Flying through forests, gliding beside mountains, canyon free falls and everything in between!
12.03.2015 - 19.03.2015 14 °C
Finally, the time was here, it was a day I had been anxiously waiting on since we had booked it, it was time to make our way to New Zealand and I was pumped! New Zealand had been on my radar since we made up our mind to spend time in Australia. The photos I had seen during my research and the stories that I heard from friends and colleagues who had travelled their themselves, made me even more positive about my desire to visit what sounded like a pretty magical playground. There was not one bad thing I heard about travelling in New Zealand and I wasn't going to miss out on the chance to create our own stories when we were so close to it. So, now you know a little bit about why we decided on New Zealand, let's not wait any longer to get into the details of our 7 incredible days in adventure paradise!
I actually did manage to get some sleep the night before our flight, but I was awake well before our alarm at 5:30am, popping out of bed and clearing myself out of the room like a mini fire drill was taking place. When you are staying in a room with 4 other people that you do not know, you have to make sure you are executing the quietest fire drill possible though, which I think we did pretty well at considering we had to move all our luggage out, plus try and make sure we didn't leave anything important laying around. After rustling Sherry up from her sleep we moved our operation out into the hallway where we checked and double checked to make sure we didn't leave anything laying around in the dark. All was in order and we had no issues getting to the airport on time. Taxi was our choice for transportation again due to our early flight and because the airport bus would have taken 1.5 hours to get us there and that was valuable sleep which I was not willing to sacrifice just to save a few bucks (it was literally just a few bucks). After a little sorting out of our boarding passes with the airline staff, who were visibly and vocally thrilled about the new passenger self help boarding system, (for the Sheldon Coopers in the crowd, that was sarcasm haha) we boarded our flight and were on our way. We had a 3.5 hour flight ahead of us that would land us right in Queenstown, which is located on the south island of New Zealand. As usual, I should have taken this time to grab some sleep but that just wasn't happening. Sleep was 100% out of the equation once the clouds started to part and I saw the incredible mountainous landscape below us . This was the first time in my 30 plus years that I had seen mountains before, let alone the expansive ranges that made up the landscape as far as the eye could see below us. I found myself bobbing and weaving my head around my tiny little plane window in an attempt to stay in constant line of site of this new experience. I would tap Sherry on the arm trying to get her to look out the window, which I knew was a lost cause as flying isn' t her favourite thing to begin with, but I thought I would at least try - she wouldn't even look at me hahaha - she just kept shaking her head at me and buried her face in her book further and further, in an attempt to ignore me. The jaw dropping views only got better as the plane continued its decent into the airport. Mountains surrounded us on both sides of the plane and in comparison to their size, at times it felt as though we were in a small bush plane rather than the large passanger plane we were on. Bright blue rivers cut their way through the mountain range bases and larger lakes began appearing at their mouths - Sherry had to remind me to blink every once and a awhile as we approached our landing. If you can schedule your flight into Queenstown so that you are landing in daytime you will certianly be getting full value for your money! Hell, just schedule every possible flight for the daytime because I don't know how you could ever get bored of that experience. As I am sure you are all wondering by now, did the plane ever land Shayne?! Well the answer of course is yes and we both couldn't wait to get out of our seats to get even closer to the beautiful land around us. After sneaking in a quick photo on the Tarmac and being told to move on by airport security, it was time to wait in a lengthy customs line before we finally grabbed a cab to take us to Bumbles Backpackers hostel where we would be staying for the first 4 nights. In hindsight we could have grabbed a bus for cheaper, but we landed ourselves a really friendly cab driver who offered tones of great advice about how to spend our time while in Queenstown, plus he gave a crucial local insider tip about how to order a Fergburger without having to wait in the 2 hour lineup (will explain what a Fergburger is later).
Queenstown is a far cry from some of the large and sometimes overwhelming cities we found ourselves in during recent stops. With a population of around 30,000, it is quite small and comes with all the small town feels that you might expect. If you are staying in the town centre (which we were) everything you need is within walking distance. Great food options, endless tour operators, links to beautiful walking trails and a friendly helping hand just about everywhere you turn. Now, mind you, a lot of the crazy adventures you may get yourself signed up for are outside of the town but you will be given transport by the operators to get there when you sign up.
When we checked into our hostel we were absolutely overwhelmed by the adventure opportunities that were at our finger tips. The reception area of Bumbles Backpackers was covered with pamphlets that were organized by air, land and water adventure categories. We just started grabbing whatever caught our eye and it wasn't long before we had a pretty big stack to look over and with information in hand we headed up to our room to unpack and get settled. We lucked out pretty good as our private room looked out directly at the mountain ranges and over the sparkling blue Lake Wakatipu. One of the most prominent mountain ranges in our line of sight was called "The Remarkable's", which are famous for a couple of reasons. For one, it is one of only two mountain ranges in the world that runs directly from the north to the south of a country and the second being that it has been used for many famous films, most notably being Lord of the Rings. It was quite surreal that this was what we would be waking up to for the next 4 mornings. A sense of calm and relaxation permeated through me, it was paradise and I was instantly in love with it all. Pamphlets in hand, we made our way down towards the harbour area in search of a place to top up our bellies and to start figuring out what crazy adventures we wanted to try our hand at while in Queenstown. We grabbed an outdoor seat at "The Pub on Wharf" which gave us a great view of the waterfront and allowed us to take in all that was around us while, well me anyways, sipping away on a delicious pint of beer. We had seven days in Queenstown and we wanted to ensure we maximized our time while there so we needed to be somewhat strategic in what we selected to do, while doing our best to be mindful of cost, but I am not going to lie, budget was blown while here! It wasn't the food or drink that really put us out of joint with our budget, but rather all the crazy adventure sports we decided to take on. The saying, "You Only Live Once" was front and centre in our decision making for the entire week! After narrowing down our choices, downing another delicious pint while listening to a young street performer entertain the patio goers with some pretty amazing acoustic guitar, it was time to head on back to our hostel for some rest and relaxation. It would have been quite easy to sit at the table all night and do my best to drink that keg dry, but better judgement prevailed and we packed in what had been a great introduction to Queenstown. Okay, we stopped at one more pub (The Find) before packing it in....but that was it, I promise hahaha.
The next morning it was time to get booking our adventures. This turned out to be very convenient and enjoyable as all we had to do was walk down to reception at our hostel and chat with the wonderfully friendly Denise. We had a full roster of things we wanted to book and she was amazing through it all - she even jumped in to offer cheaper or better options for your money and the best part was she had done them all so she knew what she was talking about. This might sound like an up sell to some readers, but I can tell you for sure that it was 100% genuine and she had our best interest at hand. When it was all said and done, here is what our week would look like: Saturday - Paragliding, Sunday (my birthday) - Canyon Swing and dinner at Skyline Stratosphere Restaurant and Bar, Monday - River Fishing trip, Tuesday- Zip-line, Wednesday - nothing planned, and Thursday - Fly back to Australia. We could have certainly tucked a few of these things into the same day but we wanted to keep a nice balance of being able to enjoy the town and getting the old heart pumping in the same day. For the rest of Friday we spent our time cruising around the town checking out all the little shops and stores. The sun was out, but the temperatures were not all that hot which made for a pretty comfortable time touring the town. Not much shopping took place during our day as we still hadn't got over the sticker shock in New Zealand, plus we just didn't need for anything. Thankfully our Canadian dollar was doing a bit better then the NZ dollar because things are expensive - 9-10 dollar pints and $150 sweaters are just a few examples of the cost of living in NZ. It is was quite common to run into the same waiter who served you one night at the pub, working down the street at a clothing shop just to be able to afford livingNZ (especially Queenstown). Our night settled with some pizza and beer for me, a green smoothie for Sherry and a movie on the iPad which was just alright with me after all the fresh air from our touring around.
Saturday would be the beginning of our outdoor adventures and, I will just make note now that we had both never taken part in the things we signed up for, with the only exception being my fishing trip. Paragliding was first on the docket. We were brought to the top of a mountain where we were weighed up so we could be properly paired with a guide and then it was not long before we were flying off the mountain, taking in all the amazing views. We were strapped into a seat which was attached to our guide who did most of the driving but who did give over the reins to us if we wanted to give it a try and of course we both did. Just for clarity purposes, Sherry and I were on separate gliders, in fact she went down about 20 minutes after I did, so I was able to watch her flying down and then eventually landing at the base of the mountain. The weather was absolutely perfect, which made for some really cool shots on the "GoPro" that our guide brought down with us. The ride itself only takes about 15-20 minutes and it seemingly goes by faster then that, as one you take off, you feel you could stay up there forever if the weather and views stayed just like they were that day. With the weather being so great, Sherry and I decided to jump on board a lake cruise (Million Dollar Cruise) when we got back into Queenstown. This cruise would take us for a guided tour around Lake Wakatipu and gave us a chance to take in even more of the scenery while getting some detailed insight from our captain who kept things very light and informative. The cruise itself only takes about 1.5 hours and I would highly recommend it. There are other cruises that go out of the harbour and in all honesty we didn't look into those all that much as this one grabbed our eye first so we literally just jumped on it. The evening brought a welcome surprise as Sherry remembered from talking to her paragliding guide that there was going to be a paragliding stunt show that evening that could be viewed from the beach area right by the docks. People began gathering around all over the beach. We sat perched up on a rock wall outlining the beach, while people worked their way around the water near us setting up a landing pad for the gliders made out of white water rafts in the water. The show did not disappoint whatsoever as paraglider after paraglider came sailing down from above the Skyline Stratosphere Restaurant and Bar, otherwise known as "way the hell up in the mountains". These talented men and women would do some pretty intense spins out over the water before trying to excite the crowded beachfront by sticking a landing on the rafts. The show was not without a few hair raising moments with included one paraglider spinning a little too out of control and having to pull his emergency shoot, while on two other occasions we watched paragliders suspending themselves hundreds of meters over the lake and then with no warning they would drop a person from their strapping and that person would free fall towards the water, pulling their own base jumper shoot just in time before they splashed down in the water. This was freaking nuts! It was hard to believe what we were watching could even be real at times. It was really cool that we had been paragliding ourselves just that morning as that gave us an even greater appreciation for what we were watching that evening. It is these types of unexpected experiences that always seem to standout and bring a big smile to your face when you are traveling....sure it is always nice when plans go as expected but its the pleaseant surprises that can really take your day to the next level of enjoyment.
When morning rolled around I was successful in brushing away the cobwebs created by a night of Guinness and live Irish music in a downtown pub. This was a good thing because it was my birthday and I was going to throw myself off the worlds tallest canyon swing. As we sat in the downtown office waiting for our transportation to arrive we watched videos of Jack Osborne completing his jumps when he was filming his adventure show a few years back. It looked crazy and it looked fun as hell! Everybody was sitting around with nervous anticipation about what we were all about to take part in. Fear and anxiousness can be an interesting bonding agent as we all would toss out a comment here and there and those comments would be met by nervous laughter all around. As you will see in the photos, we couldn't have asked for a better day. The canyon water was bright blue with the exception of intermittent white waters which broke up the calmness. Just so everyone can get a picture of what we were walking into - the canyon swing is 109 metres high and consists of a 60 metre free fall, which is followed by a 200 metre swing through the canyon below. You can choose to go off the platform however you like, and there are suggestions galore in case your creative mojo is not operating due to the increasing fear of what you are about to do. One guy that came with us decided to go off with his skateboard duct tapped to his feet! After watching a few of my new friends take the plunge and then be hauled back up to safety, it was my time to go and I chose to jump off backwards. Kinda of figured if it was all going to go bad I would rather not watch it happen! The guys that are running the jump like to mess with you a bit. You take a few photos and then it is up to you to take the plunge on your own or they will shove you off when you least expect it (its actually pretty funny when this happens). My nerves were in hyperdrive but I was not backing down. The only part that really freaked me out was when you are standing just a few feet back from the edge and are shuffling around to get into position. Once I was leaned out over the canyon, it was game on as I bent my knees pushing back towards the open air. Almost instantly there were involuntary noises being pushed from my chest and out of my mouth. I tried my best to hold my relaxed looking pose but the old legs and arms definitely started to flail a bit as I searched for something solid to hold onto. Once I reached the bottom of the free fall the swing caught me and I was gliding through the canyon and it really does feel like you are flying for a bit. I couldn't hold back the adrenalin induced excitement that was flowing through my body as I began shouting out some waaahooooos while gliding back and forth in the canyon. When the swing settled down, the guys hauled me back to the top and the entire time I made my ascent to the platform I was grinning ear to ear. Now, since there was time available to do a second jump for a fee that was a fraction of what we paid before, I wasn't going to pass up on that opportunity. I decided to do a jump called "gimp boy goes to hollywood" where they hang you upside down over the canyon and then release you whenever the heck they feel like it. What the hell, why not, right? Well, the first jump was intense but this jump was even crazier but just as fun. Again, it was the time where I was standing at the edge waiting to go out over the canyon that was the most nerve racking but once they had me hanging over the canyon I was more relaxed for some weird reason. More flailing, with no involuntary noises and some yelling during the canyon swing part were what made up this jump for me. It was an absolute blast, and when I finally walked off the platform and back up to see Sherry who had been nervously watching me from the viewing deck, I had the biggest smile on my face. What a way to kick off being 32! I will never forget that one as long as I live and thats maybe what is so special about it. In the past I have found that birthdays really started to come and go without any significance, which is quite unfortunate when you think about it. I am not saying you have to do something extreme to appreciate your birthday, but it is a day that is worth doing something that will help you to remember it and to make it as special as it deserves to be. Life goes by way to fast to not enjoy such a significant milestone as your birthday. When we finally arrived back at our hostel from this tour we got ourselves dressed up and made our way up the gondola to the Skyline Stratosphere Restaurant and Bar. The bar had an amazing view out over Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountain ranges. As we sat down for dinner the sun started to fall behind the mountains casting shadows across the landscape - it was really hard to believe we were sitting and eating with all this beauty below us. Dinner was another one of those moments where you felt that what is taking place was so surreal but at the same time it gives you that undeniable reassurance that you have made the right choice in doing what you have chosen to do. The meal itself was amazing, with it all ending by stuffing ourselves with way too many desserts but they were all just to damn good to resist. A serene gondola ride brought us back to the base in Queenstown where we made our way to the hostel and tossed ourselves into our bunks as the food coma's fully took over. What an amazing day....What an amazing Birthday! I felt extremely blessed that day. It wouldn't have been nearly as incredible without Sherry there nervously watching me take those canyon swings and keeping me company during our dinner. There really is something to be said about having just the right person with you to share in and ultimately enhance your experiences in life - I am pretty damn lucky that I have Sherry for that. Okay, Okay....I better pump the breaks on that mushy stuff before I have to turn in my "man card" hahaha.
Well, there is plenty more to talk about in Queenstown, but I am going to have to enter into part two of this journey in separate post as I just did a quick scroll back up the page and realized that things are getting pretty drawn out here. Hopefully I didn't lose anyone along the way. Part two won't be long in getting posted as we have finally landed back in a home base for a bit so I can keep cracking at it.
Shayne and Sherry