NZ pt8 - Final Hikes

Lake Alta and Single Cone (L) and Double Cone (R)

We spent three days hiking the Routeburn Track, so we thought that it was ok to spend a day shopping and wine tasting. After our rest day the weather was still good so we were ready to get out and do some more hiking. We still had a few days in Queenstown before we had to head back to the US.

Our next hike was to Lake Alta. It is in the range of mountans known as the Remarkables, at the northeastern end of Lake Wakatipu, just a few miles from Queenstown. It's a hike we hadn't done before, in an area that we hadn't explored. Because there is a ski resort in the Remarkables (called, not surprisingly, Remarkables Ski Area), a road goes quite high into the mountains. I talked to Charlotte, one of the guides on our Routeburn trip who grew up in Queenstown. She said that she worked at the ski area in the winter and knew the area well. She recommended the hike. That was good enought for us.

Showing off my IPC tshirt at Lake Alta

The road to the ski area allowed us to gain a lot of elevation before we even reached the trailhead. It was an exciting road though. It was narrow and steep, without any guardrails. We would really test the brakes on the rental car on the way down.

When we got to the parking area it was filled with cars. A large group had just arrived before us and about twenty people were just getting ready to leave. Not exactly a wilderness experience. It had been a lot less crowded on the Routeburn Track.

The hike was steady uphill but was at most two miles. I'm not sure how far it was exactly because in New Zealand, it is much more common to give the time to hike somewhere than the distance, which is what we do in North America. It took us less than an hour. The hike was pleasant, walking beside the outlet stream from the lake. The lake was pretty, with a backdrop of rocky peaks, although the area was quite barren. It was a stark contrast to the heavy rainforest we had been hiking through on the Routeburn Track.

From the lake there are scramble routes up Single Cone and Double Cone, the largest peaks that provide the backdrop to the lake. The Grand Traverse includes both. These are quite difficult scrambles that have significant exposure. Others routes circle the peaks and are easier but still have some exposure. They were more than we wanted to take on today. The lake was a good enough spot for us. I posed with my Idaho Pizza Company tshirt. I figure that if I show them the picture when I get back maybe I'll get a free pizza.

Arrowtown Valley and Lake Hayes

Everyone knows that the Lord of the Rings movies were made in New Zealand, right? One of the big things tourists do is visit various locations that appeared in the movie. I've never really been interested in that. I'm a nerd but not that much of a nerd. But I did read that Lake Alta was used for a scene in the first LOTR movie. Since I wanted to do the hike anyway, I thought this would be my chance to check out one location used in the movies. The backdrop for Dimrill Dale was filmed at Lake Alta. It's the place where the Fellowship of the Ring emerged from Moria right after Gandalf fell into the abyss.

I was disappointed. You can judge for yourself. Look at my pictures (actually, Sandy's) taken at the lake. Then check out the scene from the movie. I don't recognize anything. The shot they used was of mountains in the distance. Nothing is distinctive. We saw a nice view of Mt. Aspiring from the trail to the lake but it doesn't show up in the movie. And what mountains you can see are half hidden in clouds. I'm just glad that I didn't make any special trips to visit Lord of the Ring movie locations.

Typical long line at Fergburger

The lake was pretty but not spectacular. The first part of the hike, around the ski area, was kind of ugly, as ski areas usually are in the off season. Overall it was a nice hike but nothing special.

The ride down was exciting on the steep road. I stopped a couple of times to let the brakes cool. That gave us a chance to admire the view. At one point we could see the Arrowtown Valley with Lake Hayes. As we came around the mountain the view changed to Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.

When we finally got back to Queenstown we were going to return our rental car. We had learned that the next day, a Monday, was Otago Anniversary Day. It's a holiday commemorating the landing of the first European settlers in Otago in 1848. Since the car rental office would be closed for the holiday we would be clever and return the car a day early.

Almost as good - lunch at Devil Burger

That plan didn't work. Even though it was only 2 pm when we got back we found out that on Sunday the car rental office in town closed early - at noon. I guess we weren't that clever after all. Now our only option was to take it back to the airport to turn it in. We didn't want to do that Tuesday morning when we had an early flight home. We decided to just do it now. On our last day we would do something right from town so we wouldn't have to pay for an extra day of car rental plus two nights of parking at the hotel.

After turning in the rental car at the airport we caught a bus back to Queenstown. Even though the airport wasn't that far away it took us over an hour and the bus ride back was expensive, 26 NZD for the two of us. But hey, forced moves are easy and at least now we didn't have to worry about (or pay for) the rental car anymore. Now it was time to get something to eat. We were both hungry.

Our Ferg fix - doughnuts and coffee from Fergbakery

I wanted to get a hamburger at Fergburger. It's become an institution in Queenstown. For example, people would give directions relative to Fergburger. "The Ultimate Hikes office is just a block over from Fergburger." It is a tiny hole in the wall place. Inside there are probably only three tables that seat two people each and a counter that seats six. Outside there are another half dozen tables. That isn't enough seating, probably by an order of magnitude. Usually people are sprawled on the sidewalk or sitting on the curb all around Fergburger. You also see people in the open area by the lake or in the park near the entry to the town center, sitting on the grass with their Fergburger take away. Somehow we were lucky enough to get a seat inside on our last trip when we had just come off the Milford Track. On that trip we weren't just lucky with the weather. My recollection is that the burgers were really good, but I'll admit that by now, even if they weren't that's the way I would remember them. Makes for a much better story.

Lake Wakatipu from the summit of Queenstown Hill

On this trip I wanted to eat there again. Every day that we were in Queenstown we went by Fergburger when we were thinking about eating. Every time it was jammed with a line out the door and down the block. We tried at noon. We tried at five. We tried at two in the afternoon. We came by one final time after our Lake Alta hike. It was busy. So we decided to try their main competition, Devil Burger. In the middle of the afternoon there was no line, we were able to get a table and the burgers and fries were good. I was still disappointed that I didn't get a Fergburger.

Fortunately I had other Ferg opportunities. Next to Fergburger was Fergbakery. Every morning after coming back from the Routeburn I walked over and got doughnuts for our breakfast and took them back to the hotel. They were delicious. One morning I was there to get doughnuts just as Fergburger was opening. They didn't even have the grill going, and I wouldn't have wanted a hamburger at eight in the morning, but I did get a tshirt. So I wasn't too disappointed.

I also discovered MrsFerg a few blocks away on the lakeshore. I got a large ice cream cone there to celebrate our completion of the Routeburn Track. So I definitely didn't go Fergless on this trip.

Ben Lommond is still much higher

On our last full day it was partly cloudy but still good hiking weather, which in New Zealand is any time that it isn't raining. We decided to hike up Queenstown Hill. We could leave right from town so it didn't matter that we had turned in our car. We had done the hike on a rainy day on a previous trip to New Zealand. Unfortunately we hadn't been able to see the view because of rain and clouds.

It's just under 2000 feet of elevation gain from Lake Wakatipu to the top of the hill so it was a good workout. We just took it slowly and it was a pleasant hike. The begining of the hike is through Queenstown neighborhoods that climb up the lower slopes of the hill. Eventually it reaches the end of town and the trail is through Douglas fir forest. Douglas fir and pine trees are not indigenous to New Zealand. They were introduced by Europeans and are actually considered a harmful weed. Unlike native trees, they cut out too much light so that nothing grows under them, which totally disrupts the ecosystem of the forests. The DOC actively tries to supress them, but around Queenstown there is some resistance from people who think it makes the area look more like a North American mountain resort. Personally I think that is dumb. I don't have to fly seven thousand miles to see a mountain with fir trees. The fact that the flora and fauna of New Zealand are unique is a lot of the attraction for international travelers.

Jack Speights Ale House for a local brew

Finally near the top of the hill we broke out of the forest and were above tree line. Although the clouds wer increasing we still had beautiful views in all directions. We could look down on Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown. To the east we could see the Remarkables, where we had hiked to Lake Alta the day before. To the west we could see Bob's Hill, which is the terminus for the cable car that runs up from Queenstown. It was at about the same height, but I'm sure our view, that we had to earn by hiking up, was much better. Behind rose Ben Lomond, the dominant peak at the southern end of the lake. It was still another 2700 feet higher than we were. We had hiked to the summit on an earlier trip as well. That had been an awesome hike on a beautiful day but it really was a lot of work.

After enjoying the view and taking lots of pictures from the top of Queenstown Hill, we headed back down. As soon as we reached town, we went straight to The Cow for one last time to enjoy a late lunch. After we ordered a pizza Sandy went to the ladies room to wash up. When she came back she said "Good thing that we didn't order garlic bread. I thought about it but I just saw it and it is huge. It would be impossible for us to finish." That's when I gave her the good news that while she was away, I had the bright idea to add garlic bread to our order.

Never eat anything bigger than you head

When it came, she was right. It was huge. Just the garlic bread would have been a meal. It was freshly baked right there, after we ordered it, so it was delicious. By the time we were done with the pizza we could barely waddle back to our hotel. No dinner later on for us, although we did stop at the Jack Speights Ale House that evening for a pint. Jack Speights (pronounced sp - 8's) is the local brew of the South Island and is pretty good.

And that finished up our trip to New Zealand. We went back to the hotel and packed. We were up early for our shuttle to the airport. From there it was a long trip - to Auckland, to San Francisco, and finally to Boise. There were no problems but it was a long trip. With the twenty hour time change, we left early in the morning from Queenstown and arrived late morning in Boise. Abby was glad to see us and gave us a warm reception. We were pretty tired after the long trip and were both in bed and asleep by eight that evening.

It had been a great trip. The Routeburn Track had been the highpoint, figuratively and literally, and we were very lucky with the weather. It had been fun to return to Queenstown, a place that we know and really enjoy. We have to admit though that now we have pretty much seen and done the things that we wanted to in New Zealand. I've been there four times and Sandy has been there three times. This might have been our last trip there. It was a good one.

But who knows?