Friday, July 12, 2013

New Zealand, part 3: Queenstown

The last place we visited in New Zealand was Queenstown, down at the bottom of the South Island. Queenstown is located in a stunning valley on the edge of a lake, surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

We had a lovely view of the lake from our hotel room. The hotel was full of skiers; it's the height of the ski season in the area. We didn't go skiing, but being around all the skiers made the hotel feel like a cozy ski lodge.  It was cold out, but not ridiculously so. This is as cold as we'll be until we're in Europe at the end of the year. Below is the view from our room at the Hilton Queenstown.

On our first day, we had scheduled a tour of some of the more remote filming locations for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The weather on this day was incredibly gorgeous, just perfect for flying around in a prop plane.

The scenery in this part of New Zealand is absolutely breathtaking. The landscape was carved by glaciers, resulting in dramatic mountain peaks, beautiful valleys, and turquoise lakes. Our guide named off many spots below where various scenes from the LOTR movies were filmed, and I can't remember the specifics now. I spent most of the tour staring out the window and gaping at the incredible scenery in every direction.

Our first landing was near the spot where Isengard was filmed. That scene was almost completely CGI'd onto the backdrop of the mountains, but it was still cool to see the area. The air strip was next to a skydiving facility, and we got to watch some people getting ready for their skydive.  

Carter enjoyed the flights, but after the first few minutes in the air, he was ready to play with the iPad. That was just as well, because it allowed Doug and I to relax and enjoy the view.

When we took our "Mount Everest" flight in Nepal, I think we were expecting it to be more like this.

We landed on a grassy strip that looked more like a bit of pasture than anything else, right in the middle of a stretch of plain where the battle scenes at the end of Return of the King were filmed. I knew where I was before the guide even said anything, because the scenery was just so very distinct.

Carter enjoyed running around, of course.

This strip of pavement was installed for the cameras to roll along while they were filming.

We took off again and flew around Mount Sunday, which is a small rocky hill in the middle of a valley that was used as the location for Edoras. They built the entire town on top of this mountain, and then had to remove every trace of it when filming was complete.

All that it left now is a strip of green where the road once was. Amazing!

Look how stunning this is. Seriously, the entire flight was like this.

We landed at the Lake Tekapo airport for a picnic lunch.

Carter got to play in the snow a bit, which was one of the highlights of the day for him, I think.

He loved getting in and out of the plane, and taking off and landing in interesting places. So did I, actually! 

Here is a video I took during the flight. It looks like we're a lot closer to the mountains than we actually were, but I think it gives you a sense of how dramatic the flight experience was.

One of the pilots had an ipad app that allowed him to track our flight. He sent us this picture after our tour. We went a long way!

The weather for our airplane tour was absolutely perfect, so gorgeous that even the pilots were taking pictures of the scenery and remarking about how perfect the weather was. 

We hoped our luck would hold out, but alas, the rest of our time in Queenstown was rainy. We were supposed to take another jetboat ride the day after our tour, but the water was too high on the river, which meant it was unsafe for kids Carter's size. We decided to spend the day visiting wineries in the Otago wine region instead. 

Once again, we found wineries with great restaurants and kid-friendly spaces. Carter had a kids' platter for lunch once again.

The best wines we tasted were the pinot noirs. One cellar door tasting room was actually someone's house, which was kind of wild. They had the tasting area set up in their foyer! It reminded me of places I've been in California where the winemaker sits in a folding chair in their garage waiting for people to stop by.

After visiting three different wine regions in New Zealand, I can say that I prefer sauvignon blanc from Marlborough, syrah from the area around Auckland, and pinot noir from Otago.

The following day we were supposed to take another prop plane tour to Milford Sound, but the weather on that side of the island was uncooperative and our tour was canceled. Instead, we decided to drive over to Wanaka to visit the National Toy and Transport Museum.

It was an interesting place, basically a collection of warehouses built next to a small private home. It appears to have been a private collection that turned into something bigger.

There were SO many toys. I've never seen a bigger collection of Star Wars toys in my life.

There were also dozens and dozens of cars of all makes and models.

Outside there were toys Carter could ride on and a playground (not pictured here).

They had a real MIG.

And another warehouse full of old cars and airplanes.

This is an old fire truck.

This warehouse contained quite a collection of military vehicles.

There were also many old tractors and pieces of farm equipment.

They had some pedal cars that Carter and I rode around in. That was quite a workout, as you might imagine!

Carter spent a lot of time figuring out how to maneuver this World War 2-era artillery gun.

Inside the main building there was also a large lego table and train tables. When it started raining we came inside and played with legos for a while.

This store had the largest selection of toy tractors and construction equipment that I've ever seen.

I couldn't get it all on camera! Interestingly enough, it didn't take Carter long to decide what he wanted to buy, a little crane truck.

During the drive back, we encountered snow on one of the mountain passes. That was pretty exciting -- for me, anyway. Doug had white knuckles until we got out of the snow!

On the final day it basically poured rain in town, so we took Carter swimming in the indoor pool at the hotel, and then went and did laundry in the afternoon. It's been nice in the last month to be able to find laundromats again. We spent so much money on laundry during the months we were in Asia and had to pay the hotel to do it.

The weather cleared in late afternoon, so we took the Skyline cable car lift up to the top of a mountain overlooking Queenstown.

The views from the top were gorgeous, of course. We had hot chocolate and mulled wine by the fireplace in the restaurant at the top, and it felt downright Christmasy!

The next morning we flew back to Auckland, where we spent one night before flying to Tahiti. The weather that day was perfect, of course! Ah, well. We will definitely be returning to New Zealand in the future, so we'll hopefully get to do more things then.

Carter spotted this double rainbow from our hotel room in Auckland shortly after our arrival.

We then flew from winter to summer! We're now in Tahiti, soaking up the sun once again. I'm posting daily pictures on our Facebook page, so please check those out while you're waiting for the next blog post.

1 comment:

  1. i would have to say that you picked the wines and their regions very very well.. whoot!!

    also am glad that you enjoyed our little county

    *skips about*