Queenstown is a 6 hour drive from Christchurch. Down the coast, turn right, go inland, drive through the mountains, and stop once you hit Lake Wakatipu. Unfortunately for us, we did the drive after the school day (Stephen is in the middle of his second practicum) and it gets dark here around 6:30pm. So after one hour of driving in traffic to get out of Christchurch, 2 hours being pushed along the highway by a freight truck (hey, it's an old car), and 3 hours of driving down windier and windier roads in the dark we arrived to a locked, dark hotel (I was so pleased). But some hotel dwellers came along with their key and let us in, and after milling around in the lobby for 5 minutes the night watchman showed up and gave us our room keys. Phew. We dropped into bed, anxious for the awesome day of skiing we would have tomorrow.
The next morning Stephen was out of bed and pacing around the room at 6:30am (our alarm was set for 7:30am). We called the heli folks at 7:45am and were told to have breakfast and check in at 9am. Unfazed, we got into our long johns and touques and went out on the town to find some brekkers. For a town based on tourism there are some pretty nice little cafes, steep prices of course, but pretty good food. At 9am we hurried over to the heli-ski office to learn more. Two jovial guys were there, outfitted with fancy jackets and big smiles - that's a good thing, right?! They proceeded to show us the weather on the computer and show us the big weather system that had moved in overnight, bringing with it rain and 100km/hr winds. We were not going heli-skiing that day, but were instead refered to the one of the local ski fields that might escape the brunt of the wind.
We were surprisingly upbeat for the change in plans and spent the next hour wandering around town exploring the local artists market, sampling the delicious hot chocolate, and watching the ducks. Eventually we decided we still wanted to go skiing and headed up to Coronet Peak. The biggest ski field I had been to yet, with three chair lifts, a t-bar and three carpets (still haven't been on one yet). There was certainly some wind and lots of ice, but the day was warm and we were there for the last day of the New Zealand Winter Games. By 4pm when our lift tickets expired our legs were burning and we were quite ready to take a soak in the jacuzzi back at the hotel. That night we enjoyed some fresh seafood at a little restaurant and tucked into an absolutely delicious caramel, chocolate and puff pastry tower.
The next day, after one more walk around town, we climbed into the car and headed off towards home. Back through the mountains (with a stop at the lake where Stephen had his rowing competition), back towards the coast (took some pictures at Lake Tekapo), up towards Christchurch and almost home. That's when the transmission came undone. Literally. The gear stick came unattached from the transmission and we were stuck in third gear. It was getting dark and we were missing a bolt to hold the stick in place. So after a few minutes trying to fix it, we decided to just @%&#% it and drive it home in third gear. 18km later after much revving of the engine we pulled up to our driveway and gratefully tumbled out of the car and into the warm light of home. We'll try again next year.