By Jacob Aldridge
There’s time for one last breakfast in Australia, before our last view of Sydney as we fly over the Opera House and Harbour Bridge on our mid-morning flight to Queenstown, New Zealand.
New Zealand is two hours ahead of its antipodean bigger brother, so our flight doesn’t land until 3.25pm local time. Waiting for us at the airport is Dene, a self-confessed adrenalin junkie who came to Queenstown for a two week trip … ten years ago.
It’s been over that period of time that the South Island of New Zealand, and Queenstown in particular, has invented itself as a must-do global destination, and the adventure capital of the world. And Dene is keen to get our hearts thumping as quickly as possible – we’ve barely left our bags in the hotel when we find ourselves at the Station Information Centre awaiting a shuttle bus to the afternoon’s excitement.
Known as the Shotover Jetboat, it sounds like an exaggerated name – but it actually does take place on the Shotover River! Ten minutes drive from the centre of Queenstown, it seems even when it was named in 1860 there were adventure sports in mind.
Shotover Jet in action on the Shotover River, Queenstown New Zealand.
A jetboat roars down the Shotover River at 85km/h.
The Shotover jetboat experience lasts an hour and a half, of which the highlight is the 25 minute jetboat experience. Three companies have the rights to jetboat the river, and two others come here for whitewater rafting. The fast-flowing rapids make for exciting water sports, and have also carved some serious caverns into the landscape – it’s one thing to stop and admire the natural beauty (and keep an eye out for any seams of gold that may have been overlooked in the late nineteenth century goldrush)…
…it’s another thing entirely to attack those cliffs with the accelerator firmly on the floor, hitting speeds of 85km/h (55mph) before the driver whips the steering wheel just in time, bringing the Shotover river’s cold water into the boat, and your heart into your mouth!
If you can eat after that (and Dene can – the jetboat is his idea of a morning commute) then the place to go is Fergburger, just around the corner from where we’re dropped off on Shotover Street. New Zealand is famous for its sheep (which outnumber human inhabitants 7 to 1), so the lamb burgers are a good start, but the range extends as far as the vegetarian option ‘Holier than Thou’ and a nice piece of venison in the ‘Sweet Bambi’ burger.
(If you can’t eat after that, you can still enjoy the interactive Fergburger website here.)
And then we wash it all down with some cocktails in the coolest bar Queenstown offers – the Minus5 ice bar at (you won’t believe this!) 88 Beach St. If you thought the jetboat waterproof coats were the fashion highlight, wait until you step into the eskimo garb required to keep you comfortable inside 18 tonnes of ice.
Talk over cocktails turns to New Zealand’s tourism options. Even in the adventure capital, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings / Hobbit films have made inroads. Lord of the Rings tours from Queenstown are a possibility, but Dene has more exciting plans, and suggests that Hobbiton on the North Island would be better for any LOTR fanatics.
So we head to bed with our hearts still racing, partly from the Jetboat, partly from the red meat and cocktails, and just a little in anticipation of the adrenaline plans for tomorrow.
Want to go? Need to know!
- Queenstown (south end of the South Island NZ) is serviced directly from some southern Australian cities (like Sydney and Melbourne). Most international tourists enter New Zealand via flights to Auckland (North Island) or Christchurch (north end of the South Island). Internal flights are frequent, and cheap if you absolutely must start in Queenstown
- The Shotover Jet runs every 30 minutes. Bookings are advised during busy times (like school holidays). Also keep an eye on the temperature – in winter, icebergs the size of cars can be found floating down the river
- The New Zealand government notes that the sheep-to-person ratio in New Zealand peaked at 22-to-1 in 1982. They are also keen to point out that in Australia the ratio is 4-to-1 so some of those jokes are just Aussies being mean
- Bookings are required to experience the Minus5 ice bar
Been to Queenstown? What have we missed? Or do you think there’s a better adrenaline capital elsewhere in the world? Let us know in the comments below.