On Boxing Day, after spending the night in the Blue Lake public shelter with Ben and Mira – where there were no Himmlers or camp fees, but then again, no right to be there either – I said my goodbyes and started south through the Lindis Pass towards Queenstown, making a lunch stop on the way at the historic Kawarau Suspension Bridge, a lovely little bridge across a deep gorge in the mountains. Well, it would have been lovely, but it's near Queenstown, the tourist centre of the South Island, and so Kawarau is now a bungee bridge, and being right on the main highway, it's an extremely popular and rather overcrowded stop-off for busloads of tourists. Still, it was interesting to see my first bungee bridge, even though it's quite a small one at 43m high – the biggest, Skippers Canyon Bridge, is 69m high, and is also near Queenstown – but at NZ$130 a jump I decided to stick to watching.
As for Queenstown, I only visited it quickly to do some very expensive shopping and go for a quick wander; I was going to be coming back in January, so figured I'd explore it properly then. My first impressions were of a beautiful little town on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, with mountains sloping all around and plenty of interesting and trendy shops and cafés, full of beautiful people, posers and backpackers who were only after one thing: a laugh. I'd been warned that Queenstown is the Costa del Sol of the South Island, but I'm beginning to get immune to tourists now, after such a long time doing my own thing, so I bought what I had to buy and quickly moved on.
Return to Queenstown
After visiting Bluff I took advantage of the lack of distractions in Southland to head north to Queenstown once again. My plans to camp in a dirt cheap DOC campsite at 12 Mile Creek were dashed when I discovered a bikers' rally there for the weekend, so after pussyfooting about – something I tend to do when my plans get scuppered – I checked into a rather posh caravan park right in the town at the princely sum of NZ$10 per night, the most expensive place I've yet camped in New Zealand. Still, Queenstown is regarded as one of the most expensive places in the country, so I decided to treat myself, and despite the fact that in the dining room I heard every language except English, making it rather hard to believe I was in New Zealand, I enjoyed the pampering; I also enjoyed the real meat that I'd bought for my supper, my first meat this year after eating nothing but dried rice and the odd bit of tinned tuna on my tramps.
Sunday saw a slight clearing of the rain, so I popped up Queenstown Hill after lunch for stunning views of the Remarkables, the mountains round Queenstown, and Lake Wakatipu, on which Queenstown sits. It's a lovely place... or, to be more accurate, it's a lovely setting, as Queenstown itself is just another modern town, albeit somewhat more interesting than most, with its quaint tourist-friendly centre, Ye Real Olde English Pubbe and Real Old Kiwi Pub (both of which are stunningly new) and shops that stay open until 11pm (even on a Sunday). It's a tourist Mecca, but as one of my hobbies is watching the world go by, I found it fascinating, even though it stirred up some strange emotions. As I wandered past the restaurants, where people tucked into exquisite dishes over bottles of wine, and tiptoed past the pubs, hearing beery laughter waft out with the smell of pies and pints, I couldn't help being whisked back to the days when I used to spend a lot of my time in pubs and restaurants, back when I had an income and before I started budgeting in earnest. Right there, on the streets of Queenstown, it hit me how much I miss that lifestyle sometimes; cooking in a campsite is all very well, but I miss the social aspect of everyone going down the pub and hitting the curry house afterwards. There is a positive side to living on a budget – you really appreciate going out when you do, and it's the only way I can afford to travel for a decent period – but eating in restaurants and relaxing in warm pubs are luxuries that destroy travel budgets, and sometimes it's hard to be the one living on a shoestring with your nose pressed to the glass.
But despite the odd pang for a rich, western lifestyle, Queenstown was a great place to relax while waiting for the weather to roll away, as I planned my next walk.