The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

 [April 6, 2011]
Three seats, one row entirely to myself.
Today is my birthday and I just boarded a new Air New Zealand All Blacks Rugby themed airplane from Auckland to Queenstown.  The sweet chemical smell of plastic off-gas is still identifiable in the recycled air.  Since new technology is flawless, I take comfort in knowing that this plane will most likely not fall out of the sky. The safety information is brought to us by the ever-lasting flamboyance of Richard Simmons: "step step, pump pump ... and now you're fit to fly!" Yes, he is still doing that thing that he does.  I believe they call it exercise -- no -- "sweatin' to the oldies." Except, in this version he is demonstrating how to fasten a seat belt and put on a life preserver.  Dance music, sweatbands, and electric pink outfits definitely distract from thoughts of planes crashing.

I booked a bus from Queenstown Airport to Te Anau, then tomorrow a shuttle from Te Anau to Te Anau Downs, and a boat to the start of the Milford Track.  When the bus arrived to pick me up at the airport, it turned out that the bus was actually a small van and there were just two other people on board.  As if there was only one thing to do on the South Island, my van-mates Su-Lin and Yan are also hiking the Milford Track tomorrow.  Now that I am slightly less alone, I feel slightly less terrified of my insane solo journey into the wilderness.  Slightly.

Thanks to a deal and a generous birthday present, I am staying in a villa in Te Anau like a real adult. Te Anau is one of the smallest towns in the world, comprised of a single main street flanked by hotels, motels, and backpackers for Fiordland adventurers. And me. At about 5:30, I walked to Bev's Tramping Gear Hire to pick up all the stuff for my hike that I didn't bring/don't own/would never own: a hideous bright blue fleece jacket, a fluorescent yellow raincoat, a headlamp with a dead battery, rain pants made of black trash bags, and various other essentials.

Despite my arguments for solitude, Su-Lin and Yan insisted on going out to dinner for my birthday.  Hello, I am a vegan in the middle of nowhere, let's eat! After walking up and down Main Street [or whatever it was called] and reading the menu in nearly every restaurant window, we decided on Chinese Food. The dining room was enormous but only two tables were occupied, both by parties speaking languages other than English. It is a big world in a small town. Here I am, 10,000 miles from where I was born, sitting with strangers in a restaurant at the end of the universe.

Tim made me vegan chocolate chip pancakes with rainbow 
sprinkles for my pre-birthday day!

 Flying over the Southern Alps. South Island, New Zealand

Landing in Queenstown.

[sneak preview]
4.711:  Boarding the boat to Milford Track, Te Anau Downs.

 Scenes from the boat, Lake Te Anau.

 Traveling to the middle of nowhere, getting nervous.

 See that patch of sand, yeah, that is the start of the Milford Track.