Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Queenstown: Heading South

With only 18 days to spend in New Zealand, the sensible thing to do would have been to choose one island- either the North or South- and explore it in depth. The problem is I am not a sensible person. I am FOMO personified and I want to see it all. Therefore, on my third day, I boarded a flight from Auckland (North island) to Queenstown (South island), which made for a crammed and busy schedule. I had only 15 days to bus myself back up to Auckland for the return flight but in the words of Edith Piaf "Non, je ne regrette rien".

Queenstown is the kind of place you can fall in love with at first sight. It's an outdoorsy, sun-kissed small town where everyone knows what kombucha is and all the guys wearing Jesus sandals actually look like, well, Jesus. Just walking down the street, you feel healthier for being there. Therefore it should probably come as no surprise that the denizens of this clean-living haven are constantly on the lookout for new ways to nearly off themselves. Queenstown is New Zealand's adrenaline capital, where almost slamming into cliffs while zooming around in high powered jet boats and jumping off perfectly good bridges are just things you do.
After checking into the fantastic Adventure Q2 Hostel, I set about trying to figure out how I would tempt fate. 

Every other storefront in town is a tour agency with white boards listing that day's discounts on a long list of activities. (Tip #3: Unless you are really worried about something selling out, don't book  beforehand. You can usually get better deals in the towns themselves via the agencies.)  You can choose between 3 different bungy jumps, ziplines, skydiving, jet boating, tobaggoning, canyon swings, white water rafting and other insanities that I'm probably forgetting. 

I walked down to Lake Wakatipu and watched as jet boats sped around, doing mad spins and crazy acrobatics. Originally designed in New Zealand to navigate the shallow rivers,  these powerful motorboats are now used as thrill rides in Queenstown- the self-proclaimed jet boating capital of the world.

Or if jet boating, which has been exported all over the world, is too "been there, done that", this is the first place in the world to have the Seabreacher X.  Operating under the name,  Hydro-Attack , this is a speedboat/ submarine/ jumping thing that happens to be painted like a shark.

Later at a bar, I met one of the shark boat drivers who told me about their plan to export the idea to Orlando, FL. I nodded politely and chose not point out that this is a country where you get fifteen safety warnings before you board "It's a Small World".  Bring the Hydro-Attack to the US and it will be renamed the 1-800-HaveYouBeenInjureAlsoWeDoDivorces before its maiden run.

There was so much so choose from so I went back to the hostel for advice. They pointed me in the direction of Skipper Canyon Jet Boating.  Of all the companies, this one offers the most bang for your buck. Whereas the other boats spend 45 minutes spinning around a nice open lake, this one does so in the narrowest canyons on the Shotover River. Oh and to get down to the canyon floor, you have to drive on one of the world's ten most dangerous roads (#7).  Who could pass that up?

The first part of the drive was on a regular paved road, if by regular you mean scenic af.

Then we got to the other part. The reason it is such a dangerous road is because the term "road" is really being stretched way beyond its original definition. This is actually an old mule path that was blasted into the sheer cliff face during the gold rush of the 1800's.  There is no barrier, it winds  back and forth, it is less than 9 feet wide in certain parts and (here's the best part) it is a two-way road, as in there is a good chance you will have to pass another vehicle coming the other way. If there is not enough room to pass, then you engage in the most epic game of chicken, where one car has to reverse- on winding roads- with no barriers- possibly for several kilometers- until there is enough room There is not enough Xanax on this planet or the next for me to drive this thing.

But as a front seat passenger with a guy who drives this everyday, it was pretty damned cool!!

Along the way, he pointed out places where Lord of the Rings was filmed. For not the first or last time on this trip, I pretended to have seen the films and to know what he was talking about.

The ride on the boat itself is only about 15 minutes long, which is fine because fun as it is, it really doesn't have a chance of topping the car ride down.

The van driver had suggested I sit in the last row of the boat so I could feel maximum impact. I wish he had also told me that this particular boat captain would only spin counter-clockwise, meaning that I, on the far right got doused. Every. Single. Time.

After the boat ride, they took us to the office, where someone actually lives, to try to sell us photos shot from remote cameras. In retrospect, I wish I would have bought the photos but I was too enthralled with the view from their front yard.

It is amazing enough to almost make their daily commute on Windy Death Lane worth it. Almost.

The Lord of the Rings thing as seen on the way back up.
Once we got back to Queenstown, I decided to indulge my curiosity. All day long, I'd seen crowds gathered in front of Fergburger and had noticed their menu included a veggie burger (which they dickishly named "The Holier than Thou"). Veg slight aside, I wanted to see what the hype was about so I joined the endless line.

My reward was a tofu-burger the size of my head. It was ginormously good!! So much so that I was willing to overlook that their other veg offering, a falafel burger, was called the Bun Laden.

After the burger and the day's adventures, I was passed out by 10pm, which is just as well, because I had a 7am tour already booked for the next morning. If I was going to cover both islands, there would be no sleeping in.

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