To get to Stewart Island, two days’ travel to the south, I had to go through the fleshpots of Queenstown. I hold mixed feelings about this tourist mecca. It’s easy to judge the town based on the hordes of designer-label rich kids thronging the sidewalks, infesting the bars and clubs and boasting about their latest bungee jump.
But, who am I to judge? I’ve been there myself. Each time I come to Queenstown, I realise that youth looks for happiness in different ways to middle-aged people like me. These kids want the thrill, to ride on the edge, to chase and be pursued. It’s the opposite to what sparks my fire at this stage of life.
How much confusion and drama happens when middle-aged people mistakenly believe that the source of happiness lies in their youth?
One thing I do like about Queenstown is that it has one of the best independent outdoor sports shops on this planet. After booking myself into the over-priced and over-crowded campsite and buying an over-priced under-sized take-away cafe latte, I made tracks towards Small Planet Sports.
I’ve been visiting here since 2006 after equipping my tender-footed and plump teenage stepson before his first ever foray onto a back-country trail. The experience completely changed his world. He lost weight and kept it off, took up BMX biking and surfing and made some great new friends.
Walking up to the hopelessly disordered shop front on Shotover Street, I smiled with relief when I saw the familiar unpretentious entrance. By comparison with the slick plate-glass shop fronts of the major retailers, Small Planet Sports looks like that embarrassing down-at-heel relative you don’t want to invite to the wedding.
But don’t let appearances deceive you. Step inside and you enter Aladdin’s cave. Daryl the owner and his merry band of outdoor fanatics source equipment from all over the world. Some of it comes from tiny start-up brands and some from major suppliers you rarely see in more corporate suppliers. Whatever you’re looking for you can be certain of three things: it works, it’s been tested by Daryl and his assistants and it’s well priced.
Of course, I can never go inside without buying something. On this day, I was chatting with Eddy about my expensive tramping shoes and how the insoles retained water like a sponge. Eddy sprang into action with the enthusiasm of a beagle on a hunting trip. Rummaging through the packed shelves, he emerged with a box of waterproof insoles from a supplier I’d never heard of. Needless to say, when I eased my feet back into the shoes, they sighed with pleasure. A small discount just sweetened the deal.
That’s why I keep coming back time and time again. And it’s why I’ve got no hesitation in recommending Small Planet Sports to you. In a small town where appearances can deceive, there are rare gems scattered amongst the costume jewels.