Wednesday 12 January 2022

Chinese, cheese, cheers

 With thanks to Destination Queenstown for this famil

I went to jail today. Also to church. Neither is a common destination for me, but that's the joy of travelling - and, especially, being a travel writer shown around by an enthusiastic local. We drove this morning to Arrowtown, a little old gold-mining town where I've been a number of times before, and will happily go again, anytime, because it's so pretty.

And historic, which was my first focus, thanks to David, who showed me round the entertaining Lakes District Museum and Gallery. It was startling to hear that the Otago goldfields have produced 280 tonnes of the yellow stuff - so far. What's even more impressive is that most of it is alluvial, so, much harder to find than in seams underground. They didn't just pan, sluice and dredge for it - on display is a diving suit and helmet, for finding gold at the bottom of Lake Wakatipu. Hopeful people flooded to the area from all over the world, and Queenstown especially took off. I liked the newspaper story from then that described a street scene in the town: "dainty crinolines mincing along, stalwart muscle and sinew parading, gaudy vice flaunting at the corners, swells in broadcloth puffing their cigars". It's a great little museum, well worth a leisurely browse.

Afterwards David took me on a lovely walk around town to places I hadn't found before. After strolling along famously photogenic Buckingham Street past its stone and wooden houses, already dinky but dwarfed by towering oak, elm and sycamore trees, we went into the heritage quarter. Historic buildings like the jail and church are scattered around the neat suburb here. There's a cute little yellow cottage in St Patrick's grounds, that around 1870 was used as a school ruled by Sister Mary MacKillop, who was stern but still couldn't stop the boys from kicking rubber balls at the ceiling, where the marks are still clear.

We ended up at the Chinese Settlement, which today was sunny and attractive but in winter is mostly in the shade and, beside the river, has got down in David's experience to -15C. Though the Chinese were invited here, after all the easy gold had been taken and the European miners had mostly pushed off, they weren't made welcome and lived in tiny, primitive huts on the town's outskirts, and mostly had hard, horrible lives, many of them ending in suicide.

Some prospered though, scoring £100 in gold which was equal to a lifetime's wages back home, and if they could resist gambling it away, their fortune was made - though, when they did get back to China, they were still considered outsiders.

We had a yummy lunch at Provisions with my Destination Queenstown host Micaela before driving out to Kawarau Gorge to goggle at the parade of bungy jumpers dropping off that historic suspension bridge, and to admire the efficiency of the very slick  AJ Hackett operation. 

Gibbston Valley Winery was just along the gorge, so we called in but, oenophile-failure that I am, our focus was mainly on the Cheesery they also have there. Of course, they also sell Southland's signature cheese rolls, bigger than I've ever seen.

After some downtime back by the river in Arrowtown, watching people panning and paddling, and fighting off the sandflies, it was time for a drink at Dorothy Brown's Gin Balcony, which is exactly what it sounds. Lovely view over town, river and hills, and a wide choice of flavoured gins. 

Then it was time for dinner at Bendix Stables - actual old stables with stone walls, cosy nooks and beams. Friendly staff brought us our choice of pork belly bites, sweetcorn fritters and baked Camembert, which was delicious; and then we went back to Dorothy's to go to the boutique cinema there to sit in comfy seats and watch 'The Rescue' about that amazing Thai cave rescue in 2018 - a documentary. Chilling but then heart-warming, and a great way to finish a busy, interesting and enjoyable day.

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