In the spring of 2016, Henderson Productions took an extended do-it-yourself driving tour of New Zealand. We’re excerpting portions of our trip in this blog. Both a book and plan-it-yourself itinerary are available for sale in our Shop on www.focusbyhenderson.com.
We spent a good part of a day in the old gold mining town of Arrowtown in the hills above Queenstown. Still touristy but not with adventure seekers and the youth-hostel crowd of 20 somethings scattered all over the region. We had known from the very beginning we would not be taking any bungy jumps or jet shot boat trips up the gorges. Also not setting out on the 3 and 4-day hikes up and over the mountains. Not our thang.
Arrowtown in the fall struck us just about right. The entire region was part of a gold rush during our Civil War years with all the corresponding wild west action and stories. There are rivers named for Raging Meg – reputed to be for a fiery Irish redhead – or Gentle Annie – you get the idea. The ratio was about 1 to 100 men so clearly women were memorable!
No shoot outs but otherwise the town and the stories could be right out of the Alaskan gold rushes. Incredibly difficult terrain to navigate. Huge fortunes to be made especially by suppliers. Chinese laborers and guides, etc. And some towns, like Arrowtown, have retained their “historic downtown” including saloons turned now into pharmacies or boarding houses now the Lake District Museum. The Museum was perhaps one of the best we’ve ever seen for telling the stories in compelling and interesting ways. A whole display on how they kept themselves entertained for instance “Everyone had a piano. You had to find ways to entertain yourself.” Delightful.
The real draw for us had been the promise of fall color. We’d spent several days in either brown tussock scrubby stuff or deep fir green against glacial whites. The area around Queenstown and, especially Arrowtown, is known for birches and some maples and color-changing deciduous. Looks like we were about 2 weeks too early. Plenty of yellows and just a few reds and oranges starting to pop. Their Fall Festival is this week, so it reminded me of the capriciousness of the cherry blossoms actually being in bloom for the festival.
We ate a “light” snack of the world-famous sticky bun and coffee/tea at Provisions in Arrowtown before setting off for one of many available hikes along the Arrow River. It’s fall school holiday season still. That’s two weeks around Easter with lots of families out picnicking or playing cricket on the glen. Saw a boy leading his family down the path while carrying gold panning equipment, some teenage lovers with a blanket, quite a few joggers and dog walkers, several older couples (like us) with young grandchildren pushing or pulling them on. DELIGHTFUL.
We headed back into Queenstown mid-afternoon and I found a thrift store with a lovely merino wool sweater. Score! The “possum merino” wool is everywhere in the tourist spots. It is soooo dense and soft but incredibly expensive. A pair of gloves is in the neighborhood of $35 with scarves around 50 and sweaters not lower than 99 anywhere. Lovely colors and designs. Clearly the folks in the mountains have learned to capitalize on all those sheep. According to the Museum and multiple guidebooks, the sheep were originally brought into the South Island as food sources for the gold miners with thousands imported fairly quickly. Of course, the wool was used for clothing and warmth but the “discovery” of the high value of this strand of merino wool is a late 20th century boom. In any case, I absolutely don’t need anything and pleased to have a little remembrance at low cost.
We opted to spend late afternoon walking around a portion of the lake and watched the antique steamer depart for a dinner cruise while the Remarkables mountain range literally glowed in the setting sun. It was a deep pink, purplish sort of sunset and the pics are pretty. Then a casual stroll through town to watch the nightlife begin. The area is known for late night parties and pub crawls and the like. We haven’t the slightest interest although we did pop in and get the lowdown on the $20 per person entry fee for the Ice Bar. For those of you not in the loop, that’s a bar made completely of ice and kept at below freezing. You’re issued parkas and fleece-lined boots and gloves for the privilege to go have an expensive drink and take selfies in the photo booth. I can totally see the interest in summertime but…..it’s 40 degrees outside. Why? In thanks for listening to the pitch we were offered $5 off each when we come back “after dinner when the dj starts”. HAHAHA. Good one.
Found a wonderful pub on Searles St which hit us with literal and figurative warmth the second we opened the door. That did it. Amanda from Toronto was our waitress. She is also on the under-30-one-year-tourists-can-work-their-way visa. She’s been in country for 3 months and plans to stay in Queenstown as long as she can. Loves the no tipping as it gives her a decent flat salary. And often tourists tip anyway.
On her advice we shared 2 appetizers and some local beers. Fried, batted (that’s en zed for battered) fish baytes (bites) over salad and a ¼ meter pizza. The top of the menu has a ruler showing a ¼ vs ½ meter size. ¼ means the length and the width was about 5 inches. So more than a regular slice or even 2 of our circular wedges. Yum, yum, yum. Wasn’t quite fish and chips yet but….we’re getting there.
And Rick finally figured out what en zed meant. NZ. As in New Zealand. Get it? J The other phrase that had been bugging him was “sweet as”. It’s generally used as “Sweet as en zed” but shortened to sweet as on all sorts of trendy tee shirts and signage. Might be a pub sign saying “Speights Lager – sweet as” It wasn’t til it was completely spelled out that he started to catch on. For the record, I hadn’t noticed.
What’s your experience in New Zealand? We’d love to hear your
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