Flying into Queenstown, New Zealand...Skyline gondola...Quirky Cardrona
QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND - What a great flight. And what a great destination.
Flying from Auckland to Queenstown, on the South Island, is a huge treat. You pass over the islands and the South Pacific feel of the Auckland area, jet out over the Pacific, then cross over to the South Island and past lonely beaches that line the west coast.
After a few minutes, you might get lucky enough to be on the right side of the plane and get a glimpse of Mt. Cook, highest point in this wonderful country.
Then, as you descend into Queenstown and try to ignore the flight attendant warning you not to take photos and create a huge international tragedy by plunging the aircraft’s communications system into total darkness, you pass over nearby mountains topped with ski lifts and chalets; all quiet in the summer but hopping in the winter. Suddenly, the plane veers to the side and slides down between two large, brown-green, knobby hills and lines itself up with the runway in Queenstown, located near one end of Lake Wakatipu. Wow. I never got to fly into the old airport on the hills of Hong Kong, but I think I know what it must have felt like.
I arrived around 4:30 and grabbed my Ford Focus (a bigger hatchback and sleeker than the ones I see in North America, I think) and tried to remember to drive on the left and did pretty well, notwithstanding the constant turning on of the windshield wipers when I mean to switch on my turn signal. Anyway, I made a quick stop at the Skyline Gondola, which rises in a very steep fashion to a giant hill overlooking Queenstown and the lake and a mountain range called The Remarkables, and how good a name is that? I could see folks bungy (that’s what they call it, not “bungee”) jumping off a platform under the passing gondolas, high above the forest. I also could see a steamship, not unlike our Segwun, making her way up the blue-green lake on a beautiful, sunny afternoon.
From there it was up to the fun and funky Cardrona Hotel, an 1863 (I think) place with an old-fashioned bar, a marvelous fireplace, a lovely garden and modest rooms at the side of the highway between Queenstown and Wanaka, a wonderful tourist spot on Lake Wanaka. The Cardrona is taking part in a local lamb recipe/cooking contest, pitting the best of the chefs in the Otago region against one another. Mine was a touch fussy, with plum sauce and then potatoes and green beans laced with pesto and goat cheese, but it was great lamb and there was heaps of it and a nice bottle of Hawke’s Bay Syrah for maybe $65 (about $50 Cdn.)
The Cardrona is hugely busy in winter due to nearby ski hills, not so much in summer. But there’s an old merchandise store outside built of wood and the hotel looks like something out of the wild west, complete with a 1928 (I believe) Model A out front. All in all, a fine place for a meal and a bed-down, even if I had to work in semi-darkness in a musty room for several hours to get my laptop to accept the wi-fi signal. Not a great place for a business person, but a fine place for tourists to soak up atmosphere and a not too expensive price.
And a great, great part of the world.
More to come tomorrow on Wanaka, the gorgeous Rippon Vineyard, a crazy sport called Golf Cross and the absolutely drop-dead gorgeous Whare Kea resort on Lake Wanaka.