On Tuesday Laura, Caleb, and Ashley booked canyoning, but when we called to confirm the activity we were told that only two people were booked, for some reason, and that the trip was full. I hadn’t really wanted to canyon (because I knew it would be very cold, and I knew I could find other things to do) so I didn’t book the trip. Laura and I decided in the morning to do the zipline ecotour that starts at the top of the Skyrail mountain and zips down. We piddled around in the morning, and took our time getting up and ready and checking out of our hostel. We headed up the Skyrail gondola around 10:30. Because we had arrived so late at night, we had missed a lot of the scenic views of Queenstown. We were certainly impressed as we ascended on the gondola of the views around us- the town is beautiful, the mountains surrounding it are beautiful, and Lake Wakitupu that it sits next to is beautiful. I couldn’t take enough pictures!
When we got to the top of the mountain we checked out the viewing area (there was also a restaurant up top with fabulous views that we wish we could’ve eaten at!) and the gift shop, where I bought furry ear muffs, as it was pretty chilly. We headed over to the ziplining check in point and geared up for our trip down. We had two guides, a guy from England and girl from Canada, and two older couples from the north island of New Zealand were also in our group. The ziplining was great- some of the rides were very scenic, and they taught us to go backwards and upside down. We zipped 6 long rides; the last ride was the steepest in the world, and quite thrilling. Our morning adventure ended too soon!
One cool thing about our zipline company was how environmentally friendly they are. They preached to us about sustainability and doing things to improve the environment. They also introduced us to the area around Queenstown, and told us really interesting things about the city. The forest we were in had originally been a Red Beech Tree forest, but about 70 years ago someone had dropped Douglas Fir tree seeds (from N. America) aerially, and because Douglas firs drop their branches and make the soil acidic, no more Beech trees can grow. The company has replanted over 1600 native Beech trees in an effort to rebuild the environment, but more can always be done.
They also told us the stories of the area. The giant flightless Moa bird (10ft tall), the biggest flightless bird to ever walk the planet, roamed the area over 800 years ago. Because the birds had never feared large predators, they quickly became extinct when the Maori people arrived because they were so easy to hunt. Their predator, the Haast eagle (3m wingspan!), had to find other large meals to replace the Moa bird, so he began to eat the Maori children. As legend goes, the Haast eagles became fewer in number over the years, and in the 1800s the explorer that began settling the area hunted the last Haast eagle. The story is quite sad, but it was really interesting to learn about the huge animals that were in the area not so long ago.
When we got back into town we were quite hungry, but wanted something light. We made our way into a little soup and dessert shop, and both quickly agreed upon the ‘Chocolate Lover’s Belgium Waffles,’ which we easily split and loved every minute!
In the afternoon we wandered around town for a little while; Queenstown is an awesome city. It is absolutely beautiful, too, because it is surrounded by the huge lake and remarkable mountains. It is small and quaint enough to feel home-y, but very worldly and interesting. The nightlife is also very vibrant in the city, as it is made up of many young people from many different places. I have never been to Colorado, but it is what I would imagine the little ski resort towns there to be like. It’s a little more expensive to eat there and shop there than in the others places we have been so far, but overall it is usually worth what is paid. The city has a lot of character, just like the people. New Zealanders have slightly different accents than Australians, and tend to say ‘ay’ and ‘as’ after many phrases. ‘Good hike, ay?,’ ‘Sweet, as!,’ ‘Cool as!’ Sometimes, I want to respond with ‘cool as what?’ (haha) but I figure it is just an expression.
In the afternoon we were set to drive to Milford Sound, a 4.5 hour drive (or so). I had read that the drive to Milford was a big part of the experience, and that it was something not to miss. One guy we met told us that on the drive you see the Grand Canyon, Alaska, and the plains all in one. Unfortunately, on our drive there it got dark around 5:30 or 6:00, so we didn’t’ get to see as much as we would’ve liked. We planned on getting out of the sound early the next day, though, to see the things we missed.
We were booked to stay in the only lodge in Milford Sound; the hostel was full of families and young people and children (the first one I had seen with a lot of children staying). We had a little four person room, with bunk beds, and it was small, but ok. It was so cold outside, though, that I refused to take a shower because you had to go outside in the cold. For dinner I boiled some pasta and added some jar sauce in the hostel kitchen, and we ate together as a little family among the other people cooking. We had an early morning the next day, as Laura and I wanted to go on a cruise of the sound, so we headed to bed pretty early.
In the morning we drove down to the Milford sound visitor center and boat harbor near the water, and where all of the cruises left from. Caleb and Ashley decided to stay back and take photos and hang out on the shore, and Laura and I booked a cruise out to the Tasman Sea with ‘Cruize Milford.’ The boat had two levels, and decks on the back and front, and we got muffin breakfast. The cruise was awesome; we learned and saw quite a few things:
· The length of the sound is 16km, and the average depth is 330m (over 1000 ft!!). The widest point is 2km, and tallest point is 1692m (Mitre Point, one of the tallest mountains in the world to rise directly from the sea floor).
· The sound was missed two times by explorer Captain James Cook because it is so completely hidden from the view from the open ocean. It was eventually discovered in 1823 by a sealer, John Grono, who named it Milford Haven after his birthplace in Wales.
· The crystalline rocks of Milford Sound and Fiordland were formed some 600 million years ago, and were once part of a ‘shield’ mountain range located on the eastern side of the ancient continent of Gondwanaland. Over the past 100 million years tectonic plate movement, and the 12 major glacier phases have eroded them. Rivers of ice up to 2000 meters thick formed between mountains and in valleys, and carved the mountain ranges even steeper and deeper. As the glaciers melted, ‘fiords’ were formed as the sea flooded in, and sheer cliffs, hanging valleys and many waterfalls were left.
· The top 5 meters of water in the fiord is freshwater; the deeper water is saltwater.
· Dark adapted animals live in the depths of the sound; marine animals that are found in very deep sea water on the continental shelf are often found at relatively shallow depths in the fiord. Black coral is endemic to Fiordland, and grows very slowly in colonies that resemble trees. Some trees are estimated to be over 300 years old.
· Dolphins, seals and penguins are also found in the fiord. Because penguins are only found during nesting season in the spring, we didn’t see any of those. However, we did see the New Zealand Fur Seals and some dolphin. The dolphins were very lively, and the captain guessed that they were mating.
After the cruise we didn’t hesitate to get back on the road; we were ready to see the things we missed on the drive and get back to Queenstown. On the way back to Queenstown we got to stop at quite a few cool spots. We took a little walk around Boyd Creek, where we got to see small waterfalls and enjoy the rainforest. Everything is completely covered in moss, and is green, and it seems so much like a movie. It really is magical; it feels like walking around in a fairy tale.
When we got back to Queenstown we showered and got ready to go out on a bar crawl around Queenstown. The crawl took us to some big, popular bars around Queenstown, including the famous Minus 5 ice bar. We were pretty excited, because the admission into the ice bar alone was expensive ($30) so the bar crawl was actually a good deal ($33). It was a lot of fun; there were people on the tour from the North Island of New Zealand, some from New York, and some from all over Europe. It was really fun to walk around the city with a guide, and to see bars that we wouldn’t have found without the guide. I went home early because I was worn out, and slept so well! It was a wonderful last night in Queenstown J.
On Thursday morning we bopped around Queenstown a little, and grabbed Maccas (McDonalds). We had gotten a parking ticket a couple days before when we were there because we parked in a place that we weren’t supposed to (we didn’t know that a broken yellow line meant no parking), so we had to pay our ticket before we could leave. We set out towards Kawarau Bridge, home of the first bungy jump ever, invented by New Zealander AJ Hackett. Caleb was booked for a noon jump; he didn’t seem scared at all, and jumped like a pro! He loved it so much he signed up for a second jump, because it was pretty cheap and it offered a deal on pictures and videos. While we were there we watched many different types of people jump; two girls, maybe 14 years old, jumped bravely as their mother and father watched from the sidelines. The oldest person ever to jump there was 94, and the youngest was 10. It was cool to visit the ‘original’ bungy jump (over 500,000 people have jumped there), and to learn the story of bungy jumping. The guys who invented it got the idea from a ritual performed on the island of Vanuatu, where the men and women jump off of tall towers. They invented a safe device and simply starting jumping off bridges. At one point, AJ Hackett actually snuck up to the top of the Eiffel Tower to jump down, and was arrested by the Paris police. I would’ve liked to have jumped, but chose not to out of respect for my parents wishes!
Caleb finished jumping around 2pm, and we headed north towards Mount Cook National Park, and ultimately Christchurch. The drive back wasn’t as eventful as I would’ve liked, but it was ok because all of our cameras had died (literally, none of us had working cameras), and had it been beautiful we would have been disappointed we couldn’t get pictures. On the way we grabbed dinner, and eventually arrived at Christchurch airport, where we were planning on sleeping, around 10pm. Laura, Ashley and Caleb took the rental car back, and then had to walk to the airport. I waited with all of our luggage in the brand new international terminal, but eventually I was kicked out, as they didn’t want backpackers trying to sleep in the new terminal. No lie, atleast 7 employees of the airport tried to ask me to move; eventually a cop came over and told me that I was the first person ever he had to kick out of the new terminal.
I moved our cart with all of our stuff to the international arrivals terminal, and found us a bench to lay on. However, because we got there late, all of the good places were taken, and the bench was close to the automatic doors, and the outside was very cold. It was very cold where we were, so as the night passed I moved around the terminal. I think I moved around, and slept in all of the areas. By 4am I was totally over attempting to sleep in the arrivals terminal, and found my way to our desk to check in for the flight. I was worn out (and ready for alone time and a call home), and happy to get on the plane and head home. However, I was quickly reminded that unlike home, landing at the airport is never the end of the journey. We had both a long train ride, and then a long walk home. As soon as I got back to Weerona, I was ready for a nap, but instead had to get ready to travel with CIEE to the Blue Mountains. Cheers!