|QUEENSTOWN - Tuesday 16th January to Thursday 25th (Days 81-90)
After a 4 hour bus trip from Mt Cook we arrived in Queenstown, the self-styled outdoor-adventure capital of NZ. We had booked 10 nights in an apartment that turned out to be absolutely amazing (we both agreed this was the best apartment we had stayed in so far, all for 45 quid a night!), with great views over Lake Wakatipu to the aptly named Remarkables.
After spending the first day still getting over my illness and getting my haircut it was time to get going with tours and some outdoor adventures;
LAKE WAKATIPU & SHEEP
Our first day trip was for a cruise on Lake Wakatipu on the old steam ship TSS Earnslaw where we disembarked to the high country Walter Peak farm. Here we enjoyed a highly entertaining sheep-shearing demo and sheep dog performance (the dog Meg took an immediate liking to Gill and hassled her for a stroke in between performances for the entire tour!). Gill took great delight in feeding a whole host of farm animals including some very strange looking sheep (see photos).
The next day we set off on a 12 hour day trip to the famous Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park for a cruise. This is regularly voted NZ's number one tourist attraction and pictures of it shown in the tourist brochures make it clear why. The area is also synonymous with rain and on the day we visited it poured! The whole Sound was in a mist so we just had to imagine what it looked like. To be fair rain meant the waterfalls were in full flow and indeed they were spectacular.
JETBOATING THE SHOTOVER RIVER
Early the next morning I set off for my first taste of some action adventure by jetboating the Shotover river. Gill had decided that jetboating wouldn't be her idea of fun so I was on my own. It was raining and cold but getting wet is part of the fun with the boat being driven at high speed extremely close to the rocky Shotover Canyons, with many 360 degree spins thrown in for good measure. A truly thrilling, if short, 30 minutes experience.
WHITE-WATER RAFTING THE SHOTOVER RIVER
Immediately after finishing the jetboat ride it was straight on to a 2 hour white-water rafting trip. The Shotover, a truly glorious looking green/blue colour once full of gold, is graded somewhere between a 3 & 5+ (6 being unraftable). It was a 45 minute minibus trip on the hair-raising Skippers Canyon 'road' (single track, no barriers, few hundred feet drop on one side - get the picture?) to the start of the trip. After being introduced to our somewhat eccentric boat guide and fellow rafters it was off. Apparently they do have quite a few people fall out so we spent time during the gentle early part of the trip going over and practicing safety drills. I was sat at the front with the only other bloke in the boat other than the guide, the rest being young girl backpackers. Somehow an English girl managed to fall out and we weren't even going through much of a rapid! Although the guide had said people do fall out on every trip the panic in his voice when she suddenly did a back flip was evident to all! Fortunately she was successfully grabbed before disappearing too far down the river, although that wasn't the end of her misfortune as she was then smacked in the face by someone's paddle - swelling and bruise followed! Not her day. The whole trip down the river was a great adventure and highly enjoyable, especially when riding the rapids all with great names; Rock Garden, Sharks Fin, Toilet, Pinball, Jaws, Sequel and the unforgettable 170m Oxenbridge Tunnel, followed closely by Cascade Rapid!
TRAMPING THE ROUTEBURN TRACK
Even before I had left the UK I had booked a 3-day/2-night guided walk along the Routeburn Track, a spectacular rainforest/subalpine track starting in Fiordland National Park, ending in Mount Aspiring National Park (This walk is in National Geographics Top 10 Treks in the World).
Gill decided that tramping up and down mountains wasn't her thing so she explored some other attractions in and around Queenstown while I was away. She visited the Kiwi & Birdlife Park with a fascinating NZ culture show and Maori Concert.
Doing the tramp 'guided' meant that, as well as having guides to talk about the flora and fauna along the way, we got to stay in great privately owned huts, with hot showers, great drying rooms, 3 course meals at night and of course booze! (all independent trampers had to cram in to small DOC huts and carry all their own food and bedding - no thanks!). Some would argue that this isn't true tramping but I say it's the only way to go!!
The actual tramp was graded moderate, so not too difficult, although there were fairly long uphill parts, but you are rewarded with superb views (many parts used as a backdrop in the Lord of the Rings). With four guides you could walk at your own pace, some people took 2/3 hours longer than me to do certain sections. I tended to walk with the '4 men from Osaka' a highly amusing group of Japs in the their 50's who were first to do everything; first to sit down for breakfast, first to make their packed lunch, first ready to start walking, first to finish the days walk, first to wash their clothes, first to sit down for dinner, and first to get the beers down them! But for sections I walked entirely on my own - splendid despite the rain on 2 of the 3 days! I met a great bunch of people (18 of us in total), the guides were highly entertaining and of course the scenery stunning. Highly recommended.
DART RIVER SAFARI
Having persuaded Gill that jetboating was entirely safe I booked a jetboat ride for us both (from Glenorchy) into the heart of the glorious Dart River wilderness. Unlike the 30 minute thrill-a-minute of the Shotover jetboat this was a 90 minute jetboat 'safari' right down the Dart river (OK with a few 360 spins thrown in). The weather was perfect and the scenery; the grandeur of the snow-capped Mt Earnslaw and the bush-clad mountain walls, we both agreed was unsurpassed so far on our trip. THIS IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST DO TRIP!
Our last full day in Queenstown was spent getting over the excitment of the previous 8! We were both sad we had to leave!