Our favorite city in New Zealand
01.25.2008 - 01.29.2008 74 °F
It’s unanimous. Queenstown is our favorite city in New Zealand and one of the top places we’ve visited on the trip. We were supposed to make our way down to the Milford sound and Teanau, but we decided to stay extra days in Queenstown instead. It’s just that nice. This place is cool, young, adventurous, active, diverse, international, and it is the adrenaline capital of the world.
We drove for about 6 hours from the glacier in perfect weather and arrived in Queenstown in the afternoon. Even the drive to Queenstown was nothing short of spectacular, with gorgeous views around what seemed like every corner. We even had some straight roads for a change that bore through valleys of vineyards and fruit trees, where gentlemen vintners were applying their new retirement trade. Given the beauty of the area, the nearby ski fields, the abundance of all things adventure and outdoor, the reasonable real estate prices, as well as a great airport serving the area with 737s and A320s from Qantas and Air New Zealand, it isn’t a surprise that folks are retiring here. We took some shots from the road on our way to Queenstown that speak volumes to the beauty of the area – and this was before we ever made it town.
When we arrived, we found the little city bustling with activity and our holiday park just a short walk from downtown, and an even shorter walk from the gondola that lifts you to the peak overlooking Queenstown. As we walked into town, paragliders carrying pilot and passenger floated through the sky, having just launched from the top of the gondola. They were landing right next to our holiday park in the elementary school play yard. As you walked downtown, you realize just how young the town is. There are twenty something’s everywhere patrolling the streets and they come from all over the world. Europeans, Australians, Africans, Israelis, Chinese and Japanese can be heard on the streets and in the shops, though all seem to speak English as well. We saw very few young Americans, which bothered us, and we quietly wished more young Americans would leave the US for some cultural immersion in a place like this. The Americans we did see were overweight, retired and in their 60s, and proudly wearing “we’re American” on their sleeves. This also bothered us, and we wondered how a cruise ship could have floated to this land locked city.
Adventure tour operators filled store fronts all over town and it seemed that virtually anything you wanted to try out was available; horseback riding, paragliding, hang gliding, parachuting, mountain biking, motorcycling, luging, jet boat riding, river sledging, white water rafting, bungy jumping, sky swinging, water skiing, and I probably left out more than I just mentioned. The beauty, along with the adventure tours is what brings all these young people to town.
The first “adventure thing we did was “luging”. Truth be told, it wasn’t all that adventurous, but it was fun nonetheless. We took the gondola to the top of the mountain and took a chair lift further up from there, where we all jumped into wheeled carts that rocket down a cement “luge track”. They had a “scenic track” and a “fast track”, the prior being a little dangerous due to all of the slow pokes taking in the scenery, while we just wanted to race. Old folks, young kids and everything in between were shooting down the tracks and only a few times did any of us almost go over the side.
Ride of the Rings:
Queenstown is Lord of the Rings Country. The mountains, valleys, hillsides and forests, that surround Queenstown are the backdrop for many of the movies’ scenes. There are many location tours, most by car, some by plane and a few by horseback. We thought it most appropriate to take the tour on horseback, since that is how the actors travelled on screen, so we chose a tour called “Ride of the Rings” which departed from the tiny and quaint town of Glenorchy and trekked through forest and hills and valleys. Some of the horses were actually from the movie. Our guide was a guy named “Soap” and he knew more about the Lord of the Rings than anyone we have met, as well as being one of the few folks who can lay claim to actually being in the movie. He was an uruk-hai. He showed us sites on the way to the ride, on the way home from the ride, though a nice young woman named Ellie actually took us on the trek while Soap arranged all of our horses for us and made sure Ellie had all she needed. Soap was absolutely awesome with the kids and we invited him over for a drink after the tour. The tour was cool, and the kids could actually spot scenes from the movie before they were pointed out. “Here is where so and so was shot”, and “That is where the pippin hid from the Uruk-hai”, and “The Orks ran down that hill!”, and the guide would say “Yes that’s right kids, now shut up and let me point that stuff out” :-). The horses were easy to ride, excepting Carol’s that had a bit of a mean streak, and kept nipping at the other horses as he jockeyed for the front position.
Deer Park Heights
Queenstown sits on the shores of Lake Waikatipu, the largest lake in New Zealand. It’s a glacier fed lake, filled by cascading glacial rivers throughout the region. On the other side of the river is an area known as “Deer Park Heights”. Soap asked us if we would like to take a trip to Deer Park Heights and he picked us up and gave is a personal tour of the area. Deer Park Heights is a privately owned farm of sorts that is now sort of a gigantic petting zoo. Deer, Alpacas, Pigs, Buffalo, Yaks, Elk, etc roam the hills free as you drive through the park on dirt paths. As you enter, you pour yourself a big can of deer pellets – which all the animals love. Shake the can, and herds of whatever is nearby start running toward you. It’s a little unnerving, but it was really cool having Alpacas, Miniature horses, and deer eating out of our hands. Some animals even stuck their heads in the cars to get a little pellet action
The other thing Deer Park heights has are numerous sites from Lord of the Rings including the cliff from which Aragorn fell, after being attacked by a warg. We took all of these sites in, including a couple of sets from the upcoming Wolverine, movie. Deer Park Heights also has the best sunset views of Queenstown you will ever see. We took many photos as the sun dove, trying to capture the light over Lake Waikatipu. At one point while we were snapping away, a group of male deer approached and I lightly walked toward them to get a picture from a distance that is almost too close to believe.
We saved the adrenaline rush for the last day in Queenstown. When we jumped off the tower in Auckland, it was actually in preparation for a bungy jump in Queenstown. Once again, we all did it. It was actually quite fun and while it was a little scary, it wasn’t as visually terrifying as the jump in Auckland. The boys and I jumped off something called the ledge Bungy at the top of the Gondola in Queenstown, which is only 47 meters of Bungy, but it feels like every bit of the 400 meters you are above the town. Carol bungy’d off of the Kawarau bridge with the intent of getting dunked in the water at the bottom, but as luck would have it, her bungy cord didn’t make it all the way to the water. All of us let out a hoot or a scream as we plunged. She actually did say Kowabunga when she jumped. It's on the video. The boys did us one better by dropping from the sky on something called a sky swing, which they both maintain was much more scary than the bungy jump. After watching them drop about 80 feet or so before the rope actually starts to swing, and after hearing their screams, I believe ‘em.