Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Queenstown and Surrounds from the Saddle

Queenstown and Surrounds from the Saddle

The next adventure was to find an economical bicycle rentals to set ourselves as free as metaphorical birds. Economical was probably a failure, but the freedom was certainly achieved.

We took ourselves on a self guided tour through Queenstown and Frankton via the lovely botanical gardens. The trip out was constantly interrupted by the pair of us wanting to take photos of every mountain range that appeared in our view. And if you take 10 seconds to review Google Earth/maps you will realize that it is such a significantly frequent occurrence in the surrounds of Queenstown that it took us longer than our anticipated two hours to get to the other side of Lake Wakitipu. We really had to make it to our intended destination because we wanted to see our room from the far side.

The views were stunning and the flora on the way also significantly stimulating. We somehow managed to ride back fast enough to get our bikes back in time and then relax with some fine dining, watching the sun set over the lake, relaxing before our adventure west to Lake Te Anau and the start of the Great Big Wet New Zealand Camping Experience.

More on that soon!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The 24 Hour Transportation Test

The 24 Hour Transportation Test

Have you ever tried to take more transportation methods in a day than you previously knew possible?

Kat's birthday surprise for me took on that sort of flavour. Our wakeup and departure from Auckland at the wee (!) hour of 5am started off with a shuttle can and plane. A bus from Queenstown airport into the city after the most visually appealing scenery I've had from a plane since we first saw the Alps on arrival in Switzerland, might make one think that you had the ground transport options cover, not so in Queenstown.

After dumping our annoying packs at our hotel-on-the-lake (a stunning location, with views of Coronet Peak and the Remarkables, Kat's pick, right in the middle of town) we sought out the Gondola for a ride to the misnamed Bob's Peak. Apparently, everyone calls it that, even though the real Bob's Peak is 5 km away. The Gondola (anyone know where that name comes from?) was a great way to take in the lake and the mountains all around. Just fantastic views. It was a wee(!) but chully though, my clothing preparations have been somewhat (understatement) lacklustre.

The child in us took over as we investigated the well publicised luge! It was hardly Olympics luging, and more like downhill go-karting but all the better for it. We races, weaves and waved our way down the slopes like giddy school kids. With freezing hands at the bottom screaming "let's go again!" we would hop back on the short ski lift to the top of the luge.

That brings to a close the ground transport variety, but the adventure wasn't over. You see, in the longest birthday card in history, that only revealed itself a step at a time, Kat had intricately coordinated the entire day. At 1 pm we were picked up by shuttle and taken to don wetsuits and safety gear. After (very) brief instruction, we were shuttled to a HELIPAD! A group went in front of us so I had the opportunity to grab some snaps of the landing and takeoff before the helicopter came back for us. We shared our ride with a couple of South Africans who have made Sydney their home. She dropped that she was a travel agent for Flight Centre so wanted a "memorable" experience that she could pass onto her clients.

Memorable it was! For what could not have been more than a 10 minute ride (40mins for the suckers who stuck to the bus) our pilot threw that thing around to the point where I didn't know which way was up. Rock, mountains, rivers, hillsides and sky flew past in our windows as we screamed into our headsets and our guide taunted the pilot. The feeling of losing your belly while seeing some beautiful scenes was quite memorable. It didn't last long, but we were still talking about it 4 or 5 hours later, a real highlight.

The chopper dropped us off at the starting point of our rafting exhibition, he just dropped down into the shallows and we just out with our wetsuit boots to get our first feel for really how cold the Shotover River is. Before long, our crewmates who had been on the bus arrived, we were run through a briefer than brief safety session and we found ourselves in the front "seats" of a RAFT with a rather intimidating man known simply as Chief.

Chief mumbled a lot, and while as memorable as Sheeriff from Egypt certainly couldn't beat him in a friendly-off. His main complaint was "no idea" every time of us couldn't react quickly enough to his instruction. In retrospect, and as Kat suggested, perhaps it was more of a way of making us band together.

We started off on a grade 2 part of the river and it got gradually more difficult as we went along. It was a really well organised outfit actually. That timing gave us a great way to learn the ropes and hear "no idea" a lot before we got to the really serious stuff. Being in the front of the raft, Kat and I had easily the best view of the whole experience. First to see the looming rocks, leftover gold mining equipment, whitewater and wildlife in passing. Also the ones who received the most of the drench each time we got to a particularly exciting part.

The whole ride was finished off with a float through a tunnel which we are to determine as man-made or otherwise. There was a lot of prep for this, with practice of all falling back into the boat, strong forward paddling and then falling back in and leaning left. With good reason! As soon as we came out of that tunnel (tucked into the raft) we had to quickly manoeuvre the raft into place, fall back in and help Chief swing the boat left as we went over the biggest rapids of the excursion. We ended up being so effective that we did a 180 on the way down. There's a great photo of us (photographer was standing on top of the tunnel) with a raft filled with water, traveling backwards.

I somehow left out the part where Kat and I jumped off to really test out the 6 degree water, and test our recovery skills at getting back on board. A great trip and an amazing birthday present!