Shouting the Haka in Queenstown

The road from Fox Glacier to Queenstown is a very scenic ride through New Zealand’s Otago region. Alongside Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, the road finally reaches the touristy town of Wanaka. This might be a scenic hangout for people with a car (or camper van). However, since most of the activities in the surrounding areas do require booking a tour or drive to the tramping tracks using individual carbon footprint contributing machines (read: cars), we decided to continue to Queenstown by bus. There, hiking tracks are much more accessible by foot. Moreover, the town itself generates enough entertainment for a day or so.

Lake Wanaka

Being almost surrounded by Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown strongly reminded me of the lake and the town of Lucerne. Michi and I found ourselves in the evenings strolling through the malls, where cafes, bars and restaurants were full of good food and entertainment. Some of them were broadcasting the rugby game between England and Australia. Needless to say that a lot of beer was consumed in town for the occasion. We didn’t really join in with the crowd, since we wanted to be fit in the mornings – but we participated a bit in having one (or two?) beers.

The New Zealanders’ national rugby union team, the All Blacks, are performing the Haka – a Maori traditional dance – before the start of each game. They do shout, roll their wide open eyes and stretch their tongue in front of their opponents. It’s a fantastic half-minute spectacle, worthwhile to browse for at YouTube – start with this one minute clip – if interested.

Lake Hawea

On a much, much quieter note – our hostel, the YHA Riverside was definitely a bit of a splurge. Our twin room almost blew my budget, but it did come with its own terrace overlooking lake Lucerne – sorry, I meant: Lake Wakatipu. More importantly, the weather was fine during our stay. Blue skies and warm spring temperatures invited us to sit either on a terrace downtown – or in front of our room. The day we left Queenstown, it started to rain. Selfish as we are, we couldn’t care less about that.

Not surprisingly, we went hiking – this time in the area around Queenstown. Our selection for a tramp went for the Ben Lomond track. Again, the timings we did spot on hiking signs weren’t really made for European speed. Although being quite steep and very windy at times – especially on the Ben Lomond saddle – the trek would take roughly two thirds of the time advertised.

However, tramping near a touristic city has its drawbacks: We met people along the track who weren’t prepared at all for the trip. At 1790m altitude, wind was rough and I wondered how some of the people – only wearing shorts and T-shirts – would be able to cope. At one instance, we even met an older tourist, who had no map, no water and clearly was lost. Since the walking track signs in New Zealand tend to be ambiguous at times, it is always wise to carry a map or a sketch of the intended route. We were unable to help this lost fellow, since he persisted in wanting to go into the wrong direction. Maybe he still is roaming around the Queenstown hills as I am writing this…

View from the Gondola station over Queenstown

This tourist place also features a lot of variety in food restaurants. New Zealands towns are notorious for having several Thai restaurants. While this might be a good source of food, it is not local food. And the Fish & Chips are maybe a Kiwi’s favourite food – but it is definitely far from being their own country’s delicacy. The locals try to hide their speciality well from tourists.

However, since you are a trustworthy and loyal reader of this blog, I am willing to share the secret Kiwi dish with you (since I seem to have found out what it is). It is called Whitebait and consists of sprats being cooked and then served in various different ways. The most common preparation form seems to be the creation of a patty that is being mixed with egg before it is being fried.

New Zealanders love to spend time fishing for Whitebait along their rivers. Seeing men moving large nets carefully out of the water as their wives open the Esky to quickly store the catch of sprats, is a very common sight. As we are approaching the end of the Whitebait season (in November), locals will have to look for another recreational activity (another Kiwi secret to uncover?). Most probably they will also turn again to Fish & Chips or Thai food.