Heights, Heels, & Hang-Gliding

Trip Start Oct 13, 2010
Trip End Jun 20, 2011

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November 3 - Day 20
Big travel day today on our way to Queenstown. On the advice of our campground director, we chose to drive down the Cardrona Roadway and were happily rewarded for doing so. Crusing along the highest paved road in NZ, we drove through ice-capped mountains, waterfalls and amazing vistas...stopping several times along the way to snap some pictures and "oooh" and "ahhhh" for a while.

Arriving at our jam-packed campground (Queenstown is popular!) late that afternoon and after squeezing into our tiny "site" (more like a parking spot), we ventured out to do some exploring i.e. right across the street to the grocery store. We quickly realized that this grocery store was not exactly backpacker-friendly...$18 for a tiny, 8-slice package of mini-bacon, $11 for a bag of oatmeal, and organic everything. Oh well...we bit the bullet a bit on that one...we later realized that there was a much more reasonable grocery store right around the corner.

We stayed in tonight & feasted on our pricey groceries. After dinner, Jill wanted me to teach her how to play a card game called Nerts...similar to solitaire, it's a head-to-head game that moves very, very fast. After a quick explantion of the rules, we decided to play up to 100. Playing at near-full speed in the first round, I quickly realized that I'd have to up my game as Jill kicked my rear & raced out to an 18-0 lead. Holy crap I thought...I can't lose to her in the very first game that she ever plays. Enough fooling around....this means war. Despite my best efforts after several rounds, I thought that I lost when Jill counted her cards....97....98...99.....that's it! Whew....still got a chance. Down by 20+ points, I managed to rally back and keep some of my pride to pull out the victory...or maybe Jill realized that I'd be cranky the rest of the night if I lost and decided to let me win....but whatever the case, disaster averted and went back to our parking spot to watch the next episode of Dexter on our laptop before bed....roughing it indeed.

November 4 - Day 21
Woke up to a pretty chilly van....brrrrrr....cold outside! Once we rallied up the courage to go outside, we got ready to hit the town a bit. First thing we did was take the gondola up to the top of Bob's Peak. Now those who know me well know that I'm not a big fan of heights...especially slow-moving things that go up....and up....and up. Jill was having a good time with this and I played it as cool as possible (to be honest, the ride down was worse!).

Now Queenstown is very, very touristy....a money-making machine of overpriced tours and activities. That being said, the town is set right on a lake with a backdrop of ice-capped mountains...and the view from the top of Bob's Peak was pretty awesome. Once at the top, we went on a short but tough hike to a couple of look-out points...including the spots where crazy people bungy jump or take off for paraglidng.

After our little bit of exercise, it was time for a bit of fun There were a couple of luge tracks up at the peak, though the vehicles were more like non-motorized go carts. I let Jill go first, figuring that my extra weight would work in my favor to catch up and quickly pass her on the track. After tailgating her right off the bat on the first couple of straightaways, we came to some twists and turns and my driving rustiness reared its ugly head as Jill burned me and was soon out of sight. I almost came to a complete stop at one point and had to re-start Flintstone-style....YABBA....DABBA....DOOOOOOO!!

Back down the gondola and into town to look for a place for lunch. A bunch of overpriced and touristy-type places until we asked for some advice and were directed to a little place called Johnny Barr's. We liked this place from the start as it was heavily promoting Movember (i.e moustache month). The owner, a guy in his 30's named Ramy, was a lawyer in LA before deciding to leave law and move to NZ to become a chef at a fancy restaurant. He then left that job to open up the cool cafe/bar that we were currently in. We spent the afternoon happily hanging out here...the wraps were excellent, beer was good, and Ramy gave us the password for wifi....wow, free internet....a rare treat in NZ! Before leaving, Ramy & I chatted about my own Movember memories from Bermuda and he asked me to send a picture of my award-winning mo. I did as requested and he later replied by email to thank me & let me know that the picture would prompty be posted onto the bar's Mo Hall of Fame...somewhere between Burt Reynolds and Tom Selleck I can only assume....

November 5 - Day 22
What do do in Queenstown today? As we leave tomorrow, this is our last full day here and Jill really wanted to hang-glide (yes, she's crazy), but the weather (cold, rainy, and windy) wasn't cooperating. So instead we took it easy and chilled out most of the morning and then in the afternoon, drove our van to a neighboring town called Arrowtown. Pretty cool little place....a former gold mining town that has kept a lot of its old-fashioned charm. We spent the afternoon just wandering around and checking out a few historical sites....before being caught in a crazy hailstorm and jumping into a cafe for shelter and a quick double shot latte. "Quick" because it happened to be 4:55PM and almost everything closes at 5PM in this town. Oh well, so the only reasonable alternative was to take our coffees to go and then head to the local fudge shop to by some creme brulee fudge. A moment on the lips....a lifetime on the hips...damn you fudge.

Back to our campsite and took a look at tomorrow's forecast....looks much better. Hmmmm....can we squeeze in a quick hang-gliding tour for Jill before we drive off to Te Anau in the afternoon? Sure, why not?! Tour booked and tomorrow I will be watching Jill jump off a cliff.

Rest of the night was fairly uneventful. We went out for some Thai curry, which was pretty good and then walked back home shivering in the cold. Jill wanted another shot at me in Nerts...let's just say that this one was not as close as the first game....ouch for Jill.
There was, however, one pretty funny incident that happened before we went out for dinner. We were sitting in our van having a pre-dinner beverage when the couple in the van beside us emerged from their van to head out for a night on the town. Jill was saying something to me and stopped in mid-sentence...."Oh my goodness...check out this girl's shoes!". I turned around to see a girl walking with her boyfriend and wearing 5-inch, patent, platform heels...not exactly your everyday campsite attire. She was teetering along in them on the gravel road and we remarked that she would never be able to last the night in them and that they'd probably be off within the hour. Sure enough, 2 minutes later, we see the couple return to the van and we both started laughing. But wait...they left again a few minutes later and she was still wearing the killer shoes. Hmmmmm....that's not what we expected. Less than a minute later, we're both nearly in tears as we see the boyfriend trudge back to the van by himself with heels in hand....emerging from the van with a pair of ugly ballet flats....high-comedy stuff.

November 6 - Day 23
Waking up in the van this morning, we both felt a bit off as the Thai food from the previous night wasn't sitting too well in our stomachs. Of course for Jill, this may just have been the bitter taste of defeat from last night's Nerts annihilation, but I digress. Check-out from Queenstown campsite today, and then the long-anticipated event...Jill jumping off a cliff!

Well, maybe it wasn't exactly a cliff. It was more like a downhill slope that you run down and then end up in the air over a beautiful valley...after seeing it, I almost regretted not doing it myself....that's right....ALMOST. I am still very happy being strictly a land mammal. Jill was pretty cool and collected thoughout. The videographer on the other hand (that would be me for any of you not following along) totally dropped the ball by missing the take-off....DOH!! Jill was in the air with her instructor for about 20 minutes and actually landed before me and the driver arrived at the landing area by car. I'll let Jill explain it in her own words:

The hangliding started with me getting fitted for the harness and practicing the tandem run down the slope with the Swedish hangliding instructor Anders. After one practice run, yep that's right ONE, we were strapped into the huge set of wings and running until the our feet were lifted off the ground. Not quite the adrenaline rush that sky diving has provided in the past, hangliding in comparison is amazingly peaceful.

During my flight, we came across an upward draft of warm air in which Anders circled, spiralling us higher and higher above the trees. We kept climbing to the point that the wind started to pull and shake the glider. I was getting rather nervous and when Andres' body language got tense, I was pretty glad that we made our way out of the upward draft and starting our descent.

Despite the amazing views and feeling as though I was soaring like a bird, about half way through the flight all I could think about  was how absolutely freezing cold I was. My legs were trembling in the trapeze-like footrest and after 20 minutes I was ready to land this sucker! On a rather quick approach to the open landing field, we came gliding to a halt not far from the clubhouse... hangliding - piece of cake... check!

Today's excitement over, it's time to say ba-bye to Queenstown. We stopped by Johnny Barr's for some take-out lunch and ate it at the beach. As we sat there there in our fleece jackets and wool hats, we were stunned at how many people were lying in the sand in bikinis and bathing suits sun-bathing. Either we're complete wimps or those people are crazy. In any event, time to gas up and head out for the 2-hour drive to Te Anau...Jill driving and Joe reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo to her as we pass through landscapes of mountains, lakes, and green, rolling fields.
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andy on

looks amazing guys!

Kirsten on

Oh my... are you by any chance participating in Movember again this year Joe... or is this the look you'll be sporting throughout your travels?

Looks amazing! Well done on the hang-gliding Jill!

joe-and-jill on

Nope...no Movember this year tragically...too tough to maintain! Easier just to go with the beard :) Tho this has also undergone MANY trimmings already

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