It doesn't get much better than this. Queenstown, rightly has a reputation for being one of the best places in New Zealand - it has to be one of the most picturesque places to stay, on a big lake and surrounded by imposing mountains, not only that but there are good pubs, cafes and restaurants (Monty's is lovely and cosy), lovely crafty shops and a very laid back holiday atmosphere and if you don't want to be laid back there are very scary sports to do from sky diving to bungy jumping. We didn't quite have the guts for them but we did try some pretty scary activities.
First, we had to find accommodation and that was quite tough because it was very booked up. In the end we found an old but perfectly acceptable room in a very nice hotel, Rydges Lakeland Hotel right on the lake. We had a room at the back of the hotel (NZ$78.50 pn) so no view but every time we left the room we were assaulted by a wonderful view of the lake glistening in the sun, breathtaking.
Is it a bird? No Is it a plane? Well, sort of. Not sure how to explain this experience but basically you are in a little plane that is attached to a very long cable which hangs in a picturesque valley. First the plane is winched backwards up to the top of the valley so that you are looking almost vertically down at the ground (this is the most scary bit) and then when you are ready you press a button which releases one of the cables and fires the engine and then you steer the plane so that it swoops and dives around the valley, and at times skims only metres above the valley floor. You can control the speed but we had it on full throttle all the time although I don't think we got anywhere near the top recorded speed of about 171kph. We probably managed somewhere between 120kph and 140kph but it was very exhilarating to fly through the air and control where the plane was going. After 8 minutes the engine was cut off and suddenly all was quiet as the plane gently swung down to earth, moving in ever decreasing circles until a few minutes later it came to a stop. We were lucky to be the only people there for that session so we had a couple more minutes than you usually get.
Neither of us found this as scary as we had thought it would be. Having booked it the day before I spent the night before having kittens and wondering what on earth I was doing but once I got up there I was busy concentrating on controlling the plane which is just excellent fun. Perhaps the most scary thing about the trip is the 4x4 drive up there, our driver seemed to be very close to the edge of the thin dirt track which wound its way up the very steep hill to get to the launch site.
After all that excitement we went jetboating in the afternoon in the Shotover River Canyon, a far more sedate activity but still pretty exhilarating. It was certainly on a higher fright level than the jetboat we took around Sydney Harbour because instead of doing 360° spins in open water this boat was doing them in canyons. The jet boat skimmed over the top of the water which was only centimetres deep and swerved along the canyon missing the canyon walls by a whisker. It runs on twin V6 Buick engines and unlike other boats it uses an internal propeller to propel it through the water, which draws water in through the bottom of the boat and drives it out through the back of the boat.
This is a prime spot for paragliding and for the couple of days we were in Queenstown I kept looking enviously up into the sky to see paragliders floating gently down to earth with what must be one of the most beautiful sights in the world to gawp at as they descended. So, did I have the guts to do it?
I hadn't booked it up but I managed to persuade Richard to get on the cable car (remember I had to take the cable car on my own in Cairns because Richard wouldn't get in it) to go up to the top of Bob's Peak which overlooks Queenstown and where lots of paragliders jump from. It was a terrible couple of minutes going up because I was admiring the view and every time I mentioned how lovely it was Richard nearly had a heart attack at the thought of being suspended in a dodgy old cable car. Still we made it to the top and I went to the edge to get some good views over Queenstown and to watch some brave people bungy swinging which if you are going to bungy jump looks to be a slightly more interesting option because you at least have a few minutes swinging around after you've jumped.
Well, in the end I had to have a go at paragliding even though I was scared - I think I was more scared of never having another chance to paraglide so it had to be done. I jumped in tandem attached to a very experienced guy from Switzerland who had been travelling around the world for 12 years paragliding to make some money. The scariest bit was running until we had run off the mountain and the parachute caught the wind and we were flying....amazing. A totally fantastic experience and once you are in the air you sit back and enjoy the view as you float very gently down to earth which took 20 minutes.
I think this picture has the best perspective, it gives me vertigo looking at it. The close up pictures were taken by Roe with a Minolta on a stick. Richard got some good pictures like this one of me, Roe and the parachute as we glided down to earth.
Three nights in Queenstown is not enough, put aside a week to enjoy the adventures and have time to party (it was St Patrick's Day while we were there and it all kicked off - I'm not very good at Irish dancing but there were some good Pogue type bands playing so it was just too tempting to join in) and then you need time to just relax and enjoy the fabulous views either sitting on the grass by the lake or on the shore or from a cafe - mmmm wonderful place. Still all good things must come to an end and it was time to head for the Glaciers