New Zealand is awesome for a gazillion reasons. Reason 3,942 might just be all the fun you can have, particularly in Queenstown, which is widely touted as the adrenaline junkie capital of the world. It’s true, the area around Queenstown is geared towards the adventure minded, but you don’t need to bungee jump or heli-mountain bike if you don’t want to. We spent five days there and found tons of things to do! Here’s what we did and how we did it.
We went in late March (between summer and winter in the southern hemisphere) because the sales on flights were for a very specific time period. We scored a round-trip flight deal on Air Tahiti Nui from Los Angeles to Auckland with a “free” two night stopover in Tahiti with hotel, but we live on the east coast so we had to get to Los Angeles. Once in New Zealand, we had to make our way from Auckland on the on the North Island, to Queenstown on the South Island and we found flights on budget airline Jetstar. I’m not saying it was the most comfortable flight I’ve ever had, but Jetstar was inexpensive and it was only two hours. We got there on time and in one piece, and so did our luggage.
Since we were “in the neighborhood” we decided to spend a third night in Tahiti (an upcoming post) and a night in Auckland. Yikes! You may say, the cost of your trip is really adding up! Agreed, the trip wasn’t as budget conscious as it could have been, but we visited two countries and took full advantage of everything we could within 10 days.
Quick note on Auckland: It was one of the greenest big cities I’ve seen. And the view from the Sky Tower of the harbor was insane. Also, I was really excited to try flat whites in the country where they’d allegedly been invented (or Australia, depending on who you talk to!). A flat white is an espresso based drink with steamed milk. It’s different from a cappuccino in that the milk isn’t frothy. It’s closer to a caffe latte except with a higher proportion of coffee to milk. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough coffee for the coffee addict in me…….bummer.
What We Did:
Our wish list of activities included whitewater rafting, kayaking, cycling and mountain biking (not from a helicopter). Here’s the breakdown of what we did:
The Shotover River is known for its rafting, so we were excited to go, especially because we’d rafted before in North and South America. The Shotover’s whitewater rating is between a Class 3 and Class 5. Whitewater ratings go from an easy Class 1, with moving water and small waves to very difficult Class 5, mostly gushing and/or swirling rapids. The day we rafted with Queenstown Rafting, the weather was awesome and there were tons of people rafting, jetboating and base jumping/cliff jumping (no thank you).
Whitewater rafting not your thing? Try kayaking. We intended to take a guided kayak tour on the waters around Queenstown Harbour. Unfortunately, the day we had scheduled, our guide was sick, so we got a refund. Instead, we strolled through downtown Queenstown, took in the scenery and had a bite to eat since the food is known to be quite good.
Side note: The food was really tasty, with lots of organic and vegetarian offerings in addition to fish and meat based dishes.
Bike handling is not my strong suit, so I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking here. Yeah, I watched the YouTube videos and studied the trails, and still failed to realize that “mountain biking” meant single track (you know, BMX style). Single track refers to a mountain trail that is roughly the width of a bike and requires a lot of technical bike handling skills. I’m used to a wider trail known as double track or fire road, which is wide enough for a vehicle and it’s a lot more forgiving. We should have known that we were in for an “adventure” when Vertigo Bike shop handed us BMX helmets and knee pads and asked if we wanted full insurance coverage on the mountain bikes in case we wrecked them. Yes, please.
After we got our bikes, we headed over to Skyline Queenstown. It’s the gondola that accesses the Ben Lomond Reserve and the Queenstown Bike Park. After you buy your lift pass, you enter the gondola area and instead of ski racks, the gondolas are fitted out with bike racks for you to attach your bike. Secure your bike, hop in the gondola and ride up the 450 meter vertical rise. Once you get to the top, detach your bike and off you go! You have your choice of trails with varying degrees of difficulty and we chose the easiest tracks. I’m glad we did because I spent plenty of quality time with the ground that day. But, it was still really fun!
If you’re not into risking life and limb on two wheels, Queenstown also offers miles of scenic cycling routes. Trail and road cycling are more my speed so we rented bicycles from Vertigo Bikes and took off on one of the many Queenstown trails that you can find online. The route was mostly unpaved, but smooth and the bike tires were suited to the terrain. It was so scenic and the weather was perfect. Along the way, we even passed someone picking wild blackberries on the side of the path. I just can’t overstate how spectacular the day was.
Take a Drive:
Since we had a car, we drove south out of Queenstown one afternoon for a couple hours, taking in the stunning views. Queenstown has been one of my favorite places to visit so far and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Bonus: We happened to be in Queenstown during the Cricket World Cup Finals, and New Zealand was facing Australia. We thought it would be fun to watch the match, especially if New Zealand won. Our condo had a nice living room and television so we ordered a pizza and tucked in for what we naively thought would be a couple hours. Clearly we know zero about cricket because we had no idea that cricket games can take a whole day! To me, it seemed like a baseball game with less action, if you can imagine such a thing. Still, it was fascinating and we were able to figure out a few basics of the game while unsuccessfully rooting for New Zealand who lost.
I would have loved to have spent more time not just in Queenstown, but in the whole country. Unfortunately, time and money are always a factor, but we made the best of the time we had. So, if you’re a mild adrenaline junkie, or if you just want to enjoy beautiful landscape, visit Queenstown!