Get Ready for Summer
New Zealand Style
Article and Photos
Pull out the swimsuits, shorts and sandals. Fall may be in the air in North
America, but it's springtime in New Zealand.
There's no better place to keep the heat coming than Queenstown on New
Zealand's South Island. Spring or summer, and even fall and winter, the city
of 20,000 multiplies with adventure junkies riding high speed jet boats,
paddle rafting through white-knuckle whitewater, flying in helicopters,
taking tandem parachuting rides, going canyon swinging, barreling down steep
luge runs, sailing, mountain biking, fly-by-wire, tandem paragliding and bungy jumping.
For people willing to substitute adrenalin generating thrills for gentler
activities, the possibilities include traveling to "Middle Earth" sites made
famous by the Academy Award winning "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy,
steam boat excursions, sheep dog demonstrations, horseback riding, Milford Sound
cruises, massages, museum visits, double-decker bus rides to back-in-timegold
mine community of Arrowtown, guided walks, rides aboard the Kingston Flyer
steam train, hot springs soaks and spas, rides up the Skyline Gondola for views
and meals, tours of operating sheep farms and, most deliciously, wine tours.
I didn't have time to do them all, but I certainly savored the wine tasting,
and everything else. Here's a sampling:
* * *
I really wasn't planning to do it, but when the opportunity came up I jumped
at the chance. It isn't often I win anything, but it was my name that was
drawn for a free bungy jump off the Kawarau Bridge. I've bungy jumped two
other times, once out of gondola nearly 500 feet above the ground in the
Swiss Alps. This was a considerably shorter plunge, about 137 feet, but
standing on a bridge and looking at the ribbony narrow river below gave me
second, and third - and keep counting - thoughts. Earlier, friends and I had
taken the AJ Hackett Bungy Queenstown "Secrets of Bungy" tour, which
explains the origins and history of bungy jumping. As we learned, it was AJ
Hackett of Queenstown who created commercial bungy jumping. The Kawarau Bridge,
it turns out, was the site of the first commercial jump in 1988. Hackett is the gent
who's made bungy jumping big business, after his
trend-starting jumps at places like the Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1987.
Author Lee Juillerat takes the plunge.
Heading down, down, down ...
I wasn't looking to make history, just to take a dive. I stepped - make that
hopped - to the platform's edge, my feet wrapped together and encircled by
the bungy cord. It looked a longgg ways down. Bungy operators, I learned,
get people to jump by intimidation and not giving them time to think. In rapid
order the person handling my jump filled me in on details, had me wave at the
lineup of people standing along the viewing area across from the bridge, then counted down ... 3, 2, 1 ...
I dove, trying to give it my best form. For a few seconds, and it seemed much
longer, I was flying.
When the cord gently halted the plunge and flungme back up, I remembered instructions
from a previous jump. I tried to touch my toes to make the uphill swing a bit higher, then stretched out full
length when I rebounded toward the river. Up and down, repeat, repeat, until I was hauled aboard the waiting raft.
The hardest part? Making the climb from the river back up to the bridge. The best part?
Watching the DVD. I call it evidence.
* * *
He looked a bit crazed, crazy like a fox. Four rows of us were packed into
the jet boat, all life-jacketed and fitted with gear meant to prevent us
from getting soaked. With maniacal glee, he shouted "3, 2 ..." then bolted
off, the "1" never spoken. For most of the next half-hour he aimed the boat,
powered by twin V6 Buick engines, up and down the Shotover River. This was
no gentle cruise. He piloted the jet boat along the river's edge, barely
skirting rocky outcrops, skimming around crags, boulders and islands and,
just in case anyone was still dry, whipping off 360 spins.
Shotover Jet boats zoom through canyons.
Boats whip into 360 degree turns.
"We call it thrill therapy," he crowed during a break. It's proven
if unconventional form of therapy. Riding a Shotover Jet is almost a
requirement for Queenstown visitors, and more than 2 million have made a
trip. Before and after my visit, whenever I met anyone who has ever been to
Queenstown, the standard question is, "Did you ride the Shotover Jet?" Now I can say, You bet.
* * *
When my friend, a former river guide, returned from his whitewater rafting
trip he was visibly shaken. His eyes seemed vacant. It was odd because he's
been on rivers around the world, but this ride on the Shotover River -
through rapids with names like the Toilet, Pinball and Jaws - left him awed.
And that was before their paddle raft powered through the Oxenbridge Tunnel,
a narrow squeeze hole that explodes from the darkness to a belching rapid.
His nerves had already been rattled by a helicopter ride to the put-in site with
a pilot who gave passengers goosebumps by aimed the chopper at canyon walls,
before yanking away seconds before a crash.
* * *
TSS Earnslaw crosses Lake Wakatipu.
New Zealand features pinot noir wines.
I wandered about the ship, visiting the captain,
enjoying the cool breeze from the front deck, and exploring a room filled
with historic photographs. There was a time when the Earnslaw and other
steamers were the conveyance of choice - partly because there was no other
choice - for farmers and sheep traveling between their farms, called
"stations" in New Zealand, and Queenstown.
Sheep outnumber people in New Zealand.
Walter Peak homestead has fine dining.
We unloaded from the Earnslaw at the dock at the Walter Peak farm and walked to the elegant, beautifully restored former house. We found our assigned tables, then piled plates with fresh vegetables, breads and freshly cut slices of beef and lamb at the buffet tables. We polished off the meal with a bottle of New Zealand wine, then a second, and, just because the dessert selection seemed to require some liquid supplement, a third bottle. After dinner we retreated to covered stands and watched as border collies rustled up bands of sheep from mountain hiding places and guided them into pens.
On the return ride to Queenstown, the boat crews distributed songbooks for
sing-alongs with the piano player. After that many glasses of wines, everyone sounded remarkably good.
* * *
Queenstown is a place where hormones run free. But bucolic best describes
Glenorchy, a rural town north of Queenstown that's been inhabited by gold
miners, saw mill workers, farmers and, thanks to the "Lord of the Rings,"
increasing numbers of filmmakers and tourists.
There's also a chance to see how life unfolds through a tour of the Mount
Earnslaw Station, a 130-year young working farm where Perendale sheep,
Angus cattle and Red deer are raised. Depending on the season, visitors can
experience ever-changing phases of the operation. During New Zealand's
spring, which runs from September to November, lambing and calving is
active. During summer, December through February, livestock numbers peak
as lambs, calves and fawns graze with their mamas in open paddocks.
The sights and photo opportunities in and near Glenorchy are incredible.
Some paddocks are thickly spotted with cotton-colored sheep. Toweringly
dramatic peaks rise from the valley floor, including massive Mount Earnslaw.
The drive to and from Glenorchy along Lake Wakatipu is enchanting, its
twisty road providing ever-changing views of the lake and more distant
panorama of snow-topped mountains.
* * *
Have you driven to a fjord lately? Traveling Milford Sound is another of the
leisurely outings South Island visitors take at least once. Several companies offer tours. Ours was aboard the "Pride of Milford," a state-of-the-art catamaran that glided along the sound, sometimes snuggling alongside waterfalls and fjord walls. The cruises, which last from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours, feature views of natural attractions like Bowen Falls, Mitre Peak, Mount Pembroke, Fairy Falls and Seal Rock, where Southern Fur seals lounge on the rocks. The sights outside are splendid, but so were those inside. We packed away huge lunches at the International Buffet, a food feast that left me and others waddling like over-stuffed walruses.
Tour boat cruises Milford Sound.
Towering snow-capped peaks are common.
Milford Sound is a long way from Queenstown, so on the outbound drive it's
wise to break up the trip with stops in Fjordland National Park. Our tour bus driver, who provided a nearly non-stop factoid and fiction filled commentary. During our five hours journey, the drive was interrupted withwelcome, too brief visits to Knobs Flat, The Divide and, best of all, The
Chasm, a maelstrom of swirling water that cuts and gouges through terrifying passages seen from a loop trail. Instead of just shopping for gifts or food at the Te Anau bus stop/gift shop, hustle off to one of two local bakeries for fresh baked bread, snacks and incredible pot pies.
* * *
Whining isn't allowed in Queenstown. Wining, most happily, is encouraged.
New Zealand, unknown to many Americans, is quietly becoming an international wine capital. The Central Otago wine region within an easy drive of Queenstown is especially known for world quality Pinot noirs. The Kiwis claim their pinots equal those produced in Burgundy in France and Oregon's Willamette Valley. Pretty heady claims and, because I live in Oregon, it seemed only fitting - no, make that highly necessary - to taste and compare.
At a latitude 45 degrees south, the Central Otago wine region is the world's most southerly wine producing region. During the 1860s gold rush, Jean Desire Feraud, a French immigrant miner, planted vines for the country's first small-scale commercial winery. The gold rush ended, but Feraud planted the seeds for an industry that's seemingly coming of age, just like its 2001 Pinot Noir.
I joined a Queenstown Wine Trail tour. The driver retrieved several of us from the Novotel - a hotel located just a short walk from beautiful rose gardens, the beaches of Lake Wakatipu and downtown Queenstown - in a comfortable mini-bus for the drive to four wineries. At the Giggston Valley Winery we strolled the vineyards, sampled wines inside an underground cave and sampled local cheeses at lunch. (Actually, dining and Queenstown go hand-in-mouth. Great restaurants are located throughout the region while downtown is "cuisine town," with Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian, Thai, Indian restaurants along with less formal eateries offering delicious pizza, fish and chips and regional seafood.)
Pinot Noir is the region's primary grape and wine, but sips of Riesling, Pinot
Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Methode Traditional were delicious, too. Over the
next few hours the sampling routine was repeated, in differing styles, at Peregrine
Wines, Waitiri Creek Wines and Amisfield Cellars, where our group was taken
to a basement room to sample the usual selections and some soon-to-be released
|It may be necessary to take another wine tasting
tour to make an honest
evaluation of how the wines compare. Likewise, it may take another several
visits to more thoroughly evaluate all the region has to offer. Whether wine
tasting or bungy jumping, Queenstown is a place to take the plunge.
Wine tours visit vineyards.
Lee Juillerat lives in Southern Oregon, where he is a writer and photographer for a daily newspaper and is a frequent contributor to a variety of travel and outdoor magazines. He recently has had photo-stories in Horizon and Alaska Airlines in-flight magazines, Northwest Travel, Oregon Coast and VIA. He can be contacted at email@example.com
WHEN YOU GO
New Zealand's seasons are directly opposite the seasons in the United States
and Europe. The country has long been a destination for people seeking an
endless summer or, for skiers and snowboarders, a non-stop winter. A variety of airlines fly into Auckland. I flew Air New Zealand on overnight flights to and from Los Angeles, and caught connecting flights to Queenstown. People with more time often drive from city to city in rental camper vans. For information on New Zealand travel opportunities and some of the trips listed in the story visit the following websites:
Destination Queenstown at www.queenstownnz.co.nz
Queenstown Wine Trail at www.queenstownwinetrail.co.nz
Milford Sound Red Boat Cruises at www.redboats.co.nz
Mount Earnslaw Station 4WD Farm Tour at www.rdtours.co.nz
TSS Earnslaw Steamship Cruises/Walter Peak Farm Excursions at
Shotover Jet Boat Rides at www.shotoverjet.com
Queenstown Rafting at www.rafting.co.nz
Shotover Heli Rafting at www.rafting.co.nz/index.cfm/helirafting
AJ Hackett Bungy at www.AJHackett.com
Air New Zealand at www.airnewzealand.com
New Zealand Tourism at www.newzealand.com/travel/