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FINAL DAY - Queenstown

Lake Wakatipu or “bay of spirits" is glacier fed ancient glaciers that surround and encircle the lake and environs. And our hotel Ramada Central is located on the shores of this enormous lake.

The Dart and Rees Rivers coming from the snowmelt on the rugged Southern Alps flow into the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. This lake has so much energy that it has it's own as a tidal flow and occupies a single, glacier-carved trench bordered on all sides by steep mountains, the tallest is Mount Earnslaw over 9,000 feet. Communities that surround the lake are Queenstown and the towns of Kingston, Glenorchy and Kinloch. Maori claims that the tides are the heartbeat of a huge monster named Matau, who is said to be slumbering at the bottom of the lake.

There is so much to do here that most of us will stay behind after today, but we're all boarding the morning cruise on the lake that feels like a Great Lake and takes us through the the upper - northwestern portions of the lake towards Walter Peak High Country Farm where we will disembark the boat for a walking visit on the farm to feed the sheep, watch the sheep dogs in action, try spinning wool and finish with tea and scones. Damn good morning for all of us, although Pam, Traci, and Dawn were hoping for Sparkling wine with the scones, they finally settled down to enjoy a cup of English tea.

Our afternoon started with lunch in Queenstown. We docked close to plenty of local cafe choices and had a quick lunch. We headed out of town towards wine country after lunch; our visit with Rippon Winery was wonderful, it's located right on Lake Wanaka, the region within Central Otago that takes it's name from the lake. Ken and Terry wanted to buy property here, they kept asking questions about the region, the people, the economy and the opportunity! I hope it happens because I really want to come back too! Fernando and Denise were also talking about buying property here but they talked about it everywhere we went! The wines at Rippon were stellar, and the people were so awesome to us, they opened everything: Pinot Noir - all 5 of them, from different blocks and vineyards, the Sauvignon Blanc was delicious here, and different from Marlborough (don't even bring up Marlborough while you're here...Jan!!!) Poor Jan, a simple reference to it and we heard a long explanation about how Otago and Wanaka is better! The other white wines were delicious too, and the lake effect was evident here, nice diurnal swings but no frost.

We left our gracious guests and boarded the bus back to Queenstown and towards our Hot Pools Adventure! It was about an hour from hot pooling so of course it was enough time for Jonelle's bubbly! She'd be saving it since the North Island and had squirreled it away for too long... according to Annette and Barb, it turned out that they were the BIGGEST bubbles fans of the group!

We arrived at Onsen Pools, and not soon enough, the sun was so low in the sky that Richard's shadow was as long as the trees were high, and he was the first to bare his bathing suit for the pool visit. After luxurious soaking, giggling (the bubbles on the bus), and gawking at the magnificent sunset, we rinsed off, dressed and headed back to our hotel, a short 10 minutes away.

The farewell dinner was delicious barbecue, New Zealand style! We gorged and cried, drank and teared up, laughed and cried, and everyone told a fun and emotional story of their favorite time or place during our tour. Denise Bender had everyone laughing so hard and loud I thought that they'd kick us out. Colleen's story was so beautifully moving that everyone teared up immediately, we had to pass a clean napkin to Carol. But one of the best stories came from Al, it was so funny and straight-man dry humored and hysterically funny - mostly due to his deadpan manner. We awarded him the prize for best humor, Bender got second place for humor, Colleen got the award for most moving, Carol for most tears! Traci was awarded for being the bossiest, and Reggie for putting a stellar tour together with a wonderful group of loving and happy people. We learned, we loved and we left with full hearts. Thank you North Island, thank you South Island, thank you dark sky and lakes, thank you coastline and rivers, thank you wineries and cafés, thank you Maori people, and Kiwi communities, and most of all thank you planet earth for creating a beloved country to enjoy.

Kia mihi New Zealand, you will stay in our hearts and memories forever.

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