A Travellerspoint blog

Queenstown

Dizzy heights with skydiving, gondolas and luge running.

all seasons in one day 19 °C

Monday 1.3
We caught an early taxi to the airport and got a flight to Queenstown, less than an hour away. Queenstown is in the south west of the south island – a small picturesque town nestling on the beautiful bay of Lake Wakatipu (a fiord whose bed is below sea level). Unfortunately the weather changed and it was raining when we landed and it was below 19 degrees (cold!); however the surrounding scenery with the backdrop of the jagged mountains (the Remarkables) was stunning. We got the shuttle bus to our apartments in the town – luxury standard with all amenities and balconies overlooking the lake. We shopped for some necessary waterproof gear and mooched around the shops. I was booked to go skydiving but it was cancelled due to the weather. We had some lunch in Fergburger’s - a very popular, crowded haunt for all ages (‘had a huge tasty lamb burger which I could barely finish). While we were having a coffee in the Patagonian Chocolate Cafe (beautiful chocolate), it stopped raining so we decided to take a tour of the lake on an old steamship which was docked along the wharf. Built in 1911 it was refurbished a few years ago; it uses 10 tons of coal for fuel daily. It had a resident piano player and a bar on board. We were able to go down and see the engine room. The one and a half hour trip took us to the end of the fiord and back round the other side of it. They served some canapés on the outward journey and we had a sing-along with pianist on the inward one. By the time we disembarked it was a better evening; though it didn’t get dark until 9:00 in the evening (later than in Christchurch) it was also somewhat cooler.
Tuesday 2.3
After breakfast we walked into town and to the gondolas’ base to purchase tickets to get to the top of the mountain. As the weather was much better than yesterday this was popular with the tourists and the queue was long. We eventually bought combined tickets for the gondola ride and the luge. The luge has a separate track from the top to about half way down. We enjoyed great views on the way up on the gondolas – lots of photo opportunities. The top was well facilitated with shops, restaurant and cafe as well as two bungy jump bases. We took a brief chair-lift ride to where the luge carts started. The luge is basically a cart with small wheels in which the driver sits very close to the ground; brakes are managed by pulling the steering wheel closer to you. Gravity played a big part in accelerating the luge as you went down the track which had many hairpins in it. The ride itself was quite thrilling as long as you could slow down sufficiently to control the speed round the bends.
After a quick spot of lunch I checked in at N Zone to confirm that the deferred skydiving was going ahead today. It was, so at 3:00pm I joined the group waiting for the shuttle minibus to the airfield. It was a 10km trip outside the town. As it happened there were only two skydiving passengers doing the 12,000ft jump; the rest were going for either the 10,000 or 15,000ft jumps. The other person in my plane was a girl from Dorset on her gap year. We had a flight master and a camera man assigned to each of us. After receiving our flight instructions and getting kitted out in our jumpsuit, helmet and harness we boarded the small single propeller plane and took off. We climbed steadily towards 12,000 ft as the flight master instructed me on how to get out of the plane and what to do during freefall and landing. Just before the Perspex door opened I looked down and instinctively drew back at our awesome height above the ground – too late, I was nudged forward by the flight master..... 1, 2, 3 and out into the abyss! After a few seconds of freefall through the deafening wind, the flight master tapped my shoulder as a signal to let go of the harness and try out some stunts. Freefall seemed to last a long time but when the parachute opened everything was calm and silent with magnificent views of the land below. We glided gently over mountains, lakes and green fields; we circled and twirled slowly descending. The flight master guided us accurately towards the landing spot in the airfield where we had a faultless landing. Only when I was taking off the jumpsuit did I notice that my jaw was sore and rapidly swelling. I put an ice pack on it for a while but it made little difference. I think the flap from the harness must have hit me during the freefall. Back in town I met up with Catherine and Thomas who had hired bikes for the afternoon and were saddle-sore after cycling round part of the lake.

Posted by JShevlin 01:03 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Weekend in Christchurch

Rugby, Late Nights and BBQs

sunny 25 °C

Friday 26.2
‘Went to Aideen’s work place in the centre of the city – Currency-on-Line – and borrowed her bicycle for the day. Catherine and Thomas went off to visit a Special School (because of Catherine’s interest in Special Education) I cycled around the city centre, took some photos around the square and the market, and visited Christchurch Art Gallery. ‘Went back to the Botanic Gardens in Hagley Park and browsed around the displays of begonias, varieties of coleus and carnivorous plants; I wandered around the rose garden in front of the huge greenhouses. It was Sports Day at Christchurch College whose grounds are in Hagley Park, so I joined the crowds of parents and tourists ; it was well organised with tiers of stands around the grounds, hospitality tents and a good music/PA system. Afterwards I cycled along the banks of the Avon and eventually back to Aideen’s place. Christchurch is cycle-friendly place – no steep hills, plenty of cycle paths and relatively little traffic for a city. It’s also compulsory to wear a helmet while cycling.
No sooner had I got in the door when Thomas arrived having picked up Kieran form the airport – back from his trip to Kenya. We all went over to the AMI Stadium in the city to watch the Super 14s Rugby Match; the Crusaders (local team) were playing the Sharks (S. African team). We had seats high up in the new covered stand, with a great view. However it got quite cold after the sun set, so I was glad I took my pullover & windcheater with me. After a close half-time score the Crusaders ran away with it in the 2nd half winning 35 – 6. There is a strong emphasis on sport throughout N. Zealand with quite a competitive culture for winning. The fans were in great spirits after the match; we went to an Italian restaurant for a meal and there was a lively atmosphere there. It was well after midnight when we got back to Aideen’s place.

Saturday 27.2
We watched some of last night’s rugby match replay on Sky TV before going for another cycle around the city area. ‘Looked around the Arts Centre where, at one of the exhibitions, I saw some paintings of places in Ireland I recognised; I got talking to the artist who had Irish ancestors. I moved on to the Saturday Market and browsed round it and listened to some local buskers. Cycling towards the centre I noticed that one of the streets was closed off; it was given over to a display by the Police, Ambulance, Army and Fire & Rescue Services. It was a family orientated event with many children participating in organised activities. On the way back to Aideen’s I stopped off to watch people play “giant chess” in the Cathedral Square.
Kieran & Phillip put on a tasty BBQ that evening – fillet steaks, bacon, sausages and salads washed down with a few bottles of wine. Afterwards, as we played Monopoly (NZ style) we heard some of the adventures of Kieran’s climb up Kilimanjaro. We stayed up to watch the Scotland V Italy and later the Ireland V England Six Nations Rugby matches. It was after 10:00 next morning when I eventually got to bed. (Italy and Ireland were winners)

Sunday 28.2
‘Slept until late in the afternoon and watched the highlights of the Ireland V England rugby match again. In the evening we travelled out to the suburbs of the city for a BBQ at some friends of Aideen and Kieran – a scenic site on the hills overlooking the city; the house was built into the hillside on three levels with the garden, patio and swimming pool on top. The sunset and panoramic views of the city were breathtaking. There were quite a few people there, some from S. Africa with many stories of the life they left behind. We ate, drank and chatted until late.

Posted by JShevlin 13:39 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Christchurch and Hanmer Springs

sunny 26 °C

Wednesday 24.2
After breakfast, as Aideen & Phillip went into work, we took a walk around the city centre and through the park; the park was large and very pretty with extensive flower displays in preparation for the forthcoming flower festival. ‘Met up with Aideen for lunch and afterwards went punting along the River Avon; our punter was Swiss and gave us a commentary on the sights we passed as we went We stopped under one of the bridges where we were treated to a yodelling song from our Swiss punter. It was a relaxing and peaceful was to see some of the city sights including the lovely dandelion fountain with the water spraying out like a ball of mist around it.
Christchurch is a compact city in a plain with a mountainous backdrop; the traffic in it is free-flowing and it is an easy city to walk or cycle around. The tram service does a circular tour around the centre and each tram has a theme, one is specifically for tours, another is a restaurant and another has a jazz band on it. We got the tour one which was quite full as there was a cruise ship in port and there were many people in the city. There were four from the ship sitting opposite us – one lady wearing her name label and continually knitting commented on many of the sights as we passed – this was obviously her second time round with the tour tram. Between the comments the main topic of conversation among the four was food.
Thursday 25.2
After an early breakfast and preparation for the day out we borrowed Aideen’s car and drove north out of the city towards Hanmer springs – a two hour drive. We passed large tracts of lush pasture land and some vines. This area was not suffering as much as the north island from drought. She advised us to do the walk up conical hill rather than go on the trek to the waterfall, as it was quite a long one and we would not have enough time to do the hot springs afterwards. We decided to try conical hill first and see if we could cut across from there to the waterfall; though short it was a steep trek up it. The hill was shaped like a cone and the track zigzagged up it. The views from the top were well worth the effort. Though we tried to cut across towards the waterfall we found that it was not possible so we went back down and went to the hot springs. It was a large enclosed complex with swimming pools, spas, massage facilities and a variety of hot pools (the latter ranging from 35 to 42 degrees). They were really relaxing after the walking. On our drive back to Christchurch we stopped off at the Mudhouse (a winery) for a cup of coffee and some wine-tasting; ‘bought a bottle of wine. We also stopped to look at the giant water sprayers in the fields; a few of them stretched to about a quarter of a Km – took some photos.
We got back in time to watch Aideen and Phillip play in a mixed 6-a-side touch rugby match in the park. Their team was short of a player but one of their friends turned up and (though injured) was roped into the team. The opposition had lots of extra players so they freely substituted throughout the game. The scores were even at half time; in the second half our team came into their own and eventually won – they were elated but thoroughly exhausted; it was like beating two teams. After the match we joined them for a few celebratory drinks at the local bar.

Posted by JShevlin 20:07 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

From Auckland to Christchurch

An interesting visit to Sky Tower

sunny 25 °C

Tuesday 23.2
From our motel we drove back to the airport outside Auckland, checked our luggage in, and, as we had time to spare, Thomas & I took the shuttle bus into the city. We met a chap on the bus – Bobby Wallace Acworth – who was very chatty; he was originally from N. Ireland, was a teacher of philosophy at private schools in the UK, and had been living with his family in N Zealand for the last five years. As he was so garrulous and forward I did not trust him initially as I thought it was a scam. I did still not trust him when he got off the bus at the same stop as us and offered to buy us a drink at the Sky Tower. He got a tricolour (the Irish national flag) out of this case and wore it round his neck. When we went into the ticket office for entrance to the Sky Tower I was asking about concessions when Bobby butted in and paid for the entrance for all three of us. We went up to the bar near the sky viewing deck and chatted over a few drinks together before he had to go off and see his lawyer. Thomas and I stayed on to take some photos and look around the viewing deck. Though Bobby had asked us to join him later in Father Ted’s bar not far from the Sky Tower we were too short of time to do so. We made our way back to the airport and caught the plane to Christchurch. The safety in-flight film on board N. Zealand Airways was interesting and different. We were met by Philip (Kieran Elliot’s brother; Kieran is Aideen’s boyfriend) and went back to their house not far from the centre of the city where Aideen was waiting to welcome us – Aideen is the daughter of Catherine & Thomas (my niece). Kieran was away in Kenya, climbing Kilimanjaro, until Friday. We settled in, had a lovely meal of lasagne with a few glasses of NZ wine and chatted until late.

Posted by JShevlin 20:58 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

The Bay of Islands and the Waipoua Forest

sunny 25 °C

Monday 22.2
‘Presented Thomas with a shell from 90 Mile Beach for his birthday – today! After another continental breakfast we said our good byes to Gillian & Vaughan and checked out. I went to the wharf where I booked a fast speedboat trip (Mack Attack) around the Bay of Islands. I was kitted out in a heavily padded waterproof jacket and a life jacket on top of that. The trip started smoothly and sedately but once into the bay the pilot pulled out the throttle and we skimmed over the water at breakneck speed – so much so that I could hardly breathe and I felt my sunglasses being ripped off my head. When the boat hit a trough after a swell it shot us forward and there were some screams from the ladies; fortunately we had seat belts. It was like a huge roller coaster lasting Waipoua Forest where we stopped to see one of the largest Kaouri tree with a girth of nearly 34 metres. We also saw were the early gum diggers worked and lived. From there we drove to Metahoe and visited one of the best museums I’ve seen 9the Kaouri Museum); it gave a history of the country with amazing artefacts of early machinery, huge Kaouri logs and furniture from them, and realistic displays of what life was like in the 19th and early 20th century. We stopped a small town further south (Kumeu) and had Thai meal before searching for a motel for the night. We did eventually find one with vacancies near Henderson.

Posted by JShevlin 03:40 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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