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Tuesday 12 Mar 2013
Queenstown, New Zealand


It's a few days since my last blog and I am now in the 'Adrenaline Capital of the World!', aka Queenstown.  You can't move in this town without seeing adverts for bungy jumping, white water rafting, jet boat canyon rides, canyon swings, mountain biking, zip lines, luge rides, skydives and a hundred other ways to scare yourself silly and spend lots of money.  As tempting as some of them might have seemed, I was initally put off by the fact they were all so expensive.  Most were between $150-200 and many of them only lasted a few seconds (bungy) or minutes (skydives).  However, there was a lot to do in Queenstown without having to pay a fortune and I have spent a very nice few days here.

Having heard bad things about the Base Hostel (full of noisy drunk backpackers, cold showers, etc), Lauren and I checked into Bumbles Backpackers instead.  It was only 5 minutes out of the centre, but much more relaxed and had a great location overlooking the beautiful Lake Wakatipu.  Queenstown nestles in a corner of the enormous S-shaped lake - Maori legend says it was formed by the body of a sleeping giant who had kidnapped the princess of a local tribe.  The tribal chief declared any man who could rescue his daughter could then marry her.  One young suitor waited until the giant slept, rescued the girl and set the giant on fire.  The heat from the fire melted the snow from the surrounding mountains, which washed down the mountainside and collected in the valleys, putting out the fire and covering the giant's remains.  However, the fire was extinguished just before the heart stopped beating, which explains why the water in the lake still has its own tide - the water level rises and falls every hour or so at each end of the lake due to atmospheric pressures, but the Maori version is much more fun!

On our first day, Lauren and I joined Jen, Lynn, Erica and Jeremy (my American roomates from Franz Josef) for a trip up the gondola to possibly the cheapest but most fun activity in Queenstown - the Luge! You have to do one ride down the 'slow' track as a training run, but after that it's a free for all.  So simple (sit on the cart, point downhill and don't brake unless you really have to) and really quite childish, but SO MUCH FUN!! The last race got particularly competitive... There were a couple of cameras along the track, so looking at the photos afterwards was worth a giggle too, and as we each had a picture included in our deal, we managed to get quite a good selection. 

After the luge, we headed around to watch the bungy jumpers throwing themselves off the Ledge platform.  The view out over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu was quite spectacular, but still does not inspire me to jump with only an elastic rope to catch me.  The other option from this platform was the Swing - instead of jumping, you're attached to two static lines and lowered a few feet from a second platform.  Once in position, you have to release yourself... then you drop a few meters before the slack is taken up on the static lines and you swing in a huge arc, apparently straight out over the Lake.  I've never heard a guy scream quite as much as the first guy we watched! Even so, it looked like far more fun than the bungy jumping and I was really quite tempted for a few minutes, until I remembered my sanity!

Lauren and I then headed for possibly the most famous institution that Queenstown has to offer: Fergburger! These burgers are infamous: fresh, huge and delicious!  This was one occasion where my Gluten Free diet was firmly placed in the back seat and I enjoyed every single mouthful of my Tropical Swine burger (1/4 pounder with smoky bacon, cheese, pineapple rings, onions and lots of salad in a huge soft bun).  Truly deserving of the title 'Best Burgers in New Zealand'.  

In order to work off the burger, I hired a mountain bike for a couple of hours and went for a ride with Nat, my Stray bus driver.  She keeps her bike under the bus for her days off, so we headed out along the Frankton and Kelvin Trails which run around the edge of the lake and the Queenstown peninsula.  It was a fairly easy ride, but quite bumpy in places and reminded me why I used to bike in padded shorts!  On the way back, our beautiful lake views were improved still further when we spotted a man with an admirable sports physique wearing swimming shorts about to dive in.  We both admired the view as we went past - Nat then informed me the guy was actually former All Black rugby player, Matthew Ridge! 

The next day, I gave in to temptation and booked myself onto the ZipTrek Eco Tour.  This is a series of 6 zip lines running between treetop platforms in the forest below the gondola lookout.   I did something similar in Koh Samui a few years ago and loved it.  This time, the zip lines were mostly run between the trees rather than over the top of them, but there were still some fabulous views of the lake on the way past.  I had a lot of fun flipping upside down and seeing the forest from a new angle while whizzing along - I even managed to take a video on the last zip line, which makes for fun viewing.  Unfortunately, one of the group - the most nervous as luck would have it - put her hand on the cable in front of her trolley (the metal runner that sits on top of the zip line) while stepping toward the edge of the platform and managed to slice her finger open all the way to the knuckle. There was a lot of blood and the poor girl was in a bit of a state - and none too impressed to realise the quickest way down was still the zip line.  The guide bandaged her up as best he could and sent her off down the line.  They took her off to the medical centre for a few stitches, but she was at least smiling again by then. Such as shame, it happened so quickly and wasn't really anyone's fault, but at least it was the last run of the day so she didn't miss anything.

That evening, I met up with a group of other Stray travellers on the beach with a few drinks and watched the sun go down.  It was very relaxed, nice after a busy afternoon, with good company and I took some great photos of the beautiful colours on the water.

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