Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Helloooooooo Queenstown!

Kate, Mike, Kim, Morgan and I stepped off the plane onto the runway after 36 hours of traveling from Charleston, WV to Queenstown, NZ via DC, LA, and Auckland. As we were gazing up at the spectacular Remarkable mountain range dwarfing us and blinking through the blinding midday sun, all I could think was one thing: "It feels amazing to be back again." 
The Remarkables - aptly named, excellently executed
For those of you who know me well, you'll know that 10 years ago some close friends and I embarked on a year long trip to work and live in Australia and New Zealand. The first 4 months were spent in Sydney and Australia. The last 8 months were spent in Queenstown and NZ. It was while I was in Queenstown thatI really fell in love with the mountains and the lifestyle.

And so, ten years later, I couldn't have been more excited to get back to Queenstown; to show my wife and part of her family around a place that felt more than just familiar...it felt surprisingly like home.
The view from our Queenstown home, this time around
If you've ever been to Queenstown, you know that this is a place that keeps you moving. There is no shortage of activities, distractions, adrenaline rushes, views, meals, coffee shops, bars and characters to keep you going 24/7 in the town. And if you've ever met Kate, Mike & Kim (Kate's Dad & Step Mom), Morgan (Kate's sister) and me, you'll know that we jumped in with no second thoughts. Highlights of our week in the shadows of the Remarkables include:

Hiking - Anything that could be hiked; we hiked. In fact, some things we hiked twice. Just cause we could. In ascending order of difficulty (and morning after soreness):

Queenstown hill (day 1) - 3 hours, 500 m gain. A great entry hike right outside our backdoor with views up Lake Wakatipu, across to the Remarkables and down to Queenstown town.
The Fosters on Queenstown Hill 
Morgan and Charles, watching Queenstown go by
The Gondola (day 3) - aka aborted Ben Lomand summit attempt. - 1 hour, 500 meter gain. After an hour of huffing and puffing up the steep track to the gondola hovering over town the rain, fog and cold sent most of us back down to the comforts of our condo fireplace. Kim and Mike pushed on and made it to the saddle. (Obviously they are a bit more hardcore than the rest of us...) 
Ben Lomand peak was the goal; the reality (on day 3) was rain, fog and cold...
Ben Lomand (day 5) - 6 hours, 1500 meter gain. A surprisingly taxing hike up the 1800 M summit of Queenstown's resident towering mountain is 100% absolutely worth it. While there was no shortage of sore muscles the following day, the views that greeted us at the top were just incredible!
The view from the top of Ben Lomand 
Day 5 success! 
Day trips - "Day trips" actually translates to "driving to another location to go hiking" when with this group. And to be honest, each of these other locations was well worth the short drive. Plus, in what other country are the nation's two biggest tourist destinations connected via a one lane bridge? Welcome to New Zealand.

The Milford Track/ Te Anau (Day 2) - We got a chance to sample the first day of the Milford track (3 miles) and the surrounding Lake Te Anau area on New Year's Eve. What a fantastic way to ring in the new year. 
The boat ride up to the start of the Milford was just as great as the hike itself.

Morgan and Mike - Enjoying the trail and the sights.
Wanaka (day 4) - Of course, with dual accompanying short hikes. Also, included one venture down a long bumpy gravel road. To the middle of nowhere. We turned the car around when we were asked to ford the first river. Let's just say, if we were playing Oregon Trial, we did not win. (On the upside, it's a better way to go out than dying of dysentery.) 
Beautiful Wanaka from the top of Mt. Iron
Glenorchy (day 7) - With a 2 hour lake side hike. We are sure that Glenorchy is beautiful; unfortunately, we never made it out of the cloud that day. The Glenorchy Cafe did serve up some mean meals afterward, however.
Not exactly the greatest day for a walk...not that it stopped us.
Arrowtown (day 6) - This time we did NOT hike; we biked. 38.4 KM round trip from Arrowtown to the Gibbston Valley vineyards to taste some wine and cheese. The good news is that we had the best weather of the trip; the bad news was that we were still sore from hiking Ben Lomand the day before. 
This was great...
...as was this.
Food: While New Zealand is not particularly well known for its culinary feats, that of course did not stop us from sampling the local fare. First and foremost (as Kate will tell you) are the pies.... God I missed these little pockets of deliciousness.
FergBaker & the NZ Pies. 100% good for you. (Or something like that)
Fergburger is a close second.
A Queenstown tradition
And of course, there were no shortages of delicious family dinners in town sampling the best restaurants that Queenstown had to offer. 
Enjoying the last dinner in town before parting ways
Additional highlights from our time in the town fit for the Queen:

Well... there was this one time when we thought the world was in the process of ending. Despite the flash of light, huge boom and a good shake of the apartment, it turns out the world was just fine. (Which is a relief. Obviously.) It was just that the tree directly in front of our apartment had been struck by lightening during an otherwise quiet drizzle. While it scared the hell out of most of us, Kim didn't even stir from her sleep! 

Our Q-town apartment view - A huge thank you to Mike and Kim for giving us the chance to drink our coffee every morning with this view to distract us: 

It was not the least which of the ways they spoiled us while we were together but it was a great way to wake up every morning.

Most importantly, of course, was getting a chance to spend some time with our latest, favorite travel partners. As Mike pointed out, our favorite travel companions are always our most recent so it goes without saying that we loved our time exploring Queenstown with Mike, Kim and Morgan. The nightly card games were intense (allow the record to show that Kim and I were gracious losers), the driving lanes were narrow (especially with no shortage of drivers in the car) and the time flew by (as it always does).

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