So, after abandoning the not-so-bright-lights-but-very-chilled-out Christchurch with Sean earlier on in the week, we were both a a little giddy due to the additional hardware in the boot of The Tortoise. Two new snowboards, bindings and boot. Don't I know it that I'm part of the privileged percentage of the world that even 6 months into a world tour I can still afford to buy fancy new gear and not just have enough money to just buy a food and bed? Lucky for me, although in fairness, I did have to arrange to sell my mountain bike and a spare fingerboard to justify the expense :) Having realized that I'm terrible at hoarding gear at times, it was a fair trade. I'm also getting a constant reminder of these privelages, and interestingly something that showed up on HAP's blog in the past few days.
The 'dudes' chilling out on their rocky outcrop off New Zealand
Still though, Séan had managed to complete a lap of the northern end of the island, so to finish off the loop, we took off for the 2nd largest city in the south island. The primary reason, a tour of a Cadbury's factory (where the top-most photo appeared from). Hey, come on, it wasn't my idea :) Still though, a one-hour tour (nothing special), free chocolate (stingy, they only gave small bars, not full size) and a chocolate waterfall (one ton of chocolate - the world's largest) was an easy way to pass the day before making the trip across towards our final tourist spot: Queenstown. Was it worth a 200 km detour? I'm not so sure, but it was a scenic location and interesting drive. Probably my highlight was camping out on a headland and waking up to sights of seals, and the world's rarest yellow penguins. Very cute, and the young male seals that frequented our location to sun themselves on the rocks reminded me of days spent hanging around with all my mates from my childhood just sitting out on the green area in front of my house with not a whole lot to do. Simpler times back then :)
Unfortunately, no real proof of pengiuns (too far away and too small for a photo)....
Queenstown, New Zealand
Still though, how do I describe Queenstown. For anyone who's heard of New Zealand, the two towns most people know from the south island that everyone knows are Christchurch and Queenstown. It was interesting before we arrived because a lot of people did not have a very affectionate opinion of Queenstown and even the Lonely Planet describes it as a "place that's trying to hard", so I was interested to see what my opinion was.
I suppose the closest place I can compare it to is Chamonix in France - a town in a beautiful location that's completely supported by tourism and adventure sports. O.k., the mountains aren't as high as the French Alps that surround Chamonix, but it does sit on the edge of a huge lake that offsets this lack of height. Basically an alpine-style town that oozes money. With average house prices that are more expensive than Ireland (I hope at least they include a heating system and some insulation for that price....), this is not a cheap place to live! And it's ironic that for such a beautiful location, to properly make the most of the town involves spending a lot of money. You name it, jet-boating, sky-diving, skiing, bungi-jumping - none of them are cheap pursuits :) Basically come prepared with lots of cash if you want to tick the adventure sports list for this town, or just go and do some of these wilder exploits somewhere else in the world. Or else just go sit on the lakefront and drop your jaw at the view. Overall, Queenstown is stunning looking but has a bit too much of the 'trendy' crowd for me to love it - it's the 1st bar I've been in in a while where they only serve beer bottles and your ID to enter the bar is essentially how many brands names you're wearing :)
One of the many war memorials covering New Zealand - something like 10% of their male population went to fight in World War I!!!!!!
Still though, it's now a return to our base for the next 5 weeks (some exciting plans will involve me leaving then): Wanaka. In comparison to Queenstown (ironically, there's only 5,000 people in Wanaka and 7,000 in Queenstown), Wanaka is so much smaller in a peaceful sort of way, none of the mobs of people that you feel while in Queenstown, and yet almost as beautiful. Here, the valley is slightly wider again meaning it's not as steeply surrounded by mountains and hence removes some of it's magnificence, but it's still a jaw-droppingly amazing place. My home for the next three weeks is a hostel (Wanaka Backpacka, search it on Google above) situated on a promontory looking back across the town (village?) and Lake Wanaka. Pretty good view basically :)