- Part 6 NZ North Island Tour: Blue Springs, White Water, Methane and Machine Guns
- Part 5 New Zealand: Sails, Cows, Kiwis, Hobbits
- Part 4 Finding the Heart of Fiji
- Part 3 Fiji: Taveuni Reefs and Waterfalls
- Part 2 Fiji: first week in paradise
- Part 1 Getting ready to be gone
Should we or should we not try running down a tall, steep mountain and jumping off on a tandem hang-glider as recommended by our friend Suzy? This was the question on our minds as we prepared to leave the North Island. We said goodbye to Wellington and went to trade in the car at the Interisland ferry terminal (btw, Avis sucks in New Zealand). We’ve been trying the whole beginners’ mind thing and hang gliding would be an interesting test case. On the one level, what’s the big problem?.. all the Tripadvisor reviews say “it’s fine; not scary at all”! But for two, not particularly adventurous “old” folks, it seemed super scary and by no means a slam dunk.
The ferry crossing from Wellington to Picton was thankfully unbillious and relatively uneventful apart from a brief encounter with two dudes who were fairly well baked and seemed keen for me to take their picture. Okay fellas, here you go. The views across the Cook Strait were spectacular.
On the second day, we got to experience our second Wine Tasting tour, this time with less rain / nausea and more humor as we had the good fortune of having a fun bunch of folks accompanying us. Colleen, from Highlight Wine Tours was our fantastic guide and mini-bus driver. Along the way we learned that our palettes have not caught up with the times as we are firmly in the Chardonnay camp, not Sav Blanc which is more popular / in vogue / commonly grown in Marlborough at the current time. Because of this we were happy to support the spirit of the Bring Back Chardonnay (BBC) movement (yes, Cain, we know BBC is an abbreviation for many things!?....)
Pink sky at night, shepherds’ delight.. was proved wrong in this case: Cyclone Gita hit the South Island, and if I’d been a shepherd, I’d have given-up and applied for a job in banking. We were hammered by rain for the next few days and it got so cold we had to light the stove in our AirBnb which lacked central heating (ok, Harriet: not cold by Indiana standards but certainly cold for summer-time down here!).
Flying there was even cooler than we had hoped due to the fresh snowfall from Cyclone Gita. We flew from Wanaka Airport, over the lake and Matukituki Valley, up and over the Mount Aspiring National Park (should be Mount Inspiring!) and then the Olivine Ice Plateau and Southern Alps. I had a wonderful view next to the pilot in the Cessna 206.
The descent and landing at Milford was certainly the most scenic, thrilling landing I’ve ever experienced in a light aircraft (Warren: you have to do it someday if you haven’t already!). After a short bus ride, our water chariot awaited to show us the sights of the Sound, which some consider the Eighth wonder of the world. We concur. These images don’t in any way do it justice. Highlights included, well, the most amazing scenery on the planet, dolphins, seals, waterfalls and a glimpse out at the Tasman sea.
As we left the ferry we were thrilled not to be boarding a coach for the five hour return trip to Queenstown. If you ever visit the area and, like us, can’t stay overnight close to Milford Sound (be it Chinese New Year or some other holiday), flying is definitely the way to go.
The flight back was equally picturesque; we took a different route over Glenorchy and crossed the dramatic and strangely appealing and relevant Dart River where scenes from both “Alien Resurrection” and “Mission Impossible 6” have been filmed. We touched down with inspired and restored souls, memories of the deluge displaced with those of nature’s resplendent beauty and majesty. And so, off to Queenstown.
Queenstown is the smallest city we’ve yet visited in New Zealand but in a strange way has been one of our favorites. Although we were staying out on the outskirts due to availability, we were quick to visit the center.. what we experienced was something akin to an alpine ski town in summer.. with pedestrian precincts housing bustling eateries and street performers.
About that tandem hang gliding that we’d machinated over earlier.. we decided to go ahead. Only there was a slight screw-up that turned out well (was it fate intervening?).. we had booked tandem PARAgliding in error.. and there was no way to change it. “Don’t worry” we were told “paragliding is actually less scary than hang gliding”. “You’ll be fine”. That phrase again. Oh well, you only live once, let’s do this!
And so we found ourselves at the base of the ski field of Coronet Peek looking out at The Remarkables (which frankly do look remarkable!). I’d been paired with Vicky, and Victoria with Tom. After a mini bus ride filled with much silent anticipation, we found ourselves strapping into harnesses and getting ready to go. Vicky worked hard to put me at ease and got me to pose for the camera (the results speak for themselves). Victoria / Tom went ahead and we ended up going second to last.. we had to wait awhile for the right wind.. I dutifully followed the instructions of “walk, walk, walk, run-run-run-run-no-matter-what”.. after a few brief seconds which were a blur of action and mild panic I found myself running in mid-air cartoon-style like in Tom and Jerry... and lo we were airbourne. The experience was breathtaking, pure magic. All I can say is, thank you Suzy for the suggestion, and thank you fate for the twist. Definiately check out Coronet Peak Tandem if you are in Queenstown and make sure to request Vicky as your pilot.
More so than the sheep, I was stuck by the amazing skill of Belle, the trained “Eye” dog that so skillfully responds to human commands and herds the sheep without inducing stress. Once trained, these amazing dogs sell for as much as NZ $20,000.
We nearly didn’t go to Arrowtown.. but I’m so glad we did: really cool little ex-gold mining town that has become a tourist destination with boutiques and restaurants.