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!

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