Moving on! We left the glacier country to head to lake country. The stretch down to Wanaka was a fantastic drive, along the two longest lakes in the country: Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. New Zealand is a compact version of everything you would want in one country, and the scenery seemed to morph as we drove from glaciers along mountain byways to immense lakes rimmed with lovely warm beaches with lazy waves lapping at the shoreline. We were once again reminded of areas of Switzerland, specifically the Interlaken area as we drove along the scenic motorway.
Arriving in Wanaka, we went through the rigors of seeking out a hotel with two king rooms. Again we were met with No Vacancy signs. At the last stop, the manager made a phone call for us to a condo complex. There were two gorgeous, streamside units available for us to rent. We were lucky! Each was a very roomy 1-bedroom, spa bath, fully equipped kitchen, nice den and dining area and the bonus was that we had washers and dryers in the units, all for $180 NZD/night. Not bad for scavengers. Frank and I set off on foot to do a little exploring, ending up at the grocery store where we bought food to cook for dinner that night and for light meals. We returned to the apartment and settled in to watch TV, wash laundry and enjoy the spa tub. The next day the four of us set off for Puzzling World. We spent hours going through the illusion rooms, and then we headed for the maze. This maze has four towers, on each red, blue, green and yellow. The objective is to find your way from the starting point through to all 4 towers and then back to the exit. There are escape doors for those who get frustrated and give up, or get too lost. Marsha and Earls set off together and then Frank and I set off after. We aimed for the yellow tower first. We found the green tower a couple of times, eventually made it to the blue and red, and were just about to give up on the yellow when we hit it! We had a wonderful time. Even the café had all sorts of puzzles and mind twisters for us to work on at our table. We bought a couple to bring home with us. The bathroom toilets were even fun! We spent the rest of our visit taking long walks along the beach trails and nosing around the magnificent holiday homes. It was just a beautiful and tranquil place to spend a couple of days. Frank and I left Wanaka early in the morning, heading for Queenstown. Earl and Marsha decided to stay another day and made arrangements to take the bus into Queenstown to meet us so we took the car and agreed to scope out accommodations for them when we got settled. The drive was just beautiful. It is one that needs no words, just an appreciative eye.
We could feel the adrenaline of the city as soon as we saw the Welcome sign. It was abuzz. It was happening. It was as though we stepped out of the wilderness into OZ! Something is going on everywhere you look! The streets are teeming with people of all ages and nationalities. There are outdoor outfitter stores on every corner (this is also a ski town in the winter months), and storefronts advertising dozens of adventure activities such as bungee jumping, skydiving, river rafting, sheep shearing exhibitions, paddle wheel boat rides, rock climbing, and so on at every other corner. We found a lakefront one-bedroom studio apartment just on the edge of the hustle bustle epicenter, took a few calming breaths and then walked right into the madness of city centre. We signed up for the 4-hour "High Five" adventure, which included a jet boat ride on the Shotover River, a helicopter ride, 5 luge rides and the gondola. We have no idea what the "high five" part meant. Fortunately there were two openings in the 2 PM time slot.
We boarded the 2 PM bus ride to the Shotover River. We didn't really know what to expect at the river except that we were in for quite a ride.
We were not disappointed! It was a thrill ride. The jet boat was a flat bottom, aluminum hull with about an 8-inch draft. It seated 16-20 people in rows with a lap bar kind of like a roller coaster. The river was shallow and rocky and wound through walled rock canyons at a very fast current. The driver maneuvered this thing like a whip! The entire ride lasted about 30 minutes and went nearly non-stop up and down the river, whipping us and spinning us all over the place. We laughed and shrieked the whole time. What a fun deal! After the jet boat, we piled into the bus to go to the helicopter ride. It soared us over the entire scenic Queenstown area, landing us at the Luge, where Frank and I both rode the advanced track. I had a difficult time not running up the backs of riders in front of me – I just couldn't seem to go fast enough, nearly toppled over on a couple of curves – loved it! When our five rides were done, we finally rode the gondola back down the mountain feeling sad that our excitement was done for the day. We had an early dinner and plopped into bed. The next day, since Earl and Marsha were in transit, we took a drive over to see The Remarkables, Queenstown's (famous) mountain range, which is a ski venue in winter. The mountains truly are remarkable, and can be seen in the Lord of the Rings movies (or at least one of them). We then drove over to scope out Deer Park. Many of the Lord of the Rings scenes were filmed on that land. Unfortunately, we drove all over the place, followed all the directions and never found the entrance. We saw several other cars seemingly doing the same as us, so we figure the entrance has been sealed for whatever reason, perhaps because it is someone's private land – who knows. So, we returned to town, had a wonderful Thai dinner and then met up with Earl and Marsha for dessert. The following day, they took the car to go visit with some friends down the road and so Frank and I spent the day just walking around, shopping and exploring Queenstown's greater CBD. Being Valentine's Day, we dressed for dinner and celebrated at a fabulous French restaurant called Les Alps. Fabulous! For dessert, we had rose chocolate flourless cake! Wow was that decadent! Frank presented me with my beautiful NZ Greenstone pendant. I gave him a mushy card.
Feb 15th, we got up and took off for Fiordland!