Wednesday, March 27, 2013

New Zealand - Day 17 and 18 Queenstown

Oh Queenstown! I do love you so! I could definitely handle living in Queenstown. There is a super active and young vibe among the residents of Queenstown. However, it is also a lot more touristy than Wanaka, so I may actually choose to live in Wanaka if given a choice. My point is this whole area is worth exploring and we could have spent a lot more time there!

You can't go to Queenstown without doing some sort of adrenaline-junky activity. New Zealand is the birthplace of commercial bungy jumping, so there's a lot of that in Queenstown. We opted for paragliding because it seemed a little more relaxing. We went to reserve spots (I can't remember the name of the place, but you can walk into this visitor center on the corner right in the center of town and sign up for any outdoor adventure you can dream of. No need to do this before you head to New Zealand.) to paraglide the following morning, but they said today was a perfect day for it. So we decided we should just go for it! We were signed up to paraglide from Coronet Peak (a peak about 20 minutes outside of Queenstown) at 2pm, so we hung around Queenstown and got something to eat before we put our lives at risk running straight off a mountain into the sky.

Driving along Lake Wakatipu from Te Anau to Queenstown
We had brunch at the Pub on the Wharf, enjoying the sunshine and checking out the people. Plenty of choices though for eating, drinking, and shopping in Queenstown. 

When the paragliding pilots said today was a perfect day, they meant there were strong updrafts (hot air rising) that afternoon. This gives them a chance to take you up higher and ride the updrafts, rather than just slowly sail down to the ground. Sounds great right? More time in the air to enjoy yourself? For Ally, this was awesome. And I'll admit it was super cool to fly around in a circle with Ally also flying in a circle, almost dancing with each other as we rose higher and higher. It was also incredible to get so high that we could see over the peak we started on and see on both sides of it, flying along with hawks. BUT....I get motion sick and my instructor knew this but didn't seem to care. So the whole going up and then coming down and then going up and then coming down thing....I really didn't enjoy that and felt sick for at least an hour afterward. 

Oh, and before I forget. Let's talk about the fact that the first time my instructor and I tried to run off the mountain, the wind didn't catch our sail. So we had to stop last minute before running off the mountain to our deaths. This might be a little dramatic, but I'm seriously amazed that I didn't quit right then and there. We did make it off the mountain on the second try and we spent 19 minutes (I think the average paraglide trip is somewhere around 10-11 minutes) flying with beautiful mountains in every direction. Ally loved it and I just tried to enjoy the amazing views as I freaked out for all 19 minutes of it. 

And one more thing! It didn't help that as soon as we got in the van,  my instructor asked us if we were brother and sister. Gotta love that! Really put me at ease before doing the scariest thing in my life!

We camped at 12 Mile Delta campground, a basic campground (think outhouses) a little out of town and totally worth the drive. We went swimming, enjoyed an amazing sunset, and appreciated a place a little quieter than the campervan park right in town.

And sunrise wasn't bad either...

The next morning we rode the Skyline gondola up to some amazing views of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. I would have really liked to stay here at least one more day. I know Ben Lomond hike is one to check out and there is a lot more great hiking in this area. Instead, we did a bit of shopping for gifts for family and had an early lunch at Fergburger (a must-do in Queenstown!) and were on our way.

 Starting our morning out with two flat whites on the gondola. 

 Watching the paragliders the next morning. No updrafts today. 

Best burger of my life!

We had to head out because we had reservations to go whitewater rafting on the Rangitata River the next morning. We drove to Lake Tekapo and stayed the night. If I'd had it to do over, I'd figure out another place to stay (maybe go all the way to the Peel Forest and stay there). The campground at Lake Tekapo was a bit divey and super crowded (it was also the week after Christmas so everything was crowded!) One bonus for Lake Tekapo was the Mr. Whippie ice cream cone we got from the ice cream truck that came through the campground. It was more like whipped cream in a cone. Yum!

 Cool sunset on the hills at Lake Tekapo

 Church of the Good Shepard - the only angle I could take a shot and not have 30 people in it

Go early or late if you want the pictures you see by the professionals. It was crowded by 9am.

Another great day and a good night sleep before one of the highlights of our trip - whitewater rafting with Rangitata Rafts. Unfortunately, we couldn't take a camera out on the river because this was some serious rafting (two class V rapids), but I highly recommend doing this trip if you are in the area!

Sunday, March 17, 2013


I was in Phoenix for a conference in February, and decided to make a mini-vacation out of it. My conference was Wednesday through Friday, so my mom and Allyson flew in Friday night and we decided to head up to Sedona first thing Saturday morning. I'd been here once before, but that was almost 20 years ago. All I can say is, what a tremendous place! Could have stayed much longer to enjoy all the great hiking, spas, restaurants, and generally positive energy!

You won't find the Saguaro cactus in Sedona. But they are all over in Phoenix. Interesting fact: it can take up to 75 years for a Saguaro cactus to grow one arm. 

The drive up to Sedona is an easy one from Phoenix. It takes about 2 hours and it's a straight shot. My favorite part of the drive is when you get off 17 and head towards Sedona on Hwy 179 or the Red Rock Scenic Byway. It's amazing how quickly you come upon the red rocks scenery. And it's so big and beautiful!

We got to Sedona around lunch time and ate lunch outside at Taos Cantina. The food was good and it was nice (although a little cold, they had heaters) to sit outside in the sun. Then we headed a few miles back down Hwy 179 to the Cathedral Rocks trailhead. The trailhead can be found easily on Back O Beyond Road and is less than 15 minutes from "downtown" Sedona. This hike is short (1.5 miles out and back) but super steep and requires a lot of scrambling. My mom went some of the way with us and then opted for just enjoying the energy (no doubt from the vortex near by!) and views.

Look carefully and you can see a guy on a mountain bike on the ridge. Lots of great mountain biking out here if that's your thing.

Cathedral Rocks

After Cathedral Rocks, we had appointments for massages at Sedona Rogue Hotel and Spa. This was a really nice way to spend the late afternoon. After massages we stuck around in the lounge and then used the private jacuzzi surrounded by bamboo. Perfectly relaxing. After the massages, we decided to have a casual dinner in the hotel so we stopped at the Safeway and got together food and wine for the night.

Our hotel was wonderful and what a deal! We stayed at Orchards Inn, which is right in Uptown with incredible views of the mountains. So you are walking distance to tons of restaurants and shops, but you also have just incredible views of the sunrise. There's a great little pool and jacuzzi which no one was using (fair actually started snowing while we were using the jacuzzi). The room was nice and it was literally under $125 a night. You can't go wrong with this hotel!

Sunrise from hotel balcony

The next morning was brutally cold (in the 20s) but nice and sunny, so we headed out for another hike. Our friends, Kayla and Michael, had recently gotten engaged at a place called Devil's Bridge so we decided to see what this natural bridge was all about. So glad we did! We got to the trailhead and it was blocked off, but there was a sign directing us to an alternative trailhead. We found our way to the Chuck Wagon trailhead by taking Dry Creek Road and turning right on Long Canyon Road. The trailhead was about 0.3 miles down that road on the right hand side. The best thing about this hike is you have great views for the entire hike. It's another hike that requires some scrambling (less so than Cathedral Rocks) so it isn't just a wander down an easy trail. 

I'm not going to outline the trails you need to take because the signage is really good. Basically, follow the signs to Devil's Bridge! 

It had snowed a few days before we got to Sedona, and there was some snow remaining. It made getting out on to the bridge a little terrifying but Allyson and I made it out there by sticking close to the side and using our hands. 

Devil's Bridge

Not that warm out on Devil's Bridge

After our hike, we went back to the hotel and warmed up in the jacuzzi and took showers before heading down to Tlaquepaque Shopping Center and Oak Creek Brewery for some shopping and dinner. Tlaquepaque is a really beautiful, upscale shopping center with art galleries and other shops. The brewery was recommended to us by several people, so we figured it was a must do.

Moonrise from our balcony

We headed back down to Phoenix on Monday morning, but first stopped at the Chapel of the Holy Cross. We were told by the receptionist at our hotel that the chapel was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but it was actually designed by one of his students. Anyway, pretty cool chapel. Fits right in with the scenery around it. I do wish that the ridiculously huge mansion with the waterfalls right below the chapel wasn't there. It takes away from the simplicity of the chapel and the beauty all around it.

See huge mansion in lower right corner of picture. 

We stopped for a late breakfast in the Village of Oak Creek at Red Rock Cafe. Totally delicious and a good plan to stop there, because there is very little between here and Phoenix (not to mention at least our terminal at the Phoenix Airport had zero good options for food!)

Really enjoyed our mini-vacation and hope we make it back to Sedona soon. It got me excited for our adventures in Santa Fe, NM later this summer for Allyson's clinical rotation.