Rocks on the Bay, Walks on the River, Horses through the Trees

Fox Glacier diminished in my rear view mirror, and before me were the last sweeping views of the west coast I would see for a while. We were moving inland now, to Wanaka, home to my former flatmate back in Matamata. That’s not why we were going there, it’s just a random fact for you. We didn’t get far from Fox, though, before we were pulling off the road.

The place was Bruce Bay. I didn’t know about it until that day, but along the coast there are lots of white rocks. And I guess someone decided one day they were going to write something on one of these white rocks and start a pile. So now, if you drive by Bruce Bay, you will see a large pile of white rocks with messages on them. Tokens from the many travelers who have passed that way. Hannah and Luke had added rocks to the pile before, but of course the three of us had to add our own.

Then it was back in the car. The drive from Fox Glacier was the longest we’d had in a while (three hours!). Luke and Hannah were more fussed than I was, I think. It takes ages to get anywhere in the States, so three hours was nothing. When we were not far outside Wanaka, we pulled over at a lookout so we could take some shots of Lake Wanaka/Lake Hawea (I’m not sure which side of the mountains we were on when we stopped, but it was pretty).

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It was well dark when we got to the Wanaka Top 10 Holiday Park we were staying at. We checked in at reception, collected our wifi code and our key, then drove back down the lane to our room. Ours was right at the end of the building. It was small but clean, and it heated up fast. The kitchen, however, was another matter. When we all stepped inside to make a quick tea, the first thing we noticed was the smell. It was rather like urine. There were no tea towels to be found and even less in the way of dishes and utensils. But we made due, simply filling our own mugs with noodles and hot water and returning to the room.

The next morning was a change to how we’d spent the night. We all went from sweating our asses off (we hadn’t figured out the optimal heat setting yet) to freezing them off as we made the drive along the Crown Range to AJ Hackett. If you’re unfamiliar, AJ Hackett is the man that helped popularize the bungy jump. The Kawarau Bridge jump is (I believe) the first bungy site to open in NZ. It’s referred to as the World Home of Bungy. Before you get your hopes up, no I wasn’t doing a bungy. That would be Luke who was taking the dive this time.

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Shivering like crazy, we all got out of the car. Before heading inside, we walked down to the cliff’s edge so we could see the drop point. After that we quickly scurried inside to warm up a bit. The building was large and built in what seemed to be a notch in the rocks. It was full of large signs advertising all the different drops, lots of bungy jump t-shirts and other merchandise, a small concession area, and of course, a large screen played videos of various people jumping.

Luke went to the counter to sign the necessary waivers and get weighed and all that good stuff. Outside on the deck, people were gathered, taking in the view, and I’m sure some were mentally preparing themselves for what they were about to do. Hannah and I got some chips and small cups of water while we waited. Luke joined us a bit later. We passed the time enjoying our chips and chatting and also doing some people watching. It was fairly easy to spot other people who would be making the drop.

A girl at the counter called Luke’s name several minutes later. He vanished outside while Hannah and I moved into position to take video and get pictures of the fall. Soon I was shivering once again out in the biting air. I knew it would take a bit for Luke to get set up but I wanted to be sure I didn’t miss anything either. So I stood there, my phone at the ready, watching Luke get closer and closer to the edge.

And then he was off! A gray and black blur streaking towards turquoise water below. As soon as he made the first bounce, the tension in my chest eased. I watched him bob up and down, snapping as many pictures as I could. Then he was dropped into the raft, just like Dad had been, and he disappeared from sight. I walked back inside to meet up with him and Hannah.

Luke didn’t look nearly as drawn as Dad had. He was a bit rosy-cheeked, to be sure. We took a minute to look over the pictures I’d taken, even though in the end they took home pictures provided by AJ Hackett, then went over for another thing of chips and water before leaving. Our big plans in Wanaka had been fulfilled with the bungy jump, so now anything was game. I suggested checking out a set location that was on the way back to town.

The drive there would take us the long way back, and we didn’t know it until we got there, but it would also take us the more exciting way back. Just after turning onto highway 8A, we came to a milk tanker that was completely on its side in the ditch beside the road. It had only happened minutes before we showed up. We pulled over ahead of it and quickly walked back to check that the drive was okay. Luke was straight on the phone to the police.

A few more people pulled over as we stood there. The driver was fine, a bit of a bang on the head, and the ambulance and fire department showed up shortly after Luke hung up the phone. It was an unexpected occurrence to be sure. We even saw a blurb about it in the paper the next day when we were in Arrowtown!

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Personally, I can’t say I felt bad about the possible milk shortage in Wanaka.

We left the emergency teams to their work and finished our drive to the set location. A short distance up the highway was the turn off for Maori Point Road. The land where the actual scene was filmed is private. But there was a gate open. So even though we technically were trespassing, we only did a little bit. We stayed just long enough to snap some pictures and declare several times that you could definitely see that this was the place, as if any of us needed convincing. This was were Arwen had employed some fancy riding skills in order elude the Nazgul and make it to the river.

We continued back to Wanaka, this time without any unexpected surprises. When we reached the edge of town, we pulled off the road and into the carpark of Have a Shot. It’s pretty much what it sounds like. The place has a few lanes for shooting clay pigeons and a few for shooting a bow and arrows. I held my tongue while we were there, but in my head I was thinking it was no Rocky Mountain Archery, a range that I frequented back home. Despite sharing bows and having to shoot in the cold, we were all happy to get in some archery.

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The day had warmed up sufficiently. Which was good, because once we were back in the city centre, we spent a couple of hours wandering around the shops, looking at things too expensive for us to buy, eating tasty burgers sold to us by a cute guy, and me, having no success in finding a used book to buy. More and more I believe that charity shops and used bookstores are where formulaic, mass market thrillers, mysteries and romances novels go to die.

When we’d finished our exploration of the town, we spent a few minutes walking along the edge of Lake Wanaka (where apparently they have wifi) before driving back to the holiday park. Our night would be wrapping up with a viewing of Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Luke and Hannah hadn’t seen it yet, and I was game for seeing it again. First, we had to brave another “cooking” session in the stinky kitchen.

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The name of the theater was Paradiso, which appealed to my Firefly sensibilities. It was a tiny theater, very much like Lyric Cinema Cafe back home. The walls were covered in movie posters, there was a nice sitting area you could spend time in before your film, and there were couches and comfy chairs in the theaters. We bought our tickets but had to wait for the movie currently playing to finish up before we went inside.

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It didn’t take long for me to change my mind about buying a drink. I didn’t really want a whole beer though, so we we all ended up splitting one. A few minutes before we moved into the theater, I realized I had accidentally thrown my ticket away, thinking it was my receipt. I have since learned, as this is how all theaters in NZ seem to print their tickets. The viewing was enjoyed by all. We were all ready for bed after that. This time, we would be sure to turn the heater down.

The next morning we moved down to Arrowtown, just for a night. It’s a very tiny town just outside of Queenstown, and is the sort of town I could possibly see myself retiring to. It feels a bit like a place out of history to me, and that might be because it is quite proud of its heritage. It was a gold rush town, and families can do some gold panning of their own for fun. There is also an old Chinese settlement that has been preserved so people can walk around and see what life was like.

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Pretty nice view on the way down.

The main street has that quaint, homely feel. Lined with cafes, shops, a post shop, and even its own sweet shop, there is everything you could want right in one place. The place we were staying was pretty sweet, too. It was a short walk outside the centre of town, and we had a unit to ourselves with its own kitchen and bathroom. We were being spoiled. Arrowtown was all of an hour away from Wanaka, so we didn’t get to rave about our new digs until later. We spent most of the morning exploring the town.

We parked in a dirt lot near the river and walked up the hill to the street level. The streets were fairly full of people doing the same thing we were. I peered into shop windows as we walked down the street. Shopping was later, right now it was time for morning tea. The bustle of the main street faded behind us as we walked to a small cafe called Provisions. This is when we saw our spilled milk tanker story in the paper.

Now that we were all properly watered and fed, we went back to into town for some shopping. I say shopping, but really we were all low on cash, and I don’t buy things just for the sake of buying something, but we enjoyed our time browsing around (and I did buy a few things). We took our time poking around a shop called The Gold Nugget. It had lots of artsy trinkets, knitted items and other useless tourist junk. But I got a few nice postcards to send home, and Luke and Hannah had fun listen to a few old women from Florida speak in their ridiculous accents.

The three of us spent at least 20 minutes in the sweet shop, and I spent most of those minutes reading labels looking for something I could eat. We each left with a sweetie and walked to the Chinese settlement. There wasn’t a whole lot left. A few buildings still stood, some of them were built right into the hillside. But others were just cement rectangles on the ground, the only thing left of what used to be a house. Finished exploring the settlement and the woods nearby, we left to check in at the holiday park.

As I said before, we were being spoiled during our one night in Arrowtown. It wasn’t long after we’d parked that we were unpacking, boiling water for tea, taking showers, and getting cozy in bed so we could watch “The Chase.” Life was good. It continued to get better when we went out later that night to a super awesome bar called The Blue Door. It was a cold night, and a bit rainy, but we walked into town anyway. The entrance to the bar was in a small courtyard just off the main street.

True to its name, it had a blue door, and on the inside was a beautiful wooden bar, big comfy arm chairs by the fire, and large wooden barrels set as tables. It was awesome. The place wasn’t big, but it was nearly full when we walked in. The fire on the far side had the place warmed to the perfect temperature. We took seats against a stone wall near the bar. The lone bartender came out with menus and said he’d be back to grab our drinks in a minute.

We found out later, after Luke had talked with him up at the bar, that this guy was actually the manager of the place. He was very friendly and took good care of us all night. We didn’t drink much but still had a great time. I’d brought the deck of cards we’d bought back in Fox Glacier, and we enjoyed a few games of Crazy Eights while we sipped our brews. The three of us even went so far as to splurge on a bomber of this amazing stout. Definitely one of the best beers I’ve had the whole trip.

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Also this happened…

Enjoying a nice buzz, the three of us walked back to the holiday park in a light drizzle. It was a short stay but a good stay in Arrowtown. Very relaxed to be sure. And I think we all needed that. There will always be more to see of NZ, but I think the three of us were feeling ready for a break. I know I certainly was. But our time in Arrowtown wasn’t quite over. The next day we were off to Queenstown, and like it had been with the move from Wanaka to Arrowtown, we’d have plenty of time to kill before check in tomorrow. We spent the next morning taking a walk along the Arrow River.

I had visited Arrowtown when Mom and I visited, but that was just to see the Ford of Bruinen and the Gladden Fields. The criss-crossing sections of river and the wooded river bank hadn’t changed much in those intervening years. Only this time I was walking far above the rocky shore I’d ventured out to before. The narrow sides of the canyon were mostly covered in brown, but parts were still clinging to the edges of autumn. Patches of red and orange trees were still visible, and even a few green pines broke that drab monochrome of the hibernating trees.

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There was only one other person we saw on the trail, a man who was on a run with his dog. Otherwise we had the trail to ourselves. I spotted a vertebrae among the rocks beneath our feet, the last remaining bit of something’s lunch. We passed a lovely waterfall, slithering past ferns and over mossy rocks. We went as far as we could go, to the very end of the path until the river itself blocked us from going any further.

Back down the trail we went. We had business in Queenstown. Mostly that business involved eating Fergburger as many times as we could, but some other stuff too. First of all, I need some new pants. I’d brought my two best pairs with, and had picked up a couple new pairs of capris for the summer. But by the time we arrived at Queenstown, both pairs of jeans had succumbed to crotch holes. Alas. So! We had a plan to enact when we arrived in town.

It took us a bit to get parking figured. One lot we tried was full so we drove down near the harbor, and while Luke and Hannah found a spot, there wasn’t another near by for me. So I ended up driving around the block and snagged one there. But it was only 30 minute parking. We reunited and in a flash laid out our plan of action. I would dash off to Just Jeans and get myself a new pair, while Luke and Hannah went off to a ski shop to get Hannah a new pair of winter gloves. Then we would all meet at Fergburger to grab lunch.

And break! We were off! It was lucky everything was pretty close together. Racing the parking meter has to be one of the most stressful things, because no one wants to pay a stupid parking ticket. Finding a good pair of jeans took no time at all (I’d always had good luck and good service at Just Jeans). With a few minutes left before our meet time, I ducked into a used bookshop. In retrospect it was a stupid move because two minutes is not enough time to browse anywhere, let alone a book shop.

I was the first to arrive at Ferg (that’s what the cool kids call it). I took a seat on one of the benches out front and waited for my two compadres. The arrived a few short minutes later, and we got into line. Now, as of writing this, I’ve only been to Fergburger three times. But every time I’ve been there it has always been busy. People waiting in line, people waiting outside for their orders. It’s nuts, and I feel pretty sure that that is the norm for them. And for good reason.

I mean, there are only two veggie options on the menu, but they are damn tasty. They’ve got lots of tasty sauces to offer, and the buns are the perfect combination of fluffy and crunch. If you are ever in Queenstown, I would recommend a visit. With our lunch in hand we hurried back to our cars. One, so we wouldn’t get a ticket, and two, so we could get to our accommodation and start eating!

This Top 10 Holiday Park was much nicer than the one in Wanaka. For starters, the kitchen didn’t smell like pee. There was a nice lounge area with a fire and a TV (yes, we did watch more of “The Chase”) and the bathrooms were warm when you walked in. We ate first, savoring every messy bite, before we went back to our cabin and decided how to spend the rest of our evening. Somewhat surprisingly, we spent it shopping.

Again, we didn’t really “shop.” We did, I think, stop in almost every ski shop in Queenstown looking for gloves, and I did buy one shirt, but mostly we were just enjoying our time walking around Queenstown, seeing what there was to see. Once it started to get late, and all of us hungry, we returned to Top 10 to make tea.

The next day, our last in Queenstown, was a bit more shopping, a small blast to the past, and whole hell of a lot of anxiety that none of us were expecting. Here’s how it started. Things were good in the morning. We went to a place called Vudu Cafe and had a nice meal before we went to Cookie Bar (yes, there is a cookie bar) and had a nice dessert. Hannah finally made a decision on her gloves, and Luke and I picked up a few postcards from Whitcoulls.

My little blast from the past came when Luke suggested we have a game of disc golf (he called it something else at first but I can’t remember what it was). I haven’t, or hadn’t, played disc golf in who knows how many years. I played a lot back in middle school, and maybe had a game or two in college, but not in any recent years. So I was up for it. Hannah, not so much. We played about half the course, and that first half was kind of a bitch. Something like the first 3 holes were right on a steep hill that would take your disc all the way down to the trail below. I think Luke was the only one to chase his disc that far.

It was a short, and incomplete game, but we had fun. When we called it quits, we took a moment to sit and enjoy the view over the lake. Then we got to enjoy watching other disc golfers agonize over their discs being taken by the hill. There was one trio of guys we passed, and each of their discs almost ended up in the lake. It was hilarious. We returned our discs, and after that were a bit lost. We’d decided earlier, okay, well I should say Hannah decided earlier  that we should go see The Conjuring 2, (I lost by majority vote) and the only showing was at 9 or something. So we still had lots of time to kill before the showing. (A bit of that time was spent shoving our faces full of Fergburger again.)

We ended up where most wayward travelers end up when they don’t know what to do. We ended up at a pub. Though we didn’t actually drink any beer, which feels a bit blasphemous now I think about it. Instead we sat and enjoyed a cup of tea and the wifi. And then, completely unbeknownst to us, we left the pub for the most terrifying movie experience of our lives.

No, it wasn’t because we were seeing The Conjuring. I mean, it was a scary movie, and sometimes I still think about that freaking nun. No no. The previews were still playing when Luke leaned over to me and said “We’re moving seats.” With brow furrowed, I followed Luke and Hannah to the section of seats on the far side of the theater. When we were all seated, I leaned close to the both of them and asked why we had moved. And oh man, the answer.

Apparently Hannah was very suspicious of the guy who had sat down at the end of our row. He’d been holding something close to his body, and then wrapped it carefully in his hat. Of course, she thought it was a gun. My first reaction was, “Dammit, this is America shit” which is terrible on its own. But it especially freaked me out because there had been a shooting in a theater just an hour away from where I live.

The guy eventually left about 10 minutes into the film, which was cause for a whole new wave of panic. But he never came back. The whole walk back to the car, we talked about how terrified we had all been during pretty much all of the movie. Hannah chided Luke and I for not agreeing to leave. But we’d survived. We were a bit rattled, but we’d survived. That will, hopefully, be the most, and only, terrifying movie experience I ever have. You know, unless the movie is like, really scary.

We left Queenstown the next day, the last step in our journey, and the one that would bring our Golden Trio adventures to an end.

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~Ren

 

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