After returning from our incredible overnight trip to the Doubtful Sound, we realized that we had only two days left in Queenstown and wanted to make the most of it. There were so many things we still wanted to do and see, it was difficult to decide how best to use the time. We decided that a guided bicycle trip was worth the chance, because it allowed us to venture out to see more of the countryside and was met with much less resistance from the kids than another hike might have been.
Our day started with a trip aboard the TSS Earnslaw, a vintage steamship still in use on Lake Wakatipu. Thought to be the only coal-fired passenger vessel still operating in the southern hemisphere, this ship has been running since 1912. During our cruise across the lake we got to see just how much work goes into keeping this vessel moving – there were several men shoveling coal into the fires throughout the journey. Our 40 minute trip took us to the Western side of the Lake and the Walter Peak High Country farm. While many of those on board were going to do tours of the farm, we were ready to hop on the mountain bikes that we had picked up prior to boarding the ship.
Our guide for the day was Sebastian, who was originally from Chile and had been living in Queenstown for about four years. We were joined on the bike ride by a mother and her 12-year old son from Queensland, Australia, and a young woman from the Ukraine. Once Sebastian had checked to make sure that all of the bikes were in working order and we all had a rudimentary understanding of how to break and switch gears, we were off.
The first 15 or so kilometers of our ride took us through the beautiful countryside that encompasses the Walter Peak High Country Farm. The farm is actually called a “station” and a public road runs through the private property. We cycled along gravel roads with sheep and cattle on either side, with occasional stunning views of the lake and the mountains beyond. Cameron and Elliott (the 12-year old from Australia) had great fun racing ahead once they had figured out how to handle the bumpy path. The beauty of the guided ride was that there was really no way to get lost – we were just told to follow the road and, after a while, the guide would pass us by with the transport vehicle with a bike trailer attached. When we caught up to him, we would stop and wait for the entire group to get together. There was no rush, so we were free to stop and take pictures and enjoy the scenery along the way.
After we’d ridden for about an hour and a half we loaded the bikes onto the trailer and were driven to a muster hut (still a part of the station) where there was a picnic table available for us to sit and enjoy our picnic lunches. It’s amazing how good a turkey sandwich can taste after a morning of cycling! The kids had a great time throwing rocks into the stream that ran through the property, and we all got a chance to hang out a bit and learn more about Sebastian and how he got involved with this tour.
After lunch we loaded up again and drove for another 20 minutes or so to another series of mountain lakes called the Mavora Lakes, where we had the opportunity to ride through a lovely Beech forest. The landscape and the terrain here felt very different from that at the station where we had been cycling previously.
After another 15 kilometers or so in the beech forest, we loaded up the trailer for the ride back to the Walter Peak Farm. On the way back the adults were given the opportunity to get out and ride down a long winding downhill that overlooked some steep cliffs with a stream running below. The kids stayed in the van with Sebastian and laughed at how slow we all rode down the hill.
We had one more treat in store – on our ride back on the steamship, we were treated to the afternoon “sing-along”. A woman boarded the ship and passed out songbooks for everyone and we sat around while she played the piano and we all sang songs like Waltzing Matilda, Edelweiss, and Oh Susanna. While Mike quickly closed his eyes for a bit of shut-eye, the kids and I did our best to sing along with the crowd.