Wednesday 18th October: Wanaka to Queenstown - SPLIT ENZ "Six Months in a Leaky Boat"
Having seen the still waters of the lake and having been captivated by them the night before, we woke up and raced down to the lake in swimming gear. Jen managed to get into the water up to her knees, whilst I only ventured to dip in a toe. It was absolutely freezing, despite the sun on the previous day. We quickly headed back to the van.
Moving on from the holiday camp, we drove into Wanaka, parked up and had a look around the shops. We purchased some dried food and a head torch for our planned walking trip on Steward Island. Having bought these items, it was time to leave Wanaka. We filled up with petrol and took the direct, if difficult route to Queenstown over the Cardrona Pass.
The Cardrona Pass is the shortcut from Wanaka to Queenstown over the mountains and past the Cardrona Ski Fields. The road is famed for its safety barrier less sheer drops away to oblivion, but having previously navigated the pass in a much worse vehicle back in the Winter of 2002, I realised that it should be plain sailing in Springtime. It turned out to be a very pleasant scenic drive. We stopped at several different scenic lookouts to take a few snaps of the views over the gallery of scenery in front of us.
We quickly reached the other side of the pass were only a few kilometres away from the outer fringes of Queenstown. We diverted, however, to the historic Gold Rush settlement of Arrowtown. With its historic wooden American Western style buildings, going to Arrowtown certainly looked like stepping into the Wild West. That would be if you could ignore all the middle class people movers and 4x4s and the fact that all of the 'Western' style buildings in Arrowtown had been turned into either souvenir shops or art galleries. Much more likely to see Brian Sewell than Butch Cassidy I reckon. It came across as a very nice place to while away an hour, but as a town, its desperate desire to appeal to tourists left it seeming more than a little tragic to my mind.
Still, we looked around for a while before we had to hit the road. Frankly, there's only so long you can spend wandering around art galleries!
|The main street in Arrowtown. Most of the shops that you can see are art galleries and those that aren't art galleries are souvenir shops.|
Next stop was not Queenstown either. We headed back towards Wanaka , this time on the main road rather than the Cardrona Pass. Our destination was the Roaring Meg Power Station where we would be going White Water Sledging. We left Arrowtown at about one o'clock to get there for about 2pm. We were only going 40km, so we had plenty of time.
About halfway up the road, there was a sudden traffic jam. Only about 4 or 5 cars seemed to be in front of us, so we didn't think we'd be there too long. However, the New Zealand Land Transport department had chosen this time to blow a block of sheer rock face away from a nearby bluff. They had blown the rock at 1.05 and had been waiting for a helicopter to clear the debris since. We arrived at 1.30. There was no viable alternative way of getting to Roaring Meg - the only other route being a 2-3 hour detour back over the Cardrona Pass.
So we waited.
I got out and had a wander and a look around. I also managed to have a chat with the rather rotund labourer who had the unenviable task of holding up the traffic. After 15 minutes, the chudder of helicopter blades could be heard in the distance and the helicopter came flying over.
And still we waited.
Every so often, a glimpse of the helicopter could be seen, dumping some rocks on the side of a nearby hill.
And we kept on waiting.
After about 10 helicopter loads of rock, the road was reopened. We'd waited about 50 minutes and we were now late for our sledging. I drove to the power station as quick as we could and thankfully by the time we got there, the group hadn't left. In fact, one of their company had been held up in same jam.
It was not a well-attended excursion. There was Jenny and I and a girl from Finland called Laura and, well, that was it! There were also 3 guides. Rose, an American living locally led the group with the assistance of Justin, a trainee originally from Dunedin and there was also a photographer.
We got kitted up in wetsuits and headed down to the Kawerau River, just below the power station. We each had a small plastic board that we carried down to the river with us. We put on flippers and jumped in where we were then given the beginners guide on how to manoeuvre the little floating sled. The sled was used by resting your torso on it and holding tightly to a pair of handlebars. To speed up, you kicked hard on the water with your flippers. Shortly, we were off down the river, speeding along with the current and being ably directed by Rose.
It turned out to be surprisingly hard work. A lot of flailing of limbs - mostly the legs - tended to get you going in the right direction, but our amateur technique often tended to result in a lot of splashing, a lot of noise and very little movement. Jenny seemed to struggle a little the first time around, but we were largely successful in navigating our way down the river and through the rapids. We all even managed to keep hold of our sleds.
After some time, we got out of the river and were driven back up river, a few hundred yards past our original start point. This time down, I seemed to struggle, one leg proving incapable of moving the flipper. After having navigated the main rapids, we again pulled out of the river. It turned out that my left flipper had ripped, which is why I'd been struggling!
At this point we were given the opportunity to make a rock jump from a ledge 8 metres above the river. My first jump was a little painful, having let my legs open slightly. Jenny's attempt and my second go were just as scary, but less painful! Not long after this, our trip was over and we were back at the power station getting changed. After eating a couple of snacks and volunteering to take Laura to Queenstown with us, the three of us were on the road.
pictures of white water sledging
Top Left: The before shot. Rose ducking down, Laura on the left then Jenny and I
Right: A picture from above of
the Kawerau River as we glide effortlessly down it. I think the
Left: Me in the river. Wet.
The journey to Queenstown was short and easy going. On the way, we passed the original home of bungy jumping, AJ Hackett's place under a bridge traversing the Kawerau Gorge. We also passed a number of vineyards, seemingly bulging under the weight of their success. In Queenstown, turning up the homely name of Brunswick Street, which brought back memories of my time at university and living in Leamington Spa, a corner with severe adverse camber almost tipped the campervan, but somehow I kept it upright and in one piece. We dropped Laura off at her chosen backpackers, the Butterfli Lodge which was just around the corner from the campervan site we chose.
Once paying, parking up and connecting to power, we trooped into town for dinner. Queenstown is a neat little city, trading heavily as an Alpine tourist Mecca. It is the self-appointed home of skiing in the Winter and adventure sports - bungy, white water rafting etc. in the Summer. The architecture is decidedly alpine, which following the similar outlook in Wanaka and Franz Josef, was starting to get a little tiring.
We walked around the tourist shops for a short time, killing off the last of the daylight hours admiring the crap that these shops peddle to tourists that I would hesitate to describe as 'unsuspecting'. In fact, the tourists are fully complicit in the crap trade that these souvenir shops perpetuate. We soon tired of looking at tat and went in search of food. We found an interesting looking Mexican restaurant for dinner, which used sombreros as lampshades and whose decor was decidedly tacky Mexicana. The food, however, was pretty good and the courses of nachos and fajitas filled us up nicely. The only problem was the quartet of annoying American teenage / early twenties girls with their, "Yeah, I said, yeah, what-EVA!" attitude and conversation. Every word the said annoyed me. I was guessing that if I'd informed them of this fact, they'd have said, "Yeah, what-EVA" and so I chose instead to ignore them - difficult as their loud voices made it.
Back outside, it was freezing cold, so we headed back to the camper for an early night. This was in order to accommodate an early start back on the river for white water rafting the next day.