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Queenstown, New Zealand

Oct 21 – 22

While walking to the bus stop in Fox, I met a really fun woman named Sam. She complimented me on my packing skills, as she was struggling to carry her backpack, several different bags, and a guitar. It turns out we were both heading to Queenstown, so we talked the entire way on the bus and got to know each other pretty well during the 7 hr bus ride. Sam is a teacher from Nottingham who has been traveling and working around the world for the past year. So far she’s been to Australia, Hong Kong, Africa, and is about to head to South America.

The bus ride was fun and our bus driver was quite chatty – talking the whole way and rattling off interesting facts about the things and places we were passing. It was hard to tell which side of the bus had the best view, so we hopped from side to side trying to take pictures of the scenery. Photographing anything through a moving bus window is always awkward and hardly ever results in great photos…but it was fun to try anyway.

Our bus driver also made frequent stops, one of which was this waterfall.

We also stopped in Wanaka. I had talked to a girl earlier on my trip and she told me how “Wanaka is obviously a nice town.” I wasn’t sure what she meant by that until we showed up, but now I understand. Unfortunately I was only in Wanaka for about 20 minutes, but as soon as I stood on the beach and looked around, I would have to say I agree – it is obviously a nice town. Next time I’m in New Zealand, I’ll make a point to spend more time there.

I’ve never really heard great things about Queenstown, however. But when we got there, I liked it immediately. Come to think of it, I haven’t really been in a New Zealand town I haven’t liked. In my head, I pictured Queenstown to be full of billboards advertising adventure sports, but it seemed to me to be a beautiful town that was much smaller and less flashy than I expected it to be.

We stayed at Deco Backpackers, which advertised an amazing view and free Internet. I figured they were probably exaggerating a little, but when we arrived, everything was as promised: the Internet was free (but very slow) and the view was spectacular – overlooking the city, the lake, and the mountains.

At the hostel, I helped Sam go through her stuff and figure out what she could probably live without. We managed to condense her baggage down quite a bit. It’s always interesting to see what other people pack and how they pack it. I think I did a fairly decent packing job, but traveling for a month has made me reevaluate my stuff as well. For example, I brought only dark colored clothes – how depressing! Some useful things I didn’t bring and will probably end up getting along the way are: a folding knife (I keep thinking I’m going to cut myself with the one I have now), a tiny pocket flashlight (just in case my headlamp isn’t around), some better hiking shoes (mine hurt my feet), some tape or a glue stick (something I’ve needed on several different occasions), and some tupperware (I just clearly don’t know how to cook for one person. I also underestimated how useful plastic bags are. When my hosts in Nelson gave me a giant stack of ziplock bags, I thought it was a little excessive…but I’ve managed to find a use for all of them. Now I hoard as many ziplock bags as I can.

Anyway, after comparing, sorting, and analyzing our belongings, we wandered around Queenstown for a bit, stopped by the grocery store, then went back to the hostel to combine our forces and make a big veggie feast. It was really nice to cook with another person – especially a person who eats all the same things I do, who knows about quinoa, vegemite, and amaranth, and who appreciates the fact that I managed to find Bragg’s and nutritional yeast here in New Zealand.

I tried to use the free Internet, but it was terribly slow. Then I glanced over at the guy next to me and saw why. He had several different video screens open and was in the process of blowing virtual kisses to his girlfriend, while carrying his laptop around the hostel so she could have a tour of all the rooms. Sweet, I suppose…but really annoying for all the people who just wanted to check their email or the bus schedule.

Sam and I sat in the room and went through a series of possible plans. One plan involved us going to Curio Bay to get woofing jobs for a couple of days (but that would probably require giving the owner more notice and I didn’t really want to spend my last few days in New Zealand working). Another plan involved us splitting up for a few days, then each taking a different bus to meet at the start of the Routeburn track (but it seemed complicated to organize the transportation and the risk of avalanche during the alpine section of the track was still pretty high). Another plan involved us meeting in Te Anau to do the Kepler track (but my back hurt pretty bad that day and since it was supposed to be snowing up at the top, I decided it would probably be more miserable than fun). The plan we liked the best involved us renting a car and driving through the Catlins, but that required quite a bit of planning and possibly me having to hitchhike to meet her there on time (something I wouldn’t want to do alone). We were too tired to commit to anything that night. Basically by 9 or 10 every night, I’m ready to fall over with exhaustion. A Jazz festival was goin on in Queenstown that week. I thought I’d go into town to check out the free stuff, but since it was already 11 (an hour past my bedtime) I went to sleep instead.

In the end, Sam stayed in Queenstown another day to figure some things out and I got antsy so I hopped on the Tracknet bus to Te Anau. We exchanged emails and made vague plans to sort out our schedules and meet up again in a few days.

Notes:

  • One of the things that makes New Zealand so beautiful is the fact that there are so many wide open spaces with nobody inhabiting them except for sheep and cows. With so many beautiful lakes, I would expect these areas to be treated like prime lakefront property areas and cluttered with houses, but often there are no houses to be seen anywhere. New Zealand’s population density (population per square km) is 15, which seems to be about the same as Maine.

  • Speaking of property, many Kiwis choose to live in small farms that are close enough to the city, but far enough away that they can have a little bit of land to live off. These properties are called “lifestyle blocks” – a funny term, I think. It sounds a little too futuristic or clinical. I’d rather they be called farmlets.

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