(This is the second post in a series about the 8 day road trip I took with my friend Tiffany in late February. To see the first day, start here.)
Other than having woken my dormmates up with an episode of sleepwalking, I woke up on Friday morning refreshed and ready for the drive to Queenstown. Tiffany, used to getting up early to run, didn’t even balk when I told her that I’d like to be on the road before the sun was even fully up.
What I hadn’t planned on was dropping the backpacker key into the locked dropbox, only to realize that I had attached the rental car key to the key ring the night before.
I asked Tiffany to occupy herself while I tracked down a staffperson to come unlock the key dropbox. Thankfully my flub only cost us 11 minutes (but wounded my pride) and we were quickly on our way again, driving down Route 8 to Twizel. I figured if that was the biggest mistake I made this trip, I should count myself lucky.
We caught our first glimpse of Mount Cook/Aoraki (NZ place names are often given in both English and Maori) over Lake Pukaki. The tallest mountain in New Zealand at 3724 meters (12,218 feet), Mount Cook was clearly visible but wore a wreath of wispy gray clouds.
We stopped to take a few pictures before continuing on to Twizel for a rest stop and then on further through the tussock-covered dry hills of the Lindis Valley.
Lake Dunstan offered another toilet stop and we admired the terraced hills and small vineyards cropping up now that we were out of the drier highland areas of the drive.
Finally we reached Queenstown, where we found many many tourists and tour buses. Although Queenstown itself is not my favorite city in NZ, what it lacks in quietude it more than makes up in sheer scenery. After grabbing some kebabs from a takeaway place, Tiffany and I made our way up to the Skyline gondola station.
Although a few misty clouds were starting to move down Lake Wakatipu toward us, we enjoyed the ride up Ben Lomond on the gondola. The views from the deck were, as always, impressive, with the town below, the lake ahead, and the Remarkables mountain range to the southeast.
Because we are sporting, we got the combo gondola+luge tickets and each got to ride the luge twice, which was really fun. Whenever I do that (James and I took the kids back in January) I feel like the slowest luge-rider in the world. But as Tiffany said, it’s a luge with an incredible view that is what really makes it awesome.
After the gondola and luge, we hiked up part of the Glenorchy/Queenstown Road and then onto the footpath to Sunshine Bay. Although there were a few spits from the clouds, visiblity was still pretty good and it was nice to get a good hour-long hike in after a few hours in the car.
The place where we stayed was a place I found through NZ Airbnb. I wasn’t totally sure what to expect, but the modern, clean, and well-appointed bedroom suite (many NZ accomodations have shared facilities–shower/toilet/sinks) exceeded my expectation. And the views out our windows weren’t so bad either. A bonus: the price included breakfast, which we were leaving too early to partake in, so the hosts brought us breakfast foods on a tray! Meusli, yogurt, fresh fruit, tea/coffee, and crossants.
Since we knew fine dining establishments might be in short supply where we were headed, we got dressed up and went out for dinner, followed by gelato (for Tiff) and chocolate (for me).
Falling into the crisp sheets on my comfortable bed with the lights of Queenstown twinkling outside the window, it was hard not to feel like a lucky, lucky girl.