By the time we left Queenstown for Wanaka, after our Ferg Burger brunch, it was mid-afternoon. There were still enough hours of daylight left for us to make the journey safely, but not that many that we could delay our road trip for a walk along Lake Wakatipu as I had wanted upon rising that morning. However, instead of going straight up route 89, we used the little leeway we had in our day’s schedule to take the alpine scenic route, which led us to one of probably many vantage points overlooking Queenstown.
From there, we drove past snow-covered fields through to a darkened valley flanked by forbidding mountains on either side. But for a few bends, the road was fairly straight in Lord of the Rings country. Towards Cardrona, a ski field with a village of its own, I noticed that most of the trees were completely caked in white like they had been dusted with icing sugar. The only bit of green was the grass closest to the road and that was a dull yellow.
Even though it wasn’t our final destination, the sheer amount of snow around Cardrona, being the stuff of all my childhood Hans Christian Anderson fairytales, was just cause for us to stop the car and grab a couple of happy snaps.
A couple of kilometres past Cardrona and it was as if we were in another land: there was no snow to be seen! We pulled up at The Brookvale Motel in Wanaka which His Royal Highness had paid NZD165 for us to spend the night at, shortly before six in the evening, and after a quick use of the loo, went to scope out the area surrounding the lake. By chance, we came across a secluded walking and cycling track used by the locals.
Once we had enough of our own company, we climbed back in the car and made for the town centre. There, His Royal Highness inspected the lake once again and somewhat theatrically, asked me to commune with it, since I’m a pagan and it was my birthday.
I was too cold to humour him so I suggested we have dinner at the pub across the road before I eat someone.
“Are you sure you want to go in there?” he asked as I stood outside the door. “I feel like something local.”
“Well, this is local,” I said, noting all the Kiwis going in and coming out of the door next to me.
We went in and the waitress said we cold sit anywhere we liked up the back. Unbeknown to us, sitting on one of the elevated tables near the bar means we get no table service. His Royal Highness had to place our orders and pay for them at the bar.
As usual, everything came with a mountain of chips. Our entree of pork ribs left us wanting more, but my seafood chowder – the third in this journey – was highly unsatisfactory. While chowder is supposed to be creamy, this was like eating thickened cream on its own, strewn with some seafood and enough salt to push your blood pressure through the roof. His Royal Highness’ fish was fresh, but seemed to have been cooked by someone other than the person who had prepared my chowder, for it only had a sprinkling of finely chopped parsley for seasoning. All up, the bill came to NZD83, a normal sum for the food we had and our choice of eatery, although compared to other pubs we’d been to, inconsistent in quality.