Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Voyages by Bus: Day 2 (Christchurch to Queenstown)

Ah, I am once again in Queenstown, the little overgrown ski resort that has somehow become New Zealand's party central. This time around I'm staying at Base Queenstown, which means I'm almost literally at ground zero for the young backpacker partier crowd; from here in my room (on the 2nd floor, which would be the 3rd floor back home), the steady thump thump thump of the Altitude Bar below me can be heard loud and clear.

Today's tragic event: I lost my sunscreen. Those who know me what a horrible tragedy this is; without my daily dousing of SPF 30, I rapidly burn, blister, and peel. It's not like me to lose things; the best I can figure is it fell out of the side of my backpack when I was packing up in the hostel this morning. As such, I spent all of today wearing my long-sleeved shirt and wide-brimmed hat outside at rest stops, and avoided the sun as much as I could. I'll go out and buy a new bottle tomorrow; I absoltuely cannot be out in the sun here without it.

Kayla and I met for breakfast this morning in the kitchen of the hostel, and then walked down to Worchester St. together to board the bus to Queenstown; it was fairly full, so we ended up sitting together. I dozed/slept most of the way from Christchurch to our first rest stop in Grenadine; I found today to be a steady case of "Oh, I've been here"s as we retraced the routes I had already travelled on the Stray Bus in November. Our lunch stop was at the town of Lake Tekapo, where I had visited with Stray on the 25th of November, taking pictures of the Church of the Good Shepherd and such. The wind was very strong, both in Tekapo and on the highway; when Kayla and I were out looking for a good place to eat our lunches my hat kept threatening to blow off my head (and I had it secured by the chin strap!).

For the remainder of our journey from Tekapo to Queenstown we switched bus drivers; mercifully, Peter, who took us from Tekapo, was far less talkative than George, with whom we started in Christchurch, and who rambled on endlessly over the PA about varying types of dairy farming, animal pest control, and the importance of leaves in a tree's photosynthesis cycle (I kid you not). Peter's commentary was far more succinct and interesting, pointing out things like hydroelectric dams blocking Lake Pukaki and carrying its water (and that of Lake Oahu) in canals to the Ohau A power station and through to Lake Ruataniwha. He also pointed out to us that the waters of Lake Pukaki are a cloudy greyish blue, rather than their usual sparkling turquoise; this is due to the abnormally high rainfall the area had a few weeks ago, which melted a large chunk of the glacier and dumped a signifigant amount of silt into the water (it was also being exacerbated today by the high winds stirring up sediment from the bottom of the lake). Apparently the last time this happened, it took five years for the lake to return to its normal turquoise colour; if that is true, I'm certainly glad I got to see Lake Pukaki in its turquoise splendor in November.

We made it into Queenstown around 4:30pm, and Kayla and I both checked into Base, and then at 6:00pm met for dinner. We went to Fergburger (or rather, I dragged her to Fergburger), and we sat in the park just outside Base and munched on our size-of-your-head-and-amazingly-delicious burgers while the little birds crowded around our feet, hoping for discarded crumbs. After dinner we wandered around Queenstown; we meandered across Queenstown Bay Beach, and watched the TSS Earnslaw return from its late afternoon cruise across Lake Wakatipu. Strolling through the Queenstown Gardens, we took in the Douglas Fir trees (just like home!), the rose garden, and the memorial erected to the memory of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his ill-fated party who perished on their return journey from the South Pole in 1912. Inscribed on the side of the monument was a reproduction of his last journal entry on March 25th, 1912:

We arrived within eleven miles of our old One Ton camp with fuel for one hot meal and food for two days. For four days we have been unable to leave the tent, the gale is howling about us. We are weak, writing is difficult, but, for my own part, I do not regret this journey, which has shown that Englishmen can endure hardships, help one another, and meet death with as great a fortitude as ever in the past. We took risks; we knew we took them. Things have come but against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last.
Had we lived I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale.

I'll be thinking of that this March when I celebrate my birthday.

Leaving the gardens (and passing by a HUGE monkey puzzle tree by the gate), we headed back into downtown Queenstown, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city at dusk. We wandered into the Whitcouls bookstore (Kayla studied English at university), and then into the candy shop, where I bought acid pops. Continuing with our sugar fix theme, we walked over to a dessert bar we had spotted earlier in the day and treated ourselves to chocolate gelato in waffle cones. Tonight was the most food I have eaten in almost two weeks, and I'm pleased to report that it's all still in my stomach; I haven't thrown up!

As the sun slowly set over the mountains we walked up to the Skyline Gondola lift (so Kayla knows where to go tomorrow), and then meandered around the Queenstown cemetery, taking in all the old names and their ages when they died (everyone seemed to be either in their mid-20s or mid 80s; it was a little odd). Heading back to the hostel, we hung out in the kitchen for a little bit, before deciding we were both too tired and retiring to bed with the promise to meet for breakfast tomorrow at 9am.

It is midnight, and I am exhausted, so I am off to bed; it looks like I'm going to be serenaded to sleep by the drunken cheers of partiers outside the window (whee). Night!


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