New Zealand! I can’t believe we finally made it down to this incredible island nation. Two weeks is definitely not enough time to even see the South Island of New Zealand (let alone the North Island), but we made an unforgettable trip out of the time we had. Wasting no time, we flew into Auckland (in the North Island) and immediately took a flight down to Queenstown. When researching before the trip, I read that the best way to see NZ is by renting a car and driving so that you can take in all the outrageous natural scenery throughout the South Island. So, after arriving at the Queenstown airport, we headed to pick up our car. Why, for the love of God, did we NOT bring our driver’s licenses, I don’t know. I guess it’s because we’re used to just packing our passports since we’ve never rented a car in another country before. Needless to say, they wouldn’t give us a car without a driver’s license. Um, stupid, stupid, stupid! Thank goodness for good friends back home whom we called to mail us our driver’s licenses ASAP through Fedex. ASAP, according to FedEx, meant five days. Good thing I just booked our lodging for the first three days so we didn’t have to cancel anything.
Of all towns in the world to be stuck an extra day or two in, I was SO glad we were in Queenstown. It’s known as the adventure capital of the world, and deservedly so. There is SO much to do here! But be ready to fork up some dough to do these adventurous things. Bungee jumping, skydiving, river rafting, river surfing!, hang gliding, paragliding, mountain biking, kayaking, you name it. But not everything has to cost a fortune here.
We decided to stay at a hostel on our first two nights to get a feel for the town and see if there was anything we HAD to do. Without a car, it was nice to be smack in the middle of town since most things were within walking distance. Adventure Queenstown had a few private rooms with a bathroom and was actually pretty clean.
This was my first time staying at a hostel and it was a pretty good experience, except for the noise at night (but I wasn’t sure if that was from guests at the hostel or drunkies out on the street heading home from the bars). AQ’s owner, Brett has done an outstanding job building up this hostel in just a couple of years. The hostel has been repeatedly rated #1 hostel by several different organizations. Great service, clean rooms, tons of free stuff – free internet use & international phone calls, free rentals of GoPro’s, frisbees, and bikes. Here’s a look at our room, which had a sweet balcony hangout spot, where we drank our morning coffees with our delicious meat pies from Fergbaker.
On our first day in town after a long day of travel, we decided to take it easy and explore this little town, first with a walk to Queenstown Gardens. They did an awesome job with this park. There was every single type of magnificent tree imaginable and great views of Lake Wakatipu as you walk the perimeter.
On Day 2, we decided to do a You Vs Wild guided hike where our guide, Pete, taught us a plethora of survival skills. The first one was bird calling. Ok, not necessarily a survival skill, unless you can catch the bird when it comes by. And you’ll need some glass and a piece of styrofoam to rub against the glass to make a squeaking noise that attracts the birds. I caught it a little too late, but a bird really did fly to us and land on the stick Drew was holding out. It was like we were in a Disney movie for a split second!
As we walked into the woods, we saw a creature by the stream – panning for gold. Yes, there is gold in New Zealand, so naturally there will be someone who sets up shop for a few hours hoping to find a small fortune. Not a bad place to be gold panning though.
The hike itself was beautiful, and we could’ve easily done it ourselves, but we both have been wanting to take a survival skills class for a while, so this was a great way to do it. Bottom left image: Drew filling up our water bottle with some pure, fresh water (99.8% pure, says Pete). On the right, we learned how to make a noose trap to catch small mammals. And the bottom right, my new favorite berry EVER, the snow berry. These are the most fragrant, delicious tasting berries I have ever had in my life! No exaggerating there. I wish they would farm these and sell them here in the States. (Just please don’t genetically modify them like you do everything else food industry!)
When backpacking, remember to always pack a couple of bottles of wine. Actually, what everyone should really pack is sand fly repellent. These are the most vicious little creatures on the face of the planet. Their bites are the itchiest of all itches and they last for days on end. Day 7 and we were still scratching ourselves. I went crazy one night trying all sorts of things to relieve the itching. At one in the morning, I found out that ice cubes worked best. As I write this almost four weeks later, I still see the sandfly bites on my legs!
On Day 3, we decided (or should I say, Drew decided) to do a ginormous canyon swing. It was either Shotover Canyon Swing or AJ Hackett’s Nevis Bungee jump. (Little known fact: AJ Hackett created the world’s first commercial bungee jump off a bridge near Queenstown.) We decided to go with Shotover Canyon Swing since it was only a 15 minute drive from Queenstown vs 4 hours roundtrip for the Nevis jump. The Canyon Swing is 109m (357ft) vs the Nevis’s 134m (440ft), what’s an extra 80 something feet?
At the Shotover Canyon Swing office in town, there’s pictures and descriptions of the type of jumps you can do. They rate them by how many pairs of underwear you should have on, should you shit in your pants.
I was getting nervous while the jumpers were getting ready, and I wasn’t even jumping! The freefall for this thing is almost 200ft – no thank you. I loved skydiving, but this is an entirely different animal. My crazy husband decided to do two jumps that day – the Pin Drop, where your hands are pinned behind your back and you jump off sideways, and backwards with a ukelele. Both required 5 pairs of underwear.
But pictures don’t do this type of experience justice. That’s why we have video! And yes, a whole years worth of brownie points to the hubby for what he said here!
For lunch that day, we had to see what all the hype was about with lines out the door at this joint called Fergburger.
We shared a burger since it was practically the size of a person’s face. (Not mine, since I have a big face.)
Later that evening, we checked into an apartment called Marina Mantra which sits right on the lake. LOVE this place! They have bikes for you to use, so we took a beautiful lakeside bike ride to the grocery store to buy some seafood for dinner.
Day 4, it was a toss up between river surfing or horseback riding through what Drew likes to call Middle Earth. Being that Drew is a Lord of the Rings fan, we opted for a horseback ride in Glenorchy where they filmed some scenes for the movies. This was hands down the most scenic horseback ride experience we’ve ever had. Mountains, river crossings, and we even learned to let our horses run as we held on tight to their manes. (Most images here are via iPhone since they had me put my DSLR in a side bag for safety reasons.)
Here are the horses of High Country Stables. Mine was Big Red, who loved to stop and eat the flowers and grass.
And for the most awesome horseback ride movie set to Lord of the Rings theme music…
Ok, sorry. Since it was all shot with an iPhone while I was riding a horse, it was more shaky than awesome, but the river crossing was pretty cool, right?
Since we had only planned on staying in Queenstown for 3 nights, but had to wait for our licenses to arrive, we needed to find a place for an extra night. We lucked out in finding that Pounamu Apartments had one room left since our other place no longer had vacancy. Pounamu is the Maori name for New Zealand jade.
It’s not lakefront, but had great views of the lake.
And to the great news that our driver’s licenses had finally arrived!!! Road trip up the west coast on the next blog post!