Poor weather, great wine and The Remarkables
Queenstown, New Zealand
Vern: Back in Queenstown, the weather was still terrible and we spent almost a full day in McDonalds using the free WiFi to research, plan and make bookings for the Australian leg of our round the world adventure. Andrea tried the 'Kiwi Burger' which is a quarter-pounder with egg and beetroot (or just 'beet' in the US) but concluded that the Kiwi Burger at Gourmet Burger Kitchen back in London is superior as it also comprises a pineapple slice.
We slept at a lakeside rest stop and the following day, as we returned to Queenstown, we were caught in a sheep traffic jam. The farmer needed to move the lambs to a different paddock and apparently the highway was the only route between his fields, so he put up a little orange sign and with the help of barking dogs herded them round the cars and their astonished drivers and up a little hill to their new field.
We checked into a holiday park where we cleaned our bodies and clothes and had a cooked meal for lunch. Pinot Noir grows a bomb in the Central Otago region but the vineyards are well spread out and difficult to visit without getting locked up for drinking and driving. Enter the most sophisticated wine bar I've ever set foot in. In a wood-panelled alpine-lodge-style space dressed with large leather easy-chairs and antique dining furntiture, eighty local wines and a few spirits are dispensed from stylish glass and brushed steel vending machines. Using a smart card swapped at the desk for one's credit card you can choose to fill your glass with a tasting amount, a half-glass, or a full glass and, of course, you are billed accordingly. The tasting notes are printed out at the base of the machine and the bottles for sale are displayed in racks down to the floor. At $2-$5 per 25ml taster, they were making an absolute killing off of the stream of patrons hiding from the rain and getting stuck into the fruit of the New World vines in this comfy viticulture mecca.
The rain had cleared a little the next day - the day on which we had planned to leave Queenstown - so we decided to take the Skyline Gondola up to the top of Bob's Peak, the large mountain west of the town, to enjoy the panoramic views of The Remarkables mountain range standing proudly behind Lake Wakatipu. Once in the little pod being reeled up the mountain, I realised that the bulge in my jacket pocket was litter and not the camera which I had assured Andrea I had so I was rather bashful up at the viewing deck taking photos with the pathetic iPhone camera. We watched big spenders enjoy themselves on the activities up there: paragliders, bungee-jumpers, canyon-swingers and people 'luging' downhill in carts, but opted for the only free activity to keep ourselves entertained, a walk. As we followed a trail into the dense beech forest a confusing sign implied we were biting off more than we'd intended.
"The sign says this walk is five hours" said Andrea.
I consulted the little map, "No, there is a shorter loop trail. The path will fork off in a little bit."
"You can 'fork off' in a little bit'" she responded without missing a beat, apparently not yet ready to forgive me for leaving the camera in the car.
A while later, we left Queenstown and headed north-east across the middle of the South Island. The landscape changed to brown grassy plains and then to rolling green farmlands. We even passed by a farm signed "Cliden Station: Home of Icebreaker". Half of our travel-wear is Icebreaker brand, made from light and odour-resistant Merino wool and I craned my neck to spot a curly-horned Merino ram but alas none were out grazing near the road.
We found a free Department of Conservation campsite just outside the town of Omarama in North Otago and parked just as it started drizzling. I think it was free because they hadn't bothered putting up a fence separating the spot from the neighbouring cattle farm and cows roamed freely through the campsite giving us the stink eye as they marched past Gem. A sixty-second hail-storm made us fret for our insurance deposit but the hail balls remained quite little. We did go for a short walk to a nice little perfectly clear pond with a great greeny-blue colour but had to dart back to the car when a second burst of hail started pelting us. We shut the curtains to block out the curious cows and watched an indy movie on DVD before bedtime.