Adrenaline Junkies of the World Unite!

Queenstown, New Zealand in the summer is hard to beat.  The weather is amazing – not too hot and not too cold (it occasionally rains, but never for very long).  We met our friends Tiff and Adam at a house we rented in the foothills about a ten minute walk from the downtown action.

The view from our house.  The rooftops you see in the foreground are other units of the same group of houses as ours.

Queenstown is known as “The Adventure Capital of the World” (with good reason,  It was the birthplace of bungy jumping as well as jet boating) and Tiff and Adam and Franny and I were ready to get our adventure on.  Armed with a bucket full of brochures on every possible extreme sport or activity we spread them out on the table and set out to draw up a list of priorities.  It was challenging to find an activity that none of us had done before or was in all of our price ranges (these activities are typically pretty pricey).  Here are some of the numerous activities on offer in Queenstown:

Bungy jumping
Canyon Swinging
Mountain Biking
Sky diving
Jet boating
Zip lining
Whitewater Rafting
Whitewater sledging
Horse trekking
Para sailing
Para gliding
Hang gliding
Quad biking
Extreme wine tasting

In the end we decided on two of the (relatively) tamer activities, but they were a lot of fun.

The team getting helped into their harnesses.

Zip lining is brand new in Queenstown having opened only a few months prior to our arrival.  It is run by Ziptrek, the same company that pioneered ziplining at Whistler in Vancouver, British Columbia.  In fact, when we were getting buckled into our harnesses there were representatives from Ziptrek Whistler instructing the Kiwi guides on how to do it.  Boy, did we feel safe, especially when we found out that the Whistler guy would NOT be coming with us on the actual trip.

Francesca flying through the air with the greatest of ease.

We had two guides, both Kiwis – that’s what New Zealanders call themselves for those of you who didn’t know.  A kiwi is both an indigenous bird and fruit, but I’m not sure which one is the inspiration for the nickname.  I’m going to guess the bird and it was probably because they didn’t want to be nicknamed “sheep”, although that doesn’t stop the steady stream of sheep jokes leveled at the poor kiwis.

The stairway to nowhere.  We would climb down a few stairs or until we felt the harness ride up into our ass cracks and then we’d let go and fly through the tree tops.

Adam was a natural, mastering the fear inducing and considerably tricky upside down and layout (pictured here) maneuvers.

Ziptrek is a very environmentally conscious organization.  Their big buzz word is “sustainability”.  They pride themselves on the fact that Ziptrekking has no footfalls on the earth and produces no engine noise.  Commendable to be sure.  In fact, they care about the environment so much in that at each landing before you zip off to oblivion one of the guides lectures you about a particular aspect of sustainability.

In our case since the guides were very new they had not gotten their spiel down pat yet and so they came off as unsure of what they were saying.  It didn’t help matters that we kept peppering them with questions like “Isn’t it bad to have cut down all these trees to make a path for the zipline?” (apparently they plant trees in other places to negate the tree decimation) and “Isn’t it harmful to the trees to put a huge bolt right through it to attach the zipline cable?” (apparently it does not hurt the tree).

It was a lot of fun though and our only complaint was that we wanted more.  There are currently only four zipline tracks, but they are in the process of killing more trees to put up two more to make six in total.

Getting up to Ziptrek was an adventure in itself.  It is located at the top of Bob’s Peak (no idea who Bob is) accessible only via the Skyline Gondola (reputed to be the steepest lift in the Southern Hemisphere) or via a walking trail.

Tiff and Francesca decided to take the gondola leaving Adam and I to power through the 450 meters of elevation gain.

From the top of the gondola observation area you have a amazing 220 degree panoramic view of Queenstown far below as well as the nearby mountains The Remarkables and Coronet Peak and Lake Wakatipu.

Queenstown with The Remarkables in the distance.

Lake Wakatipu

The top of Bob’s Peak is also home to the luge ride, the 400m tall Bungy and Sky Swing (pictured here) as well as some excellent walking trails.

All four of us walked down from the top of Bob’s Peak and enjoyed the views and flora along the way.

The next day we did the Shotover Jet boat which has exclusive rights to ply the waters of the Shotover River Canyon – they market themselves as “the world’s most exciting jet boat ride”.  This is the only one I’ve been on (twice, more on that later), but I certainly wouldn’t dispute that claim.

Jet boating is an exhilarating ride up river at ridiculous speeds with honest to god close calls to hitting the sides of the canyon and fun 360 degree turns.

Since still photographs just won’t give you the feel of jet boating I took the liberty of editing this short video that will give you a back seat view (which is where I was sitting) of the action and hopefully make you feel like you are there and not where you are which is most likely a cold wintery environment.  Watch for when the driver draws a circle in the air with his index finger like a rodeo cowboy on a mechanical bull.  That’s the signal for us to hold cuz he’s about to do a 360 turn.

View on our way to the Shotover Jet boat.

Pipeline Bridge from the Shotover River.

It turns out we jet boated right underneath what was formerly the Pipeline Bungy that I and three friends jumped from fifteen years ago when we came to New Zealand for some Heli-snowboarding from our then residences in Hong Kong.  On our shotover tour we also got a chance to walk across the bridge itself.

Pipeline bungy bridge.

Sadly, the Pipeline bungy no longer operates.  It was bought by AJ Hacket (the founder of bungy jumping) and promptly shut down.  At the time I jumped the Pipeline it was the highest bungy jump in the Southern Hemisphere (and the highest in the world where you were attached by your feet – there was apparently a higher one in the Northern Hemisphere where you were attached by your waist).   Hey, if you can’t beat ‘em… ‘em out and shut ‘em down!

View from the jumping off point of the pipeline bungy.  This is where I stood (though in the freezing cold of a New Zealand winter) fifteen years ago and leapt into obscurity.

On another day Francesca and I snuck away from Tiff and Adam and drove to the fjord in Te Anau about a 2 ½ hour drive away.

Beautiful scenery on the way to Te Anau.

We saw lots and lots of sheep!  In fact, we saw lots of all of the “Big Three” carnivores’ delights on our way; sheep, cows, and the local favorite, venison (there were so many deer farms – it just seemed odd to see them caged in pastures like that).

While Milford Sound is the best known of New Zealand’s many fjords (a distant second is Doubtful Sound), Te Anau is closer (by 4-5 hours) and is beautiful in its own right.  Incidentally, even though they are called “sounds” they are, in fact, fjords – the difference being that a sound is carved by a river and a fjord is carved by a glacier).

Te Anau

Our sturdy ship

Our captain Pete is a former insurance salesman who gave it up and bought the Te Anau boat tour operation from another guy and now has exclusive rights to take tourists through the huge sound.

One of the highlights of the tour was actually when we got off the boat and Pete guided us through this enchanted forest with moss covering the ground, the rocks and even many of the trees.

Here Pete is showing us the “Silver Fern” which is a widely used symbol in New Zealand including the “All Blacks” rugby team and on New Zealand’s military uniforms.  They don’t look silver on the front side, but when you turn them over they do! (see photo inset).

Pete was very knowledgable about all of the flora and fauna of the area.

We were joined by two older New Zealand ladies and all in all we had a very good afternoon on Te Anau.

On our way back to Queenstown that afternoon we captured a photo of a rainbow over a herd of sheep.  Classic New Zealand.

And saw the misty rains in the distance as we drove back to Queenstown.

Just starting out at our first winery

On New Year’s Eve day Tiff and Adam, Franny and I and Tiff’s friend Andrew, who just happened to be vacationing in Queenstown with his mother Linda, went wine tasting at several of the Queenstown area’s superb wineries.

At another winery we dined alfresco devouring a tasty meat and cheese platter….

….accompanied by a few glasses of wine brought from the bar in these handy wine glass carrying trees.

Tif and Francesca toasting the great weather and delicious wine…..and the night of debauchery that was to come!

The sun setting for the final time in 2009.


2 Responses to “Adrenaline Junkies of the World Unite!”

  1. Great Stuff Fran & Dan

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