A wise uncle once told Dirk, “You can’t just have fun all the time.” But we had a different idea when we were in Queenstown, New Zealand.
Reunited at the Airport
We met up with Gerard and Steven going through security at the Auckland airport. Nick had already cleared and was waiting at the gate. What a blessing that they were able to join us for two and a half weeks in New Zealand! The five of us flew together from Auckland on the North Island to Queenstown on the South Island. Queenstown is an adventurer’s paradise, and we took full advantage!
Pub on Wharf
Upon arrival in Queenstown, we picked up our rental car and then drove to Pub on Wharf for a late lunch. We were famished and so ready for the delicious the food at Pub on Wharf! It was hard not to stay at the wharf, checking out the sites of this beautiful and fun city. But we wanted to get checked into our Airbnb and relax for a while, so we enjoyed our lunch and tore ourselves away from there until later.
We Would’ve Been Happy Just Hanging Out Here
Our accommodation was a spacious, comfortable, clean, three-bedroom house. It had a large living/dining room, kitchen, laundry room, heated towel racks in the bathroom, two balconies and a large patio with a gas grill. It also had lots of windows with beautiful views of Queenstown. This is definitely one of the nicest places we’ve stayed in using Airbnb during our RTW, and it was a welcome sight for all of us.
We each claimed a bed (or side of the bed), unloaded our bags from the car, and then got back in the car to drive to the nearest Countdown: one of New Zealand’s supermarket chains and the one we liked the best when we were there. We bought a ton of food, considering that we’d only be staying at this location for a couple of days. But the leftovers would be good road trip food for our upcoming travels throughout the South Island.
Long Overdue for a Home-cooked Meal Together
We returned from our shopping trip, grilled some fresh salmon and steaks, cooked the potatoes and broccoli, and sat down for our first home-cooked meal together in over a year. That was something special! We stayed up late telling stories and laughing so hard — for some of us, until we cried. You would never have known that three out of the five of us had serious jet lag and had just traveled for more than 24 hours to get there. We finally did get to bed, though, because the next day was going to be a big one.
The next morning we woke up slowly and lingered over cups of coffee and tea, cooked and ate breakfast/lunch, and then took a cab to the Skyline Luge. It was a little bit of a walk to town from where we were staying, and we knew it would be a long day when we headed out. So we took it easy on ourselves and resisted the urge to walk to the luge. Also, even though it was summer in New Zealand, it was cold and rainy when we left the house. By the time we got to the top of the luge, it was sleeting.
Along the way, we all giggled simultaneously upon reading the bumper sticker on a parked and run down van that said, “Jesus is all what you need.” (That’s not a typo.) We’re not sure why we found that SO funny, but we did. That became one of our mantras for the next two and a half weeks together.
Once we got to the luge, stood in line, and finally mounted our equipment, Dirk thought he was at NASCAR. What made this even funnier is that fact that guests are required to ride the slower of the two luge rides the first time (the bunny slope). Watch the hilarious video below of us on the bunny slope and judge for yourself. Fortunately, lawsuits are a lot less frequent in New Zealand than in the U.S. or we might find ourselves defending one right now. Jee-sus! 😉 We rode the faster luge after that one, but it wasn’t nearly as comical.
Time for a Coooold One
After the luge incident, we went to the Stratosfare Bar at the top of the gondola and enjoyed the stunning views of Queenstown from the top of the mountain. We eventually made our way down and headed to Minus 5 Ice Bar, stopping at the Queenstown Visitor Center along the way to pick up coupons for the ice bar.
Minus 5 Ice Bar was really cool (of course, literally). We’ve seen ice bars in lots of places, but this was the only time we’ve visited one of these. We liked the way you get bundled up in your coat and gloves before entering the ice bar. These “costumes,” serve an important function, of course, but they also lend a festive feel to the experience before you enter what feels sort of like a cave. Everything in the ice bar is, as you might expect, made of ice: the furniture, the glasses, the decor. You have your choice of a couple of different vodka drinks. When you’re done with your class, you get to experience the joy of throwing it into the ice bowl and watching it shatter. It’s not clear whether you’re supposed to do this, but a couple of us did.
A Little Blackjack, A Little Blackwood
We left the ice bar and walked a few steps to Little Blackwood, a cool restaurant/bar on the wharf. From there, we were going to go into the nearby SkyCity Wharf Casino; but you have to be 21 to get in. Nick was just shy of his 19th birthday. So Dirk, Gerard, and Steven spent a little time and a little money at a blackjack table at the casino, while Nick and Bev hung out at Little Blackwood. Among the gambling trio, two won and one lost. Steven does the best impression of the young woman working the table saying, “Thank youuuuuu,” as she raked in the chips.
Happy Birthday, Dirk!
The five of us all met up again at Little Blackwood. At midnight, we toasted Dirk on what was officially his 50th birthday. Happy Birthday, Dirk! Exhausted but still laughing, the five of us walked back home along a very dark Lake Wakatipu. The next day would be an even bigger day.
Shotover Jetboat Ride
Again, we had breakfast/tea/coffee and headed out. We went straight to Shotover Jet on the Shotover River to do the jetboat ride. They give you looks and feels a little strange, but it serves its purpose. You’re going to get wet on that boat! What a blast!
Walking Off the Fat Badger
After the wet and wild boat ride, we went to the Fat Badgers Pizza Bar for birthday pizza. And then to the Pig & Whistle. From there, we walked back home and rested a bit. When we ventured out again, we walked along Lake Wakatipu in the daylight. It was a beautiful little hike to work off some of the pasta, fish & chips, and pizza we’d been enjoying. But we’d enjoy more.
Dirk’s Birthday Dinner and Party of Sorts
Gerard and Steven treated us all to a wonderful Dirk’s birthday dinner at Farelli’s Trattoria. Dirk’s favorite cake is lemon cake. They had lemon polenta cake. Close enough. It was delicious, too! The celebration moved back to the casino/Little Blackwood scene from the night before, with Bev and Nick waiting longer this time around for the gambling trio to return. This time, more money was won than the night before. But still not as much as was lost. everyone crashed out! After winding down the celebration, we took a taxi back to our Airbnb and crashed out.
See Ya Again Soon, Queenstown!
The owner was decorating a Christmas tree in the living room of our Airbnb as we finished packing up and checking out the next morning. We had a couple of weeks of touring more of South Island before we’d return to Queenstown on December 26th, but we would miss these accommodations.
A Wicked Return
By the time we did return, worn out but still wanting to make the most of every moment, we had exchanged the rental car for a Wicked Campers van. In addition to that, we always have our camping gear for two, so we decided to stay at a campground for a couple of nights. It was very nice, with clean restrooms; and it was surprisingly (pleasantly) quiet.
Hanging Out at the Wharf
We hung out at the wharf for a while. By now, that area had become our usual hangout in Queenstown, especially places like Pier 19, Finz, and Public Kitchen & Bar. We ended that night, again, back at Little Blackwood. There was a live band (a trio) performing, and they were great! They played lots of fun oldies — from Johnny Cash to Dolly Parton to the Eagles and then some.
Happy Birthday, Nick!
At midnight, they sang Happy Birthday to one of the other guests. Bev announced that it was also Nick’s birthday, at which time a young woman grabbed Nick and dragged him onto the dance floor for the band’s next song. After showing off a few of her dance moves, she yelled over to Bev, “Sorry, mum!” We laughed and laughed, as we walked back to the campground to catch some zzzzs before yet another big day the next day. Along the way, Nick proclaimed that pretty much every day from then on would be his birthday. Why not?
Rafting Trip: Who’s In?
After we awoke and each used the campground showers, we had breakfast/lunch at an American-themed restaurant near the visitor’s center. Several of us really wanted some “American coffee” badly. They didn’t really nail that at this place, which is a common theme on this RTW. But Nick seemed enjoyed his birthday hamburger very much. Steven wasn’t feeling well by this time.
Steven and Bev walked back to the campground early, so she could give him some oregano oil to help him feel better. It worked, but not soon enough for him to feel like he could participate in the Class V whitewater rafting trip with Queenstown Rafting. Dirk had aggravated an old back injury when we had built a bonfire on the beach near Franz Josef the week before and was moving slowly. Welcome to 50! So he wisely sat out the rafting trip. We’d paid for three slots. So Bev — who had not originally planned to go — did the rafting with Gerard and Nick.
To Get There…
A shuttle bus wound around what is purportedly the most dangerous road in New Zealand to take us to the put-in. It’s the narrowest, scariest road Bev has ever been on, and she’s been on her fair share. When you exit the bus and make your way to the safety briefing before putting on the river, the guide tells you that you can ride the bus back down if you have decided you don’t want to paddle. Ha ha. No takers, of course!
A Wild Ride!
That was a wild ride, and one that we’d have better video of if it weren’t for two things: 1) It’s hard to tell with the Pivothead sunglasses camera when they’re on to record or when they’re turned off. Unfortunately, we accidentally had them turned “off” instead of “on” for most of the rafting trip. And, 2) Nick was gentlemanly enough to allow a young woman who had a GoPro on her helmet sit in front. So she undoubtedly got good video — even though, uh-hum, she didn’t really paddle. Some of us got a really good workout, though!
We would’ve probably paid for the company video of the rafting trip, but our group of five had some miscommunication in trying to find each other after the rafting trip. By the time we rejoined each other, we were all too hungry to go back to get the video. The three of us who went on this trip are very grateful for Queenstown Rafting for making so much fun…and safe. Especially our guide, a very experienced and professional Dutch guy who also guides in France part of the year. Sorry we don’t recall his name, but he was the best!
Of Course, It’s Still Nick’s Birthday. Every Day Is.
After the paddling trip, we all met up again at the wharf. It was a gorgeous, sunny day; so we lingered at the outdoor tables for a while. Eventually, we returned to Farelli’s Trattoria, where we’d enjoyed Dirk’s birthday dinner a couple of weeks prior. This time we were celebrating Nick’s birthday, and we enjoyed Farelli’s Trattoria just as much as we had the first time we ate there.
Last Full Day Together in NZ
The next day was our last full day with the boys in New Zealand. We packed up and cleaned the Wicked camper van, and Dirk dropped the others off at the Black Sheep Backpackers while he returned the Wicked camper. Once we were able to check into our rooms, we rested a bit and then walked to Queenstown Beach.
We had a wonderfully relaxing time just hanging out at the beach. Steven took a stroll along the waterfront, and Gerard and Nick rented a canoe and paddled again for a while. Dirk and Bev sat on the shore and read books. Later that day, we all enjoyed a walk through the Botanical Gardens, literally stopping to smell all of the amazing roses and vote on which color smelled the best. No one seemed to want the day to end.
The Name Says It All
We didn’t realize how busy Queenstown gets during the holidays. By the time we got online to book our return trip there for the end of December, we were disappointed to learn that everything — except for the Black Sheep Backpackers — was booked up. We’d started out in Queenstown earlier in the month in very nice accommodations, clearly run by someone who cares. But we would not have that benefit this last night. At least we had a two-person room (for Dirk and Bev) and one three-person room (for Gerard, Steven and Nick), each with a shared bathroom down the hall. That was okay. We’re definitely used to camping and staying in other non-luxurious accommodations.
Do Not Stay Here
What was not okay was the screaming and fighting that went on at the hostel and in the empty lot next to it. Different groups yelling and (almost?) rioting. All. Night. Long. We all had an early departure, so it was rough not getting any sleep. It made for not the best way to say our very sad goodbyes early the next morning. But if you’re ever in Queenstown, NZ, do yourself a favor: No matter what, DO NOT STAY at the Black Sheep Hostel. Any questions?
Back to Christchurch for NYE
After an epic, celebratory time with Gerard, Steven and Nick, Dirk and Bev took a long bus ride to Christchurch and prepared to ring in 2016.