A Gorges Journey — Get It :)

A night with the penguins leads to a day on the railroad!  Ned dropped us off early at the lovely Dunedin rail station–the city’s most photographed site–and rushed up the street to drop off our rented minivan.  Located right next to the Cadbury plant, fronted by ornate, sculpted gardens, the train station looks like a giant gingerbread creation.

Back in the day, when Dunedin was a bustling commercial hub, the train station was an engine of commerce.  Today, its entire purpose is tourism: sending off trains that basically go “nowhere” except to sight-see.  Inside the station, millions of small tiles create mosaics that speak to the past, when a train or even electricity was something remarkable and worthy of commemoration in artful design.

 
Imagine the craftsmen setting each of these tiny tiles in anticipation of the station opening in 1906, so proud of all that it meant to this city and to the future.

There could have been no more fitting place to “honour” those lost in WWI than the one place in Dunedin through which every-single-citizen and visitor would pass.

Seriously, it’s glorious.

Check out these William Morris-inspired tiles:
And this frosting-perfect tin ceiling:
The second story is home to wonderful views of the floors below and the cute Davis family waiting for their train … 

plus beautiful stained glass windows celebrating the steam engine!

Of course, it’s now 2017, so we take this palace of the past and throw a bizzaro NZ mini-sports hall of fame in it because … well, let’s be real, there’s no justification.  Anyway, did you know?

 
In case you wanted to know even more: Wayne “Buck” Shelford may never have lost a test but he did lose a testicle in a match in 1986.  Seriously.  That happened.

Well, back to the train …

We had booked passage on the fabled Taieri Gorge Railway.  The railway was hand-cut and dynamited into and through the mountainside and threaded over intricate bridges in order to connect the agriculturally rich region to the world.

The little office of the railway looks like something out of Harry Potter 🙂

And the train itself is similarly charming, with windows that open to let in the lush, fresh air and cute vents in the ornate tin ceiling to circulate it.

We settled in to our seats for the journey, some more bolstered by railway station flat whites …

 
than others …

We had booked the train passage that connected to a coach (bus) at the end of the line, making our scenic journey also a real one: from Dunedin to Queenstown.  There seemed to be no better way to explore the dramatic and dramatically changing scenery of the region … and we were right.
In the sky alone, you can see why Kiwis say that NZ has all the weather in any one day.  Bright blue skies peaking through heavy grey clouds–edging them out as the train moved along.  And, in one photo, NZ’s contrasts on view: huge fields of lush flat farmland giving way to rolling hills that, in turn, lead to pointy volcanic mountains.

As we climbed up the mountains, fields disappeared and pine forests and NZ brush took their place beneath a shifting sky.

And, higher still, striated rock showed the earth’s movement …

as did the buckles and folds of the hills…

Throughout the trip, we were invited to see the passing countryside from the train’s tiny connecting platforms.  The sunny skies in the photos mask a windy, chilly day.

But, we still braved it (well, three of us did, what the fourth is thinking is a mystery).

Ah, papparazzi!

Along the entire journey, the only home we saw was historic: it was built to house the station master when the railroad was new.  Today, workers can reserve it for their families–it has no power, no plumbing, and is in the middle of nowhere.  The tour’s guide described it as the perfect getaway …

This passenger gave it a “nope.”

The Taieri Gorge is home to (wait for it) the Taieri River–NZ’s fourth longest.  Near the end of our journey, it became our constant companion, rolling alongside us, reflecting completely clouded and, later, bright blue skies.

Over-gorged.

Our train trip ended in Pukerangi, which seems to have no purpose other than to provide a stop and turnaround point for the Taieri Gorge train.  We had signed up for the rail-coach option, so we expected to board a bus to Queenstown.  Nope.  A small passenger van awaited us and two Chinese women.  Um, okay.  We piled in and readied ourselves for the four hour trip.  Ned had to take the seat next to the driver and did not think to grab his headphones, and the driver wasn’t talking.  So, he wound up riding the first couple hours in silence.  Perhaps replicating the experience of those who passed through this region …

because it is pretty desolate.  Rocks, brush, and huge, heavy skies.

The kids and I were in the way back, lulled into sleep by our musics of choice and the bumpy ride in the warm van.  We woke up as the driver pulled into Clyde, a tiny town of less than 1,000; its main purpose seems to be to feed traveling tourists, bicyclists, and hikers in a cluster of hip cafes.  Worked for us.

Break over, we hopped back in the van, now passing through more verdant climes: lakes, farms, and giant fruit.

Then, back to sleep.  When I woke up, I tried to get my iPhone to reveal our location, which seemed like a real city, but–as it was throughout much of our trip–service was not responsive.  I was shocked when the van stopped: we were in Queenstown!  Problem: we were in Queenstown about two hours before I had told our AirBnB host we’d arrive.  So, with five bags and four backpacks, we huddled in the doorway of our apartment frantically trying to contact Anna, our host.  A kind cleaning woman offered to let us store our bags in a closet in the building, and we stepped into the Indian restaurant next door for a late lunch.  Anna arrived just as the food did (Indian fried chicken!!), and she was NZ nice and friendly.  We got some good recommendations, including the fact that Lake Wakatipu was just on the other side of our building.  Wow!

It took about 15 minutes for Harper and Penn to change into suits and set off for a swim, stopping only long enough to get their photos taken with Queenstown’s resident Moa.

 
It’s difficult to explain how central this lake is.  Literally a half a block away is the Louis Vuitton store; three blocks away is the UGG store; no blocks away are about three dozen restaurants.  Oh, and on the other side is a dormant volcanic mountain.  All topped by whipped cream fluffy clouds and a blue-blue-blue sky.  The lake park was filled with people–lazing, sleeping, tanning, tightrope walking (yes), eating, drinking–just steps from the center of the city.  We’d never seen anything like it.  (Wha… says Ned.)
The kids chickened out on swimming–while beautiful, the lake was freezing!–and opted to paddle board.  Soon, they disappeared from view, but we worried not because NZ.

Ned worries not.

And we left them to the mysteries of Lake Wakatipu went to explore the park.

 

Ned remembers that we have children, and we find them paddling back to shore.

Now, safely on shore, they wrapped up in their quite-timely Christmas beach towels so we could walk the two blocks back to our apartment.

Look, it’s William Gilbert Rees, founder of Queenstown, and one of his sheep, in a place of honor right next to the ice cream store.

 

We researched GF restaurants and found a well-reviewed Mexican place nearby.  On our stroll, we also found this Irish one.  Translated, its name means “kiss my arse”; the phrase inspired the name of the Pogues; and according to TripAdvisor, it has “amazing nachos.” You puzzle it out.  We kept walking to Sombrero’s.

My family kindly wore their sunglasses to mock me: my eyes were so red and raw that I just kept mine to hide from the light.

Harper’s were newly purchased–the lake ate her last ones.

Penn demurred.

After a pretty decent dinner, we did a bit of tourist-shopping.  I found a super-cute jade necklace featuring a tiny kiwi, and the kids found some frozen sheep.

We decided to take them home in our dreams and count them because we were exhausted after a long day of travel across the gorge-ous South island.  Baa-baa, zzz-zzz.

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