We flew southward from Auckland to Queenstown. It was a comfortable 90-minute flight. Auckland is in the upper section on the northern island. Queenstown is in the bottom area of the southern island of New Zealand.
The landing was a first-time and interesting experience. Queenstown is nestled in the middle of the island in a region referred to as the Southern Alps. As the plane approaches the airport it flew over a large lake and between a series of high mountains. It had to maneuver and zigzagging around several peaks and then align for the approach into the airport. It was clearly a short runway.
As soon as it touches ground it has to hit its brakes hard and open it flaps quickly. The jet landing was sudden, jumpy and abrupt. I was sitting on the window seat. This is the first time, in my life, where the 150 passenger planes ends the landing and makes a complete turn toward the airport building while half of the wing is hanging over the end of the runway. At the edge of the runway, it's an immediate gradual drop into the lake. Clearly there was no room for error on this airport.
This flight reminded me of a movie I saw that highlighted a WW II fast maneuvering Mosquito airplane flying at a low level through narrow fiords as it prepares for a bomb run. Even when I got off the plane I could still feel the sensation of the quick turns of the plane.
Queenstown is a small and remote modern ski and recreational mountain resort area. Their 4-month winter ski season will begin in June. The majority of persons flying in for the wide variety of winter sports are the Australians.
I realize that people in these parts like extreme sporting. Our guides keep pointing out areas where persons go for 5-day mountain biking hikes and week-long hikes. Apparently, people throughout the world reserve their permits to participate months and, in some cases, years in advance. I keep reminding myself that New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere and thus accommodates and allows for both winter and summer sporting for those coming in from the Northern Hemisphere who are living in the exact opposite seasons.
We got back on our tour bus to the nearby small one block town of Arrowtown. The quaint site was hosting a Harley Davidson biker's event. There were hundreds of bikers all lined up in the only street. It was quite a treat seeing all those highly decorated bikes. I walked up and approached a rather tall and seemingly local rough-looking biker. I greeted him by saying hello in Spanish. He asked me where I was from and told him we were from Los Angeles. He shared that he had been recently in Rosarito Beach (Baja, Mexico) and the central Mexico Cuernavaca region. He talked about how some of his construction buddies and him travel there on their vacation time to help build homes for homeless and repair building in the orphanages. After our impromptu meeting I was reminded that I must NEVER judge a book by its cover.
After an hour visit we boarded our bus and drove over into Queenstown. It was a fifteen minute drive. Our five-story hotel was on the scenic lakeshore. The area did, in fact, remind me of the high Alps that separates Italy and France. The European Alps are higher than here but the setting of the mountains, the lake and the scenic town were remarkably similar. The air was mainly cool and crisp.
We spent time walking along the lake shore and walked across the street into town to eat dinner. We again went to our room to rest early. We had a long 12-hour road trip to take the following day. It would be a bus trip to go and visit the famous Milford Sound on the western side of the island.
It will take many hours to traverse the countryside, reach the main road to cross the high mountain range and reach the coastline. I did think it was odd that they didn't have a more direct route to the Sound but then I remembered that I encountered the same issue in France.
Years ago, we were going to a mountain chalet in northern Italy. We landed in Paris and had a rental car. Because of the high Alps, I had to drive diagonally through France to reach the coastal city of Cannes, then travel east into Italy and finally drove both to the base of the southern side of the Alps. We have a similar situation for those driving across the Rocky Mountains. In order for me to go to Colorado, I had to first go up to Utah and then I could turn and travel eastward.
I'll be thrilled when we finally have flying cars and we can travel in a straight line but in the meantime, we will be in a bus for many hours in order to visit this famous site.