Sunshine! We’d almost forgotten what it looked like. It glinted off the water, sparkled off the fresh snow on the mountain peaks, streaked the native grasses with golden highlights. I’d like to say it warmed the skin, but the air was still cool.
After breakfast we caught the local bus downtown and walked up the slope (slowly) to where a cable car took people up to the top of one of the peaks overlooking Queenstown. It was beautiful up there, cold and crisp with wonderful mountain and lake views. In keeping with Queenstown’s image as the adventure capital of New Zealand, you could take a bungee jump or a sky dive or go along to the luge track to hurtle down the hill on little carts with wheels (I imagine in Winter it’s more like the toboggans you see at the Winter Olympics). https://www.queenstownnz.co.nz/ We were grateful for our thick winter coats, bought for a visit to Europe in Oct/Nov a few years ago but barely used.
Down below on the lake the TSS Earnslaw returned to its berth. We would be sailing on her this afternoon for our visit to Walter Peak Station, which was part of our tour. There’s a sort of submersible shark thing you can ride in and also those water jets that shoot you up in the air. But… it’s been a few years since I did my solo sky dive and the water looks a bit chilly for getting wet. We settled for admiring the view. We did think about the wildlife park near the cable car, but even at a reduced price, $88 for two was a bit steep to get a look at a kiwi (bird) and a few other animals for maybe an hour or two, so we mooched around the town and the wharf.
It’s a picturesque spot, nestled between the mountains and the lake. The last of the Autumn leaves added colour. The town’s very much orientated for younger, fitter visitors. There are many shops offering tours and adventures, and many, many of the staff are Asian – which indicates where most of their tourists come from these days. I noticed an article in a local paper which claimed there’s been a large drop in tourist numbers since the Christchurch massacre – especially from Australia. That surprised me. The idea of not going ahead with our holiday didn’t even occur to me.
We filed onto the TSS Earnslaw promptly for a 4pm departure. The lovely old steamer was launched in 1912, the same year as the Titanic but obviously the ship hasn’t suffered the same fate. The wind had picked up and it was a bit choppy on the lake. The late afternoon sun lit up the mountains on the far aide of the lake and gave us a lovely, bright view of Walter Peak station’s homestead where we would be having a buffet barbecue dinner. It’s a high-country property running sheep and cattle. There’s a way in by road during the warmer months, but when the snows arrive it’s access by boat only. The beautifully restored homestead offers accommodation and farm stays as well as day trips. And why not? Tourism helps to keep the old steamer going and offers extra income.
Like every dinner we had on the tour, it was delicious. The buffet offered seafood, soup, shellfish for entrée, then all manner of salads and vegetables to enjoy with barbecued fish, pork, venison, lamb, beef and/or chicken. After all that there was a wide selection of sweets, all served in small containers so you could mix ‘n match. Here’s some more info with food porn.
After dinner we made our way to a covered outdoor arena to watch a young man tell us about the property and show us how a sheep is shorn. The property runs merinos for wool and (I think) perendale for meat and he’d brought in a perendale ewe which had never been shorn before for this demonstration. Control of the beast, he explained, was vital. Sheep are prey animals and will run – after they’ve kicked you. He explained that while we might think it unkind to shear the sheep at such a cool time, shearing was vital to the sheep’s welfare. Dags and dirt collect in the wool around the animal’s belly and hind quarters in particular, so those parts are trimmed up regularly. Besides, they were well adapted to being shorn. This ewe’s skin would have doubled in thickness within 24 hours – and of course, the wool grows back.
All the while our host’s two-year-old short-haired border collie (cunningly disguised as an Australian kelpie) curled up beside him. He’d had to tie Kim up for now, otherwise she would have been out in the sheep paddock doing her thing. These dogs love to work. When he’d finished shearing, he sent Kim out to bring in the five sheep he had in the holding paddock. She shot off, a silent streak, and had them back in a couple of minutes. The real affection between the man and the dog was a joy to see.
Then, just to prove she’s versatile, she and her handler escorted us back to the Earnslaw for the trip back to Queenstown.
Tomorrow we’d be off to Lake Te Anau – on the doorstep of Milford Sound.