Sunday, January 31, 2016

New Zealand 2016 Day 14. Back to Queenstown and forward to Wanaka

After a lazy start, and under a cloudy sky, we drove back through Te Anau and Queenstown. Anna wanted to take the funicular up to the hill overlooking Queenstown, so up we went to enjoy beautiful views of the lake, which from this altitude looks like the leg, thigh, and body of a person resting on his side. A Maori legend tells about a princess who had been kidnapped by a giant. Her father offered her hand in marriage to the warrior who would rescue her, and so it came to happen that a warrior stole the princess back and married her. However, the giant was in a rage and started devastating the country, so the clever warrior waited until he was asleep and started a forest fire that burnt the giant to such an extent that all that was left of him was the impression he had made in the ground as he slept. The sky cried after the giant, and in no time the tears filled the depression to form the lake.

Up on the mountain we took a hiking loop that took us past some kids in a toboggan ride, and past a group of crazy people who were launching themselves in parapente (a modified parachute) unto the chasm at our feet. An even crazier group was bungy jumping!

Anna wanted to walk down the mountain, but I chickened out. It is really steep and I could see it was going to be very hard on the knees, so instead I rode the funicular back down. Of course I got there a lot earlier than she did, which gave me the chance to observe a continuous stream of mountain bikers, who as soon as they had gotten down got in the queue to take the gondola up the mountain to do it again and again (the gondolas have special hooks to carry the bikes). Sounds like a fun but very dangerous extreme sport to me.

Leaving Queenstown we crossed a very arid mountain range into the valley of Wanaka, at the shore of Lake Wanaka. Remember we were but 200 km from the place of the thousand waterfalls. Well, that was on the windward side of the mountains, whereas here we are on the leeside, where very little rain falls. In fact, the local newspaper was despairing about the drought they are having this year. And what about the lake? Yes, the lake is a big one and has a lot of water, but you would have to pump that water up into the fields, and apparently there is no ready infrastructure to do so. Quite a land of contrasts!

We still had a good deal of the afternoon left, so we decided to go for a walk up Mt. Iron, from which reportedly there are great views of Lake Wanaka and its surroundings. Mt. Iron is a typical roche moutonee, a glacial land form. It is formed by hard gneiss, and when it was covered by glacial ice it resisted the flow of the glacier, with the result that it developed a gentle slope on the upglacier side, and an abrupt “ice plucked” slope on the downglacier side. The view, as promised, was spectacular.

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