Queenstown is the third largest city in the South Island of New Zealand described as a resort town and known for its skiing and adventure tourism. With four ski resorts within a short drive and the numerous adventurous activities in the area, it is the perfect city for any adrenaline junkie year-round. We visited during the first week of November which is springtime in the southern hemisphere. Since we missed ski season, we planned to take part in these other action packed activities instead. Here is what we did in our 36hrs in Queenstown…
We come over the ridge at Crown Terrace late in the afternoon to see the beautiful landscapes leading down to Lake Wakatipu. We take a number of pictures to share the memories before making our way into town to check-in to our apartment…a beautiful apartment with a grand view over the lake. We rest a while and unpack after the long drive, then head into downtown to see what it has to offer. Similar to ski resort towns we have visited in the USA, there are a series of blocks with numerous shops and restaurants lining each one. Eventually we stop for dinner at Flame Bar and Grill, a recommendation from an Australian friend before we arrived.
The ribs are what they are known for and were as good as they look as was the cake. I’ll definitely go back next time we make it to Queenstown. Following dinner, we wander through town and can’t help but notice the numerous tourist adventure booking shops scattered around advertising the various nearby activities. We eventually get pulled inside intrigued by the series of GoPro videos playing bungy jumping, ATV rides, zip lining, jet boat rides, cable swinging, mountain biking and much much more on TVs mounted throughout the store. With the forecast showing rain (the usual when Whitney and I are traveling), we booked the Shotover Jet Boat which rarely gets cancelled due to weather.
This adventure takes us through the Shotover Canyon with towering cliffs and jagged edges sticking out into the narrow river. We board the boat with 12 other passengers and our “Kiwi” captain takes off steering the jet boat through the river with intense speed and unbelievable control. The light rain that is falling becomes like sand hitting our faces as we race along (luckily they provide safety glasses and a poncho, so we were protected to see everything). The river water sprays us over the edge of the boat at each turn and even more as he spins us around in expert fashion. Our hearts are pounding as he twists around the corner of the dock pausing only to smile at the cameraman snapping our photo before taking off in the other direction.
Following the jet boat ride we are set on bungy jumping since the first ever commercial bungy operation was started here. We have three different options in Queenstown: the Nevis Bungy is the tallest at 134m leaping from the Nevis high wire platform 160m above the ground, second is the Ledge Bungy with a shorter cord but stationed 400m above Queenstown, and finally the one we choose is at the Kawarau River Gorge.
Here sits the first ever commercial bungy operation built in the 1980’s by AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch. This is the shortest of the three, leaping 43m off the Kawarau Bridge with the option to splash into the water below (somehow I believe that if the cord fails I’ll be fine landing in the river…And I’m not a fan of heights). My heart is racing again as the staff have me weigh-in then take the walk out to mid bridge. I crawl through the gate to the edge of the platform to be harnessed in. The staff are attaching my bungy cord as I watch Whitney leap off the edge first.
Now I certainly have no choice but to make the leap. I sit on the platform, first a towel is wrapped around my legs for padding, next the straps are strung over and pulled tight, and last the bungy cord is attached. I’m assisted to my feet to begin inching my way to the edge. With my heart beating out of my chest, breathing as if I was sprinting in a race, and somehow sweating in the nearly freezing temps, I bring my toes just off the edge of the platform. I pull it together to smile and point to the cameras with such great confidence all while trembling in my boots. I let go of it all and leap outward with my arms wide, freedom never felt so good! I feel the pressure build as the bungy tightens and recoils. I survived my first bungy!!
At this point we have dodged cliff walls travelling at high speeds through the Shotover Canyon and leaped off the edge of the Kawarau Bridge for our first bungy jump ever… and it’s only lunchtime. We venture to Fergburger, another recommendation of friends that have travelled to Queenstown. This must be the most popular spot in town as there is a generous line out front when we walk up. It moves quickly and we are not disappointed with the burgers. I ordered “Mr Big Stuff” 1/2lb New Zealand beef topped with melted cheddar cheese, American streaky bacon, BBQ sauce, lettuce, tomato, red onion, aioli and a side of fries. (My mouth is watering just thinking about it as I’m typing)
After our late lunch we decide to take is easy for the rest of the day. We make our way to the Skyline Gondola to ride to the top of Bob’s Peak. The gondola takes us 450m above Queenstown with incredible views of the area and directly overlooking the town. This peak is known for activities that include the already mentioned Ledge Bungy as well as multiple hiking and mountain biking trails. We take time to have a drink at the Stratosfare Restaurant and Bar while taking in the views. We consider returning for dinner, but are too full from Fergburger to really make that happen. I begin to get restless and next thing we know we are back outside headed to the Skyline Luge, a gravity fueled ride on the top of the mountain. I think I am too big for this, but I still partake in the adventure and I can’t help acting like a kid again.
Evening nears and its back home to rest after this action packed day we’ve had. A couple hours later we are on the move again to redeem a couple free admission coupons we had received when booking the Shotover Jet Boat. We enter Below Zero Ice Bar after putting on the thick coats they provide and find the place nearly empty (an office party is scheduled not long after we arrive). We snap a few photos in awe of an entire bar of ice and massive ice sculptures decorating the room. Then we are out before the incoming party and before the shivering takes over. I convince Whitney to stop at Fergburger one more time before we go home for the night (Whitney was still full from lunch, but I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity once more). Then we are up the next morning for our next destination.
36hrs will never be enough to experience what Queenstown has to offer, so we will definitely have to come back again. When we return we would surely do all of the same things except maybe, and only maybe, choose one of the other bungy jumps or even get talked into the Nevis swing which I’ve heard is even more intense swinging a 300m arc at 160m above the river bed. (Yeah I don’t think that will happen for me, but anything is possible). It would also be nice to visit when it is a little warmer or at least not raining to be able to enjoy the other activities such as hiking, biking, taking a hot air balloon, or attempting to relax on the lake. Queenstown, we will see you again soon!
Now back to Our South Island Road Trip.