chilling feet

chilling feet

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Winter's End Brings With It The Close of Ski Slopes: Queenstown Excursion

(We skied The Remarkables and were able to lock in a deal for two days
of lift tickets for free rentals)
(Spoiler - this is a long post. Grab a coffee or tea and be ready to enjoy some amazing photos)

As we were greeted at the airport by two of Sarah's new colleagues and were walking to the baggage claim, one of the first valuable pieces of information we picked up was about a recent "dumping of snow" that had taken place on the ski slopes within a short two hour drive of our new home.  The main reason this information is so important is because it afforded us a chance to ski/snowboard one time in NZ before winter officially ended and took with it any good snow for the year.  Sarah looked at me with excitement as we received this news and the next day said, "Oh ya, we are doing this."  So as "a man of leisure," as I have been dubbed by the local bank teller when I described my current occupation, I set about sorting (as the Kiwis would say) out our snowbound adventure.
(Sarah is so happy to be snowboarding again - yes I did have to wait over
and over again for her to clip in and walk through flat areas but I suppose
it's totally worth it... I suppose)

By far the best part of this whole deal, maybe rivaled only by getting on the slopes one time before they close, is getting the chance to visit Queenstown (this is the birthplace of the adventurism in NZ - bungee jumping and other such pastimes were created here).  This is exciting for about ninety-nine various reasons, and one of the highest of all is the fact that Miriam (Sarah's fantastic sister) and her dashing man friend Gordon (and I believe one of Gordon's friends) will be coming to Queenstown in November to visit!  For this reason our Queenstown time was also somewhat of a reconnoitering of the area, good food to eat, where to stay, and what to do that is fun!  Knowing that we will have family and friends in NZ is super exciting and a heck of a comfort to our souls (shout out to my bro Russell Bones who lives with his family in Auckland - nice having him close by too).

(You can see from this photo how close it is to the end of the season which
I believe was two days after we finished skiing.  I was tentative about
going down this slope but Sarah was determined.)
 My only experience skiing at all in the past has been with Hope Student Ministry through Hope Presbyterian Church in Memphis, TN.  Almost every year since the winter of 2003 I joined Bret Spiegelman and his crew out to the slopes in Colorado.  This meant my lift tickets were paid for in exchange for work, I was able to ride in a bus (or work crew van) and did not have to drive up the scary mountain slopes, and of course there were around 100-300 students to manage depending on the trip.  Well, Bret, these lift tickets are expensive?!?!  Good grief!  So thanks for all the lift tickets over the years.  And thank you as well for always hiring such capable drivers!
(Just look at the views off of the road - these photos do not show how
steep these hills really are)
As we bought our lift tickets the man at the counter said, "So you can get up the mountain one of two ways.  You can pay to ride up on the bus or you can drive your own car up."  Since we have a car the hosptial has given to us to use, I asked, "How is the drive?"  "Well," he replied, "it just depends on how confident you are in your driving man.  Some people just don't feel comfortable driving up this route."  Since I am absolutely confident in my driving (and since I knew there was no snow on the roads) we decided that we would try driving ourselves up.  And there was no problem with driving ourselves up minus feeling uneasy, dealing with one of the bumpiest rides of our lives... however, driving allowed us to move at our own pace and take some photos.  Look at a few of the photos but then scan down for more stories:

(Trying to race down the other cars was fun - just kidding Gwendolyn - well, sort of just kidding)
(Sarah kept saying, "Hey look at this!" or "Wow, look at that!" So finally I pulled over and looked some.)
(We want to go and explore these other mountains too!)
(Where is the road??  Ha, this pic actually shows a little bit of how the road would disappear down the next slope)
(yes a little windy but what a view)
 We did stop once or twice to take some really nice photos.  It was fun when we could look back over and see Queenstown and Frankton below us.  The snow on the mountain was not the greatest but it was certainly more fun than no snow at all, especially for skiing (or snowboarding if you're silly like Sarah).  A quick change afforded us some dry clothing and you can hardly tell from this photo that there would be any snow at all above us on a day like this!  As Winter was ending and the first day of Spring came our way, the weather in this area (down the mountain) was around 4-7 degrees celsius on average.  Really pretty nice weather for being outside.  As our event coordinator I was able to procure lodging for us at a hotel/hostel called The Hippo Lodge Backpackers.
(this was the fantastical view from our lodge - woah)

The Hippo was a perfect spot.  Not only did we have an amazing view off of the patio besides the common area, but on top of this they upgraded us to one of their best rooms (they shared the love of the off season with us)!  As I checked in and was talking to Shana, a girl from LA who moved to NZ about six years ago or so, she told us that she was going to move us from the bunks in the dormitory style room to a single room with a queen sized bed.  She gave us dinner recommendations (which I will continue talking about in a minute), was willing to book any activities for us (from bungee jumping to river boat racing), offered some amazing suggestions for our friends who will be visiting Queenstown in the near future, and was extremely amicable.
(you should be able to tell from my gesture just how
steep this hill really is... seriously it's a long walk when
this is the last part of your journey at the end of a long
day, but totally worth it when the Hippo is waiting)

After taking some of Shana's suggestions for places to eat in Queenstown, we headed down the hill I am motioning to in the picture (again, steeper than it appears and there will be a few more pics of this walk father down in the picture section of the blog) and out into town.  This town is the quintessential tourist town if there is one.  We walked past outdoors store after outdoors store, then by adventure booking agency after adventure booking agency, right on beyond knick knack shop after knick knack shop (mostly jade or bone carved into various Maori shapes), along with the many souvenir shops and almost countless places to eat.  There must be almost as many places to eat in Queenstown as there are local people who live in the town - barely an exaggeration.  The good part is that most of them seem to look as though they are quite good.  Any place we stopped to eat, the food was always very tasty, which brings us to dinner on our first night there.  Based off of our host's recommendation at the Hippo, we went in search of a little place called Atlas - a place entirely dedicated to good NZ craft beer (apparently they make good food too and it's not super NZ expensive - some of the food is pretty expensive).
(No, bad Kiwi Bird!)

(the view from dinner - pretty nice)
As Shana promised the beer was really good and not as highly priced as other places in the area.  This was great news for me and only empathetically good news for Sarah (she has not yet learned to like the taste of the wonderful nectar).  She positioned me in this photo so that it would appear that the giant Kiwi Bird is trying to steal my brew - watch it Kiwi Bird!  There was, what the waitress named for us, a paradise duck that walked around trying to earnestly take beer and food from patrons while we ate, even jumping up on a table at one point.  The fish that we ate was delicious and it was right off of the infamous Lake Wakatipu, which means in the Maori either "growing canoe" or "growing bay" although apparently no one knows for sure.  As you can see from the photo of the boats that were docked in the lake, the atmosphere for sitting and eating outside of Atlas was quite nice.  Fortunately the weather was just warm enough for this sort of dining experience.  Once we were finished with dinner we weaved our way back through the city, tired as all get out from a long day of skiing and literally shutting down the lifts, we slowly worked back to the Hippo where we "hit the hay."
(the wind about knocked me off the edge as I peered down the steepest
part of the mountain we skied the entire time we were there - I hesitated
for just a moment)

Our second day in Queenstown started off as early as possible, which was not super early but we won't talk about that too much.  We drove by a local bakery (which became maybe my favorite place in the city) for some fresh baked goods and delicious Joe, and then headed up to the slopes again.  As you can see from the photo, our first run (as inspired by Sarah's suggestion) was a high and steep black on part of the mountain we had not hit the day before mostly due to the walking Sarah had to do with her board (again, snowboarding is so fun - sarcastic joy).  Once we
(I tried making the mustache my mustache but it just worked better this way)

were done skiing and boarding our second day we turned all of our gear in and headed down the mountain to clean up at the Hippo (oh ya, we decided to stay a second day at the Hippo because they were willing to extend our awesome deal a second day).  Once clean and ready for food, we went in search of our new delightful dinner experience.  Out of all my pre-trip research I had found only one restaurant that I really wanted to eat at while in Queenstown, but for some reason Sarah was not as excited as I was...not sure why.  This "sandwhich, salads, wraps, smoothies with a side of stache"(and
(can you name all of the famous moustaches?)
overall healthy eatery) is called Johnny Barr's - perhaps a place created by a young man who is very much after the same interests in life as me (I am smiling).  Yes, this fine establishment is a little more than preoccupied with mustaches!  Not only does the mustache infused atmosphere create a one-of-a-kind experience, it also brings a healthy smile to most anyone who comes through their doors.  Who doesn't love a mustache, I ask... well Sarah when it's on me apparently.  "It's not that I do not like mustaches.  I just don't like them on you," she is quoted as saying when sitting in this fine place.  Can you believe it?  It's not as though a guy needs to have a mustache all of the time. Sometimes a beard or even no facial hair at all is ok from time to time (let's not get carried away here), but to have such a prejudice against one of the oldest and most glorious of facial hair arrangements just seems wrong.  I guess this is just proof after all that Sarah is not perfect as we have all come to assume.  As you can see from the next photo, even the beer in Johnny Barr's gets behind the love and adoration of the mustache.  And finally, what you are all wondering - how was the food?  Naturally this is the first question one usually
(it was better than it looks and it looks good)
(these two young kids and their dad carve all of these necklaces out of jade,
bone, and green stone - they are pretty darn good)
answers in regards to a place where he or she is eating food (at least when there is not an amazing distraction like a mustache), and we will answer this question as well.  Sarah and I split the Lamb and Mint soup and The Charlie (sandwich)... this food was healthy, amazingly great, and overall everything tasted like it looks like in the picture.  Both dishes were creative with their approach to quite normal recipes and just wow'ed the mouth.  I recommend this place not just as place to eat but also as a place that must be visited when you are nearby so that you can take in the mustache.  There are more pictures below of this wonderful place!

(this one way bridge is the only way in and out of town on this side of
Queenstown - you wait your turn and then drive over.  Below on the
walking path there is quite a decent view to be had)
Thanks to the extra night at the Hippo, we able to hit the Saturday market down in town.  There were many authentically creative artists who had come to share and sell their creations to anyone who finds them awesome enough to buy.  There really were some good options but since we are on a quasi buying freeze (all of our possessions are in another country and in storage so buying new things seems ridiculously stupid overall) we acted like we were in a museum and simply enjoyed the talents on display (we did buy a few trinkets for gifts that need to be sent back for certain folks).  As you can see from the photo of me checking out that table, the bag I am carrying has whatever we might need for a 14 kilometer walk.  The Queenstown Trek walks right along Lake Wakatipu all the way along over to Frankton and then beyond if one so chooses.  We will display this long walk, the shopping in Frankton, and the walk back through photos with comments.  There will of course be more photos from the rest of the time as well.  Enjoy and live peaceful lives of blissful fun experiencing all joy there is around you to be had.

(a pic we took on the long walk - what a great way to exercise)
(had to give a close-up of the bottle - they have local micro brew specially bottled for their restaurant)
(mustaches even hanging from the ceiling!)
(the water in Lake Wakatipu is so beautiful - Sarah could not get over the view of it)
(walking back we could not tell if it was raining or there was a cloud hanging low or fog)
(the walk down from the Hippo to town - pretty steep)
(the final set of stairs on the way to the Hippo at the top of the hill)
(Lake Wakapitu from atop the bridge) 
(does Sarah enjoy all bodies of water? yes!)
(the town from the other side of the water after walking around)
(The Bakery - they make great coffee and wonderful food)
(We took this photo for Gordon and Taylor - this is the golf course across the way from Queenstown)
(And more photos in the bathroom)
(inside the bathroom at Johnny Bar's)

(Ok, one more of the amazing mustache photos)
(smelling the flowers in the Queenstown Gardens)
(Sarah always trying to hide in the shadow of my hat and such - she's so silly)
(one of the most spectacular of coffee that I kept talking about in the blog)
(there was a older gentleman sitting in the lake - it had to be frigid indeed)
(golf course again - what a view this course must have)
(I had one of her without the sun in the background but I just love the way this one looks)
(Yep, an ice rink in the middle of Queenstown Gardens - I might just have to move to this part of NZ...)
(I'm so lucky to be with her)
(was I hoping she would fall in? no, we were too far away from home and wet Sarah is not a happy Sarah)
(there is the man in the water I was talking about in the last photo of the beach)
(only blacks up there - this was a fun run)
(Atlas - our first dinner in Queenstown)
(Sarah with the giant Kiwi Bird)
(ready to eat dinner, this was when we were still getting acquainted with Queenstown)
(one of the views from the road up the mountain)
(upward driving!!)
(not sure what we are looking at but maybe the way we will explore next time)
(ha ha - I love ski photos where you cannot really recognize people fully)
(melting snow creates a pretty sweet waterfall just under the ski lift)
(all I could think was, "I shouldn't have trimmed my beard right before going skiing") 
(probably only kids, this sweet tunnel that starts with a downward swirl is fancy)
(I had to go too)
(in motion - ya, I'm that cool.  just kidding, calm down)
(Sarah's sweet moves)
(it got really really cold with a breezy hail/rain/snow at certain points)
See you all on the next blog post!!  Hopefully some of our pictures have inspired you to come and visit Kiwi Land!!  Come on, just do it.