Tales of a wandering lesbian

Change in plans

The first time we entered the uber-cute town of Wanaka, it was like we were a victory party, returning from the sand fly wars.  Wanaka rests on the banks of one of New Zealand’s beautiful, slender lakes.  It has lovely, gluten-free cafes, the ranger station for the Mt. Aspiring National Forest, and a strange attraction called Puzzling World.

Our first goal was breakfast.  Preferring to minimize our welts, we eschewed the usual van-side breakfast to take our chances in Wanaka.  Recently gluten-free, I was exuberant to find myself standing in the Cheeky Monkey café in front of a gluten-free pastry section.

We both ordered pancakes, mine of the non-gluten variety, and plopped ourselves down on a picnic table outside.  The weather on the south island was unseasonably warm and lovely.  We decided to change into shorts and spend the day near the lake, soaking up the clear skies and recovering from the past whirlwind days of driving.

We had nothing scheduled for the next couple of days, until we needed to be in Queenstown to catch a shuttle to the trailhead for our three-day trek.  Wanaka was cute, delicious and mercifully fly-free.

With our pancakes comfortably in our stomachs, and sun on our cheeks, we decided to swing by the ranger station.  New Zealand weather is less predictable than a mid-term election, and we needed suggestions for bike riding and lake swimming.

The station was great.  We took a moment to check out the stuffed birds, and I covertly plugged in all of my electronics for charging (the van didn’t have its own power source).  Krista, who has a small obsession with weather, went to check the board and chat with the rangers.  Sometimes obsessions come in handy.

The warm spell was hanging on, but estimated to disappear in a couple of days – right about the time we’d be hitting the trail.  That meant wet, muddy hiking.  It also meant sand flies.  It didn’t take us much time to make the decision.  With the help of our new ranger friends, we had rearranged the reservations for our overnight stays in the Routeburn huts, and even booked a boat trip on the Milford Sound, with bus transportation both ways, and a picnic lunch to boot!  The rangers were a little jealous – at least that’s what they told us.

Our new confirmation numbers in hand, we took a couple of deep breaths, agreed to return to Wanaka for some R & R after the trek, and walked back to the car.  Our driving wasn’t over.  In order to hit the trail the next day, we’d have to check in at the Queenstown tour office tonight, go shopping, pack, and find a place to sleep.

Fortunately, the drive to Queenstown was a scenic one, past more of the strange glacial water,

rolling vineyards,

and into the lakeside town itself.

Queenstown is a tourist town.  It’s clean, and well appointed, and expensive.  After checking in at the tour office and the ranger station, we took some time strolling through the high-end outfitters.  Everywhere we looked there was Icebreaker wool.  I smirked, knowing I’d be at the US sample sale in a week.

Then we headed to the grocery store to stock up on the food we’d be packing in with us.  The Routeburn is a backpacking trail.  We would be packing in food, pots, clothing, and sleeping bags.  Our hut reservations granted us a place to sleep and stoves to use.  The rest we had to bring.

When I head to a new country, I wonder a bit about the food.  I like food.  A lot.  But I seem to keep eliminating things from my diet.  I don’t drink.  I don’t eat meat.  I try not to eat much sugar, and now I wasn’t eating gluten.  I really wondered what a country like New Zealand, known for its meat, would have to offer me.

It turns out, quite a lot.

The Queenstown grocery had an enormous gluten-free section.  Along with the usual pasta and rice options, there were tons of pastries, bars, and other delicious snacks.  I filled my basket, and a cheerful employee pointed out the more exciting things they had.  We left with great meals for each night, fixin’s for sandwiches, and snacks for along the trail.  Along with a couple of huge Cadbury chocolate bars.  (There’s no gluten in most Cadbury bars, it turns out.  Though there is rather a lot of sugar.  Sacrifices were made.)

Our food in tow, it was finally time to head to our campsite.  The only Conservation site was about 20 minutes away, on a lake, at the end of a farm road, through flocks of roaming sheep.

When we reached the end, we were surprised to find a number of vans and groups of tents.  This was clearly a popular site.  It was easy to see why.  It was beautiful and peaceful (except for the midnight fireworks), a lovely place to prepare for our next three days on the trail.

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