A Travellerspoint blog

Queenstown part deux

Reunited!

Returning from the Milford loop encouraged me to extend my stay at Queenstown so that most of our group would stay together (and be on ET's bus) for the onward journey.
Reinstalled at the Base hostel, this stint in adrenalin city was a much more subdued and leisurely affair. Having had our fill of snow sports, jet boats and sky-dives most of us opted for the cheaper events market - tramping in the hills surrounding the town, relaxing boat cruises, the Luge, hot chocolate in an old bath-house and playing frisbee golf. Sadly for my wallet this frugality did not extend to matters gastronomique as visits to emporia such as Vudu larder and a return to Fergs put a bulge in the belly and a dent in the finances.

The walk up to the gondola station could well be described as bracing (a reminder that Bev, Emma and I had underperforming lungs and legs while Mark and Frida seemed to bound uphill like mountain goats!) but we were rewarded with sensational views and the Luge, a concrete racetrack which we negotiated in very small 3-wheeled creations at as high a speed as we could muster - the ultimate winner and Luge Formula 1 champion turned out to be Bev, much to Mark's displeasure.
The Fool races to victory in the Queenstown luge!

The Fool races to victory in the Queenstown luge!

The Queenstown Hill walk was even harder, indeed just getting to the start of the walk involved climbing the steepest streets and steps I have ever encountered but again our payback was great photo opportunities at the summit.
Made it to the top of Quenstown Hill

Made it to the top of Quenstown Hill

The Million Dollar cruise falls a little short of its own billing but the leisurely trip around part of the lake, allied to a very relaxed and knowledgeable captain, was just the ticket at the time. We also saw the lakeshore coffee shop and Winston Churchills launch on this trip, both of which merited individual visits afterwards
Relaxing at the start of the Million Dollar Cruise

Relaxing at the start of the Million Dollar Cruise

Great lakeside coffee shop

Great lakeside coffee shop

Hot chocolate - to die for!!

Hot chocolate - to die for!!

And so to one of the highlights of Queenstown, frisbee golf around the botanical gardens. Who would have thought that spinning a plastic disc, popular over three decades ago, would reveal a manic desire to win in the most placid of people - with the added benefit of providing so many laughs? All five of us were borderline useless at frisbee which just added to the group's enjoyment - we didnt keep scores as that would have taken too long but at the end of 18 "holes" it no longer mattered a jot who had triumphed.
Frisbee golfers after 18 holes

Frisbee golfers after 18 holes

Yet another bonus in Queenstown was running into Rich Brown, or Oily Bastard as he labelled himself early on the tour. Having missed his bus the day before Oily agreed to meet up with John and I for drinks on the eve of his last chance bus (the last one guaranteed to ensure he met his flight home). Having introduced Oily to the latest set of girls on our Stray bus we three set off for a live music pub and a supposedly quiet, or at least sensible, nights drinking. After 2 beers and enduring a heavy metal rendition of Britney Spears' "Oops I did it again" we decided to try and head off the girls on their pub crawl by completing the route in reverse. We finally met up in one of the bars where Oily scammed us a free round of Jaeger bombs by representing himself as a Stray Bus driver. Oily also gave Bev a demonstration of his dancefloor skills before attempting what Bev described as "mouth rape" on her - the boy has got some cohones! Given the amount of alcohol consumed it seemed unlikely that Oily would make his early morning bus but later reports sconfirmed that he kept on schedule by not going to bed that night, prefering to drink right through!
Queenstown reunion with Oily Bastard

Queenstown reunion with Oily Bastard

The big night out is mapped out in the Altitude Bar!

The big night out is mapped out in the Altitude Bar!

A more unusual night out was the visit to the Ice Bar which was exactly as described. Although quite small the bar provided some warm clothing, a variety of interesting ice sculptures and a free colourful cocktail drink in glasses made of ice. Time in the bar is strictly monitored but to be honest, at that temperature the time allowed was ample - worth a visit for curiosity value alone if you book early and get a deal on the tickets.
Ice Bar night

Ice Bar night

Queenstown is the self styled fun and adrenalin capital of New Zealand, a title which it lives up to very well, whilst still being a really nice place to just chill out. A must see stop on the tour of the South Island.

Posted by RoystonBoyston 16:27 Comments (0)

Milford Sound, Mullets and meat stew

The Stray tour Southern Loop

semi-overcast 15 °C

Bisecting the time in Queenstown is the Stray trip to Milford Sound, Invercargill and, for the more adventurous, Stewart Island.

The first day comprised a long, circuitous route to the famous Milford Sound with an evening stop at the remote and very different Gunn's Camp. Our journey took us through the Fiordland National Park with fantastic views of the Southland farmlands, fiords and mountains, and includes the Homer Tunnel which bores some 1200 metres through one of the mountains. Carved out entirely by hand, the tunnel has no lights, is not a smooth curve and has a 1 in 10 gradient with spectacular views at each end. We stopped off at the Milford end to chuck snowballs, take snaps of the overconfident Kea birds and enjoy the stark landscape before heading on to Milford to take the afternoon cruise.
What is this? A Kea's (native large parrot) feathers

What is this? A Kea's (native large parrot) feathers

the Kea, bold and beautiful but vicious too!

the Kea, bold and beautiful but vicious too!


On the day it was misty with extensive low cloud giving the whole trip a very ethereal feel. Following recent rains in the area the numerous waterfalls were at their most resplendent, however the constantly swirling mist generally shrouded the taller peaks in the background but occasionally patches cleared to reveal glimpses of the higher mountains (including Mitre Peak) which seemed to be floating in the clouds. The cruise is a very relaxed affair with the captain giving a very informed commentary as he nudged us along the fiord's edges. At one point we pushed toward a particularly high waterfall for a close-up look. Ever one to sieze a photo opportunity I asked Emma to take a snap with me in the vessels prow. Unbeknown to me we didnt stop short of the waterfall, we actually sailed into it - as I had my back to it I relied on Emma to shout a warning which never actually came as she "didnt see it coming", despite looking directly at it through my camera. As I was engulfed in the icy cold water Emma suddenly realised that she might also get wet she decided, at the last moment, to make a run towards cover, taking a snap as she fled. The result was that the photo consisted of a very wet scene and my arm (identified only by the colour of my fleece). Emma got away scott free and I spent the rest of the afternoon slowly drying out!! When will I learn NOT to ask Em to take pictures???
Milford Sound looking mystical in the low cloud

Milford Sound looking mystical in the low cloud

Milford locals hang out at the Hard Rock

Milford locals hang out at the Hard Rock

Emma's classic waterfall shot - thats me in the red top!!

Emma's classic waterfall shot - thats me in the red top!!


Following the cruise we enjoyed a walk along part of the fiords edge (does that count as a coastline??) during which the heavens opened to refresh my damp clothes.

Onwards to Gunns Camp, literally an historic camp used when they were building the Hollyford Track many years back. It comprises a number of small cabins with a bedroom at each end and a small central "living" area complete with wood burner, along with a large communal kitchen/dining/lounge building and a small onsite museum. Its a great place to stay and for the more adventurous there is the opportunity to venture out in the dark to view the nocturnal visitors (as ever, Fika took this on and was rewarded with sightings - from memory possibly a possum but I am not sure).
Hannah uses the hairdryer at Gunns Camp!

Hannah uses the hairdryer at Gunns Camp!


Next day we loaded up and headed south to the mullet capital of New Zealand, Invercargill, and Stewart Island. The only takers for the island were our two ladies from Taiwan, Mira and Sherry, who bolstered the island population to 442 for the night. In the meantime we decamped to the Tuatara lodge which boasts an onsite excellent cafe, good cooking facilities and is just a few doors from the library (free wifi!!). With few notable attractions in the town the highlights were the cafes coffee and cake offering, watching some drunk locals and an excellent team dinner of lamb stew - yummy.

Day 3 we headed out to Waipapa Point lighthouse (which is almost the most southerly point on south island, beaten only by nearby Slope Point) for photos of the lighthouse, the rugged coast and seas and the sealions. Next stop was to Bluff Point for a very windy coastal path walk while ET collected the Stewart Island girls and then back to the bright lights of Queenstown.
Its a bit choppy on the south coast.

Its a bit choppy on the south coast.

Does my breath really smell that bad?

Does my breath really smell that bad?

Another lighthouse safely positioned, on the southernmost point this time

Another lighthouse safely positioned, on the southernmost point this time


A thoroughly enjoyable and varied trip, if you get the chance take the longer three day version rather than a bus to Milford Sound and back!!

Posted by RoystonBoyston 21:13 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Queenstown Part 1

sunny 13 °C

The journey from Wanaka to Queenstown was one of the best on the tour with a number of beautiful stops and photo opportunities including Fox Glacier, the reflecting lake, the "LSD" waterfall, the two lakes, an impromptu ice wall and the original bungy jump bridge where Buzz joined in the adrenalin fuelled fun.
Which way is up? The reflecting pool, Lake Matheson

Which way is up? The reflecting pool, Lake Matheson

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier


Buzz takes the plunge at the bungy bridge.

Buzz takes the plunge at the bungy bridge.


Arrival in Queenstown was a pleasant surprise - as the self proclaimed party/adventure/adrenalin capital of New Zealand I had expected a vast and sprawling town filled with garish neon lighting and vomiting drunks. The reality is almost the opposite, a neat town built on the hillside, bordered by the large Lake Wakatipu on one side and fantastic views of pine covered hills and snowcapped peaks on the other.

Base Hostel in Queenstown is another money making machine however its central location and relatively small size gives it a better feel than those in the larger cities. The Altitude Bar attached to the hostel is a hotbed of not so cheap shots, beers and cocktails (alcohol prices rise as ones latitude descends southwards) although their pizza and a beer evening meal offer at $10 was a godsend on arrival day.

Queenstown proved an eye opener on many levels insofar as not only are there any number of highly priced tours, activities and events but there is also a good selection of free options (admittedly they pretty much all involve walking, mostly up steep inclines), the best of which turned out to be frisbee golf around the botanical gardens perimeter. 

Our stay in Queenstown was split in two with a visit to Milford Sound and Invercargill sandwiched in between.

With her organisational skills to the fore, once we had booked in Bev suggested that we schedule another snowboarding day so we headed straight to the "Station" to book passes, transport and gear hire for the next morning. Bright and early Bev, Emma and the Fool sat on the coach to acsend to the slopes of The Remarkables, one of the more local snowfields with a good nursery slope. Emboldened by our recent progress at Cardrona, Emma and I immediately headed to the larger of the two nursery slopes whilst Bev, by now almost a pro, headed out to the proper runs. Sadly for the Fool, and more so for Emma, the slope was almost solid ice, slipery as fweck and very very quick which pretty much destroyed our utopian confidence within seconds. It took a good few runs and some time on the smaller, baby nursery slope to recover some semblance of competence before our group lesson which saw this old dog learn some new tricks - as a novice I like snowboarding much more than skiing!!

When in Queenstown it appears to be a law that you simply must go to Fergburger to sample their wares. In my typically British desire to comply with the rules, written or otherwise, I duly lined up with my snowboarding companions and ordered Mr Big burger, the description of which had my mind creating fantastic images of an enormous stellar taste sensation and had me drooling. The 10-15 minute waiting time dragged past the 45-50 minutes stage by which time losing the will to live was only being staved off by ever rising expectations of the burger. Finally, finally, finally our numbers came up and we each grabbed the holy grail of meat patties and rushed back to the hostel dining area. I am sad to report that, as a result of the excessive wait and advanced malnutrition, no pictures of the Fergburgers were talen so you will have to take my word re how big they were.

Feedback on "The Ferg":
Opening the paper bag and revealing the monster sized offering added fuel to the fire of food desire for here was a truly BIG burger, some 6 inches in diameter and at least a similar height. I think that even my eyes were salivating at the prospect of eating the thing. Next came the realisation that, unless I could dislocate my jaw in a snake like manner, this was a "roll your sleeves up and dive in" moment which was guaranteed to be very messy. The tastes, flavours and textures were amazing with fresh crisp lettuce, tomato, sauces and meats bursting in the mouth - the only downside was that the core burger, upon which this whole culinary edifice was built, was barely warm, bringing the whole experience crashing down to just above average. The beauty of eating these burgers in the company of others is that you get to see how each person attacks the task. Whilst Bev and I coped pretty well it was left to Emma to make the epicurean task even more challenging - I believe that by nibbling around the fringes of her burger it was at least 5 minutes before she even reached the meaty patty and by the end she was elbow deep in sauce and associated greases etc.

Assuming that you are happy to wait and then to accept a luke warm meat filling then head to Fergs to sample the legend that is world famous in New Zealand!!!

After a relaxing second full day it was back on the little orange bus to head to the south with E.T. (aka Nick) our new driver. Part 2 of Queenstown to follow. . . . .

Posted by RoystonBoyston 06:53 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

A Fool falls to earth - The Wanaka Experience

sunny 10 °C

The journey from Franz Josef to the ski resort of Wanaka is one of the best on the tour with plenty of spectacular views and Motors really knows the best lookout stops along the way ( includes Fox Glacier, the reflecting lake, thunder falls and the best milk shake cafe in NZ).
Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier


Which way is up? The reflecting pool, Lake Matheson

Which way is up? The reflecting pool, Lake Matheson


On arrival we checked in at the Base hostel and Momma Bev and Emma sorted out all of the details to go snowboarding the next morning, easy as 1, 2, 3 and all I had to to was turn up on time and pay my way! Arrival evening most of us took dinner in the bar, a wise move as the fish and chips was pretty good and the hostel's kitchen and dining facilities struggle to cater for more than a dozen people at best. This was followed by a raucous evening of tasks, challenges and games to determine who was that weeks Battle of the Buses winner (a regular event between Magic, Kiwi Experience, Stray etc tour passengers and included musical chairs, twister, dance-off etc) which allegedly we won!

Tuesday was an excellent day, an early start getting hire gear and then the bus up to Cardrona, where 4 of us spent the day learning to sit/fall elegantly on our backsides in the snow, otherwise known as learning to snowboard. With two lessons, a good teacher and a gentle nursery slope we all achieved a pretty decent level of skill together with a desire to try again, probably in Queenstown.
The Fool takes up snowboarding at Cardrona

The Fool takes up snowboarding at Cardrona


Wednesday 11th July 2012 will long remain with this fool.

Ever since the abortive plan in Taupo I have been telling people in the group that Wanaka is the place where I will plummet to earth strapped to a complete stranger wearing a backpack containing some silk cloth - yes, the skydive moment had arrived.
Following yesterdays magnificent attempt to master snowboarding the Fool woke, after an uncomfortable night, racked with stiff joints and aching muscles determind to book a tandem skydive for early that afternoon (weather permitting).

After a hearty breakfast of more meusli and tea Fika, Emma and I decided to walk the shore of Lake Wanaka and to get a view of Roys Mountain.
Roys Mountain, Wanaka

Roys Mountain, Wanaka


About an hour in we came to a creek which runs into the lake where Fika (our female danish equivalent of Bear Grylls) espied a fish flopping about in the shallows and immediately we set about capturing it with our bare hands. Turns out it was a fair sized brown trout which would have made a fine supper but alas it was released into the wild following a quick photo call!
Handcaught brown trout, yes, really.

Handcaught brown trout, yes, really.


Returning to the town a huge bowl of Latte was followed by a call to the airport to confirm that the skyjump had received the green light. A short time later (and NZ$400 lighter) your intrepid traveller was jumpsuited in a fetching shade of orange and climbing aboard a very small and crowded toy plane heading to the lofty height of 12000 ft.
The Fool and the plane he is about to jump out of at 12000 ft

The Fool and the plane he is about to jump out of at 12000 ft


As we neared the jumping mark my tandem diving partner, a medium sized fellow possibly of french extraction, tightened the straps of my harness and those hopefully attaching me to him and the all important parachute. A green light blinks into life, the door is opened and suddenly the world is rushing by at a rediculous speed accompanied by loud wind noise. Frenchy propels me towards the opening and the reality of my situation suddenly hits home - I am over 2 MILES up in the sky and about to throw myself out of a perfectly good plane attached to some random bloke who allegedly knows how to pack and deploy a parachute whilst strapped to a 15 stone man who seems to have lost his faculties (me).
After but a few seconds sitting on the edge of sanity we tumble out into the upper atmosphere, complete a roll and assume "the position" as we head towards the ground, our speed building to 200 kph (125 miles per hour in old money). As my mind adjusted to the situation I tried to take in the fantastic panoramic views around Wanaka - snow capped mountains, azure lakes, the extraordinary turquoise colour of the river etc, whilst the cold air buffeted my face.
How did I feel? Well I felt that I was suspended in space whilst a giant wind tunnel blasted me in the face - I had no concept of travelling at all, let alone at an insane velocity. After 45 seconds we had descended sufficiently for the parachute to be deployed. This is a two stage process and when the chute filled with air if felt as if I was being catapulted back up into the sky - exhilarating and confusing at the same time!!
The controlled decent was almost peacefully quiet and relaxing until we started the tight turns to speed the return to land, which was like being on a theme park ride in places. All too soon we have completed a textbook landing and I am sitting on grass less than 30 metres from the skydive hangar, an adrenalin stoked survivor of a crazy impulse to see what I am capable of.
Watching the video afterwards I barely recognised the Fool in the footage - did I really just do that? Apparently so.
After the short return bus journey the Fool shared a nice cup of tea and his thoughts with Michelle who kindly listened to my ramblings until I calmed down.

Bacon and cheese omlette for tea and an early night followed, happy days as the Fool lives to fight another day.

Posted by RoystonBoyston 06:15 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Franz Josef: The Fool and the Glacier

sunny -5 °C

The journey from Punakaiki to Franz Josef took us through Greymouth, an old town accurately described by its name, fortunately we only stopped here to pick up new bus mates and some supplies for the next couple of evening meals.

Joining a new bus gave us a new driver, the fabulous and fun loving Motors, a larger than life character who engaged all sections of the crew. With a number of picturesque stops along the journey and Jimmy and Motors providing banter across the length of the bus the trip passed pretty quickly and, late in the afternon, we arrived in the small settlement that is Franz Joseph. This town pretty much exists because of the glacier and as such comprises helicopter companies, hostels, cafes, a petrol station anda hot springs spa.

The first thing we did was to tramp into the heli-hike centre to book our trip to the glacier for the following morning before most of the bus decamped at the more luxurious Rainforest Retreat but John, Fika, a.n.other and the Fool retired to the Montrose Backpackers up the street, altogether more friendly and welcoming, not to mention 25% cheaper per night.

Sunday is "helicopter onto a glacier" day and at 8am we trundle into the heli-hike offices to be sorted into our respective groups, kitted out in the appropriate alpine glacier clothing and footwear before being herded across Franz Josefs only major road to the helicopter site. Once loaded aboard we head towards the Franz Josef moving ice floe in a 7 seat rotationally powered flying machine at some 120 knots. There is no doubt that our pilot is vastly experienced and highly skilled but I would still rather he looked forward and to the left at the approaching mountain face than back over his left shoulder to help our glacier guide sort out his headset!
Franz Josef glacier from the chopper

Franz Josef glacier from the chopper


Setting us down on the lower slopes he is gone in the twinkling of an eye leaving us to await the other portion of our 9 person group in the next helicopter.

Once regrouped its on with the crampons and off for our 3 hour trek around various levels of this huge but shrinking ice cube (they have lost 80 metres this year alone, including a large chunk of the face that fell away recently and which put paid to a number of the free walks). Our guide is knowledgable and energetic as he talks us through the topography of the lower slopes and cuts steps in the terrain for us to scale the smaller crevasses. Our tour comprises a journey down towards and across the face and takes us into a variety of small, recently formed ice tunnels (something of a squeeze for the Fool) and through a number of medium sized cracks, some of which require almost dislocation of the hips to walk crab like with feet pointing at 180 degrees to each other.
This ice climbing lark is easy!

This ice climbing lark is easy!


After about 90 minutes we headed up the floe to a higher level and this is where both the appearance and features of the glacier change quite dramatically. The ice has that beautiful blue colour that reflects the sunlight but also appears to have a translucent glow, never quite captured in photos. Our guide explained that the glacier changes on a daily basis with meltwater holes and tunnels growing overnight and crevasses either appearing or becoming impassable in a few hours. Never more was this true than our last 45 minutes on the glacier as several paths he had navigated just two days previously were today impassable leading to us doubling back time and again as we sought a route that would take us back to the helipad!!!
Ice blue

Ice blue


Safely restored to the town and its off to the hot spa pools to par-boil ahead of the group meal - a very palatable ruby complete with poppadums, before retiring up the road ready for the trip to Wanaka and, hopefully, my long anticipated skydive.

Posted by RoystonBoyston 07:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

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