I was booked into the YHA Lakeside hostel for my five night stay in Queenstown but after some confusion about my room allocation, and me exercising my rights of complaint, I spent my first night in a very nice, private, room at YHA Central. By the time I got sorted out and settled in the evening was getting on so I only had time for a quick walk along the waterfront and a cheese Fergburger (one location but internationally known gourmet burger place). I made the mistake of ordering chips with it, not a good idea even when you are hungry, I should have realised when I saw all the beefy guys going out with just the burger. It was probably the best burger I have ever had and for NZ$12 it was great value.
On the recommendation of son Tom I booked a skydive with Nzone for the next morning and it was probably the defining moment of my entire NZ trip. I had known the kind of things I was capable of doing before I set out on this trip but my time in Queenstown was always intended for me to push my limits. It was awesome (and I do not use that word lightly) there was a moment when I realised, at 16,000 ft, that my entire body was outside the plane and only suspended by my attachment to my tandem partner and then we were tumbling and rolling and flying. ?I do not have enough superlatives to tell you how amazing this experience was and I am so pleased that I bought into the video/photo package because I will have a record of this forever. This is not a cheap activity, expecially when you add the camera footage, but, honestly, if you only do one truly exciting thing in your life DO THIS it was unbelievable. Nzone were very professional and my partner, Chris, was so calm and laid back that there was not a moment of anxiety for me. Would I recommend this YES! Would I do it again ABSOLUTELY!!!
We got back to town in time for me to sign up for some white water rafting (with Queenstown Rafting) for that same afternoon on the Shotover River. Another first for me, and to be honest I have always been worried about doing this, but when you have jumped out of a 'plane a couple of hours before you are still on a bit of a high. Anyway, the two hours on the river was really exhilerating and I even bailed out of the raft (purposely) for a little 'bobbing along' with the other members of my group. We rafted through a 170m tunnel hewn from the rockface and although we only navigated level 4 rapids, and not too many of those, it was a great introduction and has persuaded me that I need to do more of this. Our guide, Michelle, was calm and confident and he had all of us working as a team in no time at all.
The following day I took the Intercity bus to the famous 'Milford Sound' in Fiordland. It was a five hour drive each way to enjoy a two hour cruise on the Sound (which it seems is actually a fiord) but the online reviews had said that the scenery on this drive was magnificent so I considered it to be part of the whole 'sightseeing' experience. Actually it was worthwhile and the bus drivers on all my journeys in the South Island have been as good as tour guides. Their knowledge is extensive (unless they are really good at reading crib cards while driving) and they stop at all of the 'photo op' places along a route. Mirror lakes are quite lovely and just before we drove through the Homer Tunnel we came across a group of Kea (mountain parrots) making mischief on the roof of a camper van.
It was really grey and with very low cloud when we got to Milford Sound so I was not sure whether we would actually see very much of the peaks at all and my 'photos, which were taken in colour, look more like black and white. It was a good cruise nonetheless and there were many waterfalls coming down from the mountains. We did get up close to a colony of fur seals who were taking an afternoon nap and even closer to the biggest of the waterfalls which sent a lot of people scurrying for cover with their cameras. By the time we got back to the ferry base the cloud was beginning to clear and I decided to take advantage of a helicopter ride back to Queenstown for the views and speed of return (50 minutes instead of five hours).
I was not disappointed, the views were sensational and the journey itself was not without it's 'heart in mouth' moments when the pilot lifted close over mountain ridges and then nose dived down the other side. Those manoeuvres were obviously designed for effect and they certainly worked! We came nose up to a wild red deer on one of the mountain slopes and then landed above Lake Wakatipu for a few minutes to take photographs This 'Z' shaped lake is New Zealand's longest, it's third largest and with a depth of 380m it's floor is below sea level. It really is as blue as these pictures show. Once back in the helicopter we flew on into Queenstown and a minbus met us to drive us to our accommodation. A second great day!
On Sunday I thought I ought to take a look around Queenstown itself and it was so much better than I had expected. Of course it is 'touristy' but not in any tacky way. The waterfront is lovely and the shopping area is compact and with, mostly, quality shops. Queenstown gardens are small but very pretty and have stunning views across the lake to the mountains and the 'Gondola' station at the top.In the afternoon I took a bus to Arrowtown, an historic community established on the basis of the gold rush and now a tourist attraction due to it's many conserved buildings On the outer edge of the town is the Chinese Village where you can view the area that was inhabited by the Chinese gold diggers during that time and with some very good information about their lives. The museum has some excellent displays and a lot of information about early life in the gold mining community.
I had booked Ziptrek, a zip line experience down the mountain, for my last afternoon, but I had the morning free so I found a hairdressing salon and had a cut and colour which was much overdue. At this point I have to say that I have seriously missed my friend Denise. ?The three hour long Ziptrek activity starts at the top of the mountain and you can either spend an hour walking up or NZ$27 return for a ride on the Gondola. I chose the Gondola. This is a fast ascent and you can even take your bikes up with you as there is a bike trail down the side of the mountain. At the top the views are incredible and you can do a bungy jump or any/all of three luge courses. There is a restaurant with pretty good, reasonably priced, food and a gift shop
The Ziptrek course starts from just outside the Gondola station and is a series of either 4 or 6 zip wires down the mountain. I did the 6 wire, 940m, course and, after that first leap of faith, it was a lot of fun. Our guides, Charles and Jags, were very professional and their attention to health and safety detail was impressive. They were also very funny ? This is an eco-activity so they spent time at each station talking to us about the environment and at one point showed us a 'wildling pine' sapling (those thousands of which have escaped cultivation to dominate the landscape) which stood next to a native beech sapling. The beech was 11 years old and the pine was 11 months old and they were both the same height. No wonder these pines, which were brought over from North America and grow ten times faster in the New Zealand, are taking over the country.
Queenstown has been a phenomenal experience for me. I loved the town itself and, despite the fact that my bank account has taken a major hit, I loved all the activities that I signed up for. Next stop is Christchurch for two nights and then back to Australia. Where has this month gone?