South Island, NZ
(Click on Photos to Enlarge)
Sad as it was to leave Wanaka, we kept the Magic party rolling as we headed for Queenstown on Thursday afternoon. After a sunny morning in Wanaka, we were picked up from the lakeside by Magic Greg, and headed across the Southern Lakes district towards Queentown, the adventure capital of New Zealand, if not the world.
Me and our packs, waiting for the bus in Wanaka.
Magic makes sure that everyone has a chance to indulge in whatever local activities are available, making bookings on behalf of its passengers and making stops along the way in many unique places. After we turned southeast at Cromwell (and were once again retracing me and Provo's steps from our 2007 trip), we drove into the Kawarau River Gorge, where a wild and beautiful blue-green river flows swiftly between steep rocky cliffs. For any Lord of the Rings fans out there, a section of this gorge very near where we were was used for the "paddling down the river" scene with the giant statues of the kings of old. In this more modern day, we stopped at the historic Kawarau Bridge, which is now the site of one of many bungy jumps around Queenstown. While hurling myself off a bridge headfirst with a bungy rope strapped around my ankles is one of the last things in the world I would ever do (I'd sooner skydive), I was more than happy to watch as a couple of our busmates took the leap, and was amazed by the massive adrenaline rush I got just from thinking about doing such a jump.
It should be noted here at at 43 metres and about a 3-second freefall, the Kawarau jump is the tamest one in the area. The biggest, the Nevis Highwire Bungy, is a jump of 143 metres, with 8 seconds of freefall time. *shudder*
Queenstown was quite a shock to the system after Wanaka. Both are ski-towns this time of year, but Wanaka is smaller, quieter, and generally further off the tourist track, and most tourism companies tend to plug Queenstown as the place to go, especially for young backpackers and adrenaline junkies. I had been to Queenstown before, but still wasn't quite prepared for it to be so packed to the gills with tourists, and to be so generally commercialized. The entire main drag, Shotover Street, is crammed with as many offices for bungy jumping, jetboating, skydiving, heli-skiing, parasailing, etc. as you could possibly imagine, along with numerous bars and hostels.
This time of year there is the added element of skiiers and snowboarders awaiting the first big snow of the year. There is a lot of money around Queenstown, and a lot of huge houses and condos, expensive hotels, posh restaurants, and a lot of style. While I felt perfectly at home and comfortable wandering around Wanaka in my zip-offs and hiking boots, I felt extremely under dressed in Queenstown. All of that said, it is an extremely attractive town, and if shopping and adventure sports are your thing, this is heaven on earth.
There are a lot of amazing old stone buildings here, some really neat design elements in the layout of the city, and the people watching is awesome. The town itself sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, the largest lake in New Zealand (and possibly the Southern Hemisphere?), backed by very steep hills, and with a fantastic view of the Remarkables, a steep and rugged mountain range to the southeast.
We spent our one full day in Queenstown exploring a bit, and also resting, and got lunch from the legendary Fergburger, where the burger we ordered was the size of my face, and probably the best I've ever tasted. Two beef patties, eggs, bacon, avocado, red onion, lettuce, aoili, and probably a couple other ingredients that I can't remember, this epicly huge burger was more than enough lunch for both of us. We had it takeaway, and ate it on a bench by the waterfront, bent over with aoili dripping down onto the pavement! Charming, I'm sure. It was a delicious experience, but somehow so exhausting that I had to go back to the hostel and a take a nap afterwards!
Have I mentioned yet that it was REALLY COLD in Queenstown? And also the nights in Wanaka, but we didn't get much sun in Queenstown, and it was freezing. Not literally, but we still haven't adjusted away from our hot summer up north, and these days with a high of only 45-50F made us bundle up in all the layers we had with us, with scarves and gloves and stocking caps ("beanies"). I think what makes it feel so cold is that Otago is very dry, and dry cold always feels a lot colder than wet cold.
On Friday evening, we took the Skyline Gondola (which is STEEP) up to the lodge high on Mt. Bob, overlooking Queenstown, and we were really glad we went. The gondola ride itself was fun, the views were amazing, and the lodge itself was incredibly well done. It has a coffee shop, a fancy restaurant, Maori culture shows, a gift shop, a conference/event centre, a big viewing platform, and all manner of entertainment stemming from watching people throw themselves off the Ledge Bungy Jump (one of the only bungys where you can run, jump, or be thrown off the platform in any manner you choose, as opposed to the standard headfirst jump).
I think this was my favorite feature of the gondola. There is a huge network of mountain bike trails that start at the top of the peak, and the gondolas are fitted to carry bikes to the top. It's an incredibly popular activity, and if you live locally, you can buy an annual pass so you can head up with your bike every day after work and then ride back down to town!
Sheep grazing under the gondola track as we rode up.
Lake Wakatipu from above. That little smudge in the middle is the steamship S.S. Earnslaw, which does cruises down the lake to a sheep station where you can participate in shearing and sheepdog trials. One of Queenstown's tamer activities...
We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at the hilltop lodge for a couple of hours, watching the bungy-ers, enjoying a coffee, and having fun watching the incredible diversity of visitors to the skyline.
Coffee and cribbage high above Queenstown. If you know cribbage and I tell you that the two close lanes are mine (and that we drive on the left here in New Zealand), you'll notice that I'm beating Matt. This was after the first two hands of the game. He has beaten me almost every time we've played in New Zealand, and I'm happy to report that on this particular occasion, he was skunked by yours truly :)
Our purpose of going up the peak late in the day was to see the sunset and the lights of town at night. We didn't get much of a sunset due to the thick cloud cover, but we did get some epic views of Queenstown by night. I'm really really glad we did this with our short time in Queenstown- I think we enjoyed it more than we could possibly have enjoyed anything else.
City lights, Lake Wakatipu, and the Remarkables behind.