Thurs., Oct. 24th
This is the land of the ‘Long White Cloud’, as described by early settlers. So it was today. We woke to clouds and rain. Yvonne said you can experience all four seasons here on the South Island in just one day. As we took off to the Steamer wharf, it was cold and rainy. I had on a long-sleeved polo, a long-sleeved sweater with a hood, a rain jacket with a hood, and my umbrella. Just like late autumn.
First, I stopped by the statue we saw yesterday on our arrival. I didn’t pay much attention to it at first, but I received an email from my friends, Hannah & Jerry, from Bay View. “Look for the statue. It is Jerry’s ancestor!” Sure enough. William Gilbert Rees was the founder of Queenstown, the first to bring sheep here (that’s why he is pictured with a ram). There’s even Rees Street, which we walked down!
We boarded the 101 year old steamer, TSS Earnslaw (The Steam Ship) for our trip to Walter Peak, just across Lake Wakatipu (Wah Kah Tip POO). Darrel went down below to see coal being shoveled into the furnace. Black smoke trailed behind us. Then, a beautiful rainbow appeared as if we would sail right under it! The sun came out and spring arrived.
At the base of Walter Peak sits a sheep station. We saw a sheep being shorn, learned the difference between merino and “rug” wool, and witnessed a sheep dog doing his job. The station runs over 25,000 sheep here. After shearing in the spring (now), they let them loose upon the mountains for four months to graze on their own. No shepherds to watch them. No dog to herd them (the dog might scare the sheep anyway, and in running from the dog, fall over a cliff!). Then when it’s time, the shepherds go up with the dog to bring them down. The station has only 3 men: the manager/owner and two shepherds to run the place. The sheep & lambs are also sold for meat, but after feeding the little lambs, we couldn’t think about eating them!
They also have Red Highland cattle, the shaggiest beast I’ve ever seen with a longhorn like a Texan. The station also raises a few deer. For market! The antlers are very popular as an herbal remedy in Asia, but only when the deer are in velvet. We were able to feed the deer and feel their velvet.
Then we went past lovely gardens where tulips and jonquils were in bloom, mint in flower, flowering cherry trees and rhododendron in full-bloom for tea in the Homestead House. What a lovely tea table was set for us: cheese and fruit scones, nut bread, sweets. And I am enjoying my hot tea the British way with milk and one lump!
Back on the Earnslaw, nicknamed “The Lady of the Lake”, we returned to Queenstown, enjoying a sing-along around the piano with a group of Chinese tourists. They knew all of the songs we sang, too! The pianist did play one Chinese song, which of course none of us knew.
Although Caroline stayed behind at Walter Peak station to go horseback riding, upon arrival back in Queenstown, some of our group went shopping, some to lunch, and some went on a jet-boat ride, but D&I had done that in a beautiful glacial river in Alaska. The Kiwi’s (NZers) however are very proud of the fact the jet board was invented by a rancher here to navigate the shallow rivers of his property where a traditional prop engine just wouldn’t work. No, D&I and another couple hiked up a mountain (70 steps and a very steep climb beyond them) to a gondola, which took us up to the top of Bob’s Peak for some gorgeous views of the Remarkables (mountain range), Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown.
Half-way up, we passed a cemetery. We thought, after that climb, that’s where many tourists end up! Funny, under the sign was another little sign notifying drivers this was not a through street. “No Exit”, and we thought “Of course not. Not from the cemetery!”
Of course, we had to visit the gift shop up at the top of the gondola ride, and there we saw something curious: picture frames, pepper grinder, cheese boards and other gift items made of the softest and smoothest wood and lovely in color, but the sign said, “No trees were felled to make these items. Buried over 45,000 years ago, these trees were uncovered and are used to make these products.” It is called NZ Kauri wood. Should have bought something, but my suitcase is already tagged, “Heavy”!
At the top is also a luge ride. You can take a chairlift even higher, carrying the luge sled under the chair with you. At the top, you sit in the luge and slide down curvy paths (but not on ice like in the Olympics). There was also bungy-jumping, (spelled ‘bungee’ in American). Bungy-jumping was invented here in New Zealand, and the sign on the shop read, “Throwing people off ledges since 1988” (!)
We stopped for a drink, and I tried a NZ beverage, L&P or Lemon & Paeroa. Very lemony and refreshing, whatever paeroa is. Then we took the gondola down the mountain, and walked back to the hotel to rest. The waves on the lake are brisk. The wind is blowing. But by the time we were at the hotel, all jackets, sweaters and coats were off, we have the windows & balcony opened – it is summer! 70 degrees F! Well, a Michigan Summer anyway.
No winter snow fell today, but we did see plenty of snow patches still in the mountain peaks. So we will consider this our “NZ four-season day”.
TOMORROW: Cruising Milford Sound.