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Queenstown is a quaint little alpine township inundated with bungee jumpers, helicopter nuts, white water rafters, and parafliers! It's nestled on the sloping edge of a large glacial lake, and the roads are appropriately steep in places.
Ohau B power station
We woke up about 07:30 and had cereal and toast for brekky in the room at Twizel. I skipped the promised ice cream (but made up for it later... see entry for Omarama) and we checked out and headed over to the Twizel Visitor Info Centre for the black stilt (rarest wading bird in the world) captive breeding program tour. The info centre was supposed to open at 09:00, but this being New Zealand, the woman (bleached blonde-tipped spiked hair) didn't show up until 10 past. We booked the tour at 10:30, then asked what we could do until then. She recommended driving down past the Ohau power stations (hydroelectric) to Lake Benmore to see if we could see some birdlife in the wetlands there. We did so - drive that is, not see any birds. It was a peaceful enough place, but not a sausage of wildlife anywhere.
Near Lake Ohau
Returning to the Black Stilt Captive Breeding Centre, we started our tour with an older English couple and the friendly (and talkative) Dept of Conservation guide. She started by showing us some newly refurbished cages (sans birds), then inside to some displays about the black stilt. There are presently 160 or so of the birds in existence(!), up from 30-odd in 1983. The guide showed us pictures of some other rare birds in NZ and the English couple said something about having see 80 species of birds since arriving in NZ. I said, "So you're birdwatchers?" The English lady replied, "No, not really."
We saw a stuffed feral cat - pretty big, and the guide said there were bigger around - in a display on predators. We got blamed as Aussies for introducing the pied stilt - a related species that can interbreed and cause black/pied hybrids. But we got back at the English couple when the guide said rabbits/ferrets/stoats/cats were a big problem too. Anyway - eventually we got to sit in the hide room and observe the stilts in their captive breeding cages. From a distance through binoculars, but they were pretty cool to look at.
Road from Twizel to Omarama
We headed off for Omarama and The Amazing Clay Cliffs. After following a turnoff road we discovered that the Cliffs were on private property and cost us $10 to go look at them. We popped the $10 in the honour system box at the gate and drove on in. After 4 k's of gravel road and a short walk we were right under the Cliffs of Clay. Quite spectacular, actually. I wandered up into one of the gullies between the Cliffy bits and took some pics while Michelle waited in her good shoes.
Clay Cliffs of Omarama
Before leaving we ate lunch in the car - nice new rye bread and cream cheese. Finally we drove off and into the town of Omarama, where we stopped for coffee (Michelle) and ice cream (me). Here I had a double scoop of really good boysenberry and apricot for only $1.75! We ate/drank and watched NZ creaming Sri Lanka at Carisbrook in Dunedin on the tele.
We left Omarama and drove up through the Lincoln Pass to Cromwell. Quite scenic in places - hills all over the place. We passed by Cromwell, not even stopping to photograph the hugemongous fruit at the side of the highway. But we stopped at a fruit stall just out of town for some dried mangos and apricots - yum!
Omarama River valley panorama
The road to Queenstown wound along a river valley - very different scenery to the glacial valleys we'd been seeing so far. It was steep and windy (and windy too in places!). We passed the suspension bridge where people do bungee jumping, then on into Queenstown.
After checking in at Pinewood and discovering that the dirt road up to the lodge from the reception was a trifle too steep for the car, we headed back down to town to check all the souvenir shops. There were tons of bungee jump booking places, ski shops, helicopter agencies, adventure clothing stores, backpackers' supplies, but precious little anything else! We went to the wharf to book a cruise on the TSS (twin screw steamer) Earnslaw, then wandered in a vain search for hot chips until departure.
Crossing Lake Wakatipu on the TSS Earnslaw
The cruise was leisurely across Lake Wakatipu and I got to take some cool photos of the engine room, which I hope turn out. There was a full bar on board, and an 80-yr old woman playing a grand piano, which was put to good use for some singalongs on the way back from the restaurant dropoff on the other side of the lake.
Nearly back to Queenstown, we discovered that the cafeteria on board served hot chips - exactly what Michelle had been craving before we left shore after futilely searching for them!
On shore we hit the Gourmet Express for dinner. I ordered a chilli cheese burger and Michelle some "French fries", which I called chips and the waitress confirmed. Only afterwards when we were busy talking in NZ accents did Michelle realise that Kiwis knew what chips were since they had "fush and chups". The burger was good - it had chilli on - and minced beef and beans and chilis and stuff! Different, and very sloppy, but yummy.
We walked over to the Queenstown gondola terminal and took the spectacular (and spectacularly steep) ride up the hillside. Great view from the top, both before and after sunset. Michelle bought some stickers and we took photos before heading back down to the town and up to our lodge for the night.
Michelle had a shower with some moths. Fun fun fun.
Accommodation: Pinewood Lodge, Queenstown: $42.
Food and drink: $34.55.
Black Stilt Hide: $20.
Amazing Clay Cliffs of Omarama: $10.
TSS Earnslaw cruise: $54.
Skyline Gondola: $24.
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