We were all ready and out the door on time this morning. We had on our warm clothing. It was really cool this morning, probably in the low 50s. Nigel drove us from the charming home of the Blue Penguins, Oamuru, into the Southern Alps region of New Zealand. And yes, this is the area where the Lord of Rings and the Hobbit were filmed. The country was amazing as you’ll see from the photos.
Our first stop was Lake Benmore and the Benmore Dam. For the longest time I thought Nigel was saying, “Beemore,” which is the name of my friend, Aloma’s house on Lake Kachess. I thought is was a remarkable coincidence until I fact checked. The New Zealanders say /ey/ as in bee instead of /e /as in bed. Benmore Dam is part of the Waitaki Hydroelectric Scheme.
Then we kept driving into Mackenzie Country until we came to Omaramu. This area is famous for gliders, and we learned that the late Steve Fossett tried to break a glider record here. Nigel, our driver, said he couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to live in Omaramu with the severe weather and living conditions. Since it was overcast, we were worried about seeing Mt. Cook. Sure enough, it wasn’t visible, so I snapped a photo of Judy and Carol instead. Mt. Cook is fickle like Denali, and according to Brent, rarely shows himself. We did miss a gorgeous sight though. I uploaded a photo of Mt. cook taken by someone named Marc Dove.
We returned to Omaramu to eat lunch at The Wrinkley Rams. Right inside of the door were raw merino fleeces. I played with the locks a bit and tried to draft them; it was difficult because the fleece had a great deal of lanolin in it. This would be very hard for me to spin. My spinner friends with the great deal of experience say that spinning with a raw fleece like this is called “spinning in the grease.” I completely understand what they mean.
Still in Lord of the Rings country, we passed through Twizel. It started as a temporary town for the workers on the hydroelectric dam. Once their work was completed, the government was going to tear it down, until the townspeople stopped it. Once again Nigel said that this would be a terrible place to live. He’s a bit opinionated.
Next we went through Lindis Pass. Nigel told us that the European immigrants founded settlements north (Omaramu) and south (Cromwell) of the pass, but it took them 15 years to actually find this pass through the mountains, thanks to an old Maori trail. Nigel was hitting a high with his storytelling right around this time as he said that the Maoris did not like the Aboriginal people here and simply killed and ate them.
Nigel also explained to us the deer situation in New Zealand. A plaque on Lindis Pass commemorates the release of the red deer in 1871, but like the rabbits, they had no natural predators, so they quickly overpopulated New Zealand destroying forests. Many schemes were tried to control them, but the most successful one has been to capture the deer and simply raise them on farms. They can be hunted, and venison is sold like beef here. Deer farmers also take the velvet horns (the time that the horns are still soft), cut them off (poor deer), and sell them in powered form to the Chinese as part of their traditional medications.
Then we went on our way into Cromwell, the fruit city in Central Otago, and stopped at Mother Jones Fruit Orchard Stand for specially mixed fruit ice cream and a stroll through the gorgeous rose garden. We stopped at Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge where people pay $195 to bungy jump. We watched some of the action, but no one from our group wanted to try it. I took a lot of photos of people trying the bungy jump. (The New Zealanders spell it bungy, not bungee as we do in the US.)
Then we passed through wine country on into Queenstown, our home for the next three days. We drove over the Shotover River where people apparently do some sort of dangerous jet skiing. I guess Brent has tried it.
Queenstown looks like an upscale ski resort. Our hotel is very nice, and there are thousands of tourists here.
Tomorrow it’s another early call. I hope that it’s warmer than it was today. On the bus at 6:58. We will go to Fjordland National Park and cruise Milford Sound.