Logistically, I would call driving all the 180 kilometres of winding, hilly road back to Dunedin from the Catlins at 8 in the morning to return a car hire and then taking a bus 250 kilometres to get to a place that was only 150 kilometres away when you woke up, a bit of a cock up. When I hired the car I didn’t really have a game plan, which is a bit crap since if I had, I could have gone to watch Scotland v Georgia today for 20 quid in Invercargill as Alex is doing (Distance, 50 kilometres from the Catlins). But you live and learn and actually the drive, with the surf and cliffs bathed in stunningly beautiful early morning sunlight –the calm after the storm- is a fantastic solo experience in itself, particularly with only a handful of cars on the road.
Back in a very grey Dunedin, car hire returned, emails caught up with, Sunday night’s accommodation reserved and bus ticket booked, I join Essex James for the 4 hour coach journey up through more gorgeous countryside to Queenstown, the adventure capital and purportedly the most beautiful urban setting in the southern hemisphere. We roll in at around sunset and yes, it is a stunning location by any standards, reminiscent of Arctic Norway or a top ski resort in the Alps.
I book into Nomads Hostel, just 100 metres from the coach stop and am instantly taken back by the fact that, once inside, I feel like I am on board one of those huge cruise ships that travel between Sweden and Finland, full of alcoholic Scandinavians. The dorms are like ship’s cabins with key card doors and balconies, and there is a cinema, bar, sauna, 40-computer internet area and cruise liner type corridors to get completely lost in. Then somebody announces on the intercom: ‘Hey guys, drinks half price from 7’.
I shower up in the cruise ship communal bathrooms and then meet James and a group of young English rugby lads in ‘Base’, another hostel nearby that is complimented by a bar/club that is bigger than almost any you would find in a decent sized European city. If you are staying here and you have a key card, then drinks are 2-for-1. James has a key card and will serve as our entry into the world of New Zealand’s cheapest alcohol. Thus far on the trip I have been paying around 8 New Zealand dollars for a pint (around 4 pounds), but here it is 2 pints for 7 dollars.
We watch the gutsy Georgian pack give the Scots a bit of a scare and from then on in it is copious amounts of cheap but slightly dubious quality alcohol. I must confess though that being surrounded by hundreds of blokes, half a dozen rugby girls and listening to some awful R’n’B does lose its appeal after a couple of hours, regardless of how much cheap alcohol is on offer. At least the gargantuan Romanian rugby team livened things up with cameo in the club in the wee hours.Those blokes are absolutely enormous.