3/3 Plastic Steampunk and Chinese Polkas

609 Saddle to Queenstown Holiday Park

31 k

For some reason, I could not fall asleep last night. I would try, fail, try to journal, be unable to think of words, read instead, nod off, put the book down, and lie awake. One of those nights. It didn’t help that a possum was screeching and garbling like a possessed rabid demon just outside of the tent.

When the alarm goes off I feel cotton-headed and scratchy-eyed, and hit the snooze several times. We finally commence hiking an hour later than I had hoped, but this morning it is only my fault.

It is raining on the last couple of k’s down the hill to Arrowtown, although it lightens as we reach the edge of town. A walk-through, signed, reconstructed layout of an old Chinese gold mining settlement catches my attention, and I look in the restored general store. I wave the others on so I can read all the signs at leisure. It sounds as though gold mining was a tough way of life, and even more so for the less-welcomed Chinese. Although apparently they polkaed, which always helps.

I round the corner to the bakery, and am struck by the overwhelming cuteness of Arrowtown’s Main Street. We buy several snacks from the bakery for later, then head into the cafe for breakfast. They have a platter of breakfast veggies almost as good as the Dome Cafe’s and the lemoniest hollandaise sauce yet. And possibly the best slice of cheesecake I have ever had. Topped with boysenberries.

The inside of the cafe is decorated with old wooden booths, mismatched pillows, and large-paned windows looking out over the street. I could quite happily sit in this cafe all day. But alas.

When we can’t put off leaving any longer, we regain the trail and all call family members to talk to while we are walking. There is some kind of massive golf event going on, and the trail unfortunately leads through the golf course, which is now an obstacle course of people and a bedlam for navigation. The worst part is one of the same worst parts that always happens in town, which is being unable to locate a restroom. I spy some poking up over a low hill, but when I gratefully detour, I realize they are all strapped onto a flatbed truck. No! I consider using them anyway, but there is a guy present tightening down the straps. I ask him which way the nearest bathroom is, and he gives vague directions along the direction I am going. These never appear, but eventually a chest high patch of tussock does, and thanks to the stand-up-ability of wearing a skirt, I am able to thrash in and at least pee with none of the genteel masses being any the wiser.

The golf course releases us to a road and sidewalk system that eventually leads to the river. When we reach it, we spread out for a snack picnic, and devour our veggie hand pies.

For the next several hours, I call people and talk while I am walking. My friend Rachelle, my friend Mark (a baby! a baby!) and my Mom and brother. It’s so wonderful to hear everyone’s voice and news. We reach Franklin mid-afternoon, the first Pak n Save of the South Island. We do a resupply for five days, and set off on the final 8 k with heavy packs.

The trail follows around Lake Wakatipu, the long lake on which Queenstown is situated, and our final hazard zone to skip around. The lake is gorgeous, with the sheer gnarly wall of the Remarkables range rising in the background.

The frontage road is lined with cute old homes, people immersed in a range of beach and lake activities, and the odd gem of a detail. There is a tiny box on a post that is a mini-library, and a large hard plastic ‘amphibious’ trike; it has big ribbed tires for purchase in the sand, and a paddleboat mechanism for propulsion and steering once you’ve pedaled off the beach into the water and it is waterborne. Clever, in a garish, synthetic, steampunk way.As we come around the last peninsula, we miss the turn and walk the shoreline all the way, probably adding several k’s in the process, but I am entranced by the open air views across the water.

We reach the lakefront proper, and it is a veritable zoo of people. They are packed and milling and swigging alcohol and gathered around several street performers, the loudest which is a juggler with a scripted comedic routine and not quite enough juggling to hold my attention, and the most unexpected of which is an unlikely-looking guy playing fantastically complex and emotionally brimming classical music on an unlikely-looking piano. Such are my stereotypes, I suppose.

Across the square we spot the Patagonia Chocolate shop, and beeline for it and its legendary ice cream. I get a scoop of dark chocolate hazelnut, and a scoop of basil orange sorbet, which is fabulous. We spoon up our bowls of treats while the storm inches closer, then turn our minds to the race of finding this hostel before getting drenched. Unsure about dinner, when we pass a pizza place Mouse and Prana have the excellent foresight to order two veggie covered pies to go. We schlep them the last two kilometers to our designated tentsite for the night, finally arriving at the whimsical, extortionate, noisy holiday park at 8:30. We descend upon the pizza like a trio of Keas dismantling hiker gear, and then set up our tents by headlamp while the neighbors have some kind of rave. I attempt to find the shower blocks, but cannot locate a single one, so anything resembling attempts at front-country hygiene will have to wait until the morning. Which is just fine with me.

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