Let me orient you! Today is February 27, Day Five of our trip. Hard to believe how many experiences, impressions, and facts we’ve been able to cram into that small amount of time. Or how much delicious food we’ve eaten and bottles of excellent wine we’ve managed to drink All in the name of hands-on research of course!
Up at 5:30 a.m., I journaled on the Hermitage balcony (remember its late summer in New Zealand), ate a hearty breakfast in the Alpine Room, then boarded our van. We were treated to a beautiful morning sky as we bid goodbye to Mt. Cook and headed for Omarama and the Twizel Highway.
‘Why Omarama’ you ask? No trip to New Zealand would be complete without a visit to a working sheep station as the Queenstown region’s first settlers were these same farmers.
At Wrinkly Rams we took our seats for the sheep shearing show (now there’s a tongue twister for you) and were introduced to owner, James Kerr. He managed to tell us all about his family business while expertly shearing a Merino sheep. The breed is known for both its wrinkly skin-hence the name of the farm-and its super-fine wool. One thing that caught our attention was the was incredibly docility of the large animal James had captured between his knees as he readied his barbering tools. It remained both motionless and silent throughout the entire process. Apparently, he knew who was boss! According to James, they are used to being shorn; it’s like a person going to the hairdresser or barber. The other thing of note was how much wool you can get from a single sheep. In one continuous piece!
We also got to watch the farms sheepdog at work and feed a lamb a bottle. Best of all was watching the sheep run freely around their pasture without having to fear ending up on someone’s dinner plate!
The other thing that struck me was that, wasting nothing, the thrifty Kiwis weave the fur of their biggest natural threat-the brushtail possum-in with the sheep wool, creating an eco-fiber blend that is both attractive and durable. The Wrinkly Rams gift shop sold hats, scarves, and ponchos among other things.
Interesting Fact: The possum found in New Zealand are different looking than the ones we have in the States. The have dark fur and are considered a huge threat to the country’s agriculture and conservation efforts.
After traveling through the Lindis Pass, then up to the Crown Range, we lunched at the iconic Cardrona Hotel, New Zealand’s most photographed historical pub.
We arrived at our final lodging of the trip, the opulent Hotel St. Moritz, perched above the shores of Lake Wakatipu, in the shadow of the Remarkables. The rooms were delightfully spacious with a view of the lake, a small kitchen, and a well-equipped bathroom. We did not have time to do more than drop off our baggage before we were off to the next activity, a Nomad Safaris 4WD adventure. The outing did turn out to be unexpectedly adventurous. First, the seats on our vehicle broke so we had to return it, then the road they were supposed to take us driving on was closed for several hours due to an accident. What we ended up doing was bumping our way around Skippers Canyon (in and out of the creek and over the rocks and crevasses) and learning something about the filming of Lord of the Rings in the area.
Adlibbing, we made a brief stop at the gold-mining town of Arrowtown where our most exciting discovery was the Best Bathroom in New Zealand. Remember the Worst Bathroom Ever on the Hooker Valley Track? Well this one was at the opposite end of the spectrum, like something out of the futuristic cartoon The Jetsons! Everything in it was automated so barely any work was required on your part. Except for washing your hands thoroughly afterwards-the door wouldn’t unlock to let you out otherwise! Everyone in our group had to make a stop there, whether they needed to or not! There were a lot of boutique shops (Jewelry! Gifts!) and restaurants lining the quaint streets of Arrowtown and I would definitely make a longer stop here on my return trip to the country.
However, what I found most thought-provoking today was when we stopped across the river from the Kawarau Bridge, where commercial bungy jumping originated in 1988. You stand on a platform and dive head-first, plunging 43m towards the river. I know this because our group got out of the cars and watched as a young woman approached the launch area, not once but twice before finally forfeiting her money, despite encouragement from her friends (and us). Naturally this led to a conversation about what type of person wants to attempt this and what motivation you would need to do it-bravery, stupidity, fear of being mocked, or to push the limits and prove something to yourself.
When I asked our three male guides, who are all young, fit, and work in professions and pursue activities where physical challenges can be numerous, if they had ever jumped, much to my surprise, two of the three admitted that they’d also backed out at the last minute and the other said he’d never tried it. This was unexpected and quite interesting to me. Would I bungy jump? I don’t think so, not unless I could jump feet-first. There’s something about dangling by my ankles that kind of creeps me out. Of course, that train of thought led to a discussion about what types of things people would and wouldn’t try and why. Fascinating fodder for a writer. Vacation conversations can be as worthwhile as sightseeing!
Dinner that night was at Sherwood, a “sustainable ethos” hipster restaurant, on par with even the most zealous farm-to-table restaurants in America. Coincidentally, Sherwood was mentioned that same week in the New York Times travel section 36 Hours in Queenstown, New Zealand (February 27, 2020).
Despite this, I ate vegetarian once I discovered the main course was lamb. The bread and salad (fresh from the outdoor garden) were very nourishing!