Thursday, December 10, 2009

NZ - Te Anau --> Aoraki / Mt Cook

Despite forecasts for a day of amazing, the morning was rather cloudy and dreary, hence I slept in til 9am.  When I finally mobilized and left the hostel, I picked up a pizza in town & opted to skip Kepler Track – instead making an immediate route for Queenstown & Wanaka.

By the time I finished my pizza, the skies had gone from awful to lovely.  That pretty sums up the whole day’s driving: views could not have been more spectacular through this perfect countryside.  The drive took me up toward Queenstown, but I ultimately bypassed it to continue on to Wanaka via the Crown Range Road.

In Wanaka I opted to take a diversion west toward the Mt. Aspiring National Park.  This was a beautiful trek around some scenic lakes and then through a valley’s pastures along an unsealed road.  It was when I hit a ford that I finally turned back.  The road’s bridge had washed out recently, and I looked at the adjacent ford pondering whether or not I should give the rental car a run for its money.  I ultimately opted against it, not out of concern for the car per se; but for concern that I could get stranded there for a long time – knocking out spare time on an already too-short trip.

Back in Wanaka, I stopped by a place proffering Mediterranean cuisine, but turned away once I saw that its prices were double what were given in my Lonely Planet Guide.  Bummer, too, as they had a whole bunch of tasty-sounding pasta.  My lunch instead consisted of some strawberries and a soda.  Filling it was not, but tasty sustenance nonetheless.

The drive to Aoraki (Mt. Cook) kept snowcapped mountains always on my left, and a distant mountain range always on my right.  As I approached the turn-off for Aoraki, however, I took note that the weather was getting steadily more cloudy & dreary.  I passed the turn-off in preference of first visiting Lake Tekapo – a destination Lindsey had been consistently egging me to visit.

On the way toward Lake Tekapo, immediately after the Aoraki turnoff, was Lake Pukaki.  I’d never seen such a brilliant blue in a lake before.  It looked like someone took Sherwin-Williams’ “Cover the Earth” motto a bit too seriously.  Between the lakes, alpine flowers (lavender or lilac, maybe?) covered the roadside with pinks and purples, inundating the highway with a wonderful aroma.  Lake Tekapo served much the same impression as Lake Pukaki: a magical blue color.

Throughout this journey between the lakes, the mountains to my left were increasingly shrouded in cloud; and the further mountains to my right had clouds just rolling over and down their faces.  A very light sprinkle accompanied me throughout the journey, with my return from Lake Tekapo bringing me back toward the sunlight.

The drive toward Aoraki was also fantastic: it followed alongside Lake Pukaki and offered consistent splendor.  Even better: considering that I was arriving in the late afternoon / early evening: all the tourists were long gone and I had the road all to myself.  Everyday I find myself disliking New Zealand’s speed limits more and more.

A post from back in the early days – my first or second day in Auckland – said that the speed limits seemed to be perfectly set.  Well now that I’ve gotten the hang of driving on the left, I can say I was totally wrong on that one.  All roads are a default of 100 km/h unless otherwise signed, and they’re generally otherwise signed whenever you are in a town/village/city/etc; or if passing through a work zone.

I’m generally OK driving 50 or 80 through a town as per what’s posted, since the signs are posted right at the limits – no more; no less – I can respect that.   I’ve come to only appreciate the 30 km/h work zones; I’ll slow down a bit for the 50’s, but will ignore the 70’s.  Then there’s the default 100 km/h speed limit… I can’t even get myself to do that when I’m trying to.  My natural speed consistently hovers between 110 and 120.  Fortunately I haven’t seen a single police officer doing speed enforcement, though the Americans & Dutch from back at Franz Josef had been having quite the opposite of fortunes.

At Aoraki / Mt. Cook, it was a breeze to find my hostel (especially considering the rather scarcity of buildings in the first place) and soon enough I’d unloaded in the room.  Our room faced directly toward Aoraki’s face, and I could see a good share of it; but clouds obscured the peak.

I immediately set out in search of dinner, and I again note that I had a rather skimpy lunch.  There aren’t many options in town to begin with, but Lonely Planet seemed to indicate that a café on the other side of town had good food and reasonable prices; and by “reasonable” I’m including that I can understand if they’re a bit higher considering the isolation of the area.  When the prices here were also double that in my guidebook, with the cheapest meal running about $30, I chose starvation over exploitation.

Imagine my delight when I retuned to the hostel and spotted that they have a variety of foodstuffs for decent prices.  I bought some pasta and tomato sauce for about $6 and soon enough had a meal ready to eat.  My roommates consisted of two Danes, a girl whom I forget where she was from, two French people I didn’t get a chance to talk to, and one mystery person who slept beneath me.  Er, on the lower bunk, that is.

My evening was spent in the TV room – not initially to watch TV, but I did happen to walk in just as someone had put in the Snatch DVD.  My reason for being there was because there was a power outlet, giving me the opportunity to transfer photos and catch up on writing a bit.  I don’t quite get why so many backpackers hostels seem content with providing only one power outlet in a room of 6 or 8 bunks.  At least most hostels provide two outlets in one panel, but our room had only one single outlet.  One.  For eight beds.  Every YHA hostel I stay at is just as bad, though most other hostels aren’t much better.

While in the TV room I met two guys from Slovenia.  One guy spoke English pretty well and was a very avid photographer.  I was in awe at his photos which made use of a polarizer; I now realize I have to get one, myself.  This guy had a shaved head like me – it’s nice to know I’m not the only one out there.  The other guy spoke a little bit of English and looked kind of like a lighter-skinned, longer-haired Onur.

They both seemed particularly excited that I’d actually heard of Slovenia, and they were even more enthused when I said I’d even been to Ljubljana – though I admitted that my experience was only from passing through by train.  They used my laptop to transfer photos whilst folks in the adjacent room, as one guy put it, were transferring beer.  We got to talking about a slew of your usual traveler’s dialogue, but one part that was entertaining was when he was describing his experience with an automatic transmission in New Zealand: “VROOM-vroom-VROOM-vroom” as it keeps changing gears whilst going uphill.  I immediately recognized his description: I asked if he had a Nissan, saw the smile, and continued “Sunny?”  The same car as I – I could certainly commiserate.

No comments:

Post a Comment