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Christmas in Queenstown

In between all the unpacking and organising, we managed to get out for a few bike rides. On one occasion, we headed west out through a town called Wakefield, and then down a smaller road toward St. Arnaud. We'd been planning to take in a loop that would have us climb over Reay saddle, then turning back toward the main road and over Spooners Saddle. We got a late start, and had just stopped at a side road to have a look at the map. The side road would take us back to Wakefield, and looked pretty interesting. We were just discussing what to do, when we noticed a car stopped nearby, and this fellow approached us. We started chatting. He asked about the tandem and I asked if he was from Massachusetts? He was wearing a Blue Ribbon Barbecue T-shirt (from an eatery in Newton Massachusetts). He was thrown that my accent detector was that good, but I then pointed out the shirt. Of course to be honest Jim has a pretty distinct accent, and it would be pretty easy to guess.

Anyway, he and his wife Shelley had stopped to take an amusing picture of a forest sign in front of a completely clear cut area, and happened to notice us with our tandem. They are also tandem riders. He, indeed was from Massachusetts and she was from Colorado. They'd just been married and had moved to New Zealand for two years. They were travelling around WOOFing. WOOF is Work on Organic Farms, and is a very inexpensive way of seeing the country. In trade for food and lodging, you work on an organic farm. We'd met another American couple doing this earlier. They had really lucked out with their experience and stayed in some pretty cool places, where they got to play quite a bit as work a little. Jim and Shelley had made some great friends in their WOOFing travels and were currently working at Tophouse near St. Arnaud.

But back to the Massachusetts connection. As we all talked more, we discovered a few degrees of separation in that a former co-worker of John's worked for the company Jim had just left - and to make it freakier, this co-worker lived two houses away from us in Chelmsford. We decided it was pretty cool to randomly meet like this, and exchanged phone numbers and planned to get together later.

We met for dinner a few days later, and all became fast friends. Jim even helped John work on the roof one day while Shelley and I did some shopping. They later became our first official houseguests for a night. Jim was a bit more serious about finding real work (John and I are still taking things easy), and Jim had interviews in Christchurch as well as some further WOOF commitments on the west coast. But they also had booked a timeshare in Queenstown for Christmas and invited us to join them for the week.

We'd missed out doing much in Queenstown on our first visit due to bad weather, and we thought it would be cool to spend the holidays with our new friends so we made tentative plans to join them. We investigated various methods of getting there, car rental, flights, etc., and in the end we actually bought a little van. We'd hoped to be car free here, but we picked a home without rail service, and travelling with a tandem can be awkward at times. Used cars tend to be pretty good deals here, so we looked around a bit, and found a reasonable deal on a Toyota Lite Ace van.

What I failed to realise was how far we now were from Queenstown. We'd been there before, and I just didn't really think about it, or check the distances until shortly before we were to go. By most estimates, it is a 12 hour drive! I've mentioned before the lack of motorways here. Most roads are two lane and often are quite twisty. But the speed limit is 100 kph, equivalent to speeds on divided multilane interstate highways at home. And folks do try to drive the speed limit on these little winding roads - whether it is appropriate or not. And they wonder about the death toll on the roads. OK, here it is, my first big criticism of my new adopted country. People drive like idiots. So when I heard 12 hours, I knew it would likely be much longer for us, since I tend to be a bit more cautious on those mountain roads. After all I'm used to much lower speed limits for similar conditions at home.

So we planned to take two days to get down. We got a pretty late start, as usual and did about 1/3 the first day. We enjoyed the trip down, stopping and taking in the sights along the way. We travelled down the west coast past the glaciers and over the Haast Pass. Let me suggest that you have serious insect repellent on if you dare to stop for a photo anywhere along the Haast Pass!

We brought both the touring tandem and our new single mountain bikes with us. Jim Shelley have single road bikes, and we figured we could ride with them on the road with the tandem, and share our mountain bikes if they wanted to go offroad, and we could also explore some offroad on our own on the mountain bikes. Our first full day together, we drove out to Glenorchy with the tandem and mountain bikes and planned to take in a gravel road ride. Shelley started out on my mountainbike, but traded for the chance to stoke with John after a while. We had a grand time exploring the area.

The whole time we were driving out to Glenorchy, John and I were thinking what a great ride it would have been, so the next day, Christmas Eve, we headed back out on the tandem. Jim and Shelley had planned some other errands, so we planned to meet back for dinner. Unfortunately their car died a serious death, and they got to spend a bit more time over the next few days car shopping!

Of course this was interrupted by the holiday. The weather had turned chilly and predictions were for rain later, so we planned a hike for Christmas morning. We got through most of the walk before the rain came, but it was misting pretty heavily when we got back to town. We were quite surprised to find many shops open, as well as many restaurants. We ended up having a late lunch in a great Chinese restaurant. By the time we came out proper rain had set in. So we headed back to the condo to prepare Christmas dinner and exchange gifts.

The next morning was clear and cold, and that rain down in town was snow up on the hilltops, and we were having a white Christmas despite it the fact that it is summer! Since it was now Christmas back home, we all made various phone calls to our families a day behind. Then I wanted to head off to the local version of K-Mart and try to get some Christmas lights and a tree on sale. I had no luck with lights, but did get a nice little tree that we can set up next year.

Then while Jim and Shelley did some car shopping, John and I got out for a spin out to Arrowtown. They'd only paid a few hundred for their car that died, but now were looking at trying to find something a bit longer lasting. They were actually pretty lucky and found a great little Subaru at a good price.

Then for our final day, we cleaned out the condo. Jim and Shelley had a bit of paperwork to do with disposing of the dead car and getting the new one, so John and I planned a ride out toward Skippers Canyon. It was still relatively chilly, but the sun was pretty intense, and made the climb brutal. We didn't go quite as far as we would have liked, but will certainly explore it more on our next trip.

It really was great to get away from all the unpacking and hassle with the house, and truly relax with good friends for a while. While we were visiting, Jim decided to take a job in Christchurch. They had looked at a rental house and arranged to take it to, so now we have friends to visit in Christchurch (and they have friends to visit in Nelson.)


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