Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dunedin in Daylight
When I think of Dunedin I think - hills, English architecture, pastel colored ranch houses with corrugated steel roofs in the suburbs, an Octagon for a city center that on a map looks like a bulls eye, streets that do not run parallel (which make it REALLY easy to get lot), and did I mention…..hills? Once I arrive in a city I don’t drive as a rule. It’s less stressful, safer and I have the luxury of really looking at my surroundings and listening to the rhythm of the city. But the Chalet is about a tenth of a mile up a very steep hill from the city center. And it keeps on going up for a good ½ mile from there. In fact Dunedin is supposed to have the steepest street in the world, according to the Guinness book of world records. I didn’t try it, but not for lack of want. I just ran out of time. I also heard a beautiful cacophony of song birds this afternoon. Not like the pigeons in American cities or the crows that flock together, but a very sweet sound that I at first thought was a recording until I saw the birds on the roofs of the shops.

The Tunnel Beach
Feeling adventurous and needing a good walk to gear up for the Milford Track, I packed my backpack with my computer and other stuff to get about 15pounds, hopped on the city bus and headed out of town to the southern suburbs. At the end of the line you walk 1.4km, turn left, walk 400m and arrive at a gate. On the other side is a mowed, fenced in path that - as the sign says, takes 20 minutes to walk down but 45 to get back up. The guide book said the whole trek , there and return, is 45 minutes. They obviously weren’t counting the 1.4km, the 400m, or the amount of walking around you do once you get there. The path down goes by pastures with sheep and ends up at an area of steep cliffs with interesting striations and coloring and a large, oddly shaped rock formation. The man that used to own the property liked the area so much he had a hand hewn tunnel carved out of the rock with cement stairs that descend to the base of the cliff where he and his family could enjoy a private beach. Talk about having a little excess cash to throw around! There are lot of ankle turners down there and a few large boulders, perfect for sunning or reading a book or just staring out at the ocean. It’s very peaceful and as I arrived late in the day it was deserted. The thought occurred to me that if I fell off the cliff no one would find me unless I washed up to shore - I had all my credit cards, cash, passport, computer and camera with me. It’s ok, don’t worry, I made it back and I was careful. Very careful.

An International Dinner
One of the best parts of hostels is that there is a kitchen and dining area and I have found that the young people very often cook real meals. Although at one place a Korean boy was going to proudly cook for a Canadian girl some Korean food. I asked what he was going to make and he showed me a package of Korean style ramen noodles. He said they were his favorite. I didn’t laugh, but it was hard. Tonight one of the German girls make a lamb stew, the French and German boys made steak, mashed potatoes and fruit salad and earlier some other nationalities were making some sort of shrimp with rice. I concocted a stir fry with red pepper, carrot, broccoli and cod fish with a Thai sauce that came in a little container. Cooking for one has its limitations, but eating out every meal is prohibitively expensive and often not that healthy. There is usually a refrigerator to store perishables , dull knives, two sinks/stoves and a complete array of other utensils. On the wall in just about every language possible is a sign to the effect that mom has gone on strike so clean up after yourself - which everyone does, amazingly enough. This particular backpackers has one long dining table and it facilitates conversation as everyone talks about - what else - travel itineraries. Who has been where, seen what, what was good, how long traveling, etc, etc. I have found that one month is the minimum that most of these kids travel, with most taking two months to a year. Most don’t know what they will do when they return, but all hope to find jobs.


The Road To Queenstown
The car needs to be returned today so it was an early departure and pell mell to Queenstown - need to be there by noon. Missed breakfast and certainly missed a good eye opener cuppa but oh well. The road passed through central Ontaga a partly hilly, partly flat landscape. A big wine region - the grape loaded vines were being covered against the birds, for acres and acres you saw this sheeting of gauze as if Cristo (the artist who drapes bridges, Central Park, etc.) had popped in for a day. Of course there were the ubiquitous sheep. Further inland the landscape changed to be somewhat rocky, like giant sharp edged boulders sticking out of a sort of mossy floor. The area reminded me of The Narnia series where Aslan sacrifices himself on a large rock altar. But I think they filmed that further south from here.

And then the road starts winding. And going up and down. I had pulled an apple out of the trunk to munch on, but with the high speeds and turns I had to put it down so I could drive. This is a real racecourse. I got passed by 2 cars on this road, one going well over 120kph, and he leapfrogged over the next car also and disappeared in a cloud of dust. Never saw him again. (Must have been late for work) I rounded a curve to see Shouting Meg’s Falls and had a laugh, but unfortunately couldn’t stop for a pic. Sorry Meg. Eventually the climbing stopped and the road descended into Queenstown.

This place hops! As you drive into town you see parasailers floating to and fro from off of a high hill over the town. Traffic is thicker and the lake finally comes into view. This is a fairly young crowd and a sure attraction for teens testing their immortality, or just seeking thrills. Every corner seems to have an “Information Center’, a front for booking thrilling adventure of all kinds - heli flights, sky diving, bungy jumping, jet boat rides on the lake and on and on and on. There seems to be no end to ways they have devised to separate you from your money. Walk along the street and the pace is quicker; the music is frenetic. It isn’t that it is that large a town - it only has one gas station - but it is packed with hotels, shops selling every sport catered to here, bars, cafes, clothing stores, jewelry, and everything in between. And…if you aren’t staying IN town, you’re walking/driving up a steep hill. Guess where I am? Not only up a steep hill, but down the other side. Good thing I only booked one night. As no one answered the door at the B&B, I dropped my bags and walked into town. I couldn’t waste time waiting around, I had to sort things out. I immediately made a reservation at the YHA backpackers - right in the thick of things and across the street from Xbase, another well known backpackers. Double-shared room ensuite (that means there’s a bathroom in the room - a luxury!) for $NZ85. The cheapest accommodation the tour companies recommended was about $NZ125 and up. After that I really needed something to eat .

Let’s see - there’s Thai, Indian, fish and chips, chocolate, and Fernburgers. Hmmm…they looked huge! Way too much for me, but then I was hungry. Aside from all the usual they had a lamburger and a Bambi burger. Yeah, that’s right. That’s what I ordered. It was mouthwatering. A thin but very large patty, charcoal grilled to perfection, with a Thai chutney sauce, leaf lettuce, and tomato all flowing out of a sesame seed bun. And I ate almost all of it. Bambi never tasted so good. I really wanted to post my blog, but time was scarce and I had a meeting at 3:45.


I’ve missed my computer, my blog, my connection to you all. But I have had the most amazing adventure and now I’m back, with bigger, flatter feet, stronger quads, and wider eyes. The Milford Track is truly one of the Great Hikes of the World. Splendor, strength, majesty combined with fairyland - It truly is the Yellow Brick Road to Oz and anything I could write would be but a snapshot of a 360 degree view of God’s incredible imagination and majesty. These are merely “Cliff Notes” if you will of my 5 day journey, which begins in Queenstown, the day before. (April 5, Saturday)

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