New Zealand I

Trip Start Oct 18, 2005
Trip End Dec 15, 2005

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Day 26: We were on our own in Australia, but we had five friends from Portland meeting us here for this leg of the trip. We woke up bright and early for our first day, got our 13 passenger van, and picked up Jen Miller, Charles Lockwood, Jen Stanfield, Chris Vondrachek, and Adam Cartier at the airport. After a few hours in Christchurch eating lunch and getting lost, we decided to make the seven hour drive to Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand.

As we headed out, driving on the left side of the road, we were struck by just how many sheep there are in New Zealand. They are everywhere! I mean everywhere! In the flat parts, on the side of hills, on the top of hills, as far as you can see.

It was a very beautiful drive, but it is amazing how much of nothing there was along the drive. There was about two hours where we didn't see a single building. We didn't even see a sheep for an hour! It kind of looked like eastern Washington with a lot of mountains and not any sign of people beyond the road. Good thing we stopped to get gas at the last town we saw!

Queenstown is simply gorgeous. It is a town of about 10,000 people nestled around a lake in the mountains. It is definitely a tourist town, and there is a ton of stuff to do here. The closest American town we could think of to compare it to was Vail. It took awhile to settle on a hotel, but we lucked into an awesome place that slept all seven of us without having to pretend we only have five, and it had a great view of the lake and the Remarkable Mountains behind it. Most of you would recognize this as Mordor from the Lord of the Rings movies. A lot of the Lord of the Rings movies was filmed around the Queenstown area.

That night we found a pretty good pizza place and a lot of the local beers we could sample. The waitress had a strangely familiar accent, and we discovered that she is from Canada. She's been living between Australia and New Zealand for a few years and working her way between the two. Sounds like a pretty cool deal.

Day 27: We woke up to bright sunshine for our first day in Queenstown. There is a ton to do in Queenstown...bungee jumping, canyoning, canyon swing, fly-by-wire, tramping (hiking), jet boat, alpine sledding, etc. There was a gondola right behind our hotel that lead up to a very high hill above the town where we went alpine luging. That was pretty fun. We got into little sleds that you drive on a concrete path down the hill at up to 50 km/hr! Once we figured out how to drive them, we quickly moved to the advanced course where Chris and Adam actually got some air on the big hill.

Since we still had a whole afternoon to go, jet boating seemed to be in order. A jet-boat is basically a regular boat hull with a car motor in it to run the water jet engine. This boat goes 85 km/hr (50 mph) and gets to that speed fairly quickly. It rides in the water at only about 4 inches and it turns fairly rapidly. Our driver even threw in a few 360's at top speed just to give us a little thrill. When we first started out on our hour-long trip, the driver was heading right for a buoy in the lake at full speed. He turned just as Janell got out her third "OH MY GOD!!!" and missed hitting it by no more than an inch or two. This is pretty much how our next hour was spent...and it probably took a day or two off our lives.

That night we went out on the town again, and found ourselves at a bar called "Minus Five". As in minus five degrees, meaning that is the temperature in this bar (Celsius, not Fahrenheit), as if we weren't cold enough from the jet boating. Everything in this bar is made out of ice, including the glasses! They give you parkas and gloves before you go in, so it wasn't so cold. It seemed very touristy, and I'm pretty sure there wasn't a single local in there. We even met two guys from Rochester, New York (we had also seen the same guys in line at customs in Christchurch).

Day 28: Adam had done some excellent research on what hikes to do in New Zealand, and we had decided to do the Routeburn Track, or at least a good portion of it. Routeburn is one of the Great Walks of New Zealand. Since there was a stormfront coming in that evening, and since we didn't have a hotel room for the night anyway, we decided it would be a good day to do the hike. Now, New Zealand hiking is much different that what we have in the states. Leave your tent at home, since there are huts that you have to reserve all along the Great Walks. They have running water (very cold but running) and nice bunkrooms to sleep in.

One of the very first things we encountered on the hike was a swinging bridge. It's pretty crazy when you get four or five people on one. It bounces all over the place, and you feel like you have sea legs when you get off. It takes a few steps to stop bouncing even on the solid ground. Quite honestly, the first section of the hike looked a lot like hiking in Oregon and Washington. Lots of cool forest and crystal clear streams. Then we got out into the clearings and up towards the hut we stayed in and WOW! Its hard to describe, so you'll just have to check out the pictures.

The hut was supposed to be the first day of a three day hike, but since we were going to turn back rather than going straight through, we decided to hike up to the pass and back down before the stormfront came in. The scenery kept getting better and better! On the way to the top we met a group of several older ladies (55-70ish) who were hiking the trail. They were in very good spirits and told us we had to go up Conical Peak to check out the view.

We finally made it to the pass and noticed a side trail going up to Conical Peak. Conical Peak has a somewhat unique place in the world as it is only one of two places where the continental divide feeds rivers going in three different directions (I believe the other is in Glacier National Park in Montana). We had been beating all the times that were predicted for us up to this point, so we figured it would be no big deal to keep going. Boy were we wrong there. About halfway up, each of us thought to ourselves, and admitted to each other later, that it just might not be worth it. But if those older ladies could do it, we certainly could, right? After going up the steepest grade we'd seen all day over rocks and snow (yes snow), we were greeted by a very strong and very cold wind and incoming clouds. The scenery was spectacular, but man, that sure made the trek back to the hut not very fun. We even got snowed on a little bit!

Once we got back to the hut Jason found the beef jerky in his pack that Trent and Nicki Rolling sent in a little care package with the others. Man, that would have been awesome when we were starving and cold on top of the mountain! It was still awesome when we were starving and cold in the hut.

We met a guy from Baltimore in the hut. He had done the exact same thing as we did to miss the storm, and he also was prompted by the image of the ladies doing it and smiling all the way down. At least we weren't the only suckers, huh?

That night it rained like the whole ocean was dumping on us. I even thought about collecting animals in pairs of two.

Day 29: After all the rain, we woke up to a beautiful sunny day. One thing about rain in the mountains is that if you are at a high enough elevation it comes down as snow. The snow was a mere 300 meters higher than we were, and it was supposed to snow on the hut that night! Lucky for us we had a nice warm hotel waiting for us in Queenstown. After a three-hour hike out and a quick lunch in Glenorchy, we headed back.

After some well-deserved showers and a home-cooked dinner, Adam, Jen S., Chris, and Jason ventured out into Queenstown for a few beers. Jen and Jason got into a pool game with a New Zealander and an Irishman. Apparently, the rules are a little different in New Zealand, and after a lengthly discussion on pool etiquite, we Yanks relented and handed the stick over for the next shot.

Day 30: This day we split up with Adam, Chris, Jen M., and Jen S. going canyoning while Janell, Charles, and Jason went on a wine tour.

The wine tour was pretty fun, as our driver gave us a lot of information on wine making in New Zealand and on the Queenstown area. Apparently, the Pitt/Anniston honeymoon was at a very exlusive resort near Glenorchy (where we had lunch the previous day). Also, Shania Twain has a huge property in Wanaka, which is only about 45 minutes away from Queenstown.

We stopped at four wineries and sampled 18 wines or so. They were all very different, and the wine was pretty good. Since Queenstown is at the same latitude as the wine-makers in Oregon, the types of wines were pretty much the same. Their pinot noirs are pretty good, too. We also stopped and watched people bungy jump 134m (about 400 feet) off of a bridge above the Kawarau River. Crazy! We sampled some sheep cheese at one of the places. Janell called it "interesting." For any of you that know Janell this really means "this pretty much sucks, but I don't want to make you feel bad."

We met up with the other kids, and they had a really good time canyoning. It's basically working your way down a river by rapelling, swimming, and jumping off waterfalls. Sounds fun! Maybe some other time.
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