the following day.
The ‘wee adventure’ was a short backpacking trip into Skipper’s Canyon with eight people total (including us), up to a hut (they’re all over New Zealand in random areas for hikers to stay in) where we spent the night. (If you’re curious, we did the Bullendale Track: http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks/otago/queenstown-wakatipu/bullendale-and-dynamo-hut-tracks/) But first things first– we rode up with Nigel and Dennis and they stopped on the super narrow Skipper’s Canyon Road so we could collect some rocks. They didn’t say why, but it became clear after we came to this bridge, drove to the middle, unloaded the rocks, drove to the other side and parked, walked back to the rocks, and then threw the rocks over the side of the bridge to hear a surprisingly satisfying SLAM into the river/stones below. Oh, boys. But we could roll with that.
After some INSANE four-wheeling down an even crazier narrow road (don’t worry… we did not die), we decided we could go no farther and parked. THE HIKE HAD BEGUN! And shortly into the hike, we found some cars that were stuck in the river. Those foolios had driven their vehicles down a rock-faced cliff and were towing them back up with some car parked up there. As expert spectators, we watched them struggle for a while. Buahaha.
We also became acquainted with how Kiwis hike… when there is a river, you don’t go around it or try to step on rocks to cross it. Nope, you just walk IN the river. In fact, even though there is a maintained trail, it was definitely preferable (to our tramping mates) to walk in the river the ENTIRE way– a shortcut of slipperyness. Not gonna lie… not bothering to worry about getting your feet wet and just accepting it is kinda awesome.
It maybe took three hours of some borderline questionable river terrain and a gorge (uhh, yeah), then straight up a slippery hillside at the very end, buuut… finally we made it to the hut! New Zealand is obviously one of the most awesome countries in the world (for numerous reasons), but especially because they have huts here and there all over the country for hikers to stay in while out backpacking, maintained by DOC (Department of Conservation). Well, probably… sometimes we just make stuff up, but that seems right. This one, Bullendale Hut, was an old miner’s hut (if you’re interesting in doing a bit of gold prospecting, we could get you set up with Dennis and Nigel. It’s supposed to be their next big endeavor, inspired by our wee adventure in Gold Rush territory). That night Nigel cooked up some deliiiicious curry. We all washed it down with copious amounts of mulled wine, as we sat around inside the hut by the fireplace, all sorts of dry and warm. Awww.
The next day, we hiked back down (in still-soaked shoes, mind you. Because Kiwis are hardcore) and as Dennis and Nigel went to scope out some prospecting sites and try to find some old mines to explore, Alice and us two walked back together, this time on the designated path and not through the river entirely.
We made it back down just fine (and eventually Dennis and Nigel caught up from adventuring around the mining stuff) and once we walked back to the truck and 4-wheel drived (drove?) out of there, we made a couple more stops for some sweet viewpoints before we were back at chez Nigel.
We ended up staying a week with Nigel (THANK YOU!! YOU ARE THE BEEEEST!) while we searched for farms in the Nelson area or lower North Island. Seriously… we’re supposed to be WWOOFing and were massively failing at this point. Still, it was nice to be in one place for a bit instead of moving every couple of days. It gets exhausting! While Nigel was at work, we recuperated, hung out with his super friendly Danish flatmate, Mia (who is in Queenstown working at a fancy resort), cooked some deliciousness (falafel burgers of our own!), walked into town (an epic adventure downhill to town and then up an immense hill back to Nigel’s), and enjoyed the scenery.
And a sidenote: at Nigel’s house there is a radio station run by a guy named Kyle (an aspiring life coach and private yoga instructor… quite a character!) who apparently rents the space from the actual owner of the house. It’s located in a shed in the garage. Although it’s called Infinity, we’ve renamed it Shed Radio (for obvious reasons only known to a few). The magic of this station is how absolutely RANDOM it is! You’ll hear Beyonce followed by “Black Magic Woman” followed by some bluegrass song then the Beastie Boys and so on. You never know what you’re gonna get! We tried convincing Kyle to let us go on air, but he only decided we could basically when we were leaving. FAIL. Anyway, if you’re ever in Queenstown, the frequency is either 87.7 or 106.7 (can’t remember, buuuut… you’ll know if it’s the right one soon enough).
One day we went to Arrowtown with Dennis after weeding at his house (aka our non-official second WWOOFing farm in New Zealand!) Arrowtown is a historic gold mining town (we got a good dose of Gold Rush history, which, considering we had no idea NZ even ever had a Gold Rush…welp, it was all highly informative). Dennis appropriately described it best with the word ‘quaint.’ Not much going on in the tiny ‘downtown’… some shops and cafes and whatnot. It was their Autumn Festival, but we were only there for an hour or so. It was enough. We did check out the old Chinese settler’s mining huts though because that’s what you do when you go to Arrowtown!
After a few days, we got confirmation from a farm on the North Island and were supposed to get there in a few days. So instead of the original plan of going up the west coast to Nelson and then taking the ferry across (all a bit of an endeavor), we booked a flight to Wellington (the south tip of the North Island) from Queenstown. This meant we’d completely miss the north of the South Island, but we were ready to WWOOF more! So we said goodbye to Nigel, our gracious host and new BFF, and Dennis and Alice and Mia and were on our way! Back to the point of the blog, eh?