To get to Queenstown, we decided to drive down from Hokitika. There’s really only one road. The ride is beautiful, but there was a lot of silence as our car only has radio and there aren’t a lot of radio stations on that leg of the drive. We split up the drive with a stop at Fox Glacier. It’s a quick hike. About a half hour to the top where you can see the glacier. Apparently you can’t walk on the glacier unless you do a heli tour. Even though the glacier is a little dirty, it’s still pretty amazing to look at. And the hike made us feel like we were in Jurassic Park. Huge walls of stone separated the valley created by the glacier. It was a nice way to split up the 7 hour drive.
Arriving in Queenstown, it was warm. We checked in to our hotel and drove in to town for some food. There, we had a giant delicious burrito from Caribe Latin Kitchen and walked along the beach while people danced to music and sunbathed (it was around 9pm on Sunday).
The next day, we talked to the hotel and ended up getting our hotel room moved so we had a lake view (it never hurts to ask). Thanks Mantra Marina. You made our week! The view from our new room overlooks the lake and mountains, not to mention it’s only about a half hour walk into town. It’s pretty ideal.
Queenstown reminds us a bit of a resort town in Colorado similar to Vail, Aspen, or Telluride. The difference…
- The weather. It’s summer here 🙂 We won’t experience the ski/snowboard culture that’s supposed to be amazing during winter here
- Adventure Capitol of the world. Colorado may be packed with outdoor activities, but it’s got nothing on Queenstown. Strolling along the roads in downtown Queenstown, you can wander in and sign up for luging, white water rafting, bungee jumping, paragliding, jetboating or the adrenaline swing to name a few.
- The lake. The town is surrounded by mountains, but it also has a huge lake that is breathtaking.
We were able to take a hike around Lake Hayes (about a 15 min drive out of town). The hike was relatively chill, a loop around the lake that takes about 2 hours. Confused by the lack of hills that have been on every hike we’ve done, it was relaxing and beautiful.
The day started off a bit cloudy, but the sun came out towards the end of our walk creating some blue skies on one side of the lake and cool cloud formations around the mountain on the other. If you look closely, you can see a New Zealand scaup (a diving duck) behind the grass in the picture. We also saw a version of a shag bird, some mallards, quail (Thank you Doug Funny for teaching me what a quail looks like) and some paradise ducks. Pretty common for the Lake Hayes area, but not so common for us.
Everything is so green. The pictures don’t do the colors here justice. I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to mention, it looks like someone turned up the color saturation on the screen. A lot of the pictures dull down the colors, but this one I snapped of the cool tree on the right captured a bit of the bright green.
Deer are kept in pens here. Along the drive, we passed lots of farms with sheep or cows grazing pastures. But every once in a while, you’ll pass a farm of deer. During out hike, the trail ended up right next to a pen of deer. These guys spotted us and moved closer to some white deer friends.
We walked past this run down house by the hill. It seemed very New Zealand-esque
Will’s birthday occurred during our time in Queenstown. What to you do to celebrate your birthday when you’re around the world from friends and family? You have an adventure. After putting in a day of work, we walked into Queenstown for the Adrenaline Swing.
During out check-in, we realized that half of our group of fellow jump-ees were from Denver! Small world! Chris has been in New Zealand with a year long working visa and his time is almost up. His parents came out to visit him before he leaves next week. The other people jumping with us were two sisters from the UK. We all quickly bonded during the van ride and hanging out before the jump.
The walk to the jump point was beautiful. New Zealand’s signs have been hilarious. This one points out the nearest medical centre, the moon, and the grand canyon…just in case we needed to know.
Will went first. It may have been his birthday, but we didn’t take it easy on him. The staff was great – joking with us and making us laugh to keep us from being too nervous. The free fall is intense. When you jump off the platform (or get pushed, somersault, pin drop, however you exit the platform), there’s this moment where you see the rope go and all you can do is hope it catches. This is where it’s hard to even scream or get any air. Then all of a sudden, the rope catches and you’re swinging pendulum style over sparkling turquoise water. You get to hang out, swinging above the water, laughing at the realization that you just completed the biggest swing of your life!
Above is Will getting pulled back up after his first swing. The rafters were a nice touch. He said about 15 years ago, he and some friends (Jay, I’m talking about you here) made a swing out of a harness and climbing rope in Denali Park. Rafters urged Will on to jump there…so it seemed fitting that fifteen years later they were there to hoot and holler as he jumped again. When I saw him jump, it took my breath away. I think I was more scared for him then for me….maybe. But I video-taped him jumping and all you hear me say is “Holy Shananas.” There were quite a few words on the tip of my tongue, but that’s what I managed to get out as I watched him free fall and then swing over the rapids.
Then it was my turn. Will ran up the stairs and was able to snap this shot of me. If you look closely above the water, I’m dangling right next to the rock in the water. All I remember is I didn’t scream. I couldn’t make any noise until the rope caught and then I was cursing like a sailor before throwing my head back, laughing, and letting out a few “woot woots.”
We decided to do a tandem jump together after our single jumps. If everyone else is jumping off a cliff, would I? Yes. Yes we would. And nothing says Happy Birthday like jumping off a cliff attached to your partner. Just saying.
After the drive back in to town, we decided to grab dinner at the recommended Fergburger. This burger joint is a Queenstown favorite, known for their big delicious burgers. There are only a few tables inside and outside the joint, so the line is always out the door. It wasn’t too bad when we got there and saw the Denver crew from our jump in line up front. We talked about the jumps as staff from Fergburger came down the line, handing out menus and sunscreen (always looking out for their patrons!). The ladies handing out menus were hilarious! They loved hearing about our adventures and when we told them it was Will’s birthday, they bought us beers! The line moved quickly as the girls had us tell them about our dolphin swimming encounter and discussed making a dolphin harness so they could ride the dolphins during their next trip to Kaikoura. We were laughing so hard, it didn’t seem like much of a wait. When we finally ordered, we were handed beers as the entire place started singing Happy Birthday to Will!
For being so far away from people we know and love, it was amazing to feel the love from Queenstown.
We went and ate out giant burgers by the water where seagulls watched us patiently.
If we look nervous, that’s because the burgers were the size of our heads (ok, so I’m a pescatarian, so I didn’t get a burger, I got the Cod Father). They were delicious!
We followed up dinner with a walk through town and a lakeside walk back to our hotel.
Walking towards the beach, this street performer wheeled his piano over and started playing some original music. Mathias Piano Man – cracked open his beer before playing.
The beach was filled with people. This group was practicing the slack line. We’ve tried it before, but these folks made it look easy. This guy would fall so he was sitting on the line (it looked very uncomfortable) before springing up into a standing position and walking across. He was joined by a street performer we had seen the night before who also made the balancing act look incredible easy.
The walk was filled with birthday questions that had a lot of firsts for the year. But it also made us realize how lucky we are to be on this incredible journey that started out as a pipe dream. We got back to our hotel and had some libations just before the rain came. We have another night in Queenstown before we head to Te Anau and Milford Sound (said to be one of the finest walks in the world).
Thanks for being so good to us Queenstown. It made for an excellent birthday celebration. Cheers.