Christmas in Queenstown

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December 27th 2006
Published: December 28th 2006
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The Red point is Glenorchy and the start of our "safari"

The View From Our Hotel roomThe View From Our Hotel roomThe View From Our Hotel room

The remarkables range in the backgound
Merry Christmas from Queenstown!

Here is the second part of our Christmas update (if you haven't read our previous blog you should do that first)

Kirsty and I had a fantastic time in the adventure capital of the world, Queenstown. We decided to get out of Dunedin, and after work on Friday, we drove into central Otago the 3 1/2 hours to Queenstown. The drive was beautiful, as central Otago has some stunning scenery. Although Kirsty slept through a lot of it, I was having a good time taking in the landscape. A lot of the area is very desolate, with rocky hills and mountains, the schist rocks protrude from the ground everywhere giving it a broken look. If you have seen the lord of the rings movies, this is where they filmed the scene at the start of the second movie, where they are chasing after the orcs who kidnapped Merry and Pippin. They did a lot of the filming of the movies in this area, in and around Queenstown, Arrowtown and Glenorchy.

Queenstown is the biggest resort town in New Zealand, and there is plenty to do and see. Just walking down the street you are tempted to do all sorts of things you wouldn't normally, like bungy jumping, skydiving, paragliding, hang gliding, canyoning, whitewater rafting, river boarding (throwing yourself down a raging river in a padded wetsuit and a body board), and all sorts of other extreme things your mother would be terrified of you doing.

We arrived on Friday night, checked into our hotel, and headed into town to get something to eat. Our hotel was a 20 minute walk up the hill out of town, and while it was not right in the middle of things, the view was well worth it.

Saturday we explored the town and tried to decide which of the numerous activities we wanted to try out. We are planning on heading back to this area, so we didn't need to accomplish everything in one trip, and we also didn't want to spend all the money we had so recently earned. (While Queenstown is cool, it is really expensive.)We had a look at the wharf, and some of the boats, and then decided to take the gondola ride up to the skyline area, which is perched on the hill that backs the town. The views from the
Queenstown from the SkylineQueenstown from the SkylineQueenstown from the Skyline

notice the paraglider
top were amazing, as we had bright blue skies and hot summer weather. We watched some people bungy jumping off a platform near the restaurant, and then took a chairlift up slightly higher to do some luging (or an alpine slide as they are known in the US.) We were luging like pros after a few runs. We decided after that we wanted to take a look at the people paragliding off the summit, as they glide overhead every few minutes, and float silently over the town. It was a 20 minute hike up to the top, but the experience of watching the instructors strap people to themselves, run down the hill and soar away was a good time. Kirsty was thinking about going, and was worried about going in flip flops, even after the instructor offered to tape them to her feet.

We then headed down the hill into town, and into the information station to book our activities for the next few days. We were thinking about what to do, especially on Christmas, as we didn't know what was open. We really wanted to go jet boating- it is one of the Queenstown specialties, as companies will
Paraglider takeoffParaglider takeoffParaglider takeoff

They just run down the hill to take off
take you into canyons or up twisting braided rivers in a jet boat- a small speed boat that uses water jet propulsion rather than a propeller (it was invented here in the 1950's.) They fly up these rivers at high speed, narrowly missing cliff walls, rocks, sand bars and other obsticals. The rivers are so shallow in spots the only way to get the boat accross is to blast though on a high speed plane.

Kirsty and I both wanted to go for a walk, as they have some of the best hiking/trekking/walking trails in this area. We had talked about doing a longish walk on christmas eve, but as we didn't really bring our gear, and there was so much else to do, we decided to scrap the idea. For Christmas day we signed up for a trip with "Dart River Safaris." They offer a trip that seemed to kill a few birds with one stone. First they feed you a Christmas BBQ lunch, then they take you up the Dart river valley on a 4wd coach, and then you have a short hike before jet boating back down the river to their base in Glenorchy. With that taken care of we only needed something to do on Sunday. So, we booked ourselves into a wine tour for the afternoon of the 24th. The gibbston valley, just outside of town specialises in growing pinot noir grapes and their cousin, the pinot gris grape (also known in the italian as pinot grigio). The climate and soil is great for growing grape vines, and the wines from this region are starting to become well respected.

After packing in a big breakfast we hopped on the bus and headed up the valley to try out some wines. Our tour guide was great, and he gave us some good stories about the area, including some of the films that have been made here. He himself had a starring role in the movie “The Vertical Limit” with Chris O’Donnel. (He was the British team leader.) We spent the afternoon at four different wineries trying their fare, and learning about viniculture, but mostly getting nice and drunk.

We met an Australian couple on the tour, and after we were finished we headed back to their place for some cheese and nibbles and some more drinks. After a bit we headed down into
Sailing on lake WakatipuSailing on lake WakatipuSailing on lake Wakatipu

This is NZ 14 from the 1993 America's cup campaign, they take people out on the lake for a cruise.
town to check out the local wine shop, and have some dinner at one of the pubs.

Christmas day we woke up and found that Santa had indeed located us, even here on the other side of the world. After opening our presents, we drove the 45 minutes up the lake to Glenorchy and the start of our “safari.” We had been promised a bbq lunch, and had not eaten anything before arriving, but once we got there we were not happy to find out that the lunch had been cancelled. I get a bit grumpy when I have not eaten (as my family well knows) and we had a word with the tour operators. A discount and a few cookies calmed me down.

The tour was fantastic. We headed up the Dart valley from Glenorchy on a 4wd coach to "Paradise", and after a stop or two to take in the scenery, we arrived at the spot for our walk. This area was the location of a lot of the filming for lord of the rings, including the site for the white tower of othornac, where the evil wizard sauromon dwells. It is also the location for
TSS EarnslawTSS EarnslawTSS Earnslaw

A coal powered lake steamer. This used to be one of the only ways to get around. Now they do cruises up the lake from the wharf.
a lot of the mountain scenes, such as the spot where Gandalf destroys the Balrog monster on the mountain top at the end of the first movie. The tour guide took us for a walk through a beech forest that has not changed in a thousand years. Here we stood under (or inside) four hundred year old trees, saw the inspiration for “treebeard” the “ent” (or walking tree) in the Lord Of The Rings movies. We also were eaten up by those notorious sand flies. After the walk we boarded our jet boats for the ride back. These boats travel at very high speed in shallow water, and the drivers do all they can to scare the bejesis out of you. They blast by rocks, missing them by fractions, and put the boat sideways around corners where you are sure they will crash. The ride was really fun, but I was itching to drive one of these bad boys. They are basically really big, high powered jet skis that carry 18 people.

The river itself is very shallow, and twists through narrow channels making its way down the valley. As we headed up the river into the Mount Aspiring National park, and area that is only accessible by foot, helicopter, or jet boat, we took in some breathtaking scenery. Pluto peak is here, where Sir Edmund Hillery practised for his ascent of Everest. There are many huge waterfalls that cascade down the steep mountainsides, as well as “hanging” lakes- alpine lakes that are suspended in areas several thousand feet above the valley floor. We marvelled at the wilderness, as the boat made its way up as far as they are allowed to go. We then blasted back down the river, the driver throwing in some 360s and cutting through channels so narrow and shallow that we hit bottom on several occasions. After arriving back in Glenorchy well satisfied, and buzzing with a bit of adrenaline, we drove back to the hotel to pop a bottle of bubbly and enjoy some Christmas dinner.

Boxing day (that’s the day after Christmas for the Americans among us) we checked out of the hotel and lingered around for just a bit longer. We took the short drive over to Arrowtown and explored some of the old gold miners shacks, and had a walk along the river. We then drove over to the
Wine CaveWine CaveWine Cave

At the Gibbston Valley Winery
Kawarau Bridge, where AJ Hackett and his buddy set up the first commercial bungy site in the world. This is just outside of Queenstown, and it was really fun to watch people hurl themselves off the platform and get dipped in the river below. As Kirsty and I have little to no interest in doing this ourselves, it was fun to watch others take the risk. (We are thinking about doing a skydive, its just something about bungy that we are not all that in to.) We spent some time here watching the bungy production line. I was surprised at how many people they can get off that bridge in a short amount of time. A person jumps every 2-3 minutes or so. Hackett has made himself a lot of money since he first started in the 80’s. We got our vicarious adrenaline rush, and then hopped in the car for the trip back to Dunedin.

We really loved Queenstown, as I think you would be hard pressed not to. It is really touristy, with all the shops you would expect, selling t-shirts and other memorabilia, but as long as they keep it somewhat under control, it will be hard to spoil the natural wonder of the place. I’m not sure if we could live here, but the occasional visit is great.

Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25


Me Having a sniffMe Having a sniff
Me Having a sniff

(Yeh like I know what I am doing)

Notice his eye and nose- what the LOTR film makers used as the model for the walking tree "ent"
Dart RiverDart River
Dart River

The mountains in the background served as the training ground for Sir Edmund Hillery- and also for LOTR scenes.

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