Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tuesday Evening, Part II

Tuesday morning we left Christchurch around ten, driving Buda and Nada’s little black Mazda. Though I’d enjoyed traveling with Ljuba’s parents, it was nice to be on the road by ourselves (not least among reasons is the license to sing Disney songs at the top of our lungs).

We stopped for a rest at the Farm Barn, an idyllic café-cum-gift shop smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Far from a barn, it was a lovely building with a mediterranean feel perched on a hill overlooking hedge-girded fields with mountains in the distance. There were flowers on the sunny deck serviced by bumblebees, and a stand of trees sheltering the grounds from strong winds. We agreed it was paradise.

Taking our leave of this unexpected Eden, we drove south along highway 8. Lake Takapo surprised us with its stunningly blue clouded waters, and I found myself wishing I could sit on the shore of Lake Pukaki for hours. We had other plans, however, so it was on to Queenstown.

We’re staying at the Black Sheep Lodge, a decent backpackers-type place near the city centre. After checking in and doing some research, we drove up into the hills a bit for a hike along the Queenstown hill walking track.

This town is ludicrously picturesque, surrounded by a series of snow-capped alpine peaks huddled around a sedate blue lake. Sailboats slide over the smooth surface of the water as puffy New Zealand clouds scud across the broad sky.

The trail led us upward through foxglove, mountain ash, maple, and ferns. Higher up we reached a pine forest, and farther still we emerged to bald highlands. Here we learned that the Douglas Firs which thickly coat the foothills around Queenstown were planted by settlers in the 1800s. Their hold on the land was strengthened by school Arbor Day plantings in the 50’s, and now they’ve taken over the landscape. An exotic fungi developed in symbiosis with the pines and changed the composition of the soil, preventing endemic plants from taking root. Local restoration seems to be going strong, however: there were a number of felled Doug Firs along the hilltops, and efforts were being made to slowly peel back the expanding pine forest. Ljuba and I remarked at how quickly our appreciation of the scenic forests soured upon learning the history behind their prolific spread.

Dinner in town was Thai again, though we decided this would be the last time until we returned to the states. Whatever their virtues, Kiwis just don’t know how to make Pad See Ew.

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