Day 4-West Coast Highway, Part II

NOTE: We are now safely home and self isolating. We cut the trip short when the U.S. State Department said that traveling Americans should return home. Be well, friends.

I guess you could call Day 4 a transition day—our main objective was to transport ourselves from Franz Josef Glacier to Queenstown. We took it easy in the morning, eating our provided continental breakfast and supplementing it with the smoked salmon and cream cheese we had acquired the day before. Protein and fat definitely improve a continental breakfast.

Before we left I sent a message to our travel agent, Shelley Kirk at First Light Travel, asking for some modifications to our plans, especially for the last few days of the trip. We were supposed to have three days in Christchurch at the end of the trip with friends from Australia, but travel restrictions mean that it is no longer possible for them to join us. 😦 As a result, we don’t really need three full days in Christchurch and we’d like to avoid the bus trip between Dunedin and Christchurch by driving ourselves. [Another note: this became moot a couple days later.]

We finally departed right at the 10 am check out time and headed south on the coast highway. A major feature of this road (maybe all the roads in New Zealand?) is the preponderance of one-lane bridges. They are (usually) marked with a set of arrows that shows which direction has the right of way. This is helpful, but they are still scary. There were many of them on the roads we traveled. If they’re super long, there are sometimes passing bays, where one car can get out of the way for the other one to pass when both have already traveled part of the way across. I guess one-lane bridges were cheaper to build? According to this article, that is the case.

The young lady who checked us out of Rainforest Retreat handed me a paper listing great stops on the way to Christchurch, one of which was Kiwiana Kai, known for whitebait patties. Sadly, this food truck has moved much farther north on the coast and is no longer a possible way station on this route. We stopped in Haast anyway, checked out one of the restaurants and deemed its offerings not to our taste, then located another food truck offering whitebait fritters and coffee (and venison, but we did not indulge). Maureen had the whitebait fritter, served on a piece of wheat bread, and I opted to eat from our stash of crackers, cheese, and hummus. Maureen reports that the fritter was a bit fishy, but good, not at all like the crispy whitebait she loves, but still satisfying. We availed ourselves of the public loos, which are pretty fancy (and regularly serviced) in New Zealand, and returned to the drive.

Whitebait on wheat

Another stop on the list was Fantail Falls, which was happily still “in business.” Here we walked to the lovely falls and encountered our first sand flies. And learned why sand fly oil is important. Ouch. We’re not quite sure whether the falls are called fantail for the birds, which may have been in residence, or because of their shape.

Fantail Falls

We love to ride our bikes and to travel by bike. That said, not every road is appropriate for cycle travel. The roads from Franz Josef Glacier to Queenstown are hilly, curvy, and have essentially no shoulder and lots of traffic—including many campervans and people unaccustomed to driving on the left. Encountering a slow-moving cyclist when you come around a bend is disconcerting at best and potentially dangerous. There are several cycle routes and tracks in New Zealand that are not heavily-traveled roads. Choose wisely if you decide to cycle in New Zealand.

We took a little detour on the way into Queenstown to visit the Cardrona Distillery. The distillery sits nestled in a lovely landscape.

Our slow start meant we were too late for the last tour, but we had a great tasting experience. Our host was a knowledgeable young woman who told us about each of the products as we sampled them, and patiently listened to our stories about distilleries in other places. Cardrona makes a single malt vodka, barrel-aged gin, elderflower and orange liqueurs, and a whiskey that is just over three years aged. We enjoyed them all, but especially the vodka. We left with a bottle of “The Reid” vodka, a package of mixers, and some logo glasses. Hopefully the glasses will make it home.

After a bit more curvy climbing and a long descent, we made it into Queenstown. We found ourselves in another lovely lodging, the Alexis Motel and Apartments. We had asked our TA to request an upgrade for us, but we learned on the way in that no 1BR units were available. Happily, they had upgraded us to a larger studio, which at least came with a cooktop, if no laundry machines.

Alexis view

Speaking of Shelley, her choices for lodging have been consistently great. We have everything we need, in convenient and scenic settings. She responded to our request for changes with a quote that was extremely reasonable, for which we were very grateful. I was nervous about handing over much of the control of the trip arrangements to someone else, but that ended up being a great decision. Beautiful hotels, detailed instructions for connections, and minimal work for me. I recommend First Light Travel without hesitation or reservation.

After maneuvering the car into the underground garage (a two-person task), we left it behind and walked into town. We didn’t have a destination in mind, but when we came across the institution that is Ferg Burger and found a very short line, we could not resist. Maureen went for the Little Lamby (shocker) and I went with the Bombay Chicken on a gluten-free bun. Of course we also had to try the fries. It was all good. We still prefer Bingo Burger, but Ferg is no slouch and very welcome after a day on the curvy roads.

We noted that there were many hostels and quite a few backpackers in Queenstown, though the tourists were starting to thin out. This is, sadly, the sort of place I would find too crowded under normal high season conditions.

We retired to our room for relaxation and planning—and continuing to try to enjoy our holiday.

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