Sun Shines, Ice Melts in Aotearoa Again the Mountain


Sun Shines, Ice Melts in Aotearoa

Again the Mountain

Happy Wanaka

Hiding from Bob only to see a notorious omen.

Bumper Christmas Special
30th December, 2001

Queenstown. Fun capital of the southland, but it's too young for me. My hostel was crammed to the gills with twenty year old English people milling around repeating one word: bungy bungy bungy.... It was like standing in the middle of a farm for hyperactive penguins... bungy bungy... The Nevis, the Karawau, the Pipeline:
"Have you done the Nevis?"
"We're off to do the Nevis!"
"I just done the Nevis, man, it was wicked!"
Sounded like kind of conversation we used to have about dirty magazines when I was about fifteen.

Grandad, we love you

After a childhood spent hurling myself across tree tops and off the top railings of bridges into the River Roe, I refused to pay fifty quid just to jump off something. I went for a run up Queenstown hill instead. 300m and 35 minutes later I surveyed the exquisite scenery - Lake Wakatipu, the Remarkables - below me. Still got it, I congratulated myself.

"You're a very attractive man, y'know." Our heads lolled forward over our jug of beer. "Of course, don't get me wrong, I'm not interested in you!" she added quickly. "Grandad."

Carolyn was quick-witted, intelligent, pretty. And she was eighteen years old. I sighed. Just my luck. At least I still had beer. Our heads lolled more.
"You know, you're really great!"
"No, no, you are."
"No, you. You're really, really... great."
"Although of course I just don't mean anything by that, you are fourteen years older than me."
"OK, yes, yes, I get it."

Carolyn was one of those rare people: she was always a pleasure to hang out with. We went down to Milford Sound, a magical land of sheer cliff walls over misty sea inlets, ancient impenetrable forests and explosive waterfalls. All the way I searched for locations from The Lord of the Rings. I thought I saw a river bank and some hill tops that looked as if they ought to be famous, but without orcs shooting from them, it was hard to be sure.

Christmas Day

Christmas can present the independent traveller with problems: accomodation fills up days in advance, normal activities are suspended, shops are shut and worst of all, you can find yourself alone on Christmas day. Whatever your opinion of the festive season, you don't want to be left wandering the streets looking for a stable while everyone else is having a party. This happen easily - networks of fellow travellers are disrupted and friends are lost in the panic of finding somewhere to stay in the few days leading up to holiday week.

I had booked a hostel in Wanaka a couple of weeks ago, only to find that the natural progression of travel caused myself and my friends to overshoot Wanaka and land in Queenstown six days before Christmas. I had to leave almost everyone I knew and turn back as Queenstown was already booked out. I had 36 hours to create a whole new circle of friends before Christmas morning.

And still avoid all the travel weirdos.

Of which there are many. in Holly's Hostel we had the Blessed Geordie of Enthusiasm. A nice guy in many ways, he was simply too inexplicably upbeat about everything, and scared the living daylights out of everyone else. Too long alone on the tramps perhaps. He would enter the kitchen, our perfectly ordinary kitchen, crying out, "Nothing like a good old cook-up, brilliant!! Hey, look! A fridge!! Marvelous, eh? Ha ha!" And so on in a continual outpour as everyone edged towards the door. When I was in the common room re-wiring the video I heard his thunderous approach behind me: "Chistmas! Isn't it great! Ha ha! Hey! A video player! Fantastic!!!!!!" he yelled, and marched out again. I hid behind the sofa.

Notorious Bob. Bob the Brummie. Already a legend. Poor Bob, it wasn't his fault perhaps, but he managed both to depress and alienate every living creature he ever encountered. His voice carried that strange Midlands mix of threat and misery wherever he chose to take it:
"Going up the hill then? In those boots?" (You fool)
"Might as well get on the bus then, I suppose." (Or just stab ourselves in the eye, what difference does any of it make?)
One night, in his coup de grace, Bob managed to close all the windows of his eight-bed dorm before snoring and farting the night away to his hearts content. By the time he woke up a vengeful dorm-mate had managed to scrawl "dickhead" on his forehead in indelible ink. He wore it a day before he found out.

Anyway, Christmas Day

I was rather chuffed to figure out not one, but two whole new groups of mates within four hours of arriving in Wanaka. Only problem, that meant two whole Christmas dinners:

Christmas Dinner No.1 (with the lads in Holly's Hostel 1pm):
Chicken Ham, peas beer, beer, beer, wine.
Topic of conversation inc.: "Another beer, mate?"
Game of Life. Noone knew the rules, had to make 'em up. Everyone ended up ridiculously rich and passed out on the floor.

Christmas Dinner No.2 (with Inge and Marloes in the Purple Cow 5pm):
Fruit salad, Cheese, 3 lbs of chocolate ice cream, wine, wine.
Topic of conversation inc.: "More ice cream? My bottom is getting fat! (that was me) Oh, all right, then."

Inge: soft-spoken, thoughtful. Marloes: fun-loving, adventurous. Devastating laugh. Jasper the gigantic Swede who thought he was the reincarnation of William Wallace. Food and mulled wine, a day of eating, drinking and talking, looking out at the perfect sun-filled summer's day, the distant snow-covered mountains and glittering Lake Wanaka. Troy who brought down his secret alcohol stash too soon: a bottle of Bailey's. He had to spend the rest of the night repeating that he was not, in fact, gay.

Other travellers' Christmasses:

Carolyn in Queenstown: "bbq was really good. excellent food. after the bbq my insane roomates a few stragglers and i all went swimming in the freezing lake! we looked like the biggest group of morons ever i think"

Jo in Napier: "football drunk in the rain had to be the highlight :-)"

Sabine: "We have here in the Black Forest about 15 cm snow and it is cold!"

Emma: "It is absolutely freezing here (-3 the other night) so I am of course insainly jealous. "

Richard: "why are you standing like a "rubber grip" action man? Have you papped your kecks?"

Oh well.

I Have Seen What Men MUST NOT SEE

`God save thee, ancient Mariner !
From the fiends, that plague thee thus !--
Why look'st thou so ?'--With my cross-bow
I shot the ALBATROSS.


I have seen the ALBATROSS. I came to Dunedin, the Scottish capital of New Zealand (though it looks more like Birkenhead than Glasgow. Greenock at best. Maybe Peebles). The thing to do here is a nature trek along the Otago peninsula: Hooker's sea lions, yellow-eyed penguin, and the only mainland colony in the world of the Royal Albatross. The albatross! Six feet across, they leave the land and circle the southern world for seven years before touching land again to court and mate. They are a stunning sight.

Christmas and the New Year are slow times for a traveller, it is hard to get moving, to get things done. You have a lot of time to ponder, to reflect on the year or dream of the darkness or warmth of home. You miss your old friends, family, old haunts. I have been fortunate in my new friends and the sunny lakes and mountains. I'll leave the last word to Kristy, from Vancouver:

Kristy: "...I hope you are having a a wonderful christmas this year, one that you will most likely remember for the rest of your life! how could you forget - spending or celebrating the new year, a new life in the beautiful New Zealand..."


Entrance to Milford Sound


Christmas Dinner No. 2






Hat & Spoon



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The Facts

Where I stayed
Makarora: Makarora Tourist Centre. Holiday cabins in a beautiful wilderness valley. Large bar/BBQ area.
Queenstown: Southern Laughter. Backpackers' hostel. Nice hostel with patios, swing seats, and cartoons glued to the toilet walls.
Wanaka: Holly's Backpackers. A family home used as a hostel. Very pleasant, relaxed homely feel. The owner made Christmas roast for all the guests.

How I got around:
The Magic Bus. Good value hop-on/hop-off service that goes all over the two islands, arranging accomodation and activities for you. There are so many backpackers in New Zealand, it can be overwhelming.