Having already explored quite a bit of the Queenstown area, we decided to head deeper into the central Otago part of the South Island. It’s supposedly drier, being further away from the Southern Alps, and this climate is conducive to both wine making and sheep and deer growing, as evidenced by the abundant herds of both along the drive.
Neither of us was feeling energetic enough to ride or hike, so we opted for a day of mellow sightseeing. After lunch in Alexandra (the Kiwis prefer to shorten all names, so Alexandra is Alex, the southern city of Invercargill is Invers, kindergarten is kindy…etc.), we headed to the old gold mining town of St. Bathans. Unlike, say, Bodie in the Eastern Sierra, St. Bathans still has a few residents (approximately 25) who live among the abandoned and now historically preserved buildings. One of the few still being used is the local hotel, where you can not only stay in the supposedly haunted room, but can borrow the owner’s dog , Jack, who serves as an enthusiastic (if quiet) tour guide. Jack accompanied us as we wandered past the buildings and to the lake – Blue Lake – that was a direct result of the deep mining operations. The pamphlet provided by the tourist office doesn’t explain how said lake came to be, but we assumed that something must have either been dammed or caved in. Jack wasn’t much help on this either.
From there we headed to the relative metropolis of Naseby, home to a privately owned forest that had numerous trails heralded by mountain bikers. The town of Naseby is quite tiny, with one hotel (historic, natch), the Royal, that we opted for, seeing as it was unseasonably cold and camping in our spaceship wasn’t all that appealing. Apparently it’s a haven for both mountain bikers and people riding the Central Otago Rail Trail, but given the time of year (early spring) and weather (butt-cold with snow flurries), there were only a handful of people.
The highlight of that night was by far the keeping it real Guy Fawkes fireworks display at the central park. It appeared a few guys had appointed themselves fireworks setter-offers, but obviously had no flair for either showmanship or lighting the bloody things. With no musical accompaniment on the local radio, we shivered in our van watching the occasional sparkler go off and wondering if the local fire department’s presence would be able to do anything if something – like the large trees surrounding the park – caught fire.