Hitching back from Te Anau, I shared the journey with a lovely couple who dropped me to my hostel on another hot afternoon. It was a small, friendly hostel and I met some lovely people to spend the evening with. Queenstown is a drain on the purse in every way, but being renowned for drinking, has exceptionally cheap pints. After a few drinks we walked to the lake front to sit outside on the warm evening talking and sharing lots of laughs.
With it being a public holiday, Waitangi weekend, the town was bustling and with new friends Kaitlin and Lauren, we perused the markets getting inspired by crafts and souvenirs. Auckland friend, Nally was in town and after meeting her late morning, it was lovely to catch up over food, coffee, large ice creams and “the running of the wools.” As part of the rural games in town, the high street was closed off for 300 ewes to run down the street which was as exciting as it was surreal. In the evening we enjoyed an open air bar for more wine and gossip.
The next day I spent the day at the rural games which was in the recreation ground across from my hostel. In the morning it was possible to have a go at cherry pip spitting, egg throwing, cowpat tossing and gum boot throwing. Come the middle of the day, those that had excelled in these niche sports were part of the final. We watched men spitting in excess of 12 metres, eggs being thrown and caught over 60 metres, wellies flying precariously over 40 odd metres, speed fence building, tree climbing and the highlight, speed sheep shearing. This competitive sport saw men go head to head and shear sheep in 20-30 seconds, almost synchronised as they tackled each woolly beast. The commentary really made this sport as he described the competitors as serious athletes and started every round with “timekeepers ready, competitors set, GO!” After a particularly impressive round he announced “and that ladies and gentlemen, is how you shear a sheep!”
In the evening we tried Queenstown’s iconic Fergburger. This place is open 21 hours a day and always has a queue. It is part of the experience. We waited 30 minutes to have our order taken, queuing in a snake down the street. Once ordered we waited 40 minutes for our takeaway burger. At 1hour 10 mins, this is not a meal to get in a rush. The thing is, this spot becomes the social hub of Queenstown, people milling around, chatting, and stay here long enough and your likely to see someone you know.
My final foray in Queenstown was climbing Queenstown hill with Cara. Behind the town, the shady path winds up the hill leading to a great view over Lake Wakatipu and the township. Having worked up a sweat, we enjoyed the amazing lookout over the lake stretching off in each directions, fringed by the mountain ranges which would form the winters ski fields.
A few last souvenirs and a visit to the cookie bar later, I set off with Stuart and Mael to cross the crown ranges to Wanaka. The road climbs up steeply to reveal an amazing view of the gorge and surrounding area. Further on we passed the township of Cardrona, untouched in time and feeling like a scene of a Wild West movie. The descent into the town then reveals the twinkling blue of Lake Wanaka. I spent a mere few hours with festival friends in the usual swimming spot, even braving the brisk water. Feeling relaxed and refreshed after my week off, I made my way to Cromwell to prepare for the plum season.