The Battle of Wounded Knee

 Today I froze my beard. Solid. It’s a very weird sensation. You can sort of feel the hairs tightening as the ice forms on each hair and they join together.

Winding back the clock, the day had started early as we went to the nearest pub (“47”) to watch the England game. Sod’s Law dictated that this would be the first one worth seeing as we had to miss the last 20 minutes to ensure we caught the bus up to the skipark. Sure enough, 1-1 when we left and I heard it finished 2-2. Gah.

 The bus was only $15 return per person and left from over the road. After 30 minutes or so, we were collecting our passes, boards, boots and separating for classes. Lou’s an utter novice having only been on a board once before – and that was the other week on Mount Dobson with Pam & Rob. I was judged to be in grade 4 (there are 6 grades) so headed up the chairlifts while Lou used the “magic carpet” and slid down the practise slope on her hands and knees for a few hours.

Every other time I’ve been snowboarding, the temperatures have been either t-shirt weather or just around freezing. Today, at the top of Coronet’s Express Way, the wind chill and stirred powder must have dropped it to around -10 degrees Celcius. Visibility at times was more something I’d heard about and experienced in the past than something I was actually enjoying.

 The last run of the day especially was utterly new for me. I couldn’t even see the snow I was boarding on at times. The whole world was one big optical illusion. I could sort of feel my board moving, and I could hear it, but nothing seemed to be happening. Then I’d look up and an orange flag was approaching, fairly quickly. Then I’d look down and the “ground” was stationary. Then the flag was closer. At other times I’d catch a quick glance of the surface and I was moving sideways compared to how I felt I was going.

It made my head hurt. Or maybe that was falling backwards and cracking my skull on an icy run earlier.

 All in all, a great day. Even the lunch wasn’t expensive – another new experience for a ski resort. Everyone was really friendly.

Except.

The skier who ploughed into Lou and clobbered her knee. It’s got a nasty gouge in it, and it’s a rather bright red colour. Of course, typical skiier, no apology. She just sorted herself out and buggered off. This is the difference between skiiers and boarders. Boarders do stupid things, but if they hurt someone they bloody apologise. Also, if someone’s a skiier there’s more chance of them being French which is another reason to treat them with disdain.

But I digress.

We got back at a nice hour, nodding off on the coach, and ate far too much food and necked mulled wine I got from the supermarket. A spa bath and sauna to soothe aching muscles (and knee), and then some more beer in front of the telly.

More tomorrow. Yay! Posted by Picasa

Guns ‘n’ arrows

 Our last day in Wanaka before driving to Queenstown. We did the usual in the morning – slept in far too late and had breakfast. Then had lunch after a quick visit to the shops and the pricey interwebnet place.

On the way out, we stopped off at Have A Shot to do all the other activities we couldn’t fit in yesterday. Just over $50 each for around 3 hours’ fun. 50 balls each on the driving range, 30 shots on three targets using the .22 rifles, 40 minutes between us at the archery and 20 shots each at clay pigeon shooting.

The day ended in a draw. No score on the driving range, though I’m definitely a better golfer! I did spend most of my time trying to smash the TV on a plinth around 50m from the tee. There’s a prize for doing this, as there is for getting balls into either of the two white barrels which are slightly further back.

Lou marginally won at the .22 rifle range. Flipping dead-eye. Half of her last 10 shots went in the bull. Mind, when you looked at some of the targets on the wall, we paled in comparison. In fairness, three of them were by an ex-US Army sniper.

I definitely ruled on the archery. I think Lou only managed to get four or five holes in her target at all. I won’t embarass her with the score difference (even knocking off the “5” she scored on my target). The clay pigeon shooting ended in a draw. Apparently the average for a first-timer is between 1 and 6 out of 20 shots – we both scored five. I didn’t wake up the next morning with a sore shoulder from pulling bows and supporting rifles, though!

We got to Queenstown just as darkness was falling – and relocated The Rock – deciding to stop at the Top Ten camper van park. There were other places, but they all charged money for showers and so forth. This one’s got private saunas and spa baths which are extra, but that’s fair enough. Also, it’s less than five minutes walk into the town centre. The facilities are clean and spacious, the surroundings great and I believe it’s the only fully environmentally-certified camper park in New Zealand. They even urge you to keep food scraps in little paper baggies for their worm farm!

Dinner was two Fergburgers from a shop on Shotover Street. They were typically Kiwi. That is, if you placed twn of them together in one location they’d probably trigger continental drift. Bloody huge.

A couple of pints in Pog Mahones (an Irish pub that can apparently be dismantled in less than 30 minutes in case the town floods again) set us up for a short stagger back to the van before lights-out.

Wandering round Wanaka

 Exercise was due today – we’d spent far too much time loafing around recently – so we decided on a walk by Diamond Lake. This is a fairly small lake, by Kiwi standards, located maybe 15km outside of Wanaka. There are a handful of walks around it leading up the surrounding hills, all of which offer spectacular views.

We arrived and decided to ignore the warning about slippy paths and wintery weather being a bad combination. As it turned out, this was fine. The weather was nippy and there was some frozen water around, but it was mainly just a little muddy. Many areas have had gravel put down or stairs added by a volunteer group headed by the guy who started Puzzling World.

 Our original plan was to go the whole hog for the half-day walk, but the weather closed in as we neared the second stage and we weren’t exactly prepared in the event of a blizzard. Instead, we managed lunch halfway up and then slipped and slid our way back downhill to the van.

It was late afternoon when we drove back into town, trying to locate a pharmacist to top up on a few supplies. Hardly anywhere else is open on a Sunday. Spotting one on the right, I swung over and parked up… then panicked when I saw red and blue flashing lights and someone pointing at me. A police car coming the opposite direction down the road was blocking me in and I was sure I’d done nothing wrong. I’d not cut him up or anything when I zipped over the road to park. A brief conversation sorted it – you’re not allowed to park on the “wrong” side of the road in NZ. If the only spare space is on the right, you have to go to the top of the street and turn round so you’re pointing the right way when you pull in. Live and learn. Judging from the way he told me it’s a common thing for visitors not to know this one.

 I now await one of you telling me it’s illegal back home as well…

Purchases made, we drove back out of Wanaka to Have A Shot. This is a small venture about 5km outside the town on the road to Queenstown. For varying prices they offer clay pigeon shooting, small bore rifle shooting, archery, a driving range, mini golf and an outdoor “battlefield” with guns that fire sponge balls. Time was running out as they close at 5pm so we opted for the minigolf. Surprised?

A very difficult course, this one, but well laid out. It would look glorious in the summer as there were a lot of bushes that stood leafless in the winter weather. Several of the water features were dry as well, I assume due to the risk of them icing over. The greens/fairways sloped in a lot of places which made some of the putting incredibly hard, and the generous use of drainpipe caused numerous headaches on the way round.

 The course is based on local geography, people and events. The description at the start of each hole gives you information on whatever the hole is about (a mountain, a valley or – in one case – a pilot who died in a crash nearby) along with directions of where to look if the feature is visible in the surrounding area.

Overall, a great challenge. Which Louise may have won by the narrowest of margins. Though the documentary evidence is in pencil, so could have been tampered with.

We had guests for dinner as we made our cheesy omelettes – two fantails that had decided the kitchen was warmer than wherever they’d usually nest. They flew around for ages, despite all the windows and doors being wedged open for them. Eventually, one decided to leave but after a heated (or tweeted) discussion, the other opted to remain. Posted by Picasa

A puzzling day

 When we woke, the windows were frosted on the inside. After scraping them clear, we could see the scenery that was hidden by darkness when we arrived the previous night.

Wow.

Mountains covered in snow in all directions and a beautiful blue sky with the sun shining down from it. After two days without showering, I thought it best to venture out and make use of the facilites now we had them.

I walked past one group of lads and nodded “hello” on my way, and Lou said that a girl walking past me stopped and gawked as I made my way to the shower block. Now, I don’t think I’m that much to write home about, but Lou rckons it’s because it was around -5 degrees outside and I was walking around topless. Well, the sun was warm and there was no breeze. Bloody soft southerners. And there’s not much more “south” you can get than this place.

 Today’s little visit was to Puzzling World, a delightul little attraction just outside Wanaka. It has two parts – a large outdoor maze and some exhibits indoors which are well worth seeing. There’s a huge collection of very good holograms in one room, some large scale optical illusions, and a collection of rooms set at a tilt which really mess with your head. The canteedn area is scattered with puzzles and games to be played with while you grab a snack, and the maze is a fun way to while away an hour or more. Even the toilets are well-presented! The exhibits and maze are $7 each or $10 for both (adults). Come on, three quid for a few hours’ entertainment in an pretty unique venue. Top notch.

After my stomach stopped reeling from the sloping rooms, we drove back to the park and had dinner. Spag bol which Lou had pressed into me is not as good as she usually makes due to lack of proper ingredients. And facilities. And weather. We watched the news on TV while we ate and marvelled at how we seemed to be about the only people in New Zealand not to have been buried in snow so far this week.

 Rushing to clear up, we walked back into town to the “nuovo cinema paradiso”. This purpose-built one-man cinematic enterprise just has to be visited if you’re in Wanaka. They don’t show current films, usually at least a few weeks out of date (sometimes even months) and there are only 2-3 showings a day. However, in a given week you can catch up to 8 films as they have a variety “in stock” at a time. The building is right on the outskirts of the town next to a motel and currently has a large “Kong” bursting from the roof with what’s left of Fay Wray hanging from his outstretched left hand.

The interior is equally as eccentric, and lovingly crafted by someone who’s obviously nuts about films. The toilet walls are papered in nothing but film posters and the café menu includes “trailers” and “main features”. The auditorium itself is a marvel with all the seating made up of umpteen scraggy yet comfy old sofas and armchairs arranged in the familiar stepped arrangement of cinemas worldwide – with a handful of exceptions. Four seats are inside an old yellow car, perched to the left of the screen. Madness. Utterly wonderful madness.

All the adverts before the film are made by the cinema for local businesses and the interspersed shadow puppets got quite a few giggles from the audience.

The film we watched was Keeping Mum which I think’s been out for about 6 months now. If you’ve not seen it – catch it. Maggie Smith makes one of the best comedy turns I’ve witnessed in an age, totally deadpanning through some of the most utterly ridiculous situations.

 Halfway through, the film stopped. This is normal. Anyone with a functioning pair of nostrils could not have helped catching a whiff of mouthwataring baking in the lead-up to this interval. The reason soon became clear as we made our way into the cafe and were confronted with huge, soft-baked cookies. The evil people running the cinema were charging less than $3 for one of these artery-hardening delicacies. So I bought two. And regretted it by the end of the film as I barely finished them. Crisp outsides, doughy insides like chocolatey lava and enough calories to put an elephant into shock. Oh, and the beer they serve is made in a local microbrewery and is simply superb. I only had two bottles (one ale and one lager – they also do a pilsner) but it was delicious.

The film concluded and it was thoroughly enjoyable despite the scary woman behind us constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the plot with cries of “It’s the housekeeper” and “She’s did!” (dead – Kiwi’s have a weird accent) while laughing inanely at parts which weren’t actually funny. Strange woman.

After eating what felt like the entire European Butter Mountain wrapped in cookie goodness, it was all I could do to stagger back to the van park and collapse in bed. I swear the suspension creaked more in protest than it normally does. Posted by Picasa