Thursday 19th October: Queenstown to Queenstown - GORILLAZ "Dare"
As I said, we had an early start to get up for, and after a morning tea/coffee, we were raring to go. Our swimming gear in hand, we walked down into the town to the Queenstown Rafting Centre. After a very short wait, we were on the coach. Our fellow rafters joining us at this stage seemed to be a group of four hung-over men of different nationalities. It turned out that they had been working in Queenstown over the ski season. We also picked up a guy on his own who was from Nottingham. He was on holiday with his wife, but she had turned down the opportunity to join him for the rafting.
We drove up to the main Queenstown Rafting base that was located about 5km from the city centre. There, we met five others who were doing a heliraft trip. They would be taking a 'copter up to the rafting 'put in' and wait for us there. These helirafters included a Spanish couple, an Irish/Australian couple and a single guy. Once we'd donned our wetsuits and grabbed our helmets and lifejackets, our group boarded the bus, initially joined by the heli-group.
The bus then took the road up to the main Queenstown ski fields at Coronet Peak. At this point, the heli-group was dropped off at the helicopter pad whilst we drove up the narrow Skippers Canyon road.
Now, I've mentioned a few scary roads in New Zealand. Skippers Canyon is something else. Hire cars are not insured to go down the road - it’s that dangerous. The drops are sheer and long, the roads windy and very, very narrow. At times, we had to inch round corners to stay on the road. It was very surprising, therefore, when a Ute sped round a corner at breakneck speed! Locals! They drive just as insanely in every country!
The route through Skippers Canyon steadily descended. The hung-over four were looking a little worse for wear and seemed to be deteriorating slightly with each corner. I shudder to think how little distance we must have covered by the time we arrived. It had taken about 45 minutes to get to the raft put in, but at least we'd got there in one piece.
When we got to the river, it was timed to perfection. Another local farmer with his flock of sheep came down the road from the opposite end to the way that we had arrived by. The sheep soon blocked the road. At the same time, our party was being given a safety briefing by a large, long haired Maori guy called Chief. Following the safety briefing, we were split into two groups. Jen and I were with the Irish/Australian couple and the single guy from the heliraft group. We also had a couple of older guys, one of whom was rather overweight and happened to be Scottish. Our river guide was Chief.
Once on the river, we had little in the way of tuition. Our directions came from Chief who simply told us when and in which direction to paddle. As we'd rafted several times before, it all came flooding back quite quickly.
The first half of the river offered very little in the way of white water, excepting the steady drizzle falling from above. The scenery was pretty spectacular though with sheer cliffs rising from either side and an occasional piece of rusting iron identifying that the river had had an industrial gold mining history. Before too long, the rapids were coming thick and fast. I was sitting at the front of the raft with a guy called Todd, the Australian, and we both got drenched as our little raft got shaken and soaked by the raging torrents of cascading water. The rapids seemed to end too quickly and before long we were back in a calm patch. Looking behind us, we saw the four hung-over lads had jumped out of the boat and into the river. One by one, the guide on the other raft picked them up. They must have been absolutely frozen!
It was getting towards the end of the trip. Up ahead, we could see a gold mining tunnel that had worked like a giant panning machine with ruffles on the bottom to collect the heavy gold being washed downstream. We ducked into our footwells as we went through the tunnel. From our viewpoints up front, Todd and I had a good range of vision about the tunnel. We could easily see the bright light at the tunnel's end getting brighter and brighter. Once we emerged from the tunnel, Todd and I got slowly up to paddle. However, we were straight into the biggest rapid of the day. We both successfully hung on by diving back into the footwell. Once again, we were absolutely drenched.
And that was it.
The rapidly approaching scarlet of the Shotover Jetboat signified that we were back at Queenstown Rafting HQ. A shower, sauna and lunch later, we were back in the bus and heading back towards the City. Back in the city and after the hard sell of the obligatory photographs we headed back to our camper. We dropped our gear off and planned the afternoon ahead.
Our first stop was the nearby Kiwi and Bird Experience. Overpriced at $25. However, the site is built on reclaimed wasteland and does provide an opportunity to see some of the rare native New Zealand wildlife you don't just see everyday. In order, our stops were:
|A Kereru, or New Zealand Pigeon. Slightly more interesting than a manky old town pigeon, eh?|
On the way out, we saw some little white ducklings. Back at reception, they tried to tell us that they were Mallard chicks, but they looked like nothing of the sort. Not our place to question the experts though!
We soon left. In a couple of minute, we were at the Gondola station just opposite the Kiwi place. This would take us up to the Skyline restaurant where you can pay to see some Maori performances, have dinner or go on the luge. We were there for the luge. I was a little bit worried that the luge would be the Olympic Sport where you hurtle down the bobsled run on a one-man vehicle. No such worries though!
At the gondola depot, our photo was taken to allow them to try the hard sell later on. A fairly short but very steep ride later, we arrived at the Skyline, half way up the mountain and with stunning views. The luge was a little further up, accessible by chairlift. We put on cycle helmets and went up the chairlift. Once we arrived at the top, we walked through a turnstile before crossing over a footbridge to the beginners’ luge. The luges are three wheeled carts with a handle that you use for steering and for braking. You pull the handle towards you to brake (or let it go to use like a handbrake), holding the lever at about the middle position for maximum speed. You rotate the same handle to steer.
On the first run, we veered on the side of caution and went fairly slowly. It could still only have been a couple of minutes to the bottom. We still had two ride tickets left each. The next times were all down the advanced run, the runs getting quicker as we became more daring. The advanced run and some great little down humps and banked corners to build speed up on.
After our three rides, we went back and bought two more runs because we were enjoying it so much. These last two times, we really cut loose and raced each other. The first race was won by Jen, but the second race was won by yours truly, leaving us tied at one-all. By then, although we could easily have gone on a few more times, we opted to have a tea/coffee instead in the restaurant's cafe.
more pictures from Queenstown
Top Left: Jenny starts off down the luge run.
Top Right: A picture taking in Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.
Left: A similar view from a slightly different angle.
After a quick look around the souvenir shop, purchasing a few postcards, we were back on the gondola going down.
Back at the bottom, following another photograph hard sell, we went to a nearby mini-golf course. Strangely enough, the mini-golf was next to the Holiday Park whilst the Kiwi centre was next to the mini-golf and opposite the gondola - all ideally located. The mini-golf was quite an easy course. At the entrance, they displayed the record course score by country. We had to beat 38 for New Zealand or 42 for England. We got close to neither - hitting the low to mid fifties. Jenny, quite expertly defeated me thanks to a very skilful hole-in-one! Then it was back to the camper to wash and scrub up for the evening ahead.
A while later, we headed back into the city centre to the local burger bar, Fergburger. Most of the food available were gourmet combinations of beef, pork, lamb or venison, wedged between two pieces of bread with trimmings such as the usual cheese and lettuce, or the unusual beetroot of aioli.
After mercilessly devouring our mighty burgers, we headed to the Minus Five bar; a bar where all the features are made of ice and the room is kept at about minus 5 degrees Celsius. After donning some attire suitable for the room temperature, we started queuing to get in. Just as the door was about to open, an old woman of about 65 years, and pissed beyond compare came up and forced us to link arms and tried to convince us to do the Haka. Our group refused unless the woman showed us how. She proceeded to display the most camp Haka since Larry Grayson joined John Inman in a fairly unique version. I don't think Tana Umaga would have been amused.
After admitting to her inebriated state, and vacating the area, we were granted entry to the bar. The bar pedalled a variety of Absolut Vodka cocktails and little - if anything - else. A drink or two later, the bar was getting a little too samey and cold and we left.
We walked around town again for a short while before heading back to the camper for another night's sleep.