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Published: November 11th 2009
After testing gravity in Wanaka, we made the short drive south to Queenstown, a small town overlooked by the Remarkable Mountain Range. We took a gondola ride up the side of one of the mountains which provided a fantastic panoramic lookout over the town below. Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand, and from the mountain we watched people bungy jumping and paragliding. After enjoying the scenery, we took a chairlift further up and then raced back down on the luge track. We spent several days in Queenstown walking along the lakefront, browsing the shops, and enjoying some of the activities the town has to offer. Maike went bungy jumping on the Kawarau Bridge, the world's first commercial bungy jump, while Andrew and I opted for some adventurous water sports. The Shotover Jet Boat is the only boat allowed to operate in the narrow confines of the beautiful Shotover Canyon. We had witnessed the jet boat's 360 degree spins and heart stoppingly close navigation along the canyon walls, but to experience it first-hand was something else! We donned the raingear and life jackets and climbed aboard. Our guide "Junior" told us what to expect and we were off.
He spun the boat in a 360 degree donut before we entered the canyon. With expert precision, Junior navigated us within inches of protruding rock walls at up to 85 km/h. We even did the 360 degree spins near large boulders and rocks. The capabilities of both the boat and the driver were extraordinary.
Looking for more water action, we went white water sledging the next day. A sledge is a type of boogie board that actually surrounds your chest and arms, offering a little protection against some of the hazards in the white water. After squeezing into the thick wetsuits we were outfitted with short, rigged flippers and a lifejacket and helmet. We had a short briefing and then headed down to the river. Entering into an eddy, we stopped to learn the necessary skills and we were quickly reminded what cold water felt like! At eight degrees Celcius, it was quite refreshing but comfortable enough with the wetsuits. Once the guides were satsified with our skills we headed out to the river. We went through three sets of class three rapids and some other smaller ones along the way. It was awesome! The rapids definitely seem bigger
from a sledge's perspective. We had pretty good control, though it was exhausting to get into the right spot against the force of the whitewater. With the first run complete, we went back for a second round, this time hitting the bigger spots on the rapids, barrel-rolling or getting air as we went over them. We made a short stop for some cliff jumping and we both went without hesitation - after jumping out of a plane, the cliff was nothing! Sledging is an awesome water sport - hopefully one day they'll bring it to Canada so we can give it a try again!
The next morning, we were set to leave Queenstown, but a crack in our windshield prevented this - thankfully we had purchased the full insurance option so it didn't cost us a penny! We were back on the road in the afternoon, making our way to Milford Sound. The drive there was very scenic and we found a campsite in the Fiordland National Park about 40 kilometers from the Sound. We drove the rest of the way in the morning and it was incredible! I've never seen so many waterfalls before! We drove in between
Catlins Conservation Area
(and in one case, through) towering cliffs. We booked a scenic boat cruise for that afternoon. Milford Sound is actually a fiord rather than a sound, and gets an average rainfall of six metres annually! As a result of this extremely heavy rainfall, in addition to the meltwater from the mountain snow, a three metre layer of freshwater sits on top of the saltwater, creating a very unique and very dark environment for the marine life. The scenery was beautiful with hundreds and hundreds of waterfalls pouring down the huge walls of the fiord.
After taking in the sights of Milford Sound, we headed into the far south. Their seems to be so much wind blowing up from the Antarctic that the trees actually grow sideways! We passed through the southern town of Invercargill, stopping at the museum along the way, before continuing to the Catlins Conservation Area. This was a fantastic spot in the forest with beautiful rivers and waterfalls. We spent the night at a riverside campsite. The next day we headed north, stopping at Nugget Point where we did a short but beautiful walk to the lighthouse. Our next stop was the city of Dunedin. Named
after the Gaelic word for Edinborough, Dunedin has more of a European feel to it (complete with a castle) and is the gateway to the Otago Peninsula. Taking a scenic drive around the peninsula we found ourselves at the Royal Albatross Centre, where we were able to spot a few of these enormous birds nestled amongst the cliffs. From here, we took the scenic inland route back to Christchurch stopping at the turquoise blue glacial lakes, Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo.
We are currently en route to the Cook Islands! We'll be crosssing the date line, bringing us that much closer to home.
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