Thursday, 20 December 2012

Queenstown, New Zealand

The Queenstown YHA is stunning, set in a big old building with a kitchen and communal area overlooking the lake. I hadn't pre-booked a room and (again) was lucky enough to grab the last bed. Also staying there was someone I'd met in Kaikoura - the backpacker world is a small world! Qneenstown itself is ridiculously picturesque. Everywhere you look is crystal clear water or rugged mountain peaks (the Remarkables, as made famous by Lord of the Rings). The town itself is tourist central, with pretty much every shop catering for one extreme sport or another. From here you can go parachute jumping, bungee jumping, rafting, jetboating, river-surfing, skiing, heli-boarding, mountain biking, water-skiing, diving... the list is endless. 

We opted for one non-extreme and one extreme. The non-extreme was a trip to Milford Sounds - the gigantic glacier-carver inlet on the west coast. We booked a BBQ bus. The driver had an amazingly dry sense of humour - very entertaining. The journey to Milford is about 4 hours - with a half-way stop for the BBQ. Cooked from a trailer at the back of the bus it took about 45 minutes, while we walked amongst the forest and sat by the river. Back on the road we snaked up the mountain past some incredible scenery - New Zealand must be the most beautiful place on the planet. At the top of the pass you go through a tunnel and pop out into the top of the Sound.

On the boat you get a real sense of the size of the Sound as the boat keeps close to the vertical cliffs. Occasionally you see seals basking in the sunshine. The boat gets to the sea and U-turns back to dock, via (almost literally!) some impressive waterfalls. 

Fergburger!  An institution in Queenstown. One of my top 3 burgers ever... totes. I opted for a smelly blue-cheese coated meat-fest. We ate these on the beach, and washed it down with some pear cider while the sun sets. 

I've been wanting to skydive somewhere beautiful for years. I've been refused several times due to bad weather conditions - mainly in Cape Town but also recently in Franz and Fox. Today was going to be the day! I booked with a company recommended by the YHA, with a discount. All was set and we paid, and got in the van - when 20 minutes into the drive the car radio blarted out that the wind was too strong to jump - foiled again! Back at the town centre they said that another company did jumps from a different area, and that we should try them. They were indeed still jumping and we got a slot on the next plane. The guy doing the safety briefing was a Brummie - it was reassuring to hear the accent.

The jump site was stunning, surrounded by mountains and people falling from the sky. The cameramen are insane - they have to get to the ground before the customers and swoop down, skimming the ground at incredible speeds. There's music, giant chess and toilets to ease you before heading out. You're put into a jumpsuit and harness, then greeted by your cameraman and tandem. The planes are tiny - you're attached to your tandem then slotted in for the order of exit. I have no fear of heights but the brain says "no, this is wrong" when you're balanced on the edge of the plane door, with the cameraman hanging off the wing. The tandem then holds your head back for safety and slides you out. Once out you're in a spin, you have no idea which way anything is for a second or two, until the tandem corrects it. Our fall was 45 seconds but felt like 5! When the chute opens you start to feel the adrenaline - I would love to do this solo, the buzz must be ridiculous! The tandem asks if you're ok - I was in wooping American mode so he did a few spins and spirals down to the ground for a feather-light landing. 

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