Chapter 13: Happy Thanksgiving?

Trip Start Oct 01, 2003
Trip End Nov 2004

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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Friday, November 28, 2003

It's funny how easily you forget about important days when you're far away from the people who celebrate them. Thanksgiving, for example, completely escaped my mind until I got a number of e-mails from people this week wishing me a happy one (thanks!). Christmas decorations have been up in New Zealand since October, so both Halloween and Thanksgiving were phantom holidays. My birthday is also coming up next week, but usually I rely on other people to remind me. The only reason I know I'm due to turn 30 soon is because I have to book accommodation for Melbourne by next week, and in some distant corner of my brain I'm vaguely aware that I'm supposed to be in Melbourne for my b-day. Anyway, a belated Happy Thanksgiving to you.

The weather held out for my entire stay in Queenstown, which was a miracle, so I spent as much time as possible out in the sun without spending too much money. After I updated this site on Sunday afternoon I climbed for 45 minutes up to the Skyline Chalet at the top of the hill behind Queenstown, via a trail through the woods. There's alternately a gondola that will take you up for $17, but I needed the excercise. The views of the town, lake, and mountains were spectacular, so I squeezed in between the throngs of Japanese tourists on the balcony to take some pics, and then snuck a free ride down on the gondola. (The sweet girl at the ticket desk told me to with a conspiratory wink.)

Monday I took the Magic Bus daytrip to Milford Sound, which is actually a misnomer because it's a fiord. The day included 5 hours on the bus riding to Fiordlands National Park, a 2 1/2 hour cruise of Milford Sound, and then 5 more hours on the bus riding back to Queenstown. Thankfully, Milford Sound was dramatic and beautiful: towering snow-capped mountains dove straight down into the narrow fiord, and waterfalls spouted out of the cliffs at regular intervals. All my photos, of course, look identical, and I'm starting to suffer from scenery overkill after a few weeks in New Zealand. We saw some interesting wildlife, at least, including many seals and one rare Fiordlands Crested Penguin. For all I know they had it stuffed or tethered to a rock for the tourists' cameras, because it didn't move an inch, but it was cute regardless.

Tuesday I STILL wasn't feeling 100% healthy, so I decided to laze around town, check out the Queenstown Gardens, and work on the tan some more. Good move: it was a relaxing day, and I recharged myself nicely. I capped it off with a long wacky night, and I met some fun new friends (Chris from England & Melanie from Austria) who enjoyed the 1 a.m. combination of Stoli, tree-climbing, and the playground as much as I did.

By Wednesday I started feeling guilty because I was in the adventure sports capital of the world, and I hadn't done anything particularly sporty OR adventurous since the weekend. A few people from the bus had tackled the Ben Lomond track over the weekend and proclaimed it "difficult but rewarding," so I ignored my Bora Bora (Mt. Pahia) experience and gave it a go. The track starts just a few feet away from the hostel, and it takes you to the 1700+ meter summit of Ben Lomond Mountain, which rises behind Queenstown and features a 360 degree wiew of everything for miles. The information plaques & quidebooks & locals said to allow 6-8 hours for the return trip, so I packed up some water & munchies and started off at 12:30.

The signs, books, and locals lied. For once, though, this worked in my favor: I made great time, passed a lot of people on the trail, scrambled safely up the steep, crumbly section near the top, and arrived at the summit by 3pm. I took in the awesome panorama, snapped MORE photos of mountains, lakes, and sweeping vistas, and then scurried back down to the hostel by 5pm and took a nap. I forgot what a cool feeling it is to be at the very top of a mountain! I wish I'd stuck it out a few minutes longer on Bora Bora.

Yesterday the drizzle came back, which was fine since I was on the bus to Dunedin for most of the day. Dunedin is on the east coast of the South Island, and it was founded by Scots and named after Edinburgh (don't ask). That's immediately obvious in the architecture, place names, and atmosphere. The drizzle evokes Scotland, too. It's a university town, though, which adds considerable charm and a slightly artsy cafe vibe that I like a lot. Last night I snuggled up in the hostel TV room and watched the local cult-fave movie "Scarfies," which is similar to Danny Boyle's "Shallow Grave" except that it takes place in Dunedin at the University of Otago. It's a good dark comedy... not sure if it's widely available in the States.

Tomorrow I'm heading to Christchurch for 4 nights, and then I'm off to Melbourne! If anything exciting happens in my last few days in NZ I'll let you know... otherwise I'll see you in OZ!

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