Tag Archives: Queenstown

Queenstown- Routeburn and the Rest

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A toast to Queenstown’s magnetism and Routeburn’s Beauty…cheers!

After an early 6am start on the bus and stops along the way, including the mirrored Lake Matheson, Thunder Creek waterfall and the Blue Pools, we arrived in Queenstown late afternoon on the 31st January. It was our last day with Whales so we planned a big night out with him to say thanks, meeting at the famous Ferg Burger for dinner and then onto the bars. Now a bit about Ferg Burger- it was started by a local back in the day as a bakery to begin with as he felt you could never get good bread. Then he went onto gourmet burgers and its reputation is now global. Open 22 hours a day, 7 days a week and almost always packed with locals and travellers alike. And these burgers were big! As you can see from the pic and just as lovely as the reviews say they are. Then it was the big night out (haven’t had one of those in a while!) and we both enjoyed the 2 for 1 wristbands Stray got us. Plus there was a dance floor which I pretty much stayed on for most of the night!

Next day we just chilled and explored Queenstown. So a bit about Queenstown…it’s titled the adventure capital of NZ; hot in summer, freezing in winter- 2 ski fields really close by; it has a resident population of 20,000 people but a huge transient traveller population which doubles that figure and then some; its by a lake and surrounded by mountains. Hedd and I fell in love with it! So the 1st Feb was Hedd and I’s 18 months anniversary (awww) so we went out for lunch as a treat, walked the lakeside, and booked some crazy adventure stuff for us to do over our time here. Next day was bungy day and the day after was Hedd’s skydive- check out the blog post ‘Queenstown- the Adventurous Stuff’ for more about that. And after Hedd’s skydive it was time to get ready for our 2 night, 3 day tramp along the Routeburn Track the next day.

The Routeburn Tramp- 4th – 6th February

Day One

  • Distance= 8.8 km
  • Time= 4 1/2 hours
  • Scenery= Forest and Plains

We got picked up by the Tracknet bus at 8am to take us to the start point of the Routeburn track at the Routeburn Shelter in Mt Aspiring National Park. At 10am, from 600 m above sea level, we started making our way up through beech forest where we saw NZ’s smallest bird (like a tiny fat robin) called the Rifleman; along the Sugarloaf and Bridel Veil streams of gorgeous powder blue colour; and over lots of cool swing bridges. Walking with full packs was a a bit of a shock but we figured they could only get lighter as we ate more of our food supplies as the days went on (we forgot we still had to carry all our rubbish with us though!). We stopped for lunch at the first hut along the track called the Routeburn Flats Hut, where the warden called Liz was just finishing up cleaning after the overnight trampers. Oh a bit of context needed…The Routeburn is  one of the Department of Conservation’s ‘Great Walks’, which means that the track enjoys a higher standard of track maintenance and hut facilities. Each hut along the Great Walks tracks has a warden who works 8 days on, 6 days off (they walk in) and is responsible for maintaining the hut and the track that surrounds it. The huts along the Routeburn have gas, running water, flushing toilets and bunk beds. Luxury! So after the Flats hut, we walked over more swing bridges through more beech forest and got some ace views of the valley where a recent land slip had taken the trees down at the side of the path. We arrived at Routeburn Falls Hut at 2.30pm, claimed two beds and then boiled some water for a nice cup of tea with powdered milk (yuk!). The hut was in a fab location and had a big veranda overlooking the valley and a small waterfall behind it. We cooked up filled pasta and sauce for tea and ate from the pan. We met our warden called Keith at ‘Hut Talk’ at 7.30pm and he talked us through hut safety, etiquette etc; which all seemed pretty pointless as we’d been here since 2.30pm and had used all the facilities and were just about to go to bed! And that’s just what we did.

Day Two

  • Distance= 11.3 km
  • Time= 6 1/2 hours
  • Scenery= Stunning snow-capped mountains and alpine lakes

After a surprisingly good nights sleep, considering we were sharing the room with 26 other people, a cuppa and a cereal bar, we were ready for day 2- our longest day and steepest incline for walking. We set off at 8am for the steady climb up the Harris Saddle. It was tough going but we hardly felt our packs or the ache in our legs because our minds were captivated by the landscape and views that surrounded us. Behind us as we climbed was the Routeburn Valley, Lake Harris came into view on our right and the snow topped Darran Mountains were to the front of us. It really was spectacular and bathed in the morning light too- magnificent! We did the climb at good pace too, getting to the top and the highest point of the Routeburn track (1255 m) within 1 1/5 hours. However as we got to the Harris Saddle Shelter the fog set in, with the wind blowing moments of clarity and disguise with the fog in equal measure. We could see the top of the mountain behind the shelter so we dumped our bags in the shelter and decided to do the side trip up Conical Hill, hoping the fog would clear some more by the time we got to the top. It was a tough old climb/ scramble up a very steep side for 45 minutes, the majority of which we were walking through fog and thought ourselves bonkers! But then we reached the top and the sky was blue, sun was out and the views were spectacular. From the top we had a superb view of the Hollyford Valley through to Martins Bay at the coast and the Tasman Sea. It was fantastic. After 30 mins or so we made the scrabble/slide back down to the Shelter again, had some lunch, retrieved our bags and continues the walk towards Lake MacKenzie Hut where we were staying that night. We were now in Fiordland National Park and the track seemed to go on forever now and after the excitement of the Harris Saddle and Conical Hill, a rocky path slowly going downhill was a bt boring! But we kept on spying the view along Hollyford Valley to the Sea which was lovely and eventually we got our first sight of Lake MacKenzie. It looked so close but we soon realised we had a way to go as we zigzagged back and forth down the slope to get to it. The last bit of the walk was through bush land- moss-covered trees and leafy paths. Looked all very mystical and Hedd and I had a few Lord of the Rings moments! Eventually we caught sight of our hut, arriving again at 2.30pm. Lake MacKenzie was pretty but not as spectacular as Lake Harris but we got to paddle in this one which was fun but freezing! After a relax we went off to explore more of the lake and went to a place called Split Rock which was exactly that a Split Rock. And then came back to the hut and chatted to our group of tramp buddies who we had shared the bus with by the lake. We sat and had dinner with them too (filled pasta and sauce again!), and waited for our Hut Talk with our warden. This one was called Clive and this was his 17th season as Lake MacKenzie Hut Warden and he was a complete nutter! He went on for 1 1/2 hours telling stories that didn’t really make sense. He finally let us go to bed at 9.15pm with a cryptic warning about possums. But I was too tired to work it out so just went to sleep and hoped not to need to go to the loo in the night!

Day Three

  •  Distance= 12 km
  • Time= 5 1/2 hours
  • Scenery= Forest and alpine wetland

Our last day of the tramp and we were up and out on the track by 8am again. We crossed a small flat before climbing steeply to the bush line over steps of tree roots and rock. And I thought it was all downhill today! Where the trees parted a little we were afforded with a view of the Hollyford Valley out to the Tasman sea with a mystical hanging of mist that gave it a very different character to the same view we saw yesterday. It was quite beautiful. We passed an area called the Orchard which is a natural clearing enclosing Ribbonwoods resembling fruit trees, and then we hit Earland Falls. Wow that’s a big waterfall! 174 m and the path took you right up close to it. You soon felt wet from the spray but it did a perfect job of cooling us down. We then made the gradual descent to Lake Howden Hut- our lunch stop. I took of my shoes and padded about in my socks enjoying the sunshine at the hut. Although th sandflies were out and causing their usual annoyance! As we were there 2 boys walked past with the hind legs of a deer around their necks. They had obviously gone hunting and this was some sort of hunting trophy display- they certainly looked pleased with themselves but I thought it just looked grotesque. After being put off having anymore food, we set off again up hill towards the Key Summit Track turn off. We dumped our bags by the sign and took our remaining lunch to have at the top. A steep zig zag path up through the bush-line took us to the alpine wetland where you get a view of 3 major river systems. There was a 30 minute nature walk around the top, so we took the information card and wandered around finding the various pegs to read about. We had our sandwiches at the view-point overlooking Lake Marian. We had great views of the Darran Mts and Hollyford Valley. But really nothing that we hadn’t seen before on Day 2 so we completed the nature trail and headed back down to the main track. Last little bit now- down hill through Silver Beech forest. The sound of the Milford Highway was getting louder and we arrived at the Divide Shelter- the end point of the track and the lowest crossing point of the Southern Alps- at 1.42pm. I know the precise time as Craig one of our friends from the bus was clocking everyone in in his diary! We bantered with the group (5 from California and 2 from Stockport) until the bus came at 3.15pm to pick us up. It was a 3 1/2 hour haul back to Queenstown (I slept most of the way!) and we arrived at 7.45pm, just enough time to get a shower and a celebratory Ferg Burger and cider before crashing into bed. Phew we had done it!

So back in the adventure capital of NZ and on the 7th Hedd did some white water rafting and the next day we both did Mad Dog River Boarding (check out the blog post titled ‘Queenstown- the adventurous stuff for more on that). For our last afternoon in Queenstown we found 1/2 price wine tasting on a website bookme.co.nz. The place was called Wine Tastes and you can taste over 80 NZ wines. You get a card which is loaded with money and you can pick any of the wine to have a taste, 1/2 glass or full glass of. It’s really quite clever. So we got there at 3pm and left at 4pm after trying 8 different wines and enjoying a 1/2 glass of our favourites. We found they had a free tasting session of 6 wines at 5pm so we hopped home for a piece of toast and then was back to try them! Cheapest drinking session we’ve had in NZ and a good way to say bye to our extended stay in the captivating township of Queenstown.

Queenstown and Routeburn in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Queenstown on the whole sunny; Routeburn a mix of sun and cloud
  • Food= the mighty Ferg Burger!
  • Drink= Milo on the Routeburn and Wine in Queenstown
  • Definitely check out= http://www.bookme.co.nz to save some money on Queenstown’s (expensive) activities
  • Definitely on the Routeburn you should= walk Conical Hill and slap on ‘Goodbye Sandfly’ lotion whenever you stop!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

At the end of Day 1, the ranger told us there would be no point going up Conical Hill if it was foggy and not to bother if we couldn’t see the top. Now you should probably listen to the rangers 99% of the time, but I’m glad we didn’t. When we started our side trip up Conical Hill, the fog didn’t look that bad, but we couldn’t see the top , however I was convinced it would clear by the time we got to the top. I was still convinced half way up when we could only see a few yards in front of us and one old lady turned around complaining that it wasn’t worth it as she couldn’t see anything. But we perservered and got our reward. When we got near the top, the fog started to clear and we could start to see the mountains and sky again, but nothing prepared us for the sight ahead. Over the last few rocks, we emerged on the top of the hill and stared in amazement at the snow-capped mountains right in front of us, the valleys to the left and the Tasman sea far off to the right. This was the highlight of the three-day tramp for me, it was stunning and it we would have never seen it had we listened to the ranger…

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Queenstown- The Adventurous Stuff

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To do all the activities Queenstown has to offer just once, would cost you $55,000! Here’s a snippet of just the few to decided to give a go…

Nevis Bungy: 02.02.12, 12.30pm; 134m drop, 8.5 seconds freefall

Done it [by Helen]

So before I knew i, it was 11.15am and time for me to make my way to the meet point to be driven the 40 minutes to Nevis Valley and the site of Australasia’s highest bungy. I was surprisingly relaxed about the whole thing but as we made our final ascent to the top of the Nevis mountain my stomach rolled once as I spied the suspended platform in the middle of the valley which I would be jumping off very soon! Off the bus and I was buckled into my harness, got weighed in and then walked to the edge of the mountain side to look into the valley. It was a BIG drop! That was the first and last time I swore that day! We then took a little cable cart over to the suspended platform which was daunting enough- very rickety. But our bungy guide comforted saying that the Nevis bungy was statistically the safest thing you could do in Queenstown. We were then at my final departure point.

I watched as others got strapped in and shuffled to the edge and jumped. I was so pleased I wasn’t first up! Then a guy called Phil put my ankle straps on signifying that it was my turn. I went through a little gate, sat on a chair which was a cross between a dentist chair and something you’d find in a gynecologist office (!) and got my legs strapped together and attached to the bungy. The lady who was doing all this was very nice, kept calling me ‘hun’ but was subtly authoritative.  I was now being filmed and photo’s taken left right and centre. Then within a few minutes the subtly authoritative lady had got me up and I found myself on the very edge, toes just over, with the lady holding my back harness very lightly. She counted 3..2…1 and I jumped forward, my arms in a V above me. It was the strangest thing. Jumping was fine, jumping I do all the time; off a curb, a wall, the bunk bed etc… But it was the split second afterwards when my brain caught up with my body and I realised that I wasn’t jumping off a little wall but off a 134 meter drop that I suddenly wanted to stop myself. But that was obviously impossible, so the next second is full of absolute panic. But as quickly as the panic came, it had gone again and I was left with a feeling of elation as I freefalled the last 5 seconds or so. There is a massive ground rush as you whiz closer and closer to the valley floor but then your bungy tenses; I had reached the top of my trajectory and found myself whooshing back up, a split second pause and then falling again 50 meters.  I didn’t scream which is incredibly not in character- I guess it got stuck in my throat! The second bounce up and I pulled the red sash on my left leg to release my ankles so I could sit the right way up in my harness for the final fall back down and the hoist back up to the suspended platform 134 meters above me.

As I stepped back onto the platform I was beaming from ear to ear. I had done it!  Just as quickly as I had got out onto the platform and jumped I was back at the base, unharnessed and on the bus back to Queenstown. It happened all so quick; I could have just as readily snapped out of a daydream realising I had imagined the whole thing. But no it was real, I had jumped and according to my certificate “can no longer be considered a mere mortal”. But for me it wasn’t life changing. I had taken it almost disappointingly in my stride. But I am still damn pleased I did it!

Seen it [by Hedd]

I think I was more nervous than Helen on the drive out there, she didn’t seem fazed at all. She took the whole thing in her stride, which is very impressive given how high we were. From watching her, you wouldn’t have thought she was doing anything out of the ordinary, in fact she jumped off the edge so quickly that I nearly missed it while trying to get the zoom right on my camera. So standing on the edge fretting, just one, two, jump….and she did it with style to, almost a perfect dive. Not much fazes my Helen, this certainly didn’t, she is one amazing girl!! Well done baby.

N Zone Sky Dive: 03.02.12, 08.30am; 15,000 ft, 60 second freefall

Done it [by Hedd]

So it was the next day and my turn to do something crazy. We got up really early and I was strangely efficient, showered and eating my breakfast without the normal 30 minute struggle to get out of bed!! Then we headed to the office, where they told us to come back again in 30 minutes. Time for another coffee. We came back, checked in, met the other people who were diving and I had to sign the obligatory “if anything happens it’s not their fault form” before we watched a DVD on the sky dive which was cool and made me want to do it even more. Especially as the weather was looking good, with no sign of wind or rain. So they bundled us all into a van and even had space for Helen to come and watch. I sat next to this guy from England (I’m useless at remembering names) and chatted away. He was doing a 9,000 foot sky dive for the first time and was very very nervous, which made me feel pretty good, because at this time I was doing fine!

We arrived at the base and I got informed that I would be going up on the first plane, with two others doing 15,000 feet, one doing 12,000 feet and another 2 doing 9,000 feet. So we then got shuffled into the “authorised personnel only” room to get kitted out in the gear and to meet our tandem partners and camera guys. Can’t remember their names but they were cool, and my tandem partner had been doing this for 6 years which was reassuring. So off we go to the plane and as we see it, my heart starts to beat faster. We all get into the plane and are virtually sitting in each others laps, it was a tight squeeze, and then we set off. It was a nice little scenic flight, with amazing views but I am now starting to realise how high 15,000 feet is going to be. We kept climbing higher and higher and still no sign of the first sky divers. Finally the first three 9,000 feet go tumbling out of the plane. No one screamed, so that was a good sign. But we are bloody high and we start climbing again up to 12,000 feet. This is high, next girl goes out, still no screams. Up we go again, and now my heart is pounding away. I’m next. I’m the first one out at 15,000 feet. We are so bloody high, oh it’s my turn now…time to shuffle towards the door which is now open (must make sure to keep head back and feet back – the banana position).

So I’m ready to start panicking, but….s#@t were out of the plane (you don’t have time to scream) and for a couple of seconds we are falling backwards, my feet are not in the banana position and I’m worried, but then all of a sudden I’m facing downwards and its so, so cool. I’m falling so fast, but in a calm way, I can feel the wind and the g-force on my face, my mouth is quite dry but its such a rush. The ground is still so far away, it’s not scary. The camera man is making some hand signals towards me, but I don’t have a clue what he wants me to do, so I just smile. We are falling for close to 60 seconds and then up we go. This was amazing, we suddenly go from a noisy adrenaline rush, to utter calm. It was so peaceful, I’m looking around admiring the views, looking at Queenstown, the lake, the mountains. So for the next five minutes, we just float around the place, an amazing experience. I’m already thinking about how I’d like to do this again. Then its time to land, all I had to do was keep my legs up as we landed. It was a nice easy landing, but we still skidded along the grass for a bit, which was a cool way to end my trip.

For those of you wondering how my back coped, then the answer is really well. The whole experience didn’t put the slightest strain on my back and I felt great afterwards. I am going to do this again (when I have some more money – it isn’t cheap) and I would definitely recommend it. So if you get the opportunity, go and sky dive. You won’t regret it!

Seen it [by Helen]

So it was Hedd day for extreme sports. We didn’t know whether I would be able to come to watch until the morning due to limited spaces in the van but I got a spot and was really pleased that I was able to support Hedd as he has supported me yesterday. Having said that, I couldn’t do much because as soon as we had arrived at the base he was whisked off into a hanger for ‘divers only’ to get kitted up. So I positioned myself in the spectator viewing area and took some sneaky pics of him as he came out of the hanger and walked to the plane. They were up in the plane for what seemed like ages before anyone jumped. I tracked the plane as much as I could before getting neck ache and then it started. 9000 ft people came out, then 12000 ft and then Hedd and the other brave ones at 15000 ft. Soon the sky was full of parachutes and I had no clue which one was Hedd. [Note for other spectators- get your partner to tell you what colour his parachute is before boarding the plane!] My eyes jumped from parachute to parachute and I was convinced he was in a red and black parachute but no he was in a green one and I almost missed documenting his landing with the trusty camera. As he got unharnessed from his skydive buddy he looked so happy and proud of himself. His stroll over to see me in the spectator pen looked like a scene from Top Gun and I happily played the role of ‘love interest’ and gave him a big kiss well done!

Queenstown Rafting: 07.02.12, 13.00pm; Rapids Grade 3- 5

Done it [by Hedd]

So the day after getting back from the Routeburn tramp and it was time for my free rafting trip (remember, I won it at a killer pool competition in Franz Josef). It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining at it was so, so hot. A perfect day for rafting. We started by driving to the finishing point, where we got kitted out in our unflattering wetsuits. We then got bundled back into the bus and our driver “Chief” took us on a pretty scary 45 minute drive to our starting point. The road was an old mining track, not very wide and with a sheer drop on one side! Once at the river, we got to jump in and cool off before our safety training. I got placed in a boat with a Kiwi couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, a French girl and two guys from Germany and France. We all said hello and got under way. I sat in the middle on the right hand side and did my best to follow the paddling instructions. Although this was made difficult by the fact that I was supposed to follow the guy in front and he was doing his own thing!! It was nice and relaxing at this point and we even got to get out and float in the river. It was so cold, but so refreshing. We even drank the water to cool off. The water was so clear and the guides did it, so why not. Then came the rapids, which were fun. We got splashed about a bit, no one fell off, although the French girl did punch the German guy by accident. His lip got swollen and he wasn’t happy, but we all carried on. A few more fun rapids, a tunnel and some more floating. All in all, it was a very relaxing afternoon on the river, which was not what I was expecting from White Water Rafting. The whole experience (Grade 3-5 rapids) was a bit tame and I was glad I didn’t pay for it. I’d like to try rafting again, but I want a much more extreme version next time.

Mad Dog River Boarding: 08.02.12, 8.00am; Grade 3 Rapids, Water Slides, Rock Jumps

Done it [by Hedd and Helen]

So our last day in Queenstown and we couldn’t end our time here without doing one last extreme sport activity. We choice Mad Dog River Boarding. Basically going down a river on a boogie board facing rapids, whirlpools and eddies face on…literally! It was a 35 minute drive to the Mad Dog Base on the Kawarau River where we got kitted up with thick whole body wetsuits, shoes, helmets and life jackets. Not the greatest look but well needed as the water was a ‘tropical’ 12 degrees! We then hopped back on the bus back up-stream to our start point at Roaring Megs Lookout. After a little training which saw us kicked lengths on our board and do forward rolls in the water (I think the guides were having a laugh with us!), we were off. First off was ‘The Elbow’ which was a kink in the river which whooshed us into the bend then out and over the white water waves. Then the ‘Vacuum Cleaner’ which was a rapid of whirlpools where we pointed our boards to the sky and went around and around in. A little down time drifting down the river and then onto the ‘Man-Eater’ which is a big wave rapid where you will keep going up and over in until you get your angle right to pop straight through. Hedd and I didn’t get caught and managed to cut our way through first time. Then onto the ‘Rollercoaster’ which was a longer up and down rapid which was great fun to bob along. Some more whirlpools and then we were in calm waters. It was 45 minutes of so much fun. You could feel the power of the river just take you on your board and you just had to ride it and hope for the best until it decided to spit you back out. We got a lot of water in the face but it was exhilarating.

Not content for us just to drift back down to base, the guides then took us for a jet ski sled ride, where you basically hold on for dear life onto a boogie board tied onto the back of a jet ski as he whizzes off and makes sharp turns left and right. So much fun, Hedd and I were just laughing the whole time. Back at base and time to check out their Aquatic Playground. We started with the rock jumps. First one at 7 meters. As you stand on the edge, your heart beats so loud and you don’t want to do it. But then you jump and your feet cut through the water and your safe and smiling about what you’ve just done.

Or that’s how Helen did it anyway (Hedd here now!). I watched her do it and then stepped up to the edge, knowing that I’m not good at jumping off ledges – it’s not natural!! At this point my legs turned to jelly, it looked so much higher than 7 meters. I nearly couldn’t do it. This was much scarier than doing a sky dive, it was just me, a cliff, a river and a helmet. No qualified instructor that I was strapped to and not that much safety gear. Somehow I managed to step off the edge (I was supposed to jump – couldn’t do it)! And so I fell into the water, a bit too close to the rocks than I was supposed to be, but at least it was over and I could drift down stream to be picked up. I did it, but there was no way I was going to try to do the 12 meter one…so I just watched Helen do it!

Although I (Helen) was really scared I decided to try the 12 meter rock jump. It was high! Not quite 134 meters high like the bungy, but this time I knew I was going to hit something- the water! After a few moments of ermming and ahhing I did it. Not perfect technique as I landed a little on my bum which was painful but the experience was exhilarating all the same! With the adrenaline pumping it was time for the water slide. On our boards, we went down on our bellies, on our knees, on our bums and the finale- a joint one with Hedd and I on the same board; Hedd on his belly and me sat on top. Very fun and a good way to end the whole trip by sharing the adrenaline high.

If you could pick just one…