Posts from the ‘New Zealand’ category

Auckland in 3 Days: Black Sands, Island Ferry, Base Jumping

By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Itinerary

Stylish start to our 3 days in Auckland

Tamaki Drive, a beautiful start to our 3 days in Auckland. Photo by Elmastudio, CC License

Kia ora, as we end our New Zealand dream holiday with three days in Auckland. Keeping us away from the tourist traps this weekend is Kiwi Kim, a proud local who arrives wearing an Auckland Blues rugby jersey.

She tells us that Auckland is a walkable harbour city, seen by too many tourists only from the inside of a bus. So our Friday morning begins with a coffee reviver and walk to the city beach at Okahu Bay. We walk along Tamaki Drive, a narrow strip of land that provides breathtaking views back at the city, the Harbour Bridge, and out to the volcanic island of Rangitoto.

Does this Bridge look familiar to anyone else?

Auckland Harbour Bridge. Presented without Comment. Photo by Sids1, CC License

Awake now, our wander back into the city takes a detour into the suburb of Parnell to explore the architectural heritage on display, from modern mansions to the colonial-style homes that seem a better fit with the natural surrounds.

Through here, we enter the Auckland Domain, a common of greenery carved out of the city and home to the Auckland Museum. There’s time to wander around the war memorial. And then at 1.30 we are assembled for an unforgettable connection with the Maori Culture, first a tour of the Maori Gallery and then as witness to a Maori Cultural Performance that’s engaging with its energy and confronting in its style.

A Haka Bearing down on You

Maori Cultural Experience – fantastic! Photo by Crys, CC License

Our time in the land of the long white cloud has been focused on more modern pleasures – whitewater rafting and wineries. So the immersion into the Maori culture is welcome, and within only a few minutes we begin to recognise how the indigenous heartbeat has been present through our New zealand holiday all along.

As we leave the Museum, Kim points out Mount Eden, Auckland’s highest natural point at the top of (yet another) volcanic mountain. With true Kiwi craziness, she tells us how she considered adding that walk to our 3 day Auckland itinerary, but opted instead for a place that’s just as high … and a lot more exciting.

View of Auckland, New Zealand

Enjoying Auckland in 3 Days. Photo by Lynda, CC License

So all of a sudden our hearts are racing again, as we ascend Auckland’s Sky Tower … and strap ourselves in for a Sky Jump. 192 metres (630 feet) above Auckland City, with a wire tied to our back, this is BASE Jumping without a parachute.

The moment on the edge lasts forever – and the drop down also feels like slow-motion so we’re amazed to discover we fell that distance in only 11 seconds. Kim (who does this every chance she can) reckons that in free fall we reached a speed of 85km/h (55mph), which means for those 11 seconds we were the fastest moving objects this side of Auckland Airport.

Our hearts will slow down enough for us to sleep tonight, and Kim’s promise of a more relaxing Saturday proves true as she leads us on a trip out to the black sands of Piha beach.

Having taken the time recently to learn to surf, we have a chance to practise some more. The surf here can get unbelievable rough – thankfully, we’ll be containing ourselves to the more protected Piha Bay.

After lunch, there’s an opportunity to walk across the black iron sand to the imposing Lion Rock, which separates North Piha and South Piha beaches. Why is Piha beach sand black? The iron content is so high, the sand can actually be collected by magnets!

Piha Black Sand Beach

Piha Black Sand – so iron-rich it can be picked up by magnets! Photo by Tatiana Gerus, CC License

Sunday is also more leisurely, as we leave the City of Sails by ferry to the nearby Waiheke Island. Auckland twice hosted the America’s Cup, and as we move through the water, the many sailors out and about confirm that the city owns more yachts per capita than any other in the world.

As we disembark the ferry at Matiatia Wharf, we notice plenty of other tourists jumping into tour buses to explore the wineries and local produce of this 7.5Km (12 mile) long island. Kim has told us to wear our walking shoes, however – it means we won’t see as much of the island, but what we will see will be experienced fully.

Of the range of available walks, we’re taking the Church Bay Circuit, a slightly strenuous 3-hour, path across Atawai Whenua Reserve and down to the beach at Church Bay. This is the perfect spot for a picnic, sitting on the beach facing up to the top end of this country.

Bays of Waiheke Island

Bays of Waiheke Island. Photo by Dave Snowden, CC License

The philosopher Lao-tzu told us that ‘the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’. Auckland lies almost exactly 1,000 miles from Queenstown, where our Kiwi Odyssey began last week with a single step off the Kawarau Bridge. Tonight, after glacier hikes, winery tours, ferries, trains, and limousines, we have a late night flight to Hong Kong, via Shanghai.

Heading for the bustle of ‘Honkers’ gives us extra reason to appreciate the serenity of the walk back to the ferry, and the calm journey across the water into the city as we bid farewell to New Zealand.

Want to go? Need to know!

  • The world champion NZ rugby union side are called the All Blacks. But did you know that the NZ soccer team are called the All Whites?
  • The Auckland Museum makes some of its pieces available to view online, like this nice collection in tribute of New Zealander and Everest Conquerer Sir Edmund Hillary.
  • The Maori Cultural Experience is a daily performance and gallery tour (though you can choose to see one, and not the other).
  • Some people climb the Auckland Sky Tower for the views, the revolving restaurant, or the coffee, and return down via the elevator. Crazy, but true.
  • A return ferry to Waiheke Island costs $35.50 – Waiheke Ferry fares and timetables are here.

What would you do with 3 days in Auckland? Or indeed, on a New Zealand journey of a 1,000 miles? Please share your experience in the comments below.

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All the Small Things: Hobbiton Tour and a Kiwi Bird

By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Itinerary

Since arriving in New Zealand last week, we’ve come so very close to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. In Queenstown, our local guide pointed us in the direction of some Lord of the Rings tours – and then helped us jump off a bridge instead! Yesterday we even experienced the same train journey where Peter Jackson first conceived a Lord of the Rings film!

And so today, led by Hamilton local Hamish, we will actually do it: we will set foot in Hobbiton!

Tour of Hobbiton New Zealand

Hobbiton Tours! Photo by Jeff Hitchcock, CC License

Hamish explains that New Zealand, and particularly the North Island, was always the most likely place to film this six-film series. There were early discussions about Iceland – closer, perhaps, to JRR Tolkein’s personal vision; but as soon as local-boy-made-good Peter Jackson imparted his preference, New Zealand was a shoo-in.

Less of a dead certainty was the booming tourist industry that has followed in the films’ wake. As we arrive in Matamata, 45 minutes east of Hamilton, Hamish explains that after filming on LOTR finished, the sets – many of which were built on local farms – were handed back. Half of Hobbiton was bulldozed! And it was only the foresight of farmer Russell Alexander that saved it.

And wow – what an industry it has produced. Matamata used to be home to 6,000 people and about 7 times as many sheep. It now features in a Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook that has sold more than half a million copies.

Tour the Green Dragon Pub, Hobbiton

Outside the Green Dragon Pub, Hobbiton. Photo by Jeff Hitchcock, CC License

Walking around the Alexander farm, it’s hard to picture life here before Hobbiton. At the same time, we don’t ever really feel like we’re in The Shire as we explore. Even grabbing our complimentary drink at the Green Dragon pub (rebuilt here – it was actually filmed in Wellington) provides a novel experience, but surrounded by fans (and a few fanatics, poor Martin Freeman!) this is more of a tourist spot than a piece of film (or gosh-golly, ‘literary‘) history.

If Hobbiton Tours are a story of preservation, there’s a similar tale at our next destination as Hamish takes us an hour south, past Lake Karapiro, to the town of Otorohanga and its Bird Sanctuary.

New Zealand prides itself on being the last nation on earth to be settled by humans – while there’s some contention about dates, and whether the Maori were the first to settle here, it’s still remarkable that until about 800 years ago there were no people anywhere on these idlands. William the Conquerer settled in England before that!

The lack of humans – and the pests we have introduced since then, including rats, rabbits, and that most recent NZ scourge the possum – created several evolutionary quirks. Most famous of these was the flightless bird species, biological diversity that declined fairly quickly: the Moa, a flightless bird related the Australia’s cassowary, was extinct just two hundred years after humans arrived.

A similar fate could have faced the iconic Kiwi Bird. Now rare, the nocturnal bird is hard to see in the wild – so for tourists who definitely want to see a kiwi bird Otorohanga is the place to visit: in fact, they guarantee you will see one!

See a Kiwi Bird up Close

Not a life size kiwi bird. Photo by Natalia V, CC License

And just moments after we enter the nocturnal enclosure, we do indeed see a kiwi up close. The first thing that surprises us is their size – known as a tiny creature, they are in fact the size of a chicken! Hamish tells us that if that size is impressive, we should also know that the kiwi lays the largest egg, in relation to body size, of any bird in the world.

Hamish gets us back to the city of Hamilton, where there’s time to grab a local beer (order an Epic Pale Ale or a Steinlager, and you’ll be right) at one of the many bars along Victoria Street before he bids us farewell.

New Zealand Beer is Epic

We won’t repeat the joke about New Zealand beer and canoes. Photo by epicbeer, CC License

If you thought we were taking the train onward to Auckland, then you’re in for an unexpected journey. The Northern Explorer only runs 3 days per week, giving us the option of a 3 hour bus journey north … or a personal limousine service. Given this is an everydaydream holiday (and with thanks to Lincoln Limousines in Auckland), which choice do you think we’re making?

Lincoln Limos Auckland

Missed the train? We have a backup plan! Photo copyright Lincoln Limos Auckland

Want to go? Need to know!

  • If you love, love, love Lord of the Rings (and/or The Hobbit) then it is possible to tour almost all of New Zealand moving from film set to film set. Ian Brodie’s excellent Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook is sadly out of print, but there are a treasure trove of websites dedicated to the topic.
  • If you thought the films failed to live up to the books, it is also possible to tour New Zealand without experiencing Hobbiton – just expect, for the next few years while the Hobbit trilogy is released, to see plenty of advertising targeted at people who aren’t you.
  • In fact, if you really want to get off the beaten track in New Zealand (or just find your way around much easier), download the free itravelNZ App for your iPhone or Android device.
  • The New Zealand government notes that the sheep-to-person ratio in New Zealand peaked at 22-to-1 in 1982. We are fairly confident more than 22 Hobbits can fit into our limousine, but weren’t able to test this theory.
  • Matamata is pronounced MAW-da-MAW-da. If you think that’s funny, let’s detour our cars through the township of Whatawhata!

Have you been to Hobbiton? What did you think – worth the experience, or overblown? And how big are those kiwi birds! Please share your experience in the comments below.

Enjoying the Journey: Wellington to Hamilton by Train

By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Itinerary

We’ll be honest: Wellington is New Zealand’s capital city, but like a lot of capital cities (think Canberra, Australia, or Albany, New York State) it’s not high on most people’s itineries. This is probably unfair – indeed, there are a lot of wonderful things to do in Wellington, from a seal colony on the coastline to the artifice of Wellington as a global film-making destination. Ultimately, however, we have an early train to catch – and we kind of think that any place that calls itself “The Capital of Cool” probably isn’t.

The beautiful city of Wellington

Are you a local who loves Wellington? Become an everydaydream holiday Local Guide and tell us why! Cable Car photo by Luigi53, CC License.

So it’s with mixed feelings that we depart from Wellington’s impressive 1937 railway station, on the early 7.55am Northern Explorer train. Today is an epic train journey across the heart of New Zealand’s North Island – plenty of sights without even standing up. Good thing we brought snacks – in fact, grab some popcorn now and sample this 2-minute video from Kiwi Rail.

It’s only minutes into our journey that the city falls behind us, revealing a morning sun rising to the east and sparkling over the coastline to the west. The colours – blue and gold here, green in the rich grazing pastures that follow – are made for photography, and impressively so is the Northern Explorer with open-air platforms to ensure our photos (with the right shutter speed) truly do capture the countryside. If you’ve ever suffered window-glare or reflection in a travel photo, this is the train journey for you!

Wellington to Auckland Train

The Northern Explorer Train, runs from Wellington to Auckland (and Auckland to Wellington). Photo by Tony the Bald Eagle, CC License

Some of our group have never made a long train journey before. Done well, a full day train experience can be the highlight of any trip (we’re thinking Norway in a Nutshell, or Switzerland’s Golden Pass). Done poorly (we’re thinking cattle class, London to Edinburgh) the only thing they have going for them is that a bad train experience is always better than a bad bus experience!

On great train journeys, from Wellington to Auckland, you will truly live the mantra “it’s about the journey, not just the destination”.

Here are our long distance train journey tips

  • Make sure someone in the group has a window seat, so people who want can take photos
  • Check in advance about powerpoints, bathroom locations, and other amenities close to your seat. You don’t want the kid’s dvd player to die halfway through, or the entire trip to smell like a railway toilet
  • Buy your day’s food in advance – it will almost always be fresher and cheaper than the on board options
  • You may be tempted to plan for lunch at a long stopover station – but be mindful all station food options will be swamped within moments of your train disembarking
  • Understand the terrain you’ll be travelling through, to avoid tedium. Coming down into Lake Como is spectacular; Siena to Rome sounds gorgeous, but you will want something else to keep you occupied!

The Northern Explorer train provides some commentary about the main North Island attractions that you pass along the way. Some, like the post marking where the Wellington to Auckland train lines met during construction, will whiz past; others, like the Mt Pirongia at 959 metres high, will be visible long enough to take plenty of photos.

What's that rising out of the Volcano?

Mt Pirongia, a dormant (but not extinct) volcano visible from the train. Photo by Teacher Traveller, CC License

The joy of a long distance train journey is the variety of the scenery, and the Northern Explorer doesn’t disappoint. As we head through Palmerston North station, we leave the coastline behind and journey through the centre of the North Island.

Here we cross over the Tangiwai Bridge, site of New Zealand’s worst ever railway disaster when the bridge collapsed one flooded Christmas Eve. There’s the Makatote Viaduct, one of many that we cross and the highest on this journey ascending 77 metres (258 feet) into the sky.

Raurimu Spiral Track Map

Raurimu Spiral Track Map, reproduced courtesy of Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 35-R1170

Trainspotters, rail journey fanatics, and world-travellers love the Raurimu Spiral track. A feat of Victorian-era engineering, we descend 132 metres via two tunnels, a circle, and three hairpin bends. In a straight line it’s a 2km stretch of track, but with a gradient too severe for even modern trains; following the horseshoe route (see the picture above) takes us 6.8 kms, but avoids a 20km detour (which also would have required 9 additional viaducts be built!). The great age of trains is behind us now, which is why experiencing man-made marvels like the Raurimu Spiral is all the more enlightening. To think we could have flown over all this and missed the experience!

As night begins to fall, our train arrives at today’s destination: the city of Hamilton. There are others who will take the Wellington to Auckland train line all the way to its end point. One such traveller was Peter Jackson, who read Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings for the first time on this exact train route. He said it was this train journey that made him realise how similar New Zealand’s landscape was to the middle earth of LOTR and The Hobbit.

But that’s a story for tomorrow. Tonight, after a 11 hours spent together on a train, is an opportunity to separate. Not because we need the space, but because we want to experience some of the best Bed & Breakfast’s Hamilton has to offer. Enjoy some local Kiwi hospitality, but be warned – we have a Hobbit tour tomorrow morning, so there won’t be time for second breakfast!

The highest viaduct on the journey

The Makatote Viaduct, 250 feet above the water. Photo by Abaconda, CC License

Want to go? Need to know!

  • You can buy Northern Explorer train tickets (Wellington to Auckland, or Auckland to Wellington) online, BUT you are best served to read this website first. The ‘Man in Seat 61’ has some tips on ensuring you grasp the best, local price when booking.
  • The Northern Explorer ‘Train’ probably changes trains along the way, as diesel and electric alternate. Be sure to Check-in at about 20 mins before departure. Seats aren’t allocated when you book, but you can call Kiwi Rail ahead (0800 TRAINS in NZ; +64 4 495 0775 outside NZ) if you’re particularly keen to get a specific seat or group section.
  • Another popular stop for those breaking the Wellington to Auckland train journey is Te Kuiti, home to the Waitomo glow-worm caves and the self-proclaimed “sheep shearing capital of the world”.

Have we been unfair to Wellington? Have you any other helpful long distance train advice? Please share your experience in the comments below.

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Marlborough Wine Tour New Zealand

By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Itinerary

Not long ago, a list of the world’s best wine tours would have been very Euro-centric – and western Europe at that, with France and Italy featuring heavily while fantastic wines like Hungarian Bikavér continue to be ignored.

Slowly, so-called ‘New World Wines’ began to emerge, forced somewhat by marketing money out of California’s Napa Valley. South American wines, in particular Chilean reds such as the Carménère (an old Bordeaux varietal now extinct in Europe), had a rush of popularity. And the, begrudgingly the old world was forced to acknowledge the quality produced by the antipodean wineries of Australia and New Zealand.

Wine, drunk the best possible way - with friends

Enjoying Marlborough Wine while cruising the Marlborough Sound. Photo by Peter Burge, CC License

Having experienced – and enjoyed – wine tours of Australia’s Hunter Valley we must now admit just how much we love the Marlborough Wine Region in New Zealand. And today, we have a Marlborough wine tour so we can all find out why the wines, in particular the whites and specifically the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, are as good as any that the world has to offer.

Given the choice of wine tours, we have elected to embark on the ‘Marlborough Icons Tour‘ which combines wine tasting with the other local icons – a cruise of the Marlborough Sound and a feed of Greenshell Mussels.

Just after 10am, our guide and mini-coach collect us from our Blenheim accommodation. Our first destination is Johanneshof Cellars, where the local conditions are combined with German wine heritage. The Gewurztraminer (an aromatic, slightly sweet, white wine) is the agreed winner here – a lesser known wine grape, it’s guaranteed to be a conversation starter when you take one to your next dinner party.

No wine tour of New Zealand is complete without our next stop, Cloudy Bay, where the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc is the main attraction – though the Pelorus brut (“Champagne” is now a protected geographical indicator, so we can’t use it here) is well-received by those who prefer a glass of bubbly.

As befits a jam-packed wine tour, our final tasting stop is The Vines Village, where we sample a range of boutique wines in one place, as well as some of the local produce and clothing from the region.

The spectacular Marlborough Sound

The spectacular Marlborough Sound. Photo by AceNZ, CC License

If the wine’s gone to your head (and if it hasn’t, have another glass!), you’ll enjoy our relaxing afternoon cruising the Marlborough Sound by boat. Our group naturally divides into those who want to hear the history of the Pelorus and Kenepuru Sounds, and those who simply want to sit on deck and watch them pass by. A stopover at the Greenshell Mussel farm provides more than just afternoon sustenance – there’s recognition of the region’s pioneers, and an opportunity to sample the green and gold delicacies of this native New Zealand shellfish.

Come 5pm, our Marlborough wine tour drops us off at Picton, on the edge of the South Island. We have a 7pm ferry booked to take us across the Cook Strait to Wellington.

Beached at Picton

The small beach at Picton, New Zealand. Photo by Sid Mosdell, CC License.

Which gives us plenty of time to partake in this suggestion, from NZ local and expert traveller Megan Singleton (on Twitter as @bloggeratlarge). We’re down to the beach front in Picton for some fish and chips – and the combination of good grub and a nice view means not a single one of us makes a comment about how New Zealanders pronounce this authentic meal.

Cook Strait View

View from the Picton-Wellington Ferry. Photo by Chris Murphy, CC License

Want to go? Need to know!

  • You can catch the train from Christchurch to Picton, and then (via the ferry) all the way on to Auckland.
  • Exactly which wineries are featured on specific tours will vary. The full day Marlborough wine tour will give you tastings at more locations.
  • Global travel tip: Most tours start and end in the same location, but it’s always worth asking your guide if they can be flexible. We saved the time and expense of getting from Blenheim to Picton by choosing the tour we did.
  • Create your own Marlborough wine tour New Zealand – there’s a great map and more info here
  • There are 2 ferry services to choose from – Bluebridge and the Interislander will take you from Picton to Wellington (or Wellington to Picton). Timetables are a more important factor in your choice than any price or amenity differences.

What’s your favourite New Zealand Wine? Have we been unfair in promoting the Marlborough region so heavily? Please share your experience in the comments below.

Christchurch Pops-Up and is Open for business

By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Itinerary

At 12.51pm on Tuesday, 22 February 2011, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. An aftershock of the larger 7.1 magnitude quake from September 2010, the 2011 Christchurch earthquake was shallower and centred on the city, causing more widespread damage and the deaths of 185 people from 20 different countries.

Christchurch Cathedral, before and after

Christchurch Cathedral, before and after the 2011 Earthquake. Photos by Paul Petch and the NZ Defence Force, Licensed under Creative Commons

Almost two years later, the city is still re-building. Large parts of the CBD (central business district) remain cordoned off. The iconic Christchurch Cathedral, which had been damaged in five previous earthquakes between 1881 and 2010, was so severely impacted by the 2011 quake that the decision was made to deconsecrate the building; demolition work began in March 2012.

As a popular tourist destination, the economic impact of the earthquake in Christchurch was felt beyond the destruction of the day itself. More than 360 aftershocks have been recorded, and while safety warnings have largely been lifted by foreign governments, even neighbouring Australia is still advising citizens to be careful because aftershocks will continue for several years.

Christchurch Shops

Open for Business! Photo by Ed, Licensed under Creative Commons

Always a welcoming city for travellers, the locals here want it made clear that Christchurch is OPEN and as welcoming as ever. So we have no concerns as we begin to explore New Zealand’s second largest city. Cities like London treat ‘pop up’ galleries and restaurants as a limited-edition novelty; Christchurch has embraced the concept and become, in many ways, a pop-up city!

A shopping centre made of shipping containers

Re:START Shopping Experience. Photo by Jane Selomulyo, Licensed under Creative Commons

Our first destination is the Re:START, a mall built from shipping containers and now home to a mix of retail shops, funky cafes, and a vibe that’s hard to describe but wonderful to experience. Use the free wi-fi on site to remind your friends around that world that CHCH (as the locals call it) is still a global destination.

Lunch is had at the King of Snake restaurant – no snakes on the menu, just amazing thai cuisine to be enjoyed in this eclectic establishment.

Normally we avoid double-decker bus tours – in most cities they seem an expensive way to learn in 2 hours what 2 pages of a good guide book will tell you. But we want to hear the Christchurch story – before, during, and after the 2011 earthquake – first hand, and the 1 hour Hassle Free bus tour seems the way to do it.

Kiwi Humour on display. Photo by Violaine Bavent, Licensed under Creative Commons

Kiwi Humour on display. Photo by Violaine Bavent, Licensed under Creative Commons

And then, sadly, it’s time for us to continue our exploration of all that New Zealand has to offer. Our evening drive takes us 4 hours north of Christchurch to the town of Blenheim, in the heart of Marlborough wine country. We’ll stop for dinner on the way, and get a taste for the wine and local seafood at the 122-year-old Pier Hotel in Kaikoura.

How quickly we have evolved from heart-thumping adventure to some of the finest food and wine in the world.

Want to go? Need to know!

  • Christchurch is safe. Like any destination in an earthquake zone, visitors (especially those from stable locations) here are advised to take a few minutes and familiarise themselves with the Drop, Cover, Hold routine before travelling.
  • We found that the locals are open to talking about the changes the city has been through over the past two years; but this is a generalisation, and there’s no doubt that the death and destruction will still be impacting the lives of some people you meet.
  • Most international tourists enter New Zealand via flights to either Christchurch (north end of the South Island) or Auckland (North Island), and it’s well worth spending a few days wandering this beautiful city at the start or end of your NZ holiday.
  • Keep an eye on the Pop-up City website for new attractions – http://popupcity.co.nz/

Been to Christchurch before or after the Earthquake? Please share your experience in the comments below.

If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you join them?

By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Itinerary

Travel to Australia and New Zealand from Europe or North America, and you might be tempted to lump these two countries together. Experience them both, however, and you will see that the similarities don’t extend much past funny accents. Case in point: we spent last weekend on an Australia road trip taking in the east coast beaches; this week our New Zealand road trip will involve Whitewater Rafting, and a hike across a glacier!

Our local guide Dene suggests we go easy on our Friday morning breakfast, although he’s promised us “a calm morning white water rafting“. We’re not sure how that could possibly work, but at 8.15am we find ourselves on the banks of the Kawarau River, which is much easier to navigate than the Shotover River we took the jetboat through yesterday.

Rapido Rapido

And this is the beginners guide to Whitewater rafting New Zealand! Photo by Queenstown Rafting, Licensed under Creative Commons

(Lord of the Rings fanatics will observe that the Kawarau looks a lot like the River Anduin that flows parallel to the Misty Mountains.)

With Queenstown Rafting we actually spend a couple of hours cruising the river, and it is an ideal experience rafting for beginners – though the heart rate does pick up as we plunge into the 400m long Dog Leg Rapid. The hot shower and sauna at the end are welcome, and some of us probably wish we could stay here when Dene let’s us in on the next destination…

…Bungy Jumping off Kawarau Bridge!

He seems to be enjoying that!

Bungy Jumping is safe – just scary as hell! Photo by Los viajes del Cangrejo, CC License

Bungy jumping – now available all around the world – actually began on this bridge in 1988. We’re not sure what possessed AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch to jump off a perfectly good bridge, but we’re glad they did! Now can we muster the confidence to follow in their footsteps. (To be fair – it’s not even a footstep – lean forward and let gravity do the rest!).

Any second thoughts we have drop away when we see the person in front of our group calmly step over the edge … completely naked! And if you’re not sure you could do the same, Queenstown’s only tandem jump means you can hand that decision over to another person and leap together.

You don’t really have time to get nervous. Without much fuss you, too, are strapped into a harness and then, quite suddenly, you’re standing up on the platform and there’s nothing in front of you but air. That’s when your heart starts beating faster and your grip tightens on the pole, which is all that anchors you to earth.

Three, two, one, JUMP!

Everything in your body prevents you from jumping, every instinct says no, and yet…

It happens in fast forward and slow motion, the sky, the ground, the river, then SPLASH! Your head is soaked, you’re smiling like a maniac, and you’ve done your first (and maybe last?) bungy in New Zealand.

Going, Going, Gone!

Going, Going, Gone! The first two photos are Adam Selwood; the splashdown photo is by Mat, CC License.

Beautiful Lake Wanaka

View of Lake Wanaka. Photo by Edwin, CC License

We use New Zealand’s long summer twilight to make the short drive out of Queenstown to the town of Wanaka. Plenty of New Zealand tours spend a few nights among the scenery here – we get stuck into “Her Majesty’s” pizza at The Cow Restaurant, before a sleepover and a Saturday morning drive towards the Franz Josef glacier on New Zealand’s west coast.

Some people are hikers, and full day treks across the glacier are available. Some people are more sedate, preferring to experience the 12 km (7.5 mi) long glacier and the nearby Mount Cook from the air. Dene has never seen the point in limiting our experience, so we’re doing both (it’s called heli-hiking)!

There’s a beauty to the scenic helicopter flight across the glacier, but there’s real danger here as well. Unstable ice cliffs mean many hiking tracks are now off limits, and the Maori name for the glacier is Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere, which speaks of a tale when Hinehukatere’s lover Wawe was swept to her death here by an avalanche.

Helicopter view of Franz Josef Glacier

Helicopter view of Franz Josef Glacier. Photo by Greg Hewgill, CC License.

It’s hard not to think about those stories as the helicopter drops us off (and disappears over the horizon!). But during the 2 hour hike back to the town of Franz Josef our guide keeps us amazed with the scenery, and also demonstrates the tangible evidence that climate change is having on this World Heritage Site.

Hiking Franz Josef Glacier

Hiking the Glacier. Photo by Edwin, CC License

It is summer, but increasingly the walk is over rock formations carved by the glacier as it recedes under global warming.

The adventure portion of our New Zealand trip is closing, as Dene fares us well. Sunday will be a relaxing day, a four hour drive through national parks to the city of Christchurch. But to help us sleep tonight, and to reward our bodies for the stress of navigating rapids, jumping off bridges, and trekking in crampons across a glacier, we head for an evening at the Glacier Hot Pools.

That’s right – you can immerse yourself in New Zealand’s natural beauty without needing to check your travel insurance first! Now who has the first massage …?

Want to go? Need to know!

  • Queenstown Rafting offer twice-daily adventures on the Kawarau river
  • We always felt that bungy jumping was a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience; and if you’re going to do it once, do it where it all began
  • The most popular helicopter experience in New Zealand is to the top of Mount Cook, allowing you to walk around up top without having to do any climbing. Most of these depart from Glentanner Park, NOT the Franz Josef town (www.helicopter.co.nz/mtcook.asp)
  • The drive from Franz Josef to Christchurch is longer than it looks – it’s due east as the crow flies, but you have to drive 90 minutes north before the road actually turns inland through Arthur’s Pass
What is a Crampon?

Crampons! Photo by Edwin, CC License

Have you toured New Zealand’s South Island? Got your heart rate thumping? What are your memories – Let us know in the comments below.

Jetboating Queenstown: The World’s Adrenaline Capital

By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Itinerary

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 on the Shotover River

Shotover Jet in action on the Shotover River, Queenstown New Zealand.

Shotover Jetboat

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!

Jet Boat Danger Signs

If you think the spectators can get wet, think about being on board! Photo by Claire Taylor, Licensed under Creative Commons

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.)

Queenstown Minus5 Ice Bar

Chilling with cocktails at the Queenstown Ice Bar. Photo by Ian Armstrong, Licensed under Creative Commons

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.