“Yuppie Town” – that’s what a fellow American (actually a MIder from the Upper Peninsula whom we met recently along a hiking trail) called Queenstown. I suppose that’s a valid point in the sense that the thrill industry reigns supreme here and that seems to attract all sorts of younger folks with a thirst for adventure. Jet boat rides, mountain biking down STEEP hillsides, bungy jumping and parasailing, sky-diving, extreme hiking – each activity has dozens of purveyors on the main business strip downtown … and there are plenty of takers.
Our Sunday in Thrilltown began very sedately, however, as we attended worship services at a historic Anglican Church with roots dating back to 1862.
It just so happened that Sunday was Waitangi Day, a day set aside since 1976 to commemorate the treaty signed between the British crown and the Maori peoples. Signed on Feb. 6, 1840, this treaty is to this day the basis of relationships between the “pakeha” (non-Maoris, foreigners) and iwi (“people”, most often Maori). The early Anglican missionaries had much to do with the designing, writing, and signing of this treaty, so it was no surprise that it came up in the sermon. What WAS surprising was the extent to which the pastor spoke on the issue, giving much background, history, and social commentary, even comparing/contrasting it with the situation in the US concerning the government’s dealing with Native Americans. His point was about the forgiven being forgiving so there was a deeper focus but we found the entire sermon very interesting and enlightening. During “drinks and nibbles” after the service, we enjoyed this view of things in the Parish Hall:
We spent the rest of the day wandering Queenstown, discovering the Queen’s Gardens (under whose GRAND trees, many of them from the American west, we had lunch), touring a myriad of interesting lakeside shops, and amazedly gawking at mountain bikers careening down the skiing hill after riding up to the top in gondola cars (with bikes attached to the outside of said cars).
We awoke to dense fog and very cool temps the next morning … Gerry and I had brought along our fleece jackets, not really believing that we’d wear them, but they have come in very handy here in the Southern Alps. Since the rainy weather made outdoor ventures doubtful, we headed for Arrowtown, a restored Gold Rush town just a few kilometers down the road. On the way, we drove up to Coronet Peak – the view overlooking Queenstown and the Remarkable Mountains surrounding it was splendid! We could only imagine how much better it would’ve been with sunshine.
Arrowtown gets three stars in our guidebook and this time, we agree fully. The original 1860-ish layout has been retained and many of the older remaining buildings have been incorporated into present shops and restaurants (We stopped in a charming low-ceilinged coffee shop for a mid-morning cheese/onion bun and a mushroom/spinach/Parmesan pie, some distinctively NZ tastes.). The biggest hit as far as we were concerned was the museum, built over and around the 1875 Bank of NZ building. There was so much interesting info to process and it was organized really well – terrific!
A walk along Main Street kept us engaged (Ask Gerry about an early 19th-Century Brunton compass he spotted in a gallery window.) as did a tour through an excavated Chinese settlement where the Chinese miners lived in the late 1800s. The exit from that settlement brought us close to the District Cemetery where we got a different view of Arrowtown’s history.
On the way back to Queenstown, we HAD to stop at the Karawau River bridge from where bungy jumpers jump and dangle over the rushing waters. We heard the back story of bungy jumping told by the two guys that started it all way back in 1980, and then watched four different folks do the deed, each approaching it differently. My heart went out to a 13-year-old Japanese gal who was w/o doubt scared stiff. She walked to the edge of the jumping platform very slowly, inching her way forward. The entire crowd shouted when she finally fell over the edge into blank space … it definitely took nerve on her part. It was obvious she wanted to be anywhere else than on that platform.
By this time, the sky was almost completely clear and the views over Queenstown were terrific, so we took a drive all along the lakeside peninsula, ending on a golf course from where we watched parasailors drift elegantly and colorfully down from Coronet Peak. A very full, varied and fun day.