Wednesday, April 3, 2013

2.6 – Going uphill slowly

…for the bee. I’m left with a sore head and the irony that my hated helmet has just caused one death and one head injury. The poor insect flew right into the vent and got stuck, so stung me with all its might, instead of bouncing harmlessly off my head. Great, just what I need: another lump on the forehead.

I went in search of medicinal alcohol, and found it in a car park. There’s a “Slopestyle” tournament in town, a few hundred people watching professionals on mountain bikes hurl themselves down a purpose-built track and launch themselves thirty feet into the air, often upside-down.

I then check out a few pubs. Queenstown’s supposed to be a party town, so it should be awesome for Easter. But the bars don’t have stools, and I don’t have the nerve to just wander up to a group of people sitting round a table and say: “Mind if I join you guys?”

After a few bars I’m getting cold, bored and tired, and decide to call it an early night. But on the way back to my van I get annoyed. I don’t want to quit yet. So I grab a jumper and head back out. There’s two bars just down the hill, and the second one is called “Harry’s Pool Bar” but turns out to be the promised land. A busy bar with lots of happy people, screens showing a rugby game, no queue to get served, and …a beautiful long bar with stools.

Harry, I love you.

Probably not the best thing to say when you walk into a bar, but fortunately the barman wasn’t named Harry. I sat down, got a beer, watched rugby, and sure enough got talking to a few random people about Queenstown.
There’s a heck of a lot of English people here. After a few short conversations, I notice another Northern accent and get talking to a girl named Jess who look’s about 21. It’s nice to chat to someone who comes from the same place. Quite literally, as Jess explains to her German friend:
“This is Paul. We were born in the same hospital!!!”
“Wow, on the same day?”

Who says Germans don’t have a sense of humour?

We have a good talk about travelling the world, and I find Jess’s exploits far exceed mine (I hope she can’t write witty nonsense about them!). A poor night turns into a great night, and I’m disappointed when they close the bar at midnight.

On Friday I have a potter round the shops, loads of Outward Bound places here and quite a few bike shops, though of course they don’t have any….
Wait. What’s that? Could it be? ..and reasonably priced…and in the sale?
An XL!!!!
Not just the promised land, I’ve found the Holy Grail!!

Eager to enjoy my new purchase I head out to Seven Mile Track, about ten kilometres out of town. Both of my fellow gondola passengers recommended it as more varied cross-country riding. But actually, the ride in is ridiculously steep, then you choose from a maze of descents. It’s not up there with my favourites, but still good fun and there’s a real sense of achievement when I finally make the climb without stopping or losing traction. This is no mean feat as I have one eye shut because it’s stinging with sweat!

I vacate the park just as girls in fancy dress start arriving for a “Lady’s Only” event. Boooo! Back to town, and back to Harry’s. I’m starving.

“Are you here for the purpose of dining sir?”
“Why, yes I am my good fellow”.

That was an odd greeting.

I drink my beer and wait for my pizza, it’s quiet in here tonight so I chat to the staff. One lady shares my love for Oakley’s amazing bronze lenses.
“I call them my Awesome lenses” she says, and I’d have to agree. Forget rose tinted spectacles, buy some of these and the present always looks way better. Like Instagram-ing your eyeballs.

More people walk in and receive the odd greeting-come-challenge:
“Are you here for the purpose of dining?”
“Er, we want a drink and to play pool.”
“We’re only open for the purpose of dining, it’s Good Friday”
“Can we just drink water and play pool?”
“We’re only open for the purpose of dining”
“What about if we get a snack?”
“We’re only open for the purpose of dining”
“One small pizza between four?”
“It has to be a substantial meal”
“That’s ridiculous!”
“It’s the law”
“I’ll have to ask you to leave, thanks, goodbye”

They walk out, more people walk in.
“We’re only open for the purpose of dining”
And so the play repeats. A scene which must happen in bars across New Zealand every public holiday as foreigners encounter this ludicrous law.
And you know what? You can come back at midnight and get as hammered as you like.
So the challenge is to make your pizza last until midnight.
My pizza arrives at the bar, and so does Jess. I hadn’t spotted her in the pub, but she is kind of small. Her and her friends have had their pizza though and are leaving, so she invites me to join them at the backpackers while we all wait until we’re allowed to drink.
I take the rest of my pizza back to my fridge, grab some beers and head down to join them.
The backpackers were a young, attractive and fun bunch to hang out with, but to protect the “innocent” I never blog about drunken debauchery, ahem, I mean: social nights out with entertaining people, so I’ll just say that it was a really fun night out. Am I too old to become a backpacker?

Staying out all night with people half your age isn’t difficult. Recovering is the hard part. So the next day was pretty slow, although I managed a good run along the shore of the gorgeous Lake Wakatipu.

Back to Harry’s, more rugby to watch, but it’s a bit warm in the bar. A good looking girl appears besides me and asks the barmen:
“Is it hot in here, or is it just me?”
Oh Harry, now you’re even gifting me punchlines?!
So I spend another enjoyable night talking to people from all over, well, England.

Michael from Hampshire:
“Yeah, I dunno why people want to go to bars and just sit with the people they know. You could sit at home and do that! Much better to sit at a bar talking nonsense to some random nutter, far more of a larf!”
At which point some random nutter girl buys me a jagerbomb, before leaving. And if you don’t know what a jager-bomb is, consider yourself lucky!

Finally I speak to a non-English person, from Vancouver, where I go next. He tells me a week won’t be enough, but has to go play pool before he can explain why.

It’s a Saturday night, so there should be more epic drunken silliness. But the crazy laws come back into force at midnight, saving me from myself.

Easter Sunday, and time for something extreme. I still don’t fancy putting my life in the hands of jobbing backpackers, so I’m going to take on the mountain. A run up the “Tiki trail” through the woods to the top of the Gondola.
“Tiki” is a Maori word for “bloody steep”, probably, because it’s a ridiculous climb. The same steep slopes I described biking down, but worse, because it’s more direct. A figure in skimpy shorts and vest arrives behind me, more goat than man.
“What are you training for?”, he asks.
“Er, I’m just trying to make it to the top!” I gasp, as he disappears above me. I bet he didn’t have a half a dozen pints last night (at only 5 bucks each! Cheers Harry!)
It’s futile.
I can barely get my foot up to the next rock, let alone maintain a “run” so I drop to a fast climb. I WILL make the summit. I’m gasping, so I stop for a swig of water (Hey! I actually brought some water!)before battling on.
As I pass walkers, descending or ascending, I find mysterious bursts of energy, and manage to run a little, before rounding the next bend. Their shouts of encouragement help, fraudulently earned though they may be.
About two-thirds of the way up the track joins a service road, and I can just about run. It’s still insanely steep, but I’m getting there. Then all of a sudden I spy a wooden shack, then I see a wire, then a larger building, and I emerge from the forest to the magnificent view.
Staggeringly, gobsmackingly, magnificent.
Even more incredible than I remember from Thursday. Maybe it’s the lack of oxygen, but this place really is eye-wateringly phenomenal.
And back down again.
This time I stick to the road. But it’s so steep even descending hurts. By the time I reach the bottom my legs are jelly. I didn’t manage to run it all but I’ve made it. A score draw perhaps? Too close to call, Mr Mountain?

When some sensation returns to my limbs I pack up the van and head to Glenorchy. It’s a small town at the North end of Lake Wakatipu. Actually, it’s more of a hamlet, and there’s not much point being there. But going there! Wow, the view across and around the lake gets impossibly better. Of course I have my “Awesome Lenses” on, but even without them this place is stunning.

Back for one last night in Queenstown, one last trip to Harry’s and after that run…
You’re damn right I’m here to dine!

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