November 7, 2006
After a leisurely breakfast, we boarded the Globus motor coach and headed for Queenstown. This is a trip of some four plus hours through scenic mountains, dubbed the "Southern Alps". It was in many of these mountain areas where several scenes of the recent movie trilogy, Lord of the Rings, was shot. Most of the movie locations were filmed in remote areas, only accessible by helicopter or a vehicle with four-wheel drive.
Peter used this bus time to fill us in about some of the settling history of New Zealand. The original English plans were to pattern new colonies exactly as they had been in England. However, it wasn't long before it became apparent this strategy wasn't going to work. There simply was no infrastructure in place in New Zealand to facilitate that lifestyle. The unique circumstances did lend themselves to raising farm animals, though. In relatively short order, it was determined that raising sheep was a business that did not require much experience. Thus, many families headed for New Zealand to seek their fortunes as sheep farmers. Whaling was still a big industry, too, especially among the Dutch and the French. A few of the early settlements reflected this.
While sheep raising is prominent in New Zealand, vineyards are rapidly gaining in popularity. We passed many of these on our way to Queenstown. One of the striking things from the road is the orderly manner in which the grapevine rows are laid out. At the head of each row is a conspicuous rose plant – usually with at least one rose blooming. The reason for this is that the rose and the grapevines are both subject to the same diseases, but only the rose displays the symptoms first. This affords the caretaker a chance to treat the grapevines long before they progress to any lethal disease stage.
Today was the day of the Melbourne Cup horserace in Australia – the Down Under equivalent of the Kentucky Derby. Thoroughbred horse racing is a popular sport in both New Zealand and Australia. Peter suggested it might be fun if we got someone to act as a "bookie" and had a betting pool for the race. Julie Dayvault from Lexington, North Carolina volunteered to be "it". She put together some numbers for a drawing. It was agreed that all participants would give $5.00 for each number drawn. We found out later in the day that two Japanese horses, Delta Blue and Pop Rock, finished first and second. I bet on Pop Rock and won $30.00.
After a long bus ride and out-of-this-world scenery, we reached Queenstown. The roots of this city came about back in the 1850s when gold was discovered in the area. Miners came from all over the world and there are still remnants of those old mining camps visible in the narrow valleys. Today the area is better known to ski enthusiasts, bungee jumping and river rafting.
We actually passed the Kawarau bridge where the very first bungee jump took place. The name, Queenstown, was chosen because it was felt that the city was fit for Queen Victoria.
We checked into the hotel and picked up our room keys. Without exception, the hotels that we stayed in were all first class (five star is the term for the discerning traveler, I think). I would hate to think what the daily room rates for these places would have been had we been traveling on our own. My hat is off to Globus for their excellent taste in hotel selection.
At 5:30 p.m., we boarded a boat on Lake Wakatipu for an optional five-mile trip to Walter's Peak where we dined and then were treated to a demonstration of sheep herding and sheep shearing. The villa at the peak reminded me of some of the scenes in The Sound of Music – the mountains in the background. We had the greatest buffet dinner and then walked to a viewing area for the sheep herding demonstration.
A rancher came out with his trusty border collie in tow. The viewing area is at the base of a mountain range and, at the beginning of all this, no sheep are visible. The rancher gave a command to the dog. She immediately ran out in the direction of the mountain where some scrub pines were growing at the base. Within a few minutes, about 10 to 15 sheep came running up toward us with the dog behind. Once in a while, an individual sheep would peel off and start to head off in some new direction. But the dog quickly saw this and ran over to steer the sheep back in place. With only a few whistles and grunts from the rancher, the dog easily guided the sheep into a designated holding area. What an impressive demonstration!
We went to another area to watch the sheep shearing. The same rancher brought out a ewe and explained what this was all about. A sheep is a docile and compliant creature. Even though the ewe was quite large, the rancher positioned the ewe on her haunches and held her by the neck and shoulders. Then he proceeded to shear her wool using an electric clipper. He was adept and in less that three or four minutes, he had sheared the sheep's wool coat off in one large piece. He told us this is not a very profitable business. Most ranchers also raise young lambs which is where the money is made.
This was a free day. According to Maori legend, Queenstown (situated right next to Lake Wakatipu) has a very colorful history. The lake actually "breathes" – the lake water level rises and falls up to 12 centimeters every five minutes. This is due to wind and variations in air pressure. The Maori believe, though, that long ago, a monster named Matau carried off the daughter, Manata, of the Maori chief. A brave warrior named Matakauri (lots of "M" names to keep straight, huh!) went to save her. She was tied with a long cord plaited from hide of one of the monster's two-headed dogs. Try as he might, the warrior could not cut the cord with his knife. Manata then started crying and some of her tears fell upon the cord – it parted, freeing her. Matakauri and Manata fled to safety. Matakauri later returned to kill Matau, the monster. He found the giant asleep. He piled bracken around him and set fire to it. The monster burnt to death and the fire made a deep hole in the shape of his body. Rivers then filled the hole creating Lake Wakatipu. According to legend, the giant's heart still beats under the water causing the constant rise and fall of the water's surface.
We had planned on walking to a botanical garden, but it started raining and got uncharacteristically cold. Remember, this is ski country. It actually starts snowing intermittently and heavily up in the mountains. Out our window we could see the mountain top gradually turning white. Instead of doing the garden tour, we walked to the Internet cafe‚ and checked our email. We then had a bite to eat and headed back to our hotel for a good night's sleep. Tomorrow is Auckland.
Tom Fisher belongs to a private International e-mail list server group for seniors called, Senior World. His wife and he attended gatherings of this group in Auckland, New Zealand and Sydney, Australia in November, 2006. This is an account of their trip written afterwards and sent to the group.
Part I is here.