The ‘morning after the night before’ began with a brisk walk across Queenstown to a charming bistro next to Lake Wakatipu. There’s nothing better than eggs to chase away the last vestiges of a mild hangover, so I ordered the eggs benedict. Once again we encountered a unique Kiwi spin on international cuisine. In Auckland, I’d had a green Thai curry that seemed to be sorely lacking any kind of heat – and didn’t come with coconut rice, either! In Milford Sound, we’d been served vegetarian pizza that featured plenty of sweet potato chunks but precious little cheese. On this day in Queenstown, we encountered a most unusual hollandaise sauce that seemed to be based on mayonnaise instead of butter. I’m compliant to a fault when it comes to restaurant meals – I can count on one hand the number of meals I’ve sent back to the kitchen. I grudgingly made it through my eggs benny, but they understandably weren’t to everyone’s taste.
This was the only blemish on what I’ve realized in retrospect was the perfect Sunday.
We boarded our minibus ‘Frank’ for a short trip east, north, and west (direct routes are rare on the south island) to the town of Wanaka. Our guides dropped us off a few kilometres east of town for a nice walk on glacier-carved Mount Iron. A well-graded gravel trail looped through pastures and meadows and scrub brush en route to the top of the iron-shaped knoll. Cathy and I assumed our usual positions at the front of the pack and raced each other to the summit. From 240 metres above the surrounding terrain, we were rewarded with panoramic views of Lake Wanaka and the snowy peaks of Mount Aspiring National Park.
Sally and Colin joined us for the relatively steep descent down a different face of the knoll. After looping back around to our starting point, we extended the length of our walk to about 8 km by following the road into town. Back in Wanaka, we sat on the beach and watched boats bob up and down on windy Roys Bay while we lunched on chicken wraps. Black-billed gulls with spooky white eyes loitered at our feet, waiting for handouts.
In the afternoon, we were outfitted with 27-speed hardtail mountain bikes for a ride on the scenic Te Araroa trail. Our guides started our ride at the town of Lake Hawea so that we wouldn’t have to fight the strong north breeze during the 24 km cross-country ride back to Wanaka.
The first half of the trail followed the Hawea River through pastures and rolling countryside. The trek got a little more technical when we dropped down into the trees next to the river, but it was no comparison to the Queenstown gondola trails. This was a leisurely Sunday afternoon cross-country ride with mercifully few chances of peril. Naturally, I found a few corners to fishtail around and a few jumps to get some air under my bike anyway. In a funny parallel to our hikes, it didn’t take long for Cathy, Milton and I to break free of the peloton. I was glad to see Milton’s bike handling skills in action, since we were both booked to go on the 3-day mountain biking excursion later in the Rimu tour.
A suspension bridge took us over the Hawea River into Albert Town. We followed a mixture of multi-purpose trails and paved streets across town, including a fun 1000-metre grind up Gunn Road. After ten minutes in second gear (though it seemed more like an hour), we reached the roundabout at the top of the hill and stopped to guzzle some water. Despite the sweaty clothes and sore legs, there is something oddly addictive about exerting yourself on a steep climb.
The second half of our trek followed the Clutha River back to Lake Wanaka. We rode a series of gravel roads and trails to the west, skirting past Mount Iron. Because of the breezy conditions, several windsurfers were out testing their mettle on Dublin Bay. Back on terra firma, the stiff crosswinds and sandy sections of trail along the lake made things interesting for those of us on two wheels. But the scenery across the water to the peaks of Mt Aspiring National Park made the extra effort worthwhile. Cathy and I occasionally stopped to admire the views from places like Beacon Point and Eely Point.
On the outskirts of town, the trails also gave us an appreciation for some of the gorgeous million-dollar lakefront ‘cottages’. We passed one fellow out barbecuing in his back yard, and the scent reignited my latent hamburger cravings. Our bike ride wrapped up at the same beach where we’d stopped for lunch a few hours earlier. This time Nat was there to hand out ginger beer popsicles, which definitely hit the spot.
We dropped off our bikes and wandered up and down the sleepy streets of Wanaka while the rest of our bike gang rolled into town. Since it was a Sunday afternoon in early summer, life in this resort town was very laid back and casual. Our guides later told us that things usually don’t get hopping until mid-December through January, when the weather is warm and Kiwis are on summer holiday.
Our destination for the next few days of the tour was the gorgeous west coast. We drove part way there after our snack, stopping for the night at the sprawling metropolis of Makarora. As soon as we stepped off the bus, I think our crew of 18 people probably doubled the town’s population. The accommodations were A-frame chalets that a creative realtor might have described as “charming” or “rustic”. Let’s just say that motel rooms that lock and unlock using an antique skeleton key are hard to find these days. Even though an interior decorator hadn’t seen the inside of these chalets since the Beatles broke up, you couldn’t beat the location. Mount Aspiring National Park was just beyond my front porch in all its snow-capped splendour.
We met in the central mess hall at 7 pm for dinner. Much to my delight, Nat had somehow read my mind and prepared barbecue burgers and salads for us. Craving resolved! It turned out that a nice Central Otago merlot is the perfect match for a Kiwi-style cheeseburger, especially after a long day of outdoor pursuits.
Despite a cool drizzle outside, our gang got together at the local pub for a nightcap. We chatted excitedly about our Rimu tour experiences, and told some tales about life back home. At times it was hard to tell who was making more noise – our group on the comfy sofas or the brood of colourful locals cloistered near the bar. Regardless, it was pretty clear that we had just enjoyed a perfect day of outdoor adventures in each other’s company.
Though if I had it to do all over again, maybe I’d start with the French toast…
Song of the Day: “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed