So here I am sitting on the plane halfway through the flight from Queenstown NZ to Melbourne OZ. Its been a pretty action packed week since we left Christchurch on Monday! Tommy arrived from Scotland on the Sunday and we had a chilled out day and night before setting off early Monday morning. We decided to drive down the East coast and visit the lakes en route to Queenstown so our first port of call was Lake Tekapo. The drive was relatively unexciting until we started heading inland where the scenery took a turn for the more dramatic. It is strange driving through New Zealand because there are hardly any other cars on the roads once you leave the city. Even the small towns seem empty. Quite a surreal experience and makes the drive even on the least attractive roads enjoyable. Lake Tekapo is a very beautiful area, the Lake is a bright blue due to the glacier that feeds it and once we arrived we endured a quick dip in the local hot baths before a fantastic stone grill dinner in one of the local restaurants. I say one of the local restaurants but the town centre is merely a small row of shops and eateries on the lake front. Looks like a tourist resort but again was a little like a ghost town. There were no boats on the lake and no activities as apparently the wind between the mountains can cause huge tidal waves that can flip a boat over without warning. Also at a temperature of around 8 degrees the water is not too inviting. We found a small hostel and bedded down for the night to get an early start for the next leg to Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki.
Mount Cook is supposed to be awe-inspiring. Unfortunately we chose to visit on a day with weather more befitting of Scotland in winter than New Zealand in summer. Low clouds and rain didn’t deter us however from a two and a half hour hike to Hookers Glacier. Although I wish it had! Most of the glacier had melted plus the low cloud obscured Mount Cook entirely!! Still, good exercise and an opportunity for a few pictures of a little ice bobbing around in a lake. After the disappointment of Mount Cook we headed back past the bright blue waters of Pukaki Lake on to Lake Wanaka. This is more like it. There are actually people in Lake Wanaka. A supermarket! There are activities! A proper little tourist trap but beautiful nonetheless. We got ourselves a hostel for the night, sharing a room with Benjamin who had run out money travelling NZ and was now looking for work. Our 3 bed room was adjacent to another 3 bed room and we all shared a living room, kitchen and bathroom. Good facilities! The following morning we went wakeboarding on the lake. Definitely one of the highlights. The water was perfectly calm, if a little cold, and during the hour we had in the boat and board my confidence grew and I owned the lake. Loved it. Up out the water first time, every time. Shooting across the wake. Good stuff. Kills your legs though! After wakeboarding we headed to Queenstown and our first bungee…
Arrived in Queenstown, picked a hostel. Dumped our stuff. And went for the Shotover Canyon Swing. Its a 60m freefall followed by a 200m swing at 150kph. You are strapped by your waist so you can do all sorts of twists, flips and dives off the platform. I did two jumps, the first was a Gainer, which is basically a running backflip off the edge. Scary stuff and very un-graceful with my hands with arms flapping wildly whilst screaming manically. The 2nd jump was even scarier. A Pin Drop. Hands behind back and just pop of the ledge sideways. Feels horrible as you plummet off the edge but man what a rush! Thursday we did white water river sledging. Basically surfing a raging river on a boogie board. Crazy stuff! Being encouraged to leap off your board into a whirlpool that sucks you under the water for up to 14 seconds and spits you out some way down the river just doesn’t seem that safe to me but great fun nonetheless. I think the health and safety laws are a little more relaxed in New Zealand. Again being encouraged to clamber up some rocks with flippers on to cliff jump was probably more dangerous than the river itself. Similarly on Friday when we did a 15,000ft skydive. The only training we had was to be shown a picture of a banana and told to make that shape once thrown out the plane. Wait for two taps on the shoulder then make a shape like a banana with outstretched arms. Sorted. A skydive is an incredibly surreal experience although Tommy and I were both very calm until the door to the plane opened and you had to shuffle to the edge, hanging out the side strapped to your instructor, trying to act like a banana, it all seems so wrong. Once out the plane you have 60 seconds of freefall. Seeing and feeling the ground coming towards you at that height and at that speed just doesn’t seem real. The wind in my ears was roaring, my eyes watering behind my goggles. Intense. Once the chute opens you can enjoy the views as you float to the ground. Clear blue skies and snow capped mountains. Definitely an experience. Whether it was all the excitement or lack of oxygen at 15,000ft I don’t know but after we both felt terrible and passed out for a couple hours before waking up with what felt like a hangover. So we did what anyone else would do in this situation and join a bar crawl, dancing a lot and befriend a 7 foot Canadian, a wee Irishman with an accent similar to Brad Pitt in Snatch and a little Korean fella who liked falling asleep in bars.
Saturday we took it easy and lay by the lake in Queenstown for most of the day. We attempted to go to a gym but after 15 mins I wasn’t sure if I was going to be sick or pass out. Later that evening we met up with the guys from Friday night who had joined up with several more people from their hostel to have drinks and play frisbee in the park. What a great night. We had an Irishman with a fiddle supplying the music, there were Australians, Kiwis, Swedish, German, Russian, Scottish, English, Irish, Korean, Canadian, American, Danish. People passing would join in drinking and chatting, telling stories of their travels and home countries then move on. Was great great fun. Favourite night so far and if that’s what backpacking is all about I want more of the same please in OZ.
Sunday Tommy and I decided to drive to Milford Sounds. Apprently Rudyard Kipling described it as the 8th wonder of the world. It is fantastic scenery in Fiordlands, where the ice has carved huge ‘alleys’ through the mountains in South New Zealand’s beautiful natural wonder. The scenery and the drive is quite spectacular although an 8 hour round trip with a stinking hangover and a moody scotsman isn’t really the best conditions for a trip. Another of our ‘things to do’ in NZ ticked off however.
Today we checked out early and decided to try NZ’s highest bungee and the world’s biggest swing, both over the Nevis river. These were probably the most frightening things we did, especially for our wallets. The 150m bungee starts with a mini cable car ride across the canyon in a small cage onto a bigger cable car suspended over the middle of the canyon. The ride in the cage was frightening enough and the speed at which they attached people to the bungee rope before throwing them out of the cable car wasn’t the most reassuring. All in all its a thrilling and terrifying experience. The swing is a little less frantic but just as frightening. The swing starts from another cable car hanging over the canyon which you get to across a long suspension bridge. The actual swing I can’t remember. I started off hanging upside down facing the abyss before me when I heard velcro unfastening. At this point I was let go. My brain must have switched off through fear as those first few seconds are a blur. Truly terrifying stuff. I have videos on facebook for these! Apparently the velcro wasn’t anything important. Scared me to death though!
To see a video of the jump, click http://www.ididit.co.nz/ididit/profile/12176?action=viewvideo&id=174517
So that’s it for NZ. Australia’s up next. I don’t know if I’ve gone into too much detail or not enough but at least the flight has flown (no pun intended) by as I’ve relived the last week. My budget has well and truly been blown but what amazing experiences and spectacular scenery. Queenstown is a very touristy busy place and despite the lack of New Zealanders in the town it is friendly and fun packed. The surrounding areas may look like Wales or Ireland or Scotland but it’s a very different experience and one I wouldn’t mind revisiting one winter season.