Thursday, 11 December 2008

Monday in the rain

I had planned to start my day with another walk round the bay and some photo’s but the mountains had disappeared so I decided to hit the road – confident that it would soon dry up and I would have plenty to see. How wrong was that! It did not stop raining all day and the cloud didn’t lift above the roof of the car.

From Queenstown I went to Wanaka – I’d been told that this was a smaller and perhaps prettier version of Queenstown. The lakeside walkway was very good but it was raining heavily so I didn’t stay long. On leaving Wanaka I had a slight tussle with myself about whether to change my route and head for the west coast – the Southern Alps and the Franz Joseph Glazier and twice as far as I had planned. Common sense prevailed and I stayed on the road to Aoraki/Mount Cook.

There was little traffic on the roads which were well maintained and easy to drive. I’d expected more climbs and hair pins with those hills but the glacial valleys were long and wide and most of the driving was on long straight roads. It still felt a long way and I was beginning to feel that I’d seen it all before! One foggy hillside is much like another even if it’s the other side of the world.

It was late afternoon when I stopped at Twizel having remembered I’d nowhere to stay that night and little idea of what was available at Aoraki. Within a few minutes of visiting the I-Site office (tourist info) I was booked into "the most famous hotel in New Zealand" – the Hermitage. Or so said the Lonely Planet guide. I got a very good rate. Partly because it was afternoon but also - I realised from the conversation with the hotel - because I appeared to be a respectable mature lady. Really not sure I felt happy about that – so solaced injury to feelings with more cherries over my ears!

Weather report at Twizel was that the day was a write off as far as seeing anything at all but tomorrow would be much better! I think they say that to all the tourists – especially the respectable women.

While misty mountains and rain are very familiar the miles and miles of mountain lupins were not. I can’t remember exactly when they started but at first there were a few on the road side and then there were dense clusters and often there were whole fields with mauve, lavender, pink, cream and even yellow lupins. I’ve taken a couple of pictures but the light was so poor I don’t think they’ll show well – had to resort to a postcard!

To get to Mount Cook you turn off the main road and drive alongside Lake Pukahi – despite the rotten weather still very turquoise and I was really hoping I’d be able to see more of its' backdrop on my way back. It was raining heavily when I got to the hotel and while it wasn’t cold it was really good to smell the log fire burning in the entrance hall.

The Hermitage is a very big hotel which is also home to the Edmund Hilary Exhibition Centre and it took me a while to find my way round. Ever the optimist I’d asked for a room overlooking the mountain and that’s what I had – with its own balcony too. It would have been lovely the day before! You’ll be pleased to know that I had removed the cherries before checking in and was back to being a respectable mature lady again – one of dozens though most of the others were Japanese.

I’d booked dinner in the Panorama restaurant – the a la carte rather than the self service buffet and was feeling a little extravagant until I went to find it. The route is through the buffet restaurant which seats about 400 and was heaving - all the coach parties appeared to have been booked in at the same time – and there was nothing respectable about some of the tactics being used to get first servings!

The Panorama was an oasis of calm and I was very pleased to be shown to a window table – unusual for a woman alone. Just a pity that I could see nothing at all from it. Really haven’t seen the cloud base at ground level before!! Dinner was very very good – a six course taster menu. I know gluttony is a vice but it was ‘tasters’ and I couldn’t get beyond a mouthful of the dessert!! I don’t think I will have lost any weight on this trip though.

I slept well despite calls from OZ and the UK checking that I was ok - others might think I’m a mature respectable woman but to my mum and dad I am still their little girl on her own on the other side of the world! Think I reassured them that I’m absolutely fine and having a ball!!

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