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Our next destination was Queenstown, one of the bigger towns in the south and right in the very centre of the skiing area. We'd been told yesterday that Queenstown was having its anual winter festival this weekend, and it would be advsible to book accommodation in advance, so we spent about twenty minutes phoning all the hostels on our list. Everywhere was completely full, although a couple might have some room next week sometime. Looking at the map we saw that there was a single hostel in Arrowtown, a small place only a few miles north of Queenstown, so we phoned them and made a reservation. We stocked up on chocolate at the local petrol station and started the long drive south.
Just outside the town was a sign saying that the road from the nearby township of Fox Glacier to Haast, about 100 miles further on, was closed. It was the only roadto the south of the country, and there were no turnings off it. We debated whether to risk the road being closed and having to retrace our steps, making our way to Christchurch via the north of the country rather than the south (the benefit of that would be that I'd get to swim with dolphins and whales at Kaikoura) or to take the chance that they'd open the road by the time we got there. We decided to try to see the bottom of the country, but we'd ask in Fox if they knew anything. Close to Fox was Lake Matheson, apparently the most photographed lake in New Zealand. We walked along woodland paths for a while, turning back when we thought we'd gone too far, then going back again when we changed our mind, and finally found a little jetty that looked out onto a beautiful view of the mountains reflecting in the lake.
In Fox itself I ran into the local information centre and they told me that the road was open now, so we carried on. On the way we stopped for a view of Fox Glacier: larger than the Franz Josef glacier, it's apparently not as fun to climb on the lower reaches, although there are good heli-hiking tours up there. Along the little track were signs showing how much larger the glacier was in the 1700s. We had our lunch in the woods, looking out over the glacial valley.
The road took us though more typical scenery, and past a fierce-looking Tasman Sea. It was a long, windy, uphill route, and we saw the remains of a nasty ar accident which would have been the reason for the road closure. We drove over the Haast River and through the Haast Pass and into the town of Haast which seemed to be made up of a restaurant and some public loos. On to Wananka and a quick stop to pick up supplies for supper.
The map has a shortcut from Wanaka to Arrowtown, a small part of which is closed to rental cars. As the navigator, I had to find out if we could take the road, so I queued up in the tourist office for about twenty minutes while the lady there talked someone on the other end of the phone through installing a new computer system. Finally she said that the road is paved now, so the map might be a bit old, but it's probably not worth taking the shortcut because all the ski traffic would be coming down this time of night and we'd probably get stuck behind a slow ski bus. In that time we could have been halfway to Arrowtown, but nevermind.
We took the long route which probably wasn't that much longer, and ended up in Arrowtown in the dark. The moon was full and really stunning, so we took a few photos. The snow on the mountains was glowing again. It took ages to find the hostel - its road wasn't named and there were no lights on, and a very stern sign on the door demanded that we take our shoes off BEFORE entering, but it turned out to be a very nice place, and only the second hostel we've stayed in that had central heating. Another surprise was that Arrowtown is supposed to be famous for its restaurants, and has some of the best in New Zealand. I'd been wanting a good steak for ages, and this was a great excuse to put our stundenty one-pot cooking on hold for a while and eat real food.
To our surprise, the first place we tried, a completely empty restaurant, was fully booked, so we made a reservation for tomorrow, and found the next one. It was an old slate building, very pretty, and the food was great. I had a fantastic steak, so I was happy! One of the other diners asked how old the building was. The waitress said that it was 'Incredibly old, built in 1873.' They were suitably impressed. I thought of the line from LA Story, where the guy shows people around saying 'Some of these buildings are almost twenty years old!'
Arrowtown is lovely, and a nice surprise. Almost all the buildings are small woden ones, and the town has retained its goldmining character. There are loads of nice restaurants and plenty of gift shops, and it all looks very olden days. I'm looking forward to seeing it in daylight.
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