I awoke from my mid-flight snooze when the plane began its descent toward Queenstown, New Zealand. We were flying over the red, brown and gold Southern Alps, their craggy peaks covered in fresh snow. The valleys between the peaks held a chain of lakes in their cupped palms. Formed of runoff from the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers to the west, their waters are an almost otherworldly pastel aqua hue.
I was so focused on the astonishing color of these lakes directly that I had not been paying attention to our descent, so when I looked up I was startled to see just how close we were to the mountains. Queenstown sits on the shores of an alpine lake that lies at the very foot of the Southern Alps and landing here is somewhat tricky. The pilot threaded the plane in and around several mountain valleys as he made his approach to the runway. We flew so close to the mountains that the wingtips seemed to barely clear the valley walls. Although I couldn’t get to my camera as we were landing, I did manage to snap this photo as I disembarked from the airplane. The mountains are aptly named – The Remarkable Mountains.
Queenstown is beautiful. It took my breath away – not only for its beauty, but also for the temperature. Just when I had acclimated to the colder temps of the North Island I stepped into the arctic conditions of the far South Island. The high here yesterday was 15 degrees celsius, which is about 59 degrees Fahrenheit. The backpacker lodge where I am staying advertised heated rooms – one of the reasons I chose them – however they do not turn on the heat until about 4 in the afternoon and it’s turned off again around 10 AM. So, after checking in, my first stop was the local Salvation Army store, where I bought a coat, scarf, hat, and long woolen socks.
Now better equipped for the local weather, I tramped around town (in the US we call it hiking, in SE Asia they call it trekking, and here they call it tramping). It was soon raining and clouds covered the mountain peaks, turning everything to slate, but I was able to get a few decent photos of the town and wharf.
Tomorrow I will take one or two of the many tramping trails that litter the area. For the moment I settled for dinner in front of a toasty warm fire in a local pub. Following dinner I walked through the Queenstown Mall, a street of shops and restaurants closed to vehicular traffic, and strolled along the wharf, where I watched an old steamer pull up and disgorge passengers. I suspect this is a sunset dinner cruise on the lake and may have to look into this for tomorrow night.
Back at the lodge I plonked my butt down on one of the beanbag chairs in the toasty warm community TV room and vegged in front of the TV until around 9 PM. Staying in a backpacker lodge is really interesting. Almost everyone here is terribly young and although they welcome me I wonder what they think of me. I’m a child of the 60’s and when I was their age we thought anyone over 30 was OLD – and we mistrusted them. It surprises me when the kids in these backpacker places are so welcoming and accepting of me. They always want to know my story and I delight in hearing theirs. Some are doing gap year travel – a year between the time they graduate from college and enter the work world. One great guy I met in Thailand, Dave from Canada, decided to quit his job when he turned 28 and go travel for at least two years. Some are traveling in search of jobs. Yet others are working their way around the world – finding temporary jobs whenever they run out of money. The common thread that runs through their stories is that all of us – me included – are trying to find ourselves. Perhaps this is why they so readily seem to accept me.
Eventually I had to leave the dark, comfy confines of the TV room. I turned the heater in my room as high as it would go, took a blistering hot shower to get rid of the chill in my bones, layered sweatpants and sweatshirt on over my new (old) woolen socks, loaded the bed with every blanket I could find, climbed into bed and pulled the covers up and over my head. It is morning now and I am back in the community kitchen, writing my blog for the day, because this is so much warmer than my room. Still my hands are ice cold and I have to keep blowing on them to make my fingers dexterous enough to hit the right keys. I’m going to have to go tramping – if only to warm up. So long for now – I’m headed up into the Remarkables.