Visiting New Zealand -The South Island and Queenstown

By Max Hartshorne

The Fuzzy Antlers of Caged Deer at Walter Peak Farm

The TSS Earnslaw
The TSS Earnslaw

We boarded the TSS Earnslaw, a vintage steamship built in the early 1900s, for a journey across sparkling Lake Wakatipu this morning, in the company of about 40 mostly German visitors. Despite the tendency for Germans to speak better English than Americans, the group still relied on their translator to get the gregarious sheep farmer’s jokes, which were ribald and never ending.

Our destination was at the near end of this W-shaped long lake, the Walter Peak High Country Farm. Here, more than 25,000 sheep, a herd of red-haired Highland cattle and other livestock are raised. They also have herds of deer, one male with fuzzy giant antlers looked like something Dr. Suess would have drawn. Beside the farm house are dramatic steep cliffs, which the sheep make their home for part of the year.

Places like this appeal to the corny tourist in us all, patting the fuzzy horns, giving a bottle to a thirsty little lamb, and watching Storm, the amazing border collie run the sheep around with deft precision while obeying his master’s whistle calls. Lindsay told us he’d been here since the 1970s, and even today, the only practical way to get to town is by boat… otherwise it’s a 2 1/2 hour long slog around the mountains.

The farm uses a diesel generator to power the whole operation, and I asked Leslie if they’d considered solar or wind power instead.

“That’s a good idea,” he said, but like other Kiwis I met on this trip, it seems that these alternatives haven’t gotten as much traction here as they have in other countries. My sense is that in a few years alternative energy like wind and solar will be huge here.

A Million Dollar View from a Wooden Hot Pool

Last night we were picked up by a friendly English gent and taken to Arthur’s Point to one of the newer and nicer attractions of this adrenaline-fueled town by the lake. Instead of bungy jumping or skydiving, we opted for soaking at Onsen Hot Pools, which provide wooden tubs, total privacy, and sweeping views of a curve of the Shotover River and the beautiful untouched mountains for miles all around.

Enjoying the water at Onsen Hot Pools
Enjoying the water at Onsen Hot Pools

Tony Williams and his wife Mitsi Morikawa were inspired by the soaking tubs in her native Japan and hence came the name, meaning hot pools. They could have opened up right in Queenstown, (which would have been much easier to find) but instead choose a location perched on a hillside with each of the six pool rooms affording this million dollar view. A garage door can be opened once you’re warm in your tub and you get the experience of the open air all around your wooden deck as you turn up the jets.

Tony’s dad told us that few locals ever come out to these pools; they consider them a tourist thing. Plus, as Janelle here at the Dairy said, staff in any one of these places gets offered free skydiving, jetboating, bungy jumping and all of the other adventures. We kicked back in the swirling warm waters and watched the southern hemisphere slowly darken as night fell. Wow, wouldn’t you come out here if you lived here? Maybe if we did we’d be the only locals who are regulars!

There Used To Be No Sign on the Bunker’s Door

The last time I was in Queenstown was back, my God, before 9/11. It was January 2000, and I passed the new year on board the Air New Zealand plane heading here for what would be only my second press trip of my career.

Then I was traveling with a group of rowdy 18-35 year olds, who had signed up for a group trip with Contiki. They were all keen to go bungy jumping, skydive, do the jetboats and float down the roaring Shotover River on rafts. We did that. It tipped over, and I had the scariest moment of my life. But worse was the drive up that winding, terrifying road to get to the place where the rafting began.

The Bunker in Queenstown, New Zealand
The Bunker in Queenstown

Now we’re back in Q-town, nine years and many trips in between. The town of about 10,000 is filled with twenty-somethings, all prowling the very clean and neat streets in search of beer and adventure. We visited a bar I had been to back then…called The Bunker.

In 2000, there was no sign, you had to know where to find it. The current owner, Cam, told us that back in the day, there were many more locals who inhabited his cool little hole in the wall bar in Cow Street, so food wasn’t as important, they were there for drinking.

A sign at the bar said ‘we serve doubles unless asked otherwise.’ He explained that in NZ, a drink is 1/2 ounce, so just about every bar serves what they call ‘doubles.’ Cam said the town has changed a bit, it’s spread out and now there isn’t the big regular crowd of locals who bring him business.

Many have moved out into neighboring towns, so he’s more reliant on visitor business. They serve up a fabulous wild rabbit risotto today, along with other fine meats and good wines.

Queenstown has changed, but it’s still one of the most stunning towns by a lake you’ll ever see. The light bouncing off the foothills and behind that, the dramatic peaks of the Remarkable Mountains, makes this a perfect place for shooting beer and car commercials. Great to be back.

Today I’m off to visit with a local couple who share my passion of all things retro, as in 1960s design. It was arranged by Amanda Read of Southern Wilderness who hiked with us a few days ago. When she learned of my retro interest she called her friends and…. poof! I’m invited for a visit to their home. Look what the universe provides…. more and more Kiwi friends at every turn!

New Zealand ROCKS!

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