Saturday, June 23, 2012

June 17 - Queenstown

June 17 - Queenstown
Last night was the coldest night of my life. My sleeping bag is supposed to go down to 15 degrees, but last night it felt like it was 5 at most. I woke up every few minutes it seemed like to get comfortable and warm up. Nothing seemed to help. Every night I try sleeping on my side, but it hurts my shoulder so I have to roll over. Usually I have to wake up every few hours to do that, but last night I had to do that and try to stay warm.
My feet had been freezing before we went to bed and I was hoping they would warm up in my sleeping bag. I had my jacket, my fleece, my hat and gloves, and my pillow shoved down by my feet. I had been taking my pants off to sleep every night as well since the sleeping bag is made in a way that you don’t need to have lots of clothes to stay warm.
The more clothes you have the more you sweat at night, which causes condensation in the sleeping bag and makes you colder. Therefore I had been taking my pants off each night. It usually made my knees cold though, and last night was no different. So I had freezing feet and cold knees.
I had gone to bed very early, but didn’t get more than a few hours of sleep. I finally got out of bed around 8:15 AM like we had been doing the past few nights. I got dressed, went to the car and tried to warm up. I ate a quick breakfast of a banana and fiber one bar with a little water.
We needed to get gas so we drove back about 10 minutes to a town called Frankton. We drove down the main road in Queenstown, but didn’t see a gas station so we continued on until we saw one. Andy filled the tank and I went inside and paid. While inside I asked if there was a Catholic Church nearby since it was 9 AM and a Sunday. I had seen in my Lonely Planet Guidebook that there was a St. Peter’s church in Queenstown that had services at 10:30 AM on Sunday and a 6:30 PM service on Wednesday. Based on that we assumed it wasn’t a Catholic Church. The lady in the gas station said there was one in Queenstown and gave me directions for how to get there.

It took about 10 minutes to get there. By this time it was 9:20 AM. I jumped out of the car to see what time the mass was. It was at 9:00 AM. There was no parking in the parking lot, but lots of cars were parked on the side of the road. Andy parked and we went inside.

The priest was giving his sermon when we sat down. The church was very small. I guessed it probably held 200 people at most. The priest did the service very quickly. The pews had no kneelers so we had to kneel on the ground. There were also a lot of repairs that needed to be made. There were cracks in the walls and ceiling. They were asking for $40,000 from the congregation to make repairs and they had already collected $30,000. Some of the things they wanted to do was fix the heater, which makes sense. It was freezing inside and they had two high ceiling fans running.

After mass we drove a few blocks to the Skyline Gondola. It was about 10:15 AM when we got there. Our plan for the day was to hike up the Tiki Trail to the top of the Skyline Gondola. We could have paid $14 to go to the top by the cable cars, but didn’t want to spend the money. We did enough cable cars in Switzerland for one lifetime.

The hike to the top was supposed to take about an hour. We had to climb hundreds of meters up a seemingly straight up trail. When we got to the parking lot it was around 9 AM. The place looked deserted. It was a Monday morning so maybe people weren’t up, were at work or school, or just didn’t want to go to this particular place. We took a few pictures of a cemetery that had sun light shinning directly on it with mountains in the background. It was a nice picture.
The sky was pretty clear and we had good views over Lake Wakatipu and the mountains all around. We packed our camera bags with a few snacks and water and then started up the trail. There is a mountain bike trail along the side of the walking trail we were on. It seemed extremely steep. I don’t think people ride up it since it is so rocky, but they do ride down it. They may ride up it as well, it just seems really hard to do.
The beginning of the trail is very steep through the forests. Along the way we passed very large rocks that we had to maneuver between. The trail was difficult, but we were stopping a lot to take pictures and videos so it gave us a nice rest. Although it was cold when we started the hike it was warming up and we began to sweat. Previously when I had sweat on a hike it made me cold so I unzipped my jackets a little bit to keep me from getting too hot.
As we went farther up the mountain we passed a few zip lining platforms. The trees didn’t offer many views and it didn’t look like there was enough space between the trees to pass through. The trail was slightly flat for little bits, but most of it was uphill. There were a few parts where it was frosty still even this late in the day. Just showed how cold it had been the night before and still was. We passed a small cave that I didn’t see on the way up, but did see on the way down because Andy warned me about it. It was right next to the trail so I don’t know how I missed it. He thought maybe Gollum could be living there. There were also portion where they were cutting down trees and turning them into railings. It seemed like more work than it was worth. Railings weren’t necessary.
As we got further up the trail we were able to see the biking portions. It was very steep with sharp turns that if you missed you would smack into trees. It looked fun, but pretty dangerous. I probably wouldn’t try it since I’m not very good at riding bikes on flat surfaces on the road.
About half way to the top the trail became a gravel and dirt road. It was still very steep, but was easy to climb since it was just a few really long switch backs. At the start of this portion was a little sign post that said Hobbits. We took a picture next to it since we are reenacting being hobbits.
This part of the trail looked like a place where they could have filmed shots from Lord of the Rings with the hobbits hiking. They did a lot of filming in the Queenstown area so it was possible. It took about 20 minutes to hike up this portion of the trail because we didn’t stop very often. It wasn’t as nice as the other parts.
At the top it seemed relatively crowded. There is a café at the top, a gift shop, and a luge ride with two different tracks. There is also a bungy jumping location and paragliding and the starting point for the zip lining.
We took a few pictures at a helicopter landing pad of the mountains, town, and lake below. We had hiked up a pretty long ways. It took about an hour and a half with all the stops. I was a little cold so I went straight for the gift shop. I bought two shot glasses, one with names of a number of the cities we will be visiting in New Zealand and another with a Maori mask on one side and something else on the other with the names of New Zealand and the Maori name, Aroterea. They cost $13 total, so not too bad.
Andy was looking at little figurines, but they didn’t seem like they were made in New Zealand. The actual things carved in New Zealand were much more expensive. Eventually I will probably buy one, but right now I want to look around and get the best deal and decide what I actually want. Most the stores seem to sell the exact same things anyway.

After leaving the gift shop we walked around the corner to a aerial view of the city and lake below. We each had our picture taken here. We then hiked down to the place the luge ticket office is and took a few pictures overlooking the town. The skies were still very clear and it was warming up considerably. To do the luge it seemed like you bought tickets, got a helmet, and then took a chairlift higher up the mountain to the starting point. We had read that it was pretty expensive so we didn’t think we would do it.

We hiked up a little higher along a path that followed the luge track. We took a few jumping pictures near the location where the paragliding took off. We then walked down the trail to another location where we did more jumping pictures. All of them that we kept turned out great.

It was another hundred meters of hiking until we reached the area where the luge began. We had seen people doing it and it looked like fun, but the money was still an issue. We thought it was $35 for 2 rides, and then increased from there depending on the number of rides you do. That was way out of our budget since we already planned to do paragliding and the jet boat.

We were considering walking a little further down the trail to another viewpoint, but it was 45 minutes one way and it wasn’t going to offer vastly different views than what we had already seen. It was also becoming midday and we didn’t know if there may be another hike we would want to do closer to our campsite.

At the start of the luge we were taking some pictures and saw a sign that said it was only $10 to do a ride. It was a little expensive, but seemed worth it. With our gopros it could be a cool action video, plus we had come to Queenstown to do adventure activities and hiked all this way.

We asked one of the workers if we could buy a ticket at the top or if we would need to go back down to the bottom. He said it would be ok to buy the ticket there. We paid our money, got our gopros set up, put on our helmets, and walked through the gate.
The luge is a cement track. The things we used were small flat plastic boards with a handle bar. There were three rollerblade sized wheels under it positioned the way they are on a tricycle. In order to stop you pull the handle bar back as far as you can. To go you just hold on. In order to turn you steer like a normal bike. The whole time you sit up which is different than a normal luge obviously.
We had to do a short practice stopping in view of the worker to make sure we knew how to operate it properly. My knees were too high so I had to sit in a butterfly position, but it was ok. I was able to stop the thing on the first try and received a stamp on my wrist to say I had mastered the first task. Andy couldn’t do it right at first because his knees were in the way so he couldn’t pull back far enough. I told him to put his knees down and then he figured it out. He got his stamp.
We had our gopros running and started down the hill. I started hearing my gopro beep rapidly. The battery died 20 feet into the ride. I should have known it was low and changed it. Oh well. Andy still had his. The ride was pretty long. I felt like it lasted about 2-3 minutes. I wasn’t expecting it to be so long.
We were going a lot faster than I thought we would as well since I had seen little kids going down earlier. I was flying. On a few turns I wasn’t slowing down and I was trying to lean to turn. I remembered at the last second I had to turn. I narrowly missed a wipe out. That’s why I don’t ride bikes very often.
There were a few tunnels along the way and a few places where the track was straight and allowed me to pick up speed. I didn’t over use the brake because I wanted to go fast. I assume Andy was riding fine. At the end of the track you have to maneuver through narrow cement railings designed to slow down the luge.
We finished the luge and headed back down the trail to the café. We went inside because the food looked good through the window. I saw a few cakes and I was curious how much they were. The food wasn’t too outrageously priced, but we settled on our granola bars and water for lunch.
As we were walking back to the gift shop we noticed an overlook down a hallway. We passed a conference room with huge windows that looked out over the lake and across the mountains. Outside there were a few people, but we took our pictures and then went back inside. We stopped at the conference room since the doors were opened and took some pictures. It was hard to get the lighting right, but the pictures I kept seemed good.
It was close to 1 PM and were ready to start hiking back down the mountain. It was 99% downhill and we didn’t need to stop very often to do many shots, so I was hoping it would take 30 minutes or less. We ended up stopping a number of times. We found some cool locations to do filming and tied the gopros into the trees for different angled shots.
Earlier in the day we had been the only ones on the hike, but as we were going down many more people were coming up. They kept getting in the way of our shots and asking how much further it was. They probably thought we were crazy tying a camera to the trees. Most of them probably didn’t know what it was though.
It ended up taking about 45 minutes to get down to the car. The spot we were at allowed for 4 hour parking, and we had parked there for over 5 hours. The parking lot had been empty before, but now it seemed very full. We ate lunch in the parking lot. We had peanut butter and jelly with a few chips and cookies.
We then drove to the area of town where we could book our activities for the next few days, on Shotover Street. We went to the I-Site building and talked to one of the ladies about booking paragliding and the jet boat for the next day. She said the weather would be cloudy in the morning, but we could book the jet boat for 11:30, be done by 12:30, then do the paragliding at 1:30. It was going to be a very busy and expensive day. The lady booked the two adventures for us and then sent us on our way. We came to New Zealand seeking excitement, and this was going to be the first really exciting things we would be doing.
Afterwards we walked down the street to move our car. We had been parked in a 30 minute parking and our time was up. The spot behind us was empty, so Andy backed into it. Technically we weren’t in the same parking spot.

Most of the stores on Shotover Street, the main street in town, were for booking activities, but some of them were restaurants and clothing stores. We had been wanting some merino wool and Outdoor Sports had what we were looking for.
I went inside and asked about the Icebreaker shirts made from merino wool. I was immediately directed towards them. They were extremely expensive. These shirts are no stink and great at wicking sweat and water and can keep you warm in cold weather. At this time Andy came inside. The salesman gave us a brief overview of what he had to offer and the various types of merino wool, ranging from 150 thread to 260. The more thread count, the warmer it was.
We searched for something we wanted and then spent the next 45 minutes trying on clothes. Different salespeople asked if we needed help, but we told them that we were just looking and had been helped. I tried on about 6 different shirts, Andy tried on a lot too. I was wearing a shirt, a fleece, and a jacket, so it was becoming a hassle to try something on and then have to go out and get something else.
I didn’t want to spend very much money, but ended up not being able to decide what I wanted. I settled for two shirts. One long-sleeve with a half-zip top and a short sleeve shirt. In total it was about $240. Way more than I wanted to pay, but I felt like I wanted them and they were too much to ask for as a Christmas present. Andy got the same half zip shirt as me, but nothing else. They are very good quality and will last forever. They will also be warm to sleep in, and they won’t have to be washed very often. I could probably go the rest of the trip just wearing my two new shirts. I probably won’t try that though.
After spending my life savings we went back to the car and headed for the campground. We were considering eating a salad, carrot, or something else small for dinner. I ended up eating nothing. We sat in the car and wrote our journals. I was trying to catch up on my days. I was three days behind. I got about half way through the day I was typing about and my computer died. I ended up going to bed around 8 PM at the latest.

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