Tuesday 21st February 2017
Queenstown, the birth place of bungy jumping, promotes itself as the adrenaline fuelled capital of the world. Sitting on yet another fantastic glacial lake, surrounded by high mountains this is a place bursting with high octane activities. Being way too old and sensible for such things we take the soft option of the gondola ride up to a 450m terrace high above the town, below us the area throbbed with exciting pursuits.
The surrounding rivers present opportunities to jet boat through cannons or raft down rapids. The lake offers trips in everything from a sedate vintage steamship, through parasailing to rides in mini submarines. Joining us on the Skytrain up the mountain were many looking for a more exciting decent, lines of cyclists helmeted with bikes strapped to there gondola pods take a steep mountain track back down to town, others leap shrieking from a precariously perched platform tethered to bungy ropes and swooping below us, using the thermals swirling around the cliffs, paragliders fly down to ground level. On the opposite bank of lake Wakatipu are the Remarkables a range of mountains full of walking tracks, that in winter turn into a huge ski field.
Rick still coughing and not up to the planned walk in the hillside, we decided to drive the length of the lake to the small settlement of Glenorchy for lunch. The scenery in this area, as marvellous as ever, is the back drop to many a movie, most famously the Lord of the Rings. You can of course, this being Queenstown, take an off road tour in four wheel drive trucks or quad bikes, up into the hills to see the exact spots of each scene. However even from the road you can easily imagine Frodo and his retinue walking over the ridge and down into the valley.
We are beginning to learn that these quiet small places don’t do sophistication, after a stroll around the wharf we rejected the slightly dubious cafe and in the only store bought snacks and ginger beer and drove out to find a quiet spot on the lake side. The place we found was a little bit of heaven.
Brimming with visitors we were surprised to discover we rather liked Queenstown. The coaches of tourists were well diluted with youngsters on gap years, sport enthusiasts and a generous smattering of more elderly couples. Sipping a drink, people watching in the sunshine, snippets seemingly of every language filled the air, everybody happy and tolerant of their fellow promenaders. The lake glittered in the evening sunlight, people relaxed on the grassy banks and music drifted from the bars.
Tuesday we headed off on the long drive across the Haas Pass to the West coast, but Queenstown had one final surprise for us. About ten minutes out of town we turned on to the Crown Ridge road, this, we learn, is the highest main road in New Zealand, reaching an altitude of 1121m. As we approached we could see the hairpins zigzagging up the hill in front of us, surely this wasn’t our road but yes it was. We climbed and climbed until right at the top there was a pull off the road for an amazing photo before the 2hr decent to sea level.