Tuesday the 26th of May, 2009
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We awoke to a freezing, damp and pea-soup foggy morning that daylight remained retreated from.
We quickly packed and checked-out, and were on our way to Queenstown in no time in dismal and sleeting conditions. After forty-five minutes or so, we wondered if we had mistakenly passed the exit from the expressway to Queenstown, but decided to press-on and ask at the next petrol station in about fifteen minutes.
Happily we had not yet reached the exit (it was about 6 kms ahead) and recommenced our journey. The geography before and after the turn-off was of low wetlands, and the fog here was almost solid and it took us a while to travel along in these conditions.
Eventually, we started climbing and found ourselves with thick forest on each side of the road... we were very careful of 'black ice' as there were warnings along the way, but had no unpleasant incidents.
A glorious sunny day was had by the time we reached Alexandra and stopped for a coffee at an internet 'hotspot' to check a few banking issues (in truth we hadn't used any of the hotspot Telecom coupons that I had purchased in Christchurch and was wondering how well they worked) and have a delicious coffee and a muffin - everywhere in NZ: american muffins were great favourites of the locals... and huge in size. We went shopping for CDs that we could entertain ourselves with while driving and also to have for our respective radio programs back in Melbourne. We bought several Delta Goodram, Kylie Minogue and a great David Campbell at ridiculously low prices, about AUD 8.00 for 2CD sets with single CDs costing around AUD 6.50, and continued happily on our way.
Our next stop was Cromwell on Lake Dunstone and we visited the tourist precinct of 'Old Cromwell Town', of interest here was the foundation stone of the Masonic Hall that said AJ5900 - AD1900, and the work of some very clever stone masons themselves as can be seen in the construction of the Cobb & Co Store - in fact, most of the buildings were, if not built of timber, built in this manner.
Leaving Cromwell we headed up, and up into the mountains and it was at this point that we caught our first glimpse of snow-capped mountains. We had heard that it had snowed heavily for the past few days, but that it was to be fine and sunny for the next four or so which made us feel quite happy as we were rather nervous of becoming stuck in snow and were unsure of how to fit the supplied snow-chains.
We climbed further up the mountains for some time after leaving Cromwell and then found ourselves over the top of the range and heading steadily down. The tree-line was soon passed and we found ourselves once more in luxurious green and golden forests, but not for long; we were soon passing through orchards of stone-fruit and then. lower down towards Queenstown itself, vineyards.
Crossing the bridge at Lower Shotover, and onto Frankton Road which lead into Queenstown and on which our motel, Sherbrook Lodge, was situated in Wakatipu Heights about 2 kms before the town.
We checked-in, after travelling around 290 kms (3hrs 50 mins), and on inquiring about the Lake Wakatipu luncheon-cruise and was told that it was to to sail in about 45 minutes, we booked our passage at reception, transferred our luggage to our room and left for the wharf in a hurry, finally finding a parking spot and walking the distance to embark just in time to relive the elegance of turn-of-the-century travel with a cruise on Queenstown’s iconic vintage steamship TSS Earnslaw.Built by the New Zealand Railway Authority and launched in 1912, the TSS Earnslaw is the largest and grandest vessel ever to ply Lake Wakatipu. Today, the TSS Earnslaw is believed to be the only coal-fired passenger-carrying vessel still operating in the southern hemisphere.
Our 1 ½ hour cruise on the TSS Earnslaw showcased some of Lake Wakatipu’s most beautiful alpine scenery and allowed plenty of time to explore the decks and bridge, visit the engine room, view the collection of historical photos in the Fo’c’sle gallery and join a sing-along with the onboard pianist. The vessel has a licensed café onboard selling a selection of café-style food as well as beer, wine and spirits and, as we were rather hungry from our drive, we ate a hearty meal during our voyage.
Once back on shore we had the chance to have a closer look at the modern hamlet that is Queenstown, and found that even at this pre-season time of the year (May), it was bustling with all forms of tourists and many backpackers here to take advantage of the slopes on The Remarkables. The streets were choked with cars and as, I said I had had a hard time at finding a parking spot before the cruise.
When we returned to our car we found a very kind not from a parking inspector that politely informed us that we were parked in a 15 minute bay and that, having discerned that our's was a hire-car and therefore we must be tourists, was only giving a warning this time. Oh wow! A nice parking inspector? gees! However, as Queenstowners have little else to live off other than tourists I suppose it is sensible to be initially diplomatic with them.
We arrive back at the Sherbrook and dressed for dinner at the Novatel Hotel, which was next door, as our motel's kitchen was taking advantage of the off-season for renovations. We had a lovely meal and drove home (I know it was only next door, but it was so bloody cold) and so to bed.