The trip along the coast from Haast to Queenstown provided some very dramatic contrasts. The first part of the trip produced waterfalls and rainforest. The few hundred yards from the road to the first waterfall I came upon, snaked through a dense rain forest filled with an endless variety of trees from tree ferns to massive trunked deciduous trees reaching far into the sky (which was barely visible through those same trees). The black flies enjoyed a few snacks at my expense, but they move slowly enough that the snacks cost them their lives.
The waterfalls came one after another, cascading from the thick green forest that coated the mountains. Then an almost instantaneous transformation took place. There had been clouds hanging on the ground between the mountains as well as on top of them. Then a wind came that was strong enough to make it difficult to stand.
What apparently happened is that in the span of minutes (literally), the car traveled from one pattern of air movements to another. What emerged were rough, rocky mountains covered with scrub brush where there had been lush green mountains. After only a few kilometers of driving there were some irrigation systems much like those in parts of Kansas. In the dry and windy flat terrain between the mountains there were hundreds of acres of grapes, many ready for picking. That area was thick with wineries. I chose not to stop for any tasting. I need to remain alert at all times driving at 100 to 110 kph on the left side of roads much narrower than is the norm in the US.
The best treat of the day came when a huge roadside fruit market appeared. It was the size of a warehouse with one side open, tables piled high with containers of fresh fruit, all from the orchard on that farm. I got two Nectarines, a Peach, two Pears, two Apricots and two blood red Plums. They were all ripe! I started with an Apricot. Then came the Peach. I finished with the two Plums that were so sweet they tasted like candy. When I commented on their sweetness to the young lady who had sold them to me, she said that this was very late in the season, so everything was at its peak of flavor. By the way, that was lunch.
Queenstown is quite a cosmopolitan place. There are people cramming the streets, people of all ages and circumstances – busloads of them. There are also backpackers everywhere. I had a veggie burger and a beer at the bar in a nice restaurant tonight. The bartender was a young fellow from Upstate New York spending a few weeks traveling. His roommate is from Florida. She found a job first at this restaurant waiting tables, and he then joined the staff as a Bartender. He hopes to make enough to fund the rest of the trip, which also will include the Milford Walk.
I met a couple first thing this morning at the restaurant in Haast, who are from California. They are doing my trip in NZ in reverse, starting in the south about the time I started in the north. They just came from the Milford Walk. They said it was very beautiful. They did admit that they took the more luxurious approach of a guided tour that uses much nicer facilities than the huts I will be in.
At one point not too far outside Queenstown, the traffic came to a halt. We sat for about fifteen minutes while the road was closed for some blasting (which I did not hear). We all got out of our cars and walked around until they were ready to send us on our way. A young lady in a road workers uniform came by with a bucket and handed each of us a couple of pieces of candy from it. I can’t remember getting candy from a road worker in the US when there has been a long delay. It certainly helped to keep us all in a good mood.
Off to Te Anau tomorrow to register for the hikes with the Conservation Department and get my belongings to Rosie’s Backpacker Homestay. My “one person to a room with a private bath” days are over for about ten days – no hot showers (or cold ones) for at least six of those days. I suspect I will survive.
Rain is falling outside as I write this. It is calming as I sit here in this warm and dry room. I wonder how calming the rain will be when it comes while I am walking along the tracks, carrying a backpack. It will just be another part of the experience.