Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Queenstown

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Surprise! I've abandoned Sydney for a week of frivolity in Queenstown, New Zealand. It's my first visit to NZ since 1995, the first time south of Christchurch, and most noticeably the first time my costs weren't being borne by an employer.

The boys off are at a boarding kennel. A house-sitter would have been ideal, but I don't know anyone wise in the ways of the Malamute who would also be strong enough to manage Munson on a leash. In the meantime I just have to swallow the kennel costs which sit uncomfortably near my return airfare for the week.

I'm here because Charles and Bryan, two special friends of mine from my days living in Seattle are visiting with 5 members of Charles' family, a south sea birthday processional for his mom June. This is the first chance to reconnect with them in over 4 years.

Queenstown is a 3 hour direct flight from Sydney, and with the 2 hour time difference, it's almost as if it were no time at all. My first impressions of the town are that it is an unlovely collection of buildings undeserving of the magnificent location. How unlovely? As an "adventure capital" the central township has ramshackle (my first sheep joke?) wooden structures jostling aging tourist apartments with a growing set of more luxurious hotels. It's Manly Corso meets Coober Pedy (Google street view). How magnificent? Well great chunks of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy were shot within dwarf-throw of here.

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I made contact with my friends and established that they'd be arriving from the North Island later the next day so I needed to fill in time by myself.

Desperate for coffee, the only cafe I can find is a large Starbucks with a shabby-chic international crowd of all ages queued ahead of me. While waiting anxiously for my flat white, a Japanese-American man is hyperventilating over whether his caramel strawberry frapuccino came in a vente or hyper-vente cup. Behind him, a small woman is reaching up to get a take-away cup of coffee that (I swear) was taller than her head. I'm somewhat relieved that my order is recognisably what I asked for.

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My body is a little confused by the time difference and the 12° of latitude change (to a pinch over 45° S)  that stretched out the daylight hours. If this were the northern hemisphere it wouldn't be  remarkable latitude (think roughly Portland Oregon, or Venice, Italy) but with so little landmass in these climes, we're now in one of the few strips of land between Australia and Antarctica. I lost track of time as my watch wasn't sure which timezone it had moved to, and my phone had not synced time with Vodafone NZ. Whoever had plugged in the digital clock in my chalet room had failed in the attempt to set a time, and so the dial was left to flash helplessly.

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I had two bottles of ginger beer with my Fergburger dinner - one offered free by the staff after they lost my squid I took onto the streets for my stroll up the hill to the chalet. A police car pulled over to the kerb and an officer asked me to show him the contents of the brown bottle I was chugging. I rotated the label towards him, he grinned and said "that's gold mate". I understand that to be local parlance for "you are permitted to drink that beverage on the public footpaths."

Back in my room, coming down from a ginger beer sugar spike, I watched Martin Clunes in "A Man and His Dogs" as he travelled the world to find out why he liked his dogs., then settled into an hour or so of sleepy channel surfing, most notably War of the Worlds starring Judi Dench as misanthropic Mrs Brown and Hugh Laurie as a misanthropic doctor dealing with misanthropic aliens zapping Tom Cruise's neighbourhood.  Good night.

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