We left Franz Joseph and were heading towards Queenstown but first we had to pass through the Hass Pass. This road goes through the mountains and some high altitude terrain and is prone to snow falls. Most of the way it was clear but as we climbed higher the snow started collecting on the ground. Rain had turned into snow. The tires on our car are not very good and it became slippery very quickly. We pulled over to put our chains on and joined a family of 3 who were trying to put the chains on their camper van. Neither Andrew nor I had even put snow chains on so it was interesting trying to do it for the first time in the cold. I was instructed to document this with Andrew’s camera. I could see the family was having a hard time putting their chains on so once Andrew was done with our chains, I asked him to help them, which he did. As soon as they were done with the first tire, a guy drove up in his pickup truck from the opposite direction and told us once we passed the hill, the rest of the way was clear so chains weren’t really needed. So the family opted not to put the chains on the second car and we left. The guy in the pickup was right. As soon as we had passed the hill the road cleared and we had to pull over and take our chains off. It wasn’t that bad on the roads and we coined a new term, “The Gold Coast Syndrome”. It was based on the warnings of free-camping in the Gold Coast and the fines associated with that, only to find out it was all hyped up. The Gold Coast Syndrome is wide spread throughout Australia and NZ.
We arrived in Queenstown late in the afternoon after stopping in Wanaka, which turned out to have very expensive accommodations. We booked 2 nights at a hostel in Queenstown, but quickly found out the standards weren’t very high. We saw people wiping the floor with the tea towels in the kitchen and then hanging them back up. Andrew was completely disgusted by this and we started pre-washing and not drying everything we used. We refused to use the tea towels. Also, the fans in the bathrooms did not work so the condensation from the shower would collect at the top of the ceiling and if you went to use the toilet the drops of water would drip on your head. It was gross. It was a good price however so we decided to put up with it. We really liked Queenstown as it’s a medium sized town but it has a very cool vibe with a lot of skiers in the area. It’s definitely a vacation town. That night we went out for a few beers and we really enjoyed the $3 beers before 9pm.
The next day Andrew did some research on the ski conditions as well as the cost of renting ski clothes and equipment while I caught up on the blog. Then we went for a Fergburger, for which we had to wait an hour for! Fergburger is a very popular gourmet burger place. The burgers are homemade and huge. A very good deal for just $10 each and we were quite full after each eating one. We didn’t even need fries! Andrew went to an internet café while I went to get a haircut. It has been a year since I cut my hair and it needed a trim very badly. The cut and blow-dry cost me $65 but it was a necessity.
One of the trips we wanted to do was go to Milford Sound from Queenstown, but it was a 4 hour drive there. The town of Te Anau was in between so our plan was to stop there, but we found out the area had received a lot of snow in the past couple of days and the highway between Te Anau and Milford Sound was closed, but they were expecting to open it any day.
The next day we decided to drive to Te Anau, a 2 hour drive, in hopes the highway would open the next morning. We had a phone number to call to learn about road conditions but it’s updated every 3 hours and they don’t receive definitive information about when the road will open up. Te Anau is a very small town and there really isn’t much to do there. We decided to stay at another “park” (similar to what we stayed in for the Tongariero Crossing) but this one had a really good common area and the room was heated fairly well. Unfortunately the bathrooms and shower areas are not heated. I again spent the time writing the blog while we watched TV. Unfortunately the road to Milford Sound did not open the next morning so we decided to head back to Queenstown.
We decided to stay at the same hostel again since the price was good, but this time we stayed in “The Shed” outback as it was much quieter. We didn’t get a lot of sleep the 2 nights we had already spent there due to the coming and going of others. This was literally a garden shed converted into a room with no insulation, but it had a pretty good heater which had to be on the whole time in order to keep it warm. The lack of efficiency is extremely frustrating! This applies to everywhere we had stayed up until this point. In order to keep the hostels warm, the heaters have to be on the whole time because otherwise the heat just escapes.
The plan was to go skiing the next day but we slept in and spent the day checking out the ski hills in the area and visiting the A.J. Hackett bungy jumping center. We had been talking about bungy jumping in Queensland as it was the place it was started. It was very interesting the people jumping from the bridge and as I was looking at them I though, I could do this. It didn’t seem that bad and I said “Let’s do it. Let’s go now”. But Andrew started saying “The lighting for pictures is not that good, it’s very gray outside, let’s do it another day when the light is better”. I told him let’s do it now because I may chicken out but he was confident I wouldn’t so we left. We went and picked up the ski rental equipment and clothes we would use for skiing the next day.
We started our evening by pre-drinking my wine before heading to the bar. We had a great night drinking 2 for 1 beers and we topped the night off with a Canadian Club on the rocks. Needless to say the next morning we woke up with a headache. Unfortunately we had already paid for the equipment rental so we had to go skiing. We decided to take our chances and try going to Milford Sound again, so we checked out of our hostel before going skiing.
We went skiing at Coronet Peak which is approx 1650m high, however the ski area starts at 1100m so there is only 500m of ski area, just a touch higher than Blue Mountain. We were not in our best shape that day and we hadn’t been on skis in over a year and half so it was hard going. Also, since it was Saturday there were a lot of people on the hill and the wait for the lift was around half hour. The views from the top were stunning. From the top we could see the Remarkables Mountain Range as well as Queenstown. Unfortunately during our 3rd run a cloud came in and covered the peak and the views were gone. After 6 runs we called it a day, my legs were done and I didn’t think I was going to make it down the last run. It wasn’t worth the $95 per person we had paid for the lift tickets. On the back down the mountain, I looked up and saw only the peak of the mountain was covered in cloud. The rest of the sky was crystal clear. Figures.