Friday, April 13, 2007

Taking it to the X-Treme!!!

So, two days ago, Sarah and I arrived in Queenstown: "The Adventure Capital of the World." Unluckily, when we woke up on our first morning in town a cold snap had rolled in, the tempurature hovered just above freezing, and there were snow flurries in the air. That gave us the excuse to put our X-Treme LifeStyle™ on hold. So, while we had initially planned on driving a para-gliding jet-boat attached to bungee-cords off a waterfall into a field of Zorb-balls, instead we decided to sleep in and enjoy and extra cup of tea before exploring the village.

A quick wander around town confirmed that Queenstown was definitely a tourist village, similar to Whistler Village or any number of ski villages scattered around the States. That's not a bad thing, since it provides us with a wide variety of restaurants, bars and activities to pursue, but also makes things a little more expensive. Regardless, Sarah and I decided to take advantage of some of the thrilling activities in the villages downtown. First up...
Underwater World!

Underwater World is a small, quasi-aquarium located under a pier on Queenstown's Lake Wakatipu. Basically, you go down into a room with a half dozen plexiglass windows looking out and into the lake's water. You can then stick a $1 coin into a machine that shoots food pellets into the murky depths. In response a school of trout the size of my torso come tearing in and eat them. In addition, there are diving ducks above which swim down to grab food. And, if you are lucky (and we were), you can see a several-foot-long eel swim by.

After our underwater adventure, our next adventure involved buying gloves! Queenstown was downright frigid, so we broke down and bought some gloves to keep our hands warm. Luckily, the Kiwi outdoor supply chain, Kathmandu (similar to REI), was having their Easter Sale so in addition to grabbing some cheap gloves for Sarah and I, we were also able to get new, better pack towels (the ones we'd been using were tiny, blue and not fun to dry off with) and Sarah was able to pick up a long underwear top.

With our new gloves keeping our hands warm, we figured it was time to finally see a really live Kiwi bird, so we headed to the Kiwi Birdlife Park. We'd seen "Kiwi Crossing" signs on our drive south (we also saw lots of "Sheep Crossing" and "Penguin Crossing" signs too), but have yet to actually see the elusive, endangered, nocturnal Kiwi birds. But, the Kiwi Birdlife Park delivered the goods! First, we got to go to the Kiwi houses, where they were actually feeding the Kiwis. So, we were able to stand in the dimmed room and watch the dig around in the dirt with there beaks. Apparently, in New Zealand, Kiwi's fill the biological nitch usually filled by burrowing mammals, like badgers. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take pictures, so you'll just have to imagine how awesome they are.

In addition, the Park also had a number of ducks and birds native to New Zealand; which allowed us to also finally see Kea's (a hyper-intelligent NZ parrot) and the NZ Pigeon... which is huge. I mean, its the biggest pigeon I've ever seen.

A pair of (slightly out of focus) Kea


After walking around park (which was cold!), we went to see the bird show they help a couple times a day (thankfully in doors... by a fireplace), where the naturalist on duty talked about a number of the birds, including the massive pigeons. Also, she showed us all a Tuatara, a reptile so rare that not only does it have its own branch on the lizard family tree... it has evolutionary remains of a third eye on the top of its skull. Apparently, the third eye no longer works, and is only really visible when the tuatara is young but still... it has a third eye!

Then, in addition to the bird and tuatara action, the Kiwi Birdlife Park threw in a Maori show too. The show consisted of four Maori's purforming a number of traditional songs and rituals, with the highlight probably being an audience participation sing along to "Do the Hokey-Pokey" using Maori words for all the body parts.

After the Kiwi-bird Experience, it was time for a Wine Experience. Or, more specifically, Wine Tastes: The Central Otago Wine Experience. At first, Wine Tastes looks like a normal wine store, but its got an interesting twist: You can try about 80 different wines, for just a couple bucks a pour. In short, when you go in, they give you a card. This card can be placed into a machine like a credit card. The machine is hooked up to about eight wine bottles (each machine featured a different varietal). Pressing a button above the wine bottle, gives you a small pour and adds a small fee to your card (generally about 2 or 3 NZD). After you are done tasting the wines you'd like to try, you bring the card to the counter, and pay the tab you've run up. I honestly wish there was a wine store like this in Seattle. I'm sure that many of us have had a situation where we've wanted to bring a bottle of wine to a dinner party, but were afraid to grab something unfamiliar for fear that it wouldn't be any good. The Wine Taste takes that guess work away since you can simply try a little of the wine in the store before you commit to buying a whole bottle.

Full of wine, we decided we needed a little meat to counter balance things a bit, so it was off to Ferg Burger! Ferg Burger is a Queenstown burger tradition that promises "serious burgers" and delivers. There burgers a creative, tasty and massive. Especially with a "side" of fries, which could almost be a meal in their own right.

Now were were full of wine and threatening to go into a food coma, so we figured we'd try to get the blood pumping by watching a little rugby. We'd heard the Queenstown team had an away game that day, so we decided to go try to catch it at a nearby pool hall. Unfortunately, the game wasn't until the next day... but there was another game on (the Wellington Hurricane's vs. South Africa's Cheetahs), so we stuck around to watch it. Now, Sarah and I have caught a couple of games of Rugby on TV since we've been here, and we still don't really understand the game fully... but at this point we know we enjoy watching it. There's a level of controlled chaos that is endlessly enjoyable and it seems to combine our favorite elements of both Soccer and American Football. (oh, and they had commercials for sheep medicine during the advertisment breaks ...honest.)

After the game ended, we were spent. So, we made our way home and called it a night.

This morning though, we awoke to find the sky clear and the sun out. So, we decided to take advantage of the nice weather to make a short but fulfilling hike up a steep hill just outside of Queenstown. The hike itself was steep (Kiwi's seem to be fond of hiking straight up hills... no switch-backs here) and made its way up through dense, dead-looking Douglas firs, but once the view opened up at the top: Wow!

The view from the summit.

Some goof kept getting in the way of the scenery.

Us at the top (the thing behind us is a flag on the summit).

Sarah's happy with the view!

But, while the day was significantly warmer than yesterday, the icy winds at the top of the hill seemed to be channeled directly from the highest points of the Remarkables. Soon we were pulling on our Alpaca hats and new gloves again, before decending to the sheltered warmth of the village again.

Which brings us to now. And, I think its time for me to end this entry... there's a rugby match on soon.


Joseph said...

You are already 6th on google when searching for Fergburger! You should check out this site
and leave a Ferg comment too. The love for this place seems fantastic.

Tim said...

Just curious... how many pictures have you taken so far?

The General said...

Joe, I'm glad that Strange and Benevolent is helping spread the Ferg Love on Google. There burgers were seriously impressive. Thinking about it now sort of makes me want to buy another before we leave town.

Tim, I don't have the camera with me, so I can't tell you exactly. I would guess its somewhere around 2000 right now. We have two 1 gig memory cards, and I think the one we have in the camera has somewhere around 1500, and the other card (which we used for Peru and Bolivia) probably has a few hundred more. That's all just guesstimating though.

Rick said...

The pictures are amazing! Usually those wide angle scenery shots always disappoint when you got to view them but yours give the feeling of how spectacular NZ must be. Is it the photographers or is it NZ?

The General said...

Yeah, I was worried that the NZ panorama's wouldn't turn out in the photos... but when you click on the images and enlarge them, they really do seem amazing.

And, while I'd like to give Sarah and I credit as photographers, I think that New Zealand itself really deserves the credit. It's just amazing!