WANAKA, NEW ZEALAND — Skies were clear Tuesday morning, and it was so much nicer gazing up at the beautiful snow-covered mountains than actually being in them, no doubt with wet boots and impending pneumonia.
We had planned to do the Rob Roy Track northwest of Glendhu Bay but had been warned our Corolla might not be able to ford the streams on the road after the recent rain. So we drove part of the route instead, passing a deer farm that was oddly fascinating. We’d never seen hundreds of deer jostling like a herd of cows, even making moo-like grunts and staring at us. We weren’t sure how we felt about penning wild creatures, though we had been eating venison salami in our sandwiches.
We hiked the Diamond Lake Track instead, climbing to a panoramic view of Lake Wanaka. It turns out that for a night, we had been neighbors of PayPal founder and Trump donor Peter Thiel, who bought an estate on Glendhu Bay in 2015. Many Kiwis were surprised to find out last month that he quietly became a citizen of New Zealand and therefore did not need approval for the purchase.
We were also sharing Wanaka with Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon, who, according to the newspapers, had just arrived to film “A Wrinkle in Time,” one of Beth’s favorite children’s books.
After a lakeside picnic, we headed for Queenstown, stopping in Arrowtown to retrieve the camera Torsten had forgotten at the Bonjour Cafe and to have a cappuccino and hot chocolate. Beth also got a cup of passionfruit ice cream, which Torsten eschewed because Kiwis don’t take out the little black seeds.
And we stopped at the Karawau Gorge Suspension Bridge, site of the world’s first commercial bungy jump. No one could jump in the stiff winds, but that didn’t stop a tour bus full of Chinese tourists from swarming over it. The Karawau River also served as the River Anduin in “Lord of the Rings.”
Our hotel for Valentine’s Day, the Scenic Suites, turned out to be one of those snooty places where they give you the worst room and charge $4.50 for a half-can of Pringles out of the minibar. We had a back-facing balcony without even a plastic chair, so we dragged a couple of upholstered chairs out there to eat our takeaway meal from Pedro’s House of Lamb.
Pedro’s only sells one thing, a whole shoulder of lamb baked with rosemary and garlic and served with scalloped potatoes. It sounded like a sure thing and is top-rated on TripAdvisor, so we whisked our giant box back to the hotel and had ourselves a feast.
Our entertainment for the day was a walk along the lakeside Frankton Track, which would have reminded us of the Lake Geneva Lakeshore Path if the houses had been mansions (and we wondered why they weren’t; the view certainly is priceless). The secluded path hugs the lake and is used both by local bike commuters and tourists.
That evening, it seemed to be stalked by Japanese and Chinese camera hounds, one of them wearing snow pants and a parka and carrying a camera with a lens so large it looked like a rocket launcher.
Queenstown also was the first place where we came across American tourists in large numbers. We’d been wondering where they were. The United States has four times as many people as Germany, but Germans seem to make up 80 percent of New Zealand tourists — maybe 90 percent on hiking trails. Brits and Australians make up another 10 percent, with the rest mostly French.
But everyone comes to Queenstown. We were looking forward to getting out of it.