I had been unsure whether I would like the infamous queenstown (various people had warned me of its being VERY touristy, tacky, full of backpackers and 'spoilt'), but within hours of arriving, I absolutely loved it there! On the shore of lake Wakatipu in stunning landscape nestled at the base of the snow capped mountains of Coronet Peak and the Remarkables ranges, with a lively and very affordable drinking, eating and party-scene, great shops and lots of backpackers, it was the best of all worlds with a fantastic atmosphere and great fun!
By far the best thing I did whilst there (other than eating the legendary Ferg Burgers, which come a close second) was skiing! Since a very young age learning to ski has been on my bucket list but I had not really expected to cross it off on THIS trip. I got a package including two lessons and all kit hire and transport for just $160. Learning to ski is one of the funnest and funniest things I have done in my life. After the initial "this is a ski, this is where you put your foot, etc", one of our first tasks was just to slide down a short slope and the instructor, James, would catch us at the bottom. Sounds easy, right? Nope! We were propped in a row, sideways up the slope and getting to the start position proved the most difficult thing. The instinct is to try to walk, but of course that doesn't work. As soon as I pulled my poles out from the snow, I started sliding backwards down the slope! I was really lucky that my balance was ok, a few people in our group were hopeless! No matter what they did they would invariably end up in a heap of skiis and poles on their ass or front in the snow. It was hilariously funny from start to finish.There had been snowfall overnight so we were lucky to have fresh powder to learn on at the start of the day but by the afternoon this had compacted down into much more slippery, hard, iciness which was a lot harder to keep control on.
Having expected to be bad at skiing, I was pleasantly surprised at how quicky I picked it up; by the middle of the afternoon session I was merrily riding the conveyer belt to the top of the beginners slope and sliding down fast-ish, wedge-straight-wedge-straight before stopping pretty easily at the bottom. Bored of this gentle ride I got a bit big for my boots and strolled confidently up to board the chair-lift for the next slope up, the Big Easy. My ski pass wouldn't let me on!! Apparently very beginners don't get to go up there unaided but when the lift attendant offered to let me up "just this once", I jumped at the chance... Got onto the lift with only a minor mishap as my ski entangled with that of the boy next to me, waiting to sit down, causing his legs to be bent backwards beneath the seat until we swung free, nearly breaking them both [my fault!!]. I didn't really know anything about the slope I was headed for an as the lift swung ever onwards and upwards I began to get a bit nervous; visibility was very poor and I couldn't even see the beginners slope down below us any more, at one point the lift stopped for a minute or two and we sat there, metres above the ground, surrouded by whiteness of the sky and snow and slopes, swinging gentle in eerie, near-complete silence. Off at the top (fell onto my knees but only briefly as I disembarked), I saw the start of the slope and people whizzing off from the top at (to me) frightening speeds and was like "oooooooh s***".
I knew if I hesitated it would get worse, there was no way down other than the slope so I just pushed straight off and down. I kept my feet in a permenant "wedge" (the position to slow you down) and even so was hurtling along a bit faster than I was ok with, it was really steep! Visibility was bad so I coudln't really see around me, at one point the slope apparently branched and I unwittingly took the downside or 'intermediate' branch, rather than the upper, 'easier' one. Not reccommended! It was ok, my steering was fine, I wiped out twice, both caused by the tip of my skiis in the 'wedge' touching, spinning my legs into oblivion, I had a few more wobbles from which I was thrilled to recover. Falling over was not too bad! The snow was pretty soft here and it didn't really hurt. [Thank GOD, I'd only realised 10mins before the first lesson started that I had forgotten to extend my insurance to cover me to ski!! --> cue minor breakdown, but it was ok in the end].
After my big-slope adventure I was more than happy to return to the comparative safety of the beginners slope, where instructors scattered everywhere would be able to save me if I came a cropper. It was just generally a most fantastic day, I loved skiing and really want to go for a week as soon as I have a chance.
I left queenstown, a bit sadly, on Tuesday and headed up the east coast to Christchurch, Kaikoura and beyond. It was easy to see why the west coast is the more popular with tourists, quite aside from being greener thanks to high rainfall as clouds from the sea hit the southern alps and lose their load, the landscape of the west is just much more interesting. the east was flat (Canterbury Plains) and fields and quite samey all the way up with only a few brief coastal bits to break the monotony. Detours and roads closed due to snow and accidents meant that we did not arrive at our destination til 7pm.
I had two nights in Christchurch, rumoured to be the 'most english city outside of england'; the avon river that winds through the city (surprisingly narrow and small for a city river) was very english, lined as it was with autumnal trees, lovely bridges crossing over and old-style stone buildings on the banks, not to mention the punting which is pretty popular there. It made for a nice walk. The cathedral itself was disappointing, as so many cathedrals and churches out here have been. Some things are just as good when they are newer and just old-style (some architecture, statues, decor) but religious buildings are not one of them! Personally I like my churches to be AT LEAST 500years old, the leading in the stained glass windows needs to be a bit blurring, the glass needs to be imperfect and the stone walls need chunks out of them, odd bits and an air of ancientness. It was a nice day though and we were really lucky to have sun. I stayed in a fabulous female-only hostel with a massive bookcase full of books, loads of DVDs, free towls and hair-driers, free laundry, a help-yourself herb garden and a pair of guinea-pigs for the petting pleasure of home- and pet-sick backpacking girls, it was a blissful break, I could have stayed a week.
Continued up the coast to Kaikoura, famous for its whale- and seal- and dolphin-activities, the site of a deep ocean-trench not far out from shore whose upwelling nutrients and creatures result in a very diverse and well-populated ocean. I opted to take a hike around the peninsula, a beautiful 3hour walk along paths round cliffs and past a colony of massive, fat, sleek, smelly brown fur seals. I had been warned about their smell but not noticed it before. It was hard to tell whether the smell was entirely them as they were mostly lounging about on a bed of thick, slimy brown and green seaweed and the smell smelt a bit LIKE seaweed so it wasn't clear exactly who was the culprit, possibly it was a combination of seals rolled in seaweed and seaweed with seals on it. I shall call this smell sealweed.
North of Kaikoura and I was just retracing my previous steps in reverse to get back up to rotorua, ferry from Picton to Wellington then back on the bus at Welly to Taupo and up to the geothermal capital of Rotorua.