Skyline, Arrowtown and away we go! 11/29-30/16

Queenstown is a bonny place, with a population of about 19,000. It’s situated at a lower elevation than the high Southern Alps, maybe 1000 ft above sea level, making it a calmer, warmer spot to live, but it's also popular with the outdoor sporting set. Snow in the mountains allows for good skiing, plus there’s great water sports and sailing on the lake, para-sailing, and even bungee jumping, but I’ll save that for a bit later.

Jimmy and I enjoyed wandering the streets of Queenstown, lots to see and do.  We're not shoppers, but we like looky-looing!  Back at the hotel, our group transferred to our coach, with a dinner reservation at Stratosphere Restaurant.  Woot-woot, the only way to get there is by Skyline gondola!  Straight up!

And once your heart gets used to the steep incline, you can appreciate the fantastic views of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu as they shrink in the distance.

Perfect weather for such an outing.

Albert, Ibby and Bernice posing at the top.

Most of the group.  Me and Jimmy are toward the right.

It begins!  Yum-yum!

After a group photo was taken on the top viewing deck, we proceeded into the Stratosphere Restaurant for the first seating, with impressive views from floor-to-ceiling windows, where a massive (mostly) seafood buffet was laid out in front of us by sections … this was a food frenzy to end all. Their brochure lists these fresh locally-sourced produce fare items: Breads; soups; Caesar salads; market garden salads; from the deli; vegetarian fare; sushi and sashimi; from the Southern Oceans; Green-lipped mussels; grilled fare; flame rotisserie; cheese selections; and sweet treats, plus tea and coffee (or wine). And this, believe it or not, was our third buffet of the day (breakfast, lunch and dinner)!  If we don’t come home needing larger sizes in all departments, it will be a real miracle. 

I made straight for the shrimp cocktails and fresh sushi, mussels, fishies, salads, seasonal fare, and sweet treats. Not a big meat eater, I bypassed the rotisserie (besides we had meat for lunch).  Imagine the staff having to start this all over again for the second seating at 8:15pm!  The picture above of one section was taken after everyone had heaped their plates more than once, and we were all ready to call it a day, and a night!  I helped myself to the sweets (photo below), and really, everything was superb.

Close to 8 pm, we made our way to the Gondola to ride down, as full as stuffed sausages, and hooked up with our coach for the ride to our hotel. Only one or two intrepid souls in the group opted to walk back.  The rest of us rolled onto our seats like we'd never get up again, till the coach pulled up to the hotel door.  Road Scholar knows how to feed its people, and how -- first class!

Down we go!

We loved looking out on these vistas from our hotel room.

We checked out the next morning (Wednesday), en route to historic Arrowtown, with photo stops along the way at popular Coronet Peak Skifield and to the “Skippers Lookout."  Quite a dramatic view from up here, as well.  Para-sailers with colorful chutes were drifting toward earth as we traveled to our next venue ....

We checked out Arrowtown, peeking into shops, buying a postcard or two, some of us admiring flowers and birds.

New Zealand Chaffinches.

As you can see by the sign above, the Arrowtown area produced another Gold Rush in this world, along the Arrow River, below.  Lupines were popping out all over.

And now, whoo-ee, we've arrived at the bungee bridge, where two of our crowd wanted to try jumping off the Kawarau Bridge!  Unfortunately, with all the other folks/tourists wanting to LEAP off the bridge, there would be time for only one of our Road Scholars to have a go, and that would be Linda.  What a trooper! 

A lot of us are standing on a platform where we can watch the goings-on.  Jimmy is second from left. I was taking the picture, and then I moved to the bridge to see how the bungee business was handled.

Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, completed in 1880, is classified as a Category 1 historic place. (A new highway bridge was built in 1963.)  Queenstown bills itself as the "Adventure Capital of the World." This bridge is the location of the so-called "World Home of Bungy Jumping -- The Kawarau Bridge Bungy!"  It's 43 metres (141ft) above the Kawarau River, which translates into WAY TOO HIGH (for me).

Linda is, uh, ready to go?  Maybe saying a little prayer?

Here's a shot of our group from where Linda is standing.

Ohhhh ... good grief, what Linda sees from her perch!

Harnessed up and ready to PLUNGE!

When we saw her on the edge at this point, we all began chanting, "Linda! Linda! Linda!"
I think she liked that we were cheering her on.

The other things you see dangling are counterweights.

Linda in her red sweater is left center of this photo.  Beautiful dive!

And here she is, safely inside the boat.

Later, she said it was a real adrenalin boost, noticed no jerking at all, and even felt very secure.  The rest of us were impressed, and lauded her the rest of the day (more like, the rest of our trip!)  You, go, girl!  Our hero!

So, that was it for jolly Queenstown. From this point, we made our way to the airport for our 2:30pm departure for Wellington, which will be our last stop in New Zealand.  What a fun day!

Posies and Politics! Wed, 11/30/16

Resuming our meandering in Wellington on Wednesday afternoon, we hiked up a winding hill (hiked is the correct word) to the Botanic Gardens entrance.  (We eat a lot, lots of times, but we walk and hike a lot, too, which is a lot of lots!)  The gardens are near the top of the Wellington Cable Car,  and apparently only minutes from the central business district -- 64 acres (25 hectares) of beauty, peace and tranquility.  A refuge every city should have, IMO.  Established in 1844, the Wellington Botanic Garden is home to some of the oldest exotic trees in New Zealand.

I love me a botanic garden!

I had to laugh when I first saw this picture ... a classic "what the heck are these nutty people looking at?"  Then I remembered everyone was trying to find a Kauri (Agathis australis) tree cone (from the tree in the background).  Years and years ago, the size and strength of Kauri timber made it a popular wood for construction and shipbuilding, particularly for sailing ship masts because of its parallel grain and the absence of branches for much of its height.  It's also a superb timber for building the hulls and decks of boats because of its resistance to rot.  You know these uses contributed to its decimation.  Kauri is the largest by volume, tho not the tallest species of New Zealand's trees, and the forests are some of the most ancient in the world, what's left of them, that is.  Sorry to say, today it's estimated that there is only 4% of uncut forest left in small pockets.  Like the California Redwoods we all dearly love.  I was happy to see at least one.

Meandering paths take us through the gardens.

Part of a fantastic mural on one of the buildings.

I didn't expect to see a succulent garden, but it seemed to be well represented!

New Zealand is ferns, no doubt about it.
I've never seen such lush and varied ferns anywhere else.

Linda is gazing at a very interesting Moreton Bay Pine tree (Araucaria cunninghamii),
also called a Hoop pine.

After trudging up, we get to ride down!  What a pretty city.

Look out below! Straight down!

Can I tell you how much fun we've been having on this trip?  The young lady on the left is NOT part of our group (obviously), but she was a real sport, enjoying listening to Albert (center) and all the funny Americans.  Everywhere we went, local people were included into conversations or jollies.  All in good fun.  Laughter is the universal gift we can all give.

Jimmy and Ibby at a Wellington Braille Sculpture.  "Invisible City" is about how we see, how we acquire information and how some things in life are hidden.  By Dr Peter Beatson, the sculpture has a defiant muteness.  It says:

The word made flesh can bleed; are we bound or free?

Embracing visual silence, alone I breed
a virtual skin of words across the void
but if the fault line ruptures, the word made flesh will bleed.

By the unseen quay I plant this graven seed.
Flayed by the wind, of permanence devoid,
tethered sign to skin, we’re both bound and freed

And then there's more foolishness!
I pushed and pushed and this dude on the pier wouldn't dive into the bay!

Across from our Copthorne hotel in Wellington on Oriental Bay is this Pōhutukawa "Christmas tree," which has sprouted great clumps of matted roots from its branches.  As we walked past, Albert suggested to the group in general, to "give 'em a whack."  I foolishly followed through, and about broke my knuckles!  Clumps that hang down like masses of coarse matting or, more fancifully, "giants' beards," are aerial roots, also known as adventitious roots.  Apparently, Wellington isn't one of Pōhutukawa's natural growing areas; hence, a tree like this seeks out more moisture to keep itself anchored and fed.  Cool info, huh?  Just don't try to whack that mass of roots!

Back at the hotel, we wrapped up our day with a fine lecture from Tim Marwick about New Zealand Politics and Public Life.  It's kind of illuminating to see/understand how other countries operate and how well it works for them (or not).  US politics are always brought into the fore by way of comparison, but we were here to learn from Tim, not the other way around.  

He joined us for dinner at the hotel, and tomorrow we'll go check out Parliament, a field trip to New Zealand's Supreme Court, and then, well, we shall see!  We have "lots" more time in Wellington!