After six and a half weeks, 7500 kilometers and a frightening amount of money, we have made it to our final destination – stop number 24 no less – the beautiful Queenstown.
Having arrived on Monday February 3rd, we had just two and a half weeks left in New Zealand before we begin our journey back to the UK on February 21st. But we have no intention of unwinding and taking it easy for the final stretch… naaah, we have plenty on the agenda before home time!
Regrettably, most of our first week has been devoted to selling our beloved campervan, Tommy. We wrote a pretty substantial and enthusiastic advert a couple of weeks ago to put across how much we’ve enjoyed this van, how well it’s done for us and all of the travelling gear we had to sell with it. Subsequently, we had a couple of viewings straight away on our first day in Queenstown! The first one seemed to go really well and we were pretty hopeful, but they ultimately decided against it which was a slight surprise to us. The second viewing felt a bit less positive, but then the buyer contacted us again to say she was really interested! So I guess you never really know what people are thinking.
It was a more drawn out process than we had hoped for as the buyer wanted to get a pre-purchase inspection and she also had issues getting the money from her home country. Furthermore we had a stroke of bad luck as a crack appeared on the windscreen just a week earlier, so that was 400 bucks off the asking price straight away. With a few more minor issues inevitably surfacing from the vehicle inspection, we eventually agreed on a fee of $3300, which is less than we originally hoped for, but ultimately only $300 less than we paid for the van in the first place. So when you consider that we’ve had five months and somewhere around 9000kms out of it, it doesn’t seem so bad.
We were relieved to get it all sorted but obviously a bit sad as we waved farewell on Saturday to what has been our home for the past seven weeks. Goodbye Tommy – you will be missed!
Although much of our attention was focused on selling the van during this first week, we’ve done plenty of exploring and attempted to take advantage of our wheels while we still had them! We took the 45 minute drive alongside Lake Wakatipu up to Glenorchy, which offers spectacular views over the lake and the mountains behind. Glenorchy is nice but tiny, with just a few small establishments to serve the tourists.
We also made the short 20 minute trip over to Arrowtown which is a lovely little township with a highstreet filled with very quaint shops and cafés, surrounded by some beautiful scenery. It’s described as a living museum due to its old-style shops and such. It’s a very pleasant place to spend a couple of hours – definitely worth doing if you’re in Queenstown.
Another highlight of our first week was the Shotover Jet! We were very tempted by the jet boats in Taupo, so decided to finally bite the bullet here in Queenstown – a decision made easy after driving across the bridge over the Shotover Canyon; the setting for the jet boat ride. It was a deep, rocky canyon with a fairly narrow and stunningly blue river flowing through it… it looked awesome!
The price we paid definitely stung ($129 each), but I’m glad we did it. The jet boat zooms through the canyon, twisting, turning and even spinning in whole circles. What was immediately striking was how shallow the water was and how effortlessly the jet boat zipped through it and over the rocks beneath – they can apparently cope with water as shallow as 10cm deep – basically ankle height! It also had Hannah screaming as the very skilled drivers took the boat what seemed like millimetres away from the rocks at the side of the canyon! It was all pretty damn epic. Hard to say that a 30 minute boat ride is worth 260 bucks for us both, but it was definitely worth doing.
On Saturday, after waving goodbye to Tommy, we spent the evening walking around Queenstown, which is just as alive at this time as it is in the middle of the day. It’s a fantastic place – there’s a lot to it but it’s all very compact, with everything within walking distance.
It’s described as a resort town, as it is completely filled with travellers and tourists, with actual residents making up a very small percentage of those crawling the streets. Aesthetically, it’s an almost perfect town as it sits on the edge of the amazing Lake Wakatipu and beneath the towering mountains that have also made it a major skiing hotspot in the winter season. The bars and restaurants, the shops, the gardens and green areas, even the street performers on the lakefront – they all contribute to making Queenstown a wonderful place, and the tourist capital of the south island. It has to sit alongside Wanaka as my favourite destination in NZ.
On Sunday, we FINALLY saw some real life kiwis as we visited the Kiwi & Birdlife Park in Queenstown. They’re much bigger than we expected and their beaks really are that long! We were also surprised to learn that they live to around 60 years old and after finding a mate early on, they stick with them for life! They’re nocturnal animals and extremely weary of humans, so sightings in the wild are very rare, so it was really cool to see one pottering around right in front of us. The kiwi house was pitch black bar the red lights that allowed us to actually see them (the kiwis are apparently completely unable to process this light).
After this, we headed next door to one of Queenstown’s most popular tourist attractions – the Gondola (cable carts). This takes you on a very steep trip up Queenstown Hill, which offers some absolutely breathtaking views from the top. The town, the lake, the forests and the mountains combined to create a picture perfect scene. I’d even say that it was the best view I’ve witnessed, surpassing the views offered by the summit of Mt John in Lake Tekapo.
Another massive incentive of the gondola is the Luge at the top. The Luge is a go-cart type track that starts even further up the hill (accessible by a chairlift) and takes you back down to the top of the gondola. The unique Luge carts are simply gravity fueled as the track winds back down a small section of the hill. It was epic! Hannah settled for one go (but wished she had more) and I had two rides (but also wished I had more!). So much fun. We’re even considering going up again in the evening for the sunset and more Luge action!
Today (Monday) marks the end of our first stint in Queenstown, as tomorrow we’re heading back to one of our favourite places, Wanaka, for the next six nights. How do we do this having sold our car you may ask? Well we have given in already and booked a hire car for a week so we can explore the places around Queenstown, such as Alexandra, Cromwell and of course, Wanaka, which are all an hour or less away.
We still had time for plenty more action on our last day in Queenstown though (until next week)! For my birthday last year (August 9th), Hannah very kindly got me a ‘bungy bucks’ voucher for any of the AJ Hackett bungy attractions around the country. Having done a bungy jump in Auckland last year, I decided to use the voucher for a canyon swing rather than another bungy. And what better to choose than the biggest canyon swing in the world?! Having booked it for Monday morning, I jumped on the shuttle bus for the 40 minute journey out to the isolated Nevis canyon. I should also add that I went through all this without any moral support! It was an extra 50 bucks for Hannah to come along and watch, and considering she probably wouldn’t have even fancied the bridge that leads you to the spectator area, we decided it wasn’t worth it.
The Nevis canyon swing is a massive 300m arc, with the jump pod sitting in the middle of a bridge, waaaay above the bottom of the canyon. “Fuck that’s high”, I think were my exact words as I shuffled towards the platform’s edge. I chose to go backwards, so I took a seat in my harness on the edge, put a brave face on for the cameras and then WHOOSH!! They released the swing, sending me flying over to the other side of the canyon in a matter of seconds before swinging back and forth more gradually until I came to a stop and was lifted back up. To be absolutely honest, I think it probably looks and sounds better than it is. After the first big swing, all the excitement seems to be over in a flash – I know that’s the nature of these things, but it felt like a slight anti-climax. In hindsight, I might have chosen to do the Ledge bungy jump in Queenstown instead, but at least I can say I’ve done the world’s biggest canyon swing!
Just to add, the Ledge bungy jump is at the top of the Queenstown gondola, so although the actual jump is only 47m, it actually sits some 400m above the town, offering unbelievable views over the lake and town. To add to this, it’s a freestyle bungy, meaning that instead of your feet being strapped together and having to shuffle along (as I did with the Auckland Harbour Bridge jump), you are secured differently so you have complete freedom over your jump. You can run and jump off, backflip, power bomb etc. etc.! Maybe one day I’ll be back to take this one on.
Finally – last but certainly not least, we both headed into town later that day for an appointment we’d made a couple of days earlier. An appointment at a tattoo studio!! Hannah decided a few weeks ago that she wanted a little reminder of our amazing year in New Zealand – an idea which I quite liked as well. After describing the small, discrete and elegant tattoo she wanted, she then suggested I get the design that’s on my bottle opener. Immediately, I thought YES!! It’s crude, somewhat tacky, maybe even slightly offensive… but also hilarious, and for me that’s all that matters! So where should I get this ridiculous tattoo? There was only one place for it really… my arse!
So we went to Otautahi Tattoo studio in Queenstown and discussed with the artist what we both wanted. The studio was very well kept, very clean and they were all really nice and made us feel nice and comfortable. Hannah was feeling pretty anxious about the pain and such, so she went first to get it out of the way. Fortunately, hers was a very quick job as it was just a small kiwi outline underneath her ankle with ’13/14′ inside it. It turned out really nicely and the pain wasn’t nearly as bad as she thought it might be.
Then it was my turn! I pulled out my left cheek and we got to it – this was the poor guy’s seventh arse of the day!! It hurt like hell, but I suppose that was inevitable. After about half an hour the line work was done and we all decided we really liked it. I had originally wanted to get it coloured, but I was concerned it might be overkill and it would obviously add a lot on to the overall cost, so decided to leave it as is – for now at least. So here it is… the work of art that now fills my left arse cheek…
With that done, we’re now ready for a second bite of the Wanaka cherry before returning to Queenstown for our final four nights in New Zealand. Til then!