Without a Paddle

Trip Start Sep 09, 2004
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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

' ...erm, I'll have the cream of sum-yung gai!'

Spur of the moment decisions usually result in top adventures and yesterday's meander through the Dart Valley was no exception. The Glenorchy based company 'Dart River Safaris' have a bit of a promotion on at the moment inviting Queenstown locals to enjoy an afternoon's safari at less than half price, an offer too good to miss. I never really considered myself as a 'local'. It's a funny kind of thought, having a label. So, when I went to check it all out I was pleasantly surprised to see young Anna sitting behind the desk secretly munching on cheesy snacks. Shiny and I had met Anna and her friend Ally out on the Greenstone Track back in April. They were nice enough girls, a bit younger than us and with that fresh-out-of-uni kind of spontaneous, animated humour that I'd not been used to in a while. They're in that last group-pic on that final fifth day of the Grand Traverse when Mannion picked us up and my head looked like a bird's nest. Have a look; they're nice girls. I say all this because they're nice. And they deserve a mention. Especially young Anna. Within minutes of chatting in the office she picked up the phone and called her boss to enquire whether or not she could 'slot a friend in'. She was told she could, and I wound up getting me a free ticket. Ch-ching!

So, yesterday was safari day. Thankfully, Ricky's big birthday bonanza the night before was less suicidal than I'd feared, so I was up around 10am reasonably refreshed. My two Japanese friends Yayoi and Sayoi joined me on the safari, and both managed to get the local's rate - which was good, as Sayoi hasn't long been in Queenstown. That's what I love here: rules are casually and frequently stretched to accommodate people's needs and to put smiles on otherwise hopeful faces - just cos' it's a nice thing to do. It's so refreshing to see, unlike modern UK practices where procedures are designed specifically to cause maximum inconvenience wherever possible, resulting in daily frustration, bitterness and a general everyday explosive rage. People are happy here. There's just no need for it to be any different. Life was never meant to be difficult was it?

The trip started and finished in Glenorchy, starting with a four-wheel drive up through to Paradise, passing through a few classic Lord of the Rings locations, many of which were shot in the general surrounding area. I was particularly impressed by Mount Earnslaw, standing bold and proud at just under three thousand metres. At the right angle it has an eerie looking nuclear-submarine shape about it, making it look cold and imposing. I loved it. It was magnificent. Interestingly enough, it was used successfully to pose as K2 in the filming of 'Vertical Limit'.

It was also nice to stop and take in the spectacular views of the Humboldt Mountains splayed out across the valley. They're the ones we dragged ourselves through on the Routeburn track in April. Apparently, there have been a few TV commercials filmed around here using the Humboldts as the background. One company successfully passed them off as the Canadian Rockies, before another swiftly followed suit and presented them as the Swiss Alps. Both companies actually got away with it, which can only mean high praises for our modest Humboldts.

We stopped for a moment to take a closer look at the grand old house next to Diamond Lake. Yayoi was first to spot it from the back window: 'Ooh, look, big castle!' (!) I remembered stopping here before to admire this beautifully tranquil setting, the day I attempted to drive out to Paradise in the van and found myself having to turn back cos' I didn't have a fourby. The house itself is beautiful - like something you'd see Huckleberry Finn hiding under - and apparently (or so the story goes) some guy built it single handedly in 1904 after sourcing cedar trees from the foot of Mt Alfred, which he then hacked up and used to construct his splendid creation. The intention was to build the perfect home for him and his fiancée who would eventually move in and live happily ever after with him beside the lake and mountains, in Paradise. After eight whole years of hard graft, he sent a proud telegram over to England, telling his beloved that their dream home had been built and that they could start their wonderful lives together. When he eventually got his reply, he was somewhat disheartened to learn that in the time it had taken him to build the house, she had gone and married his father. Thus, it just goes to show that even back then, women often drove men to dangerous levels of insanity.

So it was all interesting stuff. Following a short walk in the forest we clambered aboard the jet boat for an exhilarating blast up the Dart River alongside Mount Earnslaw, before turning back again, downstream, past Paradise and right back to Glenorchy. It must have been well over an hour on the boat, which made for an excellent afternoon. The Dart Valley was just awesome - untouched and pristine which got my insides bubbling and screaming to take on the Rees-Dart Track in the New Year. The seed is sown, it's in and it's grown. It's definitely on the cards...



To round the day off we decided to go for dinner. Actually, it was a swift 'rock-paper-scissor' tournament that decided the quisine, and Korean it was. What a meal! It was 'spicy as', and the Kimchi kicked some serious ass. If you fancy yourself as a bit of an adventurous diner, go eat with someone from Japan. They eat things we can't comprehend. I remember that time in the Coromandel when I went diving with Jeff the boat, netting a huge sackful of scallops to take back to the hostel before searing them with garlic and wine for the Japanese student travellers. They practically begged me not to throw away the black slimy leftover organs and stringy innards, taking it all away in a huge bowl before returning and proudly presenting us with a chewy frittata-like crustacean quiche. They waste nothing. We have such a lot to learn.

The meal was a winner but it was the conversation that made it, sharing and discovering our vast cultural differences and traditions. It made a real refreshing change. It was fascinating. It was wonderful. Like my friends in the Coromandel, these two are a pleasure to be around. Japanese people, I reckon, are the most humble, respectful, kind, loyal and friendly bunch of people I've met so far. They were the deep breath of fresh air that I think I've needed. Top day!

Oyasumi nasai!
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