New Zealand: Queenstown

10 05 2011

After nearly two weeks of traversing New Zealand from North to South, we finally reached our last destination – beautiful  Queenstown.  Queenstown is a resort town on the southwest corner of the South Island that is known for its adventure tourism.  This beauty of a town is ideally situated on an inlet called Queenstown Bay on Lake Wakatipu that is further surrounded by majestic mountain ranges.


View of Queenstown from the top of the gondola on a cloudy day.

We arrived at around dusk and only had a few minutes to walk around the downtown area before dark.  The town has a very cozy, vacation vibe to it.  People were out and about enjoying the night.


I spy a KFC and the Queenstown gondola.

There are a number of restaurants, from casual to upscale. Many featured seafood.  We had a fantastic view of Queenstown from one of the seafood restaurants on the dock.  We lucked out and got the best table in the house!  The day we arrived, we had stopped by the restaurant before the dinner rush and happened to speak to the manager, who told us to request this table.  Everyone is so nice here!


View of Queenstown from one of our dinners.


Another lovely New Zealand sunset.

The town itself is small – there is only one stoplight and the widest part is probably about 6 blocks.  The town is oddly shaped with two long arms that hug the lake radiating from the downtown area.  Another part of the town lies on a peninsula across from downtown. In a town of this size, it is possible to buy whatever you might need, but there is probably only one store of each type.

On another day, we rode up the Queenstown gondola to see the view.  Although parts of the gondola are cheesy, the view was worth it, especially now that Deer Park Heights is no longer open to the public.


A typical Skyline gondola.


View of Lake Wakatipu from the top of Queenstown gondola.

When you get to the top, there is a cheesy luge track you can ride. It sounded very exciting to us until we got there and saw that it was mostly kids and grandmas doing the luge. Now that I have a kid, I would definitely take him on this when he gets old enough!


Queenstown gondola luge

Since it was a cloudy and dreary day, we weren’t able to get very clear views. We did find a few interesting hiking trails up at the top of the gondola though. We decided to take a short hike through the forest and it was gorgeous.

We were almost glad it was raining because of all the dry timber! The trees were so tall and thick that even during the day it was dark in the wood. We saw these bright red mushrooms everywhere. I went crazy and took 100 shots of red mushrooms because I had never seen what I term “Super Mario” mushrooms in real life before. Fortunately, I am only plaguing you with one photo.


A real life (possibly poisonous) Super Mario mushroom found in New Zealand.

As we descended back down the gondola, we saw this sheep on the steep hill. The sheep are really everywhere you look in NZ! It’s like they were following us.


Baaaaaaaaaaaaa!

Next: Glenorchy, Milford Sound, and Deer Park Heights.





New Zealand: The Outskirts of Queenstown

11 04 2011

The stunning landscape you pass as you drive toward Queenstown is the perfect subject of a picture post.  For much of the approach to Queenstown, the Gibbston Highway follows the Kawarau River as it snakes through the mountains forming a dramatic gorge.  I had heard that Peter Jackson filmed Argonath, the Pillars of the Kings, in the Lord of the Rings film from a location you could view so I set out to find it.  We turned into a gorgeous vineyard set in the mountains and I snapped this shot.


Chard Farm Vineyard

Apparently, this was the correct location because we encountered a Lord of the Rings tour van on the way down.  The road we traveled on to view this location was incredibly scary, though.  It was a one lane dirt road with no rails that was on a cliff.  We should have known the road would be precarious when we saw this sign.  This the most warning we’ve ever seen in New Zealand, where basically you do anything at your own risk.


Funny Sign


Another View of the Kawarau River

On the other side of the highway is the famous AJ Hackett Bungy Bridge, the world’s first commercial bungy operation.  From the vineyard side, we were able to see  two bridges – the first one was the highway and the second one was the bungy bridge.  Alas, the AJ Hackett was closed when we went so we did not partake.  To be honest, we had no intention of bungy jumping anyway.


Bridges over Kawarau River

We did drive over and explore the bungy jumping center.  Even though it was closed, we were still able to walk to the staging area and jumping off point on the bridge.


View from AJ Hackett’s Bungy Jump

While we were on the bridge, we saw a jetboat zoom up the river.  I believe this was the Shotover river.


Kawarau River

Before we left, we saw this very confusing and contradictory setup.  We didn’t know if we should leave immediately or stay awhile and enjoy a picnic.


A Contradictory Message

A few miles down the road, we took the turn off for Arrowtown.  Arrowtown is a small, historic gold mining town located right outside of Queenstown.  We had heard that it was a well preserved and picturesque frontier town that was also a former Chinese mining settlement so we stopped to take a look.  Although I am aware that the Chinese have a long history of migrating overseas, the waves before the 20th century have always interested me.  Being an immigrant is not a piece of cake so I am always amazed at the Chinese pioneers from before the modern age and globalization.

After gold was discovered on the Arrow River in 1861, Arrowtown sprung into being to accommodate the flood of speculators.  By 1865, however, the population dipped when gold extraction slowed and richer gold fields elsewhere in New Zealand lured many miners away.  To remedy this economic recession, the Otago government invited Chinese miners to the area and they established a separate settlement in Arrowtown.  These miners remained in the area until 1928.

Modern day Arrowtown was as quaint as we imagined it.  The historic main street is called Buckingham Street and features well maintained buildings, equipment, and other objects.  According to the official website, Arrowtown has over 70 buildings, features, and monuments remaining from the gold rush era.


Post and Telegraph, Arrowtown


Buckingham Street

At the end of Buckingham Street is the site of the old Chinese settlement.  A path leads through a series of stone huts where the Chinese miners worked, socialized, and lived.  We only had time to enter one of the buildings, but it was very interesting.  The first thing I noticed was how dark everything was, even when it was bright sunlight outside.  We really take electric lights for granted.  The second thing I noticed was how low the ceilings and doorways were.  Even though I’m Chinese and not tall, I had to duck through some of these doors.


Stone house in the Chinese settlement at Arrowtown.

After seeing the Chinese settlement, we decided to explore the area around the Arrow River.  The riverbank is just behind the town.  We passed by a hiker’s sign, where I saw this incomprehensible request.  We assumed didymo meant trash until we looked it up.  Apparently, didymo (commonly known as rock snot) is an invasive species of algae.  This is why I love travel.  You learn something new every day!


Yo, No Didymo!

You didn’t think you could escape this post without another Lord of the Rings reference, could you?  One of the *ahem* main reasons I dragged my husband to see the river is because according to my LOTR location guidebook, this is where they filmed the scene where Arwen escapes the Nazguls on horseback by flooding the river (Ford of Bruinen).  And yep, we found it.


Site of Arwen’s Stand, Ford of Bruinen

The area around the Arrow River was really lovely, though.  How can a view of a shallow river threading through soft green woods against a backdrop of gorgeous mountains ever be bad?


Arrow River

As the sun set, we returned to the road for the last few miles to Queenstown, where we would stay for the next three nights.  Just before we reached the town, we saw a glorious view of the aptly named Remarkables mountain range.  The Remarkables surround Queenstown and is one of its most famous features.


The Remarkables

Next: Queenstown





New Zealand: Scenic Drive along the Southern Alps

27 03 2011

The drive from Christchurch to Queenstown is arguably one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand.  It certainly is the best looking drive on a major roadway, in my opinion.  On this approximately six hour drive, the landscape transforms from green hilly pastures and meadows dotted with wildflowers to vast plains and glacial lakes and finally to mountainous wilderness, all nestled against the backdrop of the magnificent Southern Alps.

View Larger Map

We began in the Canterbury grasslands outside of Christchurch, where pastures full of cows and sheep abounded.  This area still had the feel of cultivated countryside to it.

As we turned the car towards the Southern Alps, we were rewarded with a view of the large mountain range.  From this distance, it’s hard to gauge the size of these mountains because they are still very far away.  The vastness of the sky and the flat lands leading up to the mountains form an optimal illusion.

Once you reach Lake Tekapo, the scenery changes dramatically. From here on, the road hugs the Southern Alps, the ground becomes more hilly, and impossibly blue glacial lakes loom invitingly.

We thought the view of Lake Tekapo from the road was beautiful until we saw Lake Pukaki. There was no question we were stopping the car to take a look, and our curiosity was rewarded. This is some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen in my life.  My photos simply cannot do the scenery justice.

From Lake Pukaki, you can catch a glimpse of Mt. Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand at 12,316 feet. We were literally bowled over by the natural beauty.

A view of Mt Cook from Lake Pukaki.

A short distance later, we came upon Twizel, an area that served as the backdrop for Minas Tirith, the capital city of Gondor in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of Lord of the Rings.  It certainly was not hard to imagine Gandalf riding towards Minas Tirith when faced with this scenery.  I was a dork and kept telling my husband that we were in Gondor.

There were mountains surrounding us everywhere we looked now.

As we neared Arrowtown and Queenstown, we joined up with the Kawarau River, which served as the River Anduin in the LOTR movies.  We didn’t think it was possible, but the scenery became even more dramatic and picturesque.

Next: Arrowtown, Queenstown, and more gorgeous scenery.








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