Journal of Alan Howard
29th August 2000
This is a description of the
Queenstown trip, as sent out to my mailing list... I hope
you enjoy the photos included with this.
Friday 25th August.
Woke up, went to work. Left work half an hour early (4pm), in order to be
at the ferry terminal by 4:30pm. Michelle and I waited in the car for an
hour, waiting to drive onto the ferry to Picton (South Island). After
getting onto the ferry and parking the car, we went up to the top and front
of the ship and looked out the window over the bow as it left the Wellington
harbour. (And it *was* a ship... it had 8 decks, including the vehicle
decks. There was a cinema onboard, as well as a bar, souvenir shop,
restaurant, tv viewing areas, video game arcade, and children's play areas.
There was also a relaxation area on the top deck at the front, which is
where we were.) Michelle and I were watching the view from the front
window, and had quite an exciting time of it too! We picked out our house
as the ferry went past Lyall Bay (where we live), and we got a thrill when
the ferry left the sheltered waters and entered the ocean. It was like a
cool amusement ride! The sea was relatively calm, but due to the swell and
our speed, the ferry was going up the swells and down into the troughs - but
with a huge thud that shook the ship, and then the next wave of the swell
came crashing over the bow and spray hit our window! It was all really
exciting, but only lasted about 20 mins before we got out into the calmer
depths of the ocean. We watched the coast go past for about another 20
mins, but then it got too dark to see anything, so we went to the bar and
had a drink before returning to the lounge area to try and get some sleep.
But it didn't work... too much noise from giggling and squealing
schoolgirls on the other side of the room.
At 9:30pm we got into Picton and, after filling up with petrol, set off on
our journey to Queenstown. We planned that our first stop would be
Christchurch, which was about a 5-hour drive from Picton, where we'd stop
and sleep. As we headed off into the darkness of South Island we knew that
we were surrounded by snow-covered mountains, 'cause we had seen them from
Wellington, but the darkness prevented us from seeing them and the foothills
that were visible in the headlights as we passed them certainly didn't have
any snow on them. We were a little disappointed...
As you all probably know, I've complained about the stupid road conditions
and laws here in NZ. Well, after an hour or so of driving, we came upon a
single-lane bridge. We were supposed to give way to oncoming traffic, but
due to the terrain and the sides of the bridge, we weren't able to determine
if there was any oncoming traffic. So I drove around the sharp corner and
onto the bridge, and was halfway across it when the headlights of a bus came
around an opposite corner and onto the other side of the bridge. Now here's
the fucked up part. Even though we were halfway across, and this bus was
just entering the bridge, we had to stop and reverse backwards in order to
'give way to oncoming traffic'. There were two cars behind me, so there's
us three cars reversing backwards with this big bus sitting almost on my
front bumper with the driver grinning wildly. Talk about fucked! Bridges
are single-lane here, and traffic lights associated with bridges just don't
exist... And so we continued on.
Saturday 26th August.
About 12:30am, we judged that we were about an hour from Christchurch. We
had planned on getting there and sleeping in the car just outside of town.
However, I decided I was too tired to drive, so we stopped at this small
town and parked behind an ambulance station and went to sleep (we'd brought
doona's with us). After settling into the seat and doing a lot of tossing
and turning trying to find a comfortable position, we fell asleep and got a
good 6 hours sleep before we were woken up by a train going past around 7am.
We drove into Christchurch and found a McDonald's, where we had breakfast
and freshened ourselves up. Christchurch was pretty disappointing... Its'
city centre wasn't as pretty as the brochures, and at 8 in the morning,
nothing was open and the streets were bare. So we only had ourselves to
blame, but still... it didn't look as if it would be that exciting even in
the middle of the day. The McDonald's we found was on the outskirts of
town, on the other side of it. That was the best part of Christchurch.
After breakfast, we continued on towards Queenstown. For about 2-3 hours,
there was mostly farm country, and it was overcast and raining, so we
couldn't see any mountains. This was a little disconcerting to us, 'cause
we had been convinced that the entire south island was covered in
snow-covered mountain ranges. Unfortunately, we had driven about 7-8 hours
so far, and were yet to see any of it!
It was sometime before lunch when we were driving along that it started
raining. At the same time, we discovered that we had come around a corner
and these mountains rose up around us. Cool! We found some mountains! But
the cloud cover was low, and we couldn't see anything except for maybe a
hundred feet of foothills. So we're driving along in the rain, looking
around at the pretty scenery - the trees that became a forest, with the
mountains rising out of the forest, all visible through the misty rain, and
everything disappearing up into the clouds. It was quite pretty. Suddenly
the rain started getting 'harder' and we realised it was turning into sleet.
Then we noticed snow on the sides of the road, and amongst the trees, and
our excitement started to build. Then the sleet turned to snow, and it was
gently floating in the air and rushing towards us as we drove into it. The
landscape became covered with snow, and the trees were barely showing
through the snow that covered them. Still with the cloud cover, it was
truly a magical landscape. I was curious about the huge chunks of snow on
the sides of the road, but then realised that it was because snow graders
had come along earlier and cleared the road of snow. This was a good thing,
'cause if the snow by the sides of the road were anything to judge, then it
was obvious that without the graders, we wouldn't have been able to get
through. In places it was over 2 feet thick.
We came around a corner in the road, and there before us was this bright
blue lake (http://www.mtcook.org.nz/tekapo.html), surrounded by snow, with a
huge snow-covered mountain range surrounding it. We were behind a tourist
bus, and when it turned into this small village on the side of the lake, we
followed it in. Michelle and I got out and ran around in the snow by the
side of this spectacularly coloured lake, and then took some photos of the
beauty of it all. The snow falling in Canberra recently was nothing like
this. This snow didn't melt as soon as it touched you... it stuck to your
skin and sat there before slowly melting away. It spotted your clothes and
made you realise you're in a snowfall. This was my first experience with
something like this, and it was awesome!
click on image to open in a new window
After having a bit of fun for about 20 mins, we got back in the car and continued our journey. Another
lake, more snow, more incredible mountain ranges later... and then we left
it behind, and we found some plains again. We stopped at a small town
called Twizel, where we stopped for petrol and had a coffee before
Not far out of Twizel, we encountered an accident site. Obviously it was
relatively recent, 'cause they hadn't taken away the bodies yet. Three cars
were involved, with two of them an absolute write-off (one of them was in
three pieces), and the third with only minor front-end damage. There were
tarps covering three bodies on the ground. I didn't look as we drove
past... I only saw them as we approached. I didn't look 'cause I didn't
want to see anything that would make me ill. The bodies were on the side of
the road, and were about 10' from us as we drove past. It put a little bit
of a dampener on the afternoon for a short while, and I drove a little
slower because of it. But when the next lot of spectacular scenery rose up
around us, we soon forgot it.
After lots more of the spectacular views (we didn't get into any more
snowfalls, but we sure saw lots of incredible snow-covered mountains and
forests and lakes), we finally ended up entering Queenstown at around 4pm.
Right from the start, we were impressed. It was surrounded by incredible
mountains, and on most of them was snow. The views were spectacular. As we
drove into the town, we realised that almost the very first hotel we came
upon was the one we were looking for! We pulled in and parked the car
around the back.
We were supposed to be meeting my friend Melanie here, who was flying in
from Canberra for a week of fun in Queenstown (it was because of her invite
that we ended up there). Her flight was supposed to get in at 3:35pm, so we
hoped that she'd be there at the hotel already. After quizzing reception,
we found that she hadn't booked in yet, so Michelle and I went for a drink
at a hotel restaurant across the road While we were there I rang the
reception of 'our' hotel and left my mobile number for Melanie to call me
when she got in. Then we went for a walk into town and went to an
information centre to get some maps and tourist guides. Strangely enough,
they didn't have a tourist guide/map pointing out areas of interest. They
instead just had a map of the town, and thousands of brochures about events
and locations, but they didn't have anything to show you where everything
was! But they also had brochures on guiding groups and tours... uh-huh.
Right. We decided to just walk around and explore, WITHOUT any guides that
cost over a hundred dollars! Hehehe. It was very beautiful... we walked
through a couple of malls, down to the edge of the lake. We looked across
the lake at the mountains on the other side, and watched a jet boat come in
with lots of people on board who seemed glad to get off! Not surprising
either... I'd be fucked if I'd get on a jet boat and go
speeding over rapids at over 100km an hour!!
By about 5:30pm, we returned to the hotel to find that Melanie still hadn't
checked in. By this time I was starting to wonder what was going on.
Michelle and I went for a walk around a section of the lake, and we watched
the sun go down. Well, we didn't actually watch it go down, but we watched
the snow-covered mountains across the lake as they changed colour and the
tops of them were lit up by the setting sun. It was truly a magnificent
It was getting dark now, so we continued walking around the lake
back into town, getting there about 6:30pm. We went to a pub and had a few
drinks, and finally Mel called just after 7pm, saying that her flight had
been delayed and all kinds of other troubles had occurred, and that her day
just hadn't been a good one at all. I was pleased that she'd finally turned
up, as I had been starting to worry that something had happened... She
turned up for dinner and drinks and we caught up on how things had been for
the both of us these past couple of months. We then returned to the hotel
room and got to bed before 11pm. Melanie and her friend Dan were supposed
to get up early the next morning to go off skiing before 7am, which was part
of the tour they were there for. Michelle and I planned on sleeping in
until we woke up normally...
Sunday 27th August.
We got up around 10:30am and turned the tv on while we had a coffee. Just
in time to watch the end of the replayed rugby game between Australia and
Sth Africa, and I was happy that we won. Again, my NZ workmates wouldn't be
able to rub anything in... We walked into town via the lake trail again.
Again, more spectacular lake and mountain views along the way - a fantastic
start to the day!
We had breakfast at this little cafe in town, and after
having muesli, toast and coffee, we sat there for a while reading
newspapers. It was so relaxing! But then we made a move... it was nearly
noon, and we took a gondola ride to a mountain top which overlooked
Queenstown. It was absolutely amazing... one series of fantastic views
changed to another series of fantastic views! The same things to look at,
just from different angles.
Up the top of this mountain there was a
restaurant and balconies that you could look out over the landscape. Across
the mountains behind Queenstown we could see these incredible snow fields.
That was probably where Melanie and her friend were skiing. I tried looking
through the zoom lens of my camera at the fields, and could only just see a
ski lift trail leading up the mountainside. It was impressive, and I took a
photo anyway, but it wasn't until I looked through some binoculars on the
edge of the balcony ($2 for 1 minute) that I could actually see people
skiing on the fields! Now THAT was impressive! There were people
everywhere, and lots of different colours... they looked like multi-coloured ants! It was pretty cool... I wanted a bigger zoom lens...
Two shots of the same peak
After spending a couple hours there, enjoying the views and relaxing over
lunch, we headed back down the mountain, taking the gondola back down. We
bummed around town for a little bit and then stopped at another pub on the
edge of the lake, and had a beer. We sat on a balcony, looking out over the
lake and the mountains... watching the people go by, and the boats, and it
was just so blissful... after an hour or so there, we headed back to the
hotel. Melanie and her friend were back already and her, Michelle and I
went to have a relaxing spa in the hotel's spa room. That was cool too.
Melanie was tired and sore from the skiing, but Michelle and I were just so
very relaxed... the spa was just perfect to top off the relaxation we'd
been enjoying. After the spa, we all relaxed in the hotel room, having a
few drinks and watching James Bond on Sky TV, before heading out to have
After dinner we came back to the room and Michelle went to bed. She'd
gotten a little drunk during dinner and so she crashed. I showed Melanie
some photos that I'd brought with me, of Wellington, etc, and then I said
goodbye and went to bed as well. I said goodbye because Michelle and I were
leaving the next morning at around 6am, in order to get back to Picton by
8:30pm, when we had to catch our return ferry.
Monday 28th August.
On the way to Queenstown, we followed the east coast of the south island,
before heading across to Queenstown. On the way back, we followed the west
coast most of the way up, before cutting across to Picton (top of the east
coast). It was raining most of the way back. Cloud cover was low, and we
couldn't see most of the majestic views that were out there - it was hidden
by the clouds and the rains. But it was still a lovely drive. We stopped
at Fox Glacier and hoped that we could actually see it, but the walk was 40
minutes return, and we couldn't spare the time. Apparently it would have
been an awesome sight... we'll see it next time we drive down that way.
Fox Glacier - a 20 min walk up
By mid afternoon, we heard a radio report of the highway we were on being
closed in a particular area due to a landslide. We had a bit of an anxious
moment while we looked for the area, only to happily discover it was just
north of our turnoff to the east. Phew! If it had've been before the
turnoff, we'd have been screwed. There are only two roads on the south
island... one down the east coast, and the other up the west coast. If we
couldn't get through, we'd have to either drive back to Queenstown and then
across to the east coast and back up, or wait where we were until the road
was cleared. You can probably understand why we were so happy that we'd be
able to cut across to the east coast before the closed road...
Some views on the way back
We got into Picton at 7:30pm, and had a nice dinner at a pub there, before
getting onto the ferry at 8:30pm. It left for Wellington at 9:30pm and we
got back here at 12:30am this morning. After having been driving for about
13 hours straight, it was good to get to bed at 1:30am this morning. But
then I had to wake up at 6am to be at work by 8. Michelle had today off, so
as I'm finishing this up at 4pm, I think she's still in bed. Hehehe.
The weekend was perfect. The scenery was incredible, and everything was
just so beautiful and spectacular. I took 3 rolls of film in the past 3
days, that's how many times I saw something worth taking a photo of. I'm
hoping that every shot is just like a postcard, because everywhere you look,
there are postcard views. It was the most spectacular weekend of my life.
It was like paradise... snow, rain, mist, mountains, lakes. Awesome.
I've put the 3 rolls in for developing today, but won't have them back until
later this week. I'll scan the photos and put them on a website, and then
send you all the URL so that you can have a look at them yourselves.
(Photos have been included here, as you can see...)
It's been a pleasure to have shared the weekend with you... and I hope I
haven't bored you too much. <smile>