'Banff' Downunder

Trip Start Jan 10, 2005
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Trip End May 10, 2005


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Friday, April 8, 2005

We next made our way west to New Zealand's Banff, Queenstown (population 7,500). Queenstown is a beautiful place, nestled in the New Zealand Alps along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. Since it's fall here, the leaves are turning colour. The lake is surrounded by gold trees.

Queenstown is a popular destination for thrill seekers - those who want to try their hand at skiing, sky diving, hang gliding, paragliding or bungy jumping. That's if you want to pay a bundle! Martin and Steve were enamoured with the idea of bungy jumping until they found out it cost $140 - $200 per jump. (They decided not to go.) It makes me wonder if New Zealand is pricing itself out of the backpacker market, especially when their dollar is so strong.

You don't see many overweight Kiwis. A lot of people here are very fit and enjoy the outdoors - and the extreme sports. I was told that some of the top moto-cross riders in the world are New Zealanders. Although bungy jumping was "invented" by the natives of Vanautu (as a rite of passage for boys to attain manhood), it was Kiwis who perfected it into the "sport" it is today. (Note: New Zealanders have many "claims to fame" for such a small country and are quick to point them out, just as Canadians will say, "That's/He's/She's Canadian, you know!")

The three of us managed to find "The Cow" (named after Queen Victoria, believe it or not), a popular Queenstown pizza restaurant that Heather and I visited some twenty years ago! Their pizza these days, however, was much more to our liking (i.e., there was no fried egg carefully placed in the centre of it!). Like Australia, there's a much greater variety of food here than there was when I last visited - it seems like there's an Indian restaurant on every corner is most towns! It's amazing to see how much this country has changed, particularly when it's so isolated and was so very English 20 years ago!

We stayed at a hostel in Queenstown perched on top a very high hill. There are some very steep hills to navigate here - obviously they don't have to contend with much ice and snow in the winter! The hostel owner/manager is a fellow who's a certified nurse and an X-games athlete. He told us he'd bungy-jumped over 500 times!

The three of us have an on-going competition as to who turns on the windshield wipers (instead of the signal lights) the most. I think Martin is winning (i.e., he's turned on the wipers on by mistake the fewest times), but he had lots of practise in Western Australia!

Probably because of the technically difficult roads here, vehicles must pass inspection for road fitness on an annual basis. Every car and truck on the road has a sticker visible on the "windscreen" indicating that it has passed inspection. As a result, you'll see no one driving clunkers or old wrecks here. (At times we're not so sure about our car as the rear shocks could use replacing and the brakes seem a little mushy, but I guess that's why it was cheap!)

You'll see evidence of the gold rush in many areas of the south island. Like the California, the Yukon and Alaska, New Zealand was deluged by people trying to make their fortune panning for gold. Tourists can pan for gold just as the prospectors did.

En route to Queenstown, we took a detour to Mt. Cook (or Aoraki, "Cloud Piercer" as the Maoris call it), the highest mountain in New Zealand. Unfortunately, I saw even less of it than I did in 1984! There was a lot of low cloud cover.
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