(Hannah) Ah, Queenstown… what a beautiful place! We had a 14hr trip from Bali to Queenstown, including an overnight flight and 2 stopovers. In all, we got 3hrs sleep, but this didn’t stop us from gazing in complete awe as we flew over the mountains and into the airport. A quick bus ride got us to town centre, we checked out our fantastic hostel (Adventure Q2, would absolutely recommend to anyone; great hostel and seriously the comfiest bed I’ve ever slept in in my life), and grabbed a quick meal by the lake (delicious soup and seafood chowder, oh! comfort food how we’ve missed you) before indulging in an 11hr sleep.
(Blake) Still doing our best to get used to the chilly weather we started the office day with a warm cup of tea and a good half an hour of booking our trips for the next few days. New Zealand is expensive, so today we decided we would spend as little money as possible. The best way to do that? Create our own adventure! The highest peak in the Queenstown area is the Ben Lomond summit, a mere 1700+ metres high. So this was our challenge for the day. We set off at about 10:30am, the estimated walk (all the way from the bottom, not by cheating and taking the gondolas!) is between 6-8 hours, so we’d have to be quick to get back before sunset at 17:33pm.
So, with our peanut butter sandwiches, pineapple, and warm clothes we set off. The first hour of hiking is along the Tiki Trail to the Skyline viewpoint. The climb takes you steeply through the non-native pine trees, reminiscent of North American landscapes. Along the way was the occasional zip-line through the trees and the “woo-hoo!” of adventurers flying by. Our favourite instalment along this trail was the thrones carved from trees, creating stunning viewpoints (and rest points) along the trail.
After a strong hour of hiking, we reached the Skyline which is a very popular tourist attraction. The viewpoint is stunning, the cafe sublime, and the luge a great deal of fun. A few dollars were spent here as we needed (needed is definitely the right word here) a pie and hot chocolate, and ride down the luge which almost resulted in my death, which Hannah had a good laugh at as I almost fell off the side of the course.
After our rest stop, we continued our adventure up the mountain. A gentle slope uphill took us through more woodland and the ominous ‘watch for bikes’ signs had us a little confused – who cycles up a mountain? Well, apparently Queenstown is one of the best mountain biking spots in the world. The easiest course here is apparently ‘expert’, and we could see why. Bikes were flying past on the dirt tracks and one guy who stopped for a breather told us it was the last few days of the season, which is why it was so busy. He rubbed his already sore Hematoma, he’d only crashed twice that day but of course had to get some rides in before the track closes, and hurtled off down the track. These Kiwis are made of strong stuff.
Anyway, as we rounded the corner out of the forest the summit presented itself dusted in snow – still a fair distance. We marched on for another 2 hours, feeling like we were making very little ground. So, we sat down for a peanut butter sandwich. Several hikers walked back past us, and we had a chat with a fair few of them. On their advice we would carry on to the Ben Lomond Saddle, a great viewpoint about 20 minutes walk from our rest stop, otherwise we would be chasing the early sunset back down the hill.
Day two – Another day of adventure.
Part 1 – The Bungee Jump
Ever since I knew we were coming to the home of the bungee jump, I knew I had to do it. There is something crazily inviting about being able to fly, even if it’s just for a moment. There are 5 bungee jumps in Queenstown. Two of them are world famous. The Kawarau Bridge jump, a 43m jump into (yes, into) the Shotover River. This one is so famous as it is the original bungee jump location where AJ Hackett tied an elastic chord to his ankles and took the plunge. The second famous bungee jump is know for its height, at 134m.
I went for the Kawarau Bridge jump for three reasons: I wanted to enjoy it and I think that would be possible at this height, I enjoyed the history behind it, and touching the water at the bottom of the jump sounds awesome.
I have to say, Hannah was more nervous than me, but the nerves of everyone on the coach up there were palpable. A quick brief, and they lead you out onto the bridge. The cold, the view, and the company were a great distraction… this was a beautiful location.
Another part of the day that made me super happy (surprisingly) was the point they weigh you for the jump. I have lost 5kg in the last 3 months. The only downside to this was, I was 1kg to light to do a water touch. They said that if I go straight down, I might just touch the river, “so dive!” The two NZ gents tied the chord around my ankles and harnessed me up. 3…2…1…
If you have never done a bungee jump, do it. The sensation of knowing you have jumped and there is no turning back is unreal. The adrenaline spikes, your heart goes crazy. Every half second feels like an age. As the water rushed towards me, I tried my best to reach the water, but I was just a metre short. No problem, as I bounced back up and down a few times and then hung there upside down; watching the river as the water trickled by a bizarre sense of calm washed over me. The guy that jumped before me described it as “something spiritual”. Needless to say I was buzzing for some time after. I hope you enjoy the pictures!
Day two part 2 – White Water Rafting
In the afternoon Hannah was super excited to take me white water rafting. I had never been before and Hannah has such great memories of doing it in Utah with her family, so this was an opportunity we couldn’t miss. A quick drive to the hut at the bottom of the river and we had to suit up – it was a cold day. Wet suit, wet suit jacket, socks, boots, jacket, life jacket and helmet and we’re good to go (those wet suits are hard work to get on!) The ride to the top of the river is an adventure in itself. The route is most commonly traversed by 4×4 and is a popular tourist excursion through the creek as it was a popular gold mining site in the late 1800s. We were not in a 4×4. We were in a rickety old bus holding on for dear life.
When we reached the start point for rafting and shakily got off the bus, we picked up our paddle and were given the safety briefing. Off we go! A gentle paddle downstream and go-over of all the instructions soon followed. “Forward paddle! Backward paddle! Get down!” It seemed like the ride ahead could be rougher than the drive here.
We got the basics down early on so had a chance to chat about the terrain and get to know each other a bit. The guide at the back of the boat had been an instructor for 10 years and chased summers all over the world including Peru, Chile and the USA. This was his first winter in NZ for a long time but we were happy to have someone so experienced to guide us.
We were given briefings before each rapid by the guide, what manouvers we would have to do, how long it is and what level of difficulty. Also, he told us the imaginative names given to each section by the locals, including: toilet, cascade, and oh shit! Poignantly named if I do say so myself…
The other great feature of this river section was the miners tunnel. The idea of this tunnel, which took 6 years to dig through the mountain, was to divert the water away from the river in order to collect more gold. The miners, however, got their angles wrong, so the river simply splits in two, creating a brilliant cut through for us and one of only two commercially rafted tunnels in the world.
It was a great two hours. We were soaked to the skin, freezing cold, and aching by the end of it but we didn’t mind a jot. The thrill of going through those rapids was fantastic. Another great adventure! Unfortunately we couldn’t take cameras with us so no photos to show, but this is generally what the river and gorge looked like, with a few more rapids…
Day three – Milford Sound
(Hannah) For our last day in Queenstown, we absolutely had to make a visit to the famous Milford Sound. Up before 6, we had a four hour drive to Milford, the time helpfully filled by our driver’s commentary and the occasional photo-stop to take in some incredible scenery.
After half hour we were treated to complimentary fish and chips (complimentary having paid for the expensive tour, that is), which tasted even more delicious with such fantastic views and fresh air going by.
We visited the fairy falls, which danced lightly down the cliff and formed a rainbow right in front of the ship’s bow:
And as we reached the Sound’s mouth, heading out into open ocean, we saw an amazing sight; blue fin tuna were jumping out of the water in a frenzy! Our captain said he had never seen such activity in the 5yrs he’d sailed here, and soon after we found out the reason: dolphins!!!!!
We watched them play around another boat for a while, then as we came back towards inland, one joined the waves at the front of our ship. I practically fell over the front of the boat in my excitement, I couldn’t believe how lucky we were and just how gorgeous these creatures are. Such a special moment. Once our marine friend left us, we continued following the glacial gorge back the way we had come, slowing to watch some fur seals…
Another 4hr drive got us back to Qtown in time for Dominoes, most of which we saved for our lunch on the next day’s bus journey to Christchurch.