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New Zealand Adventuring
Explore the South Island's grandeur up close with action-packed day tours

"Let's ride the afternoon breeze home!" shouted Stewart, our guide. He explained and demonstrated, "Unfurl your spinnakers. The front person in each kayak, hold those two sail cords. Helsmen, just use the rudder."

Soon we were sailing, making good headway  across the Tasman Sea bay — a perfect cap to an unforgettable day of  sea kayaking along the stunning Abel Tasman coastline of golden beaches and forest-rimmed lagoons.

Grinning broadly, my wife and I couldn’t refrain from recounting our adventures of the last several days. "What’s your favorite?" asked my wife. "Jet boating and canoeing in the Southern Alps? Paragliding near Queenstown? White water rafting the Kawarau River? The Milford Sound cruise and flight? Or today's adventure?"

"I can't decide," I responded. "I'll just vote for New Zealand as the best adventuring spot on the planet!"

Kayak sailing

A Convenient Adventure Itinerary

The South Island features an incredible variety of natural treasures in close proximity: glaciated peaks, rivers, lakes, fjords, lagoons, and beaches. In only ten days we experienced some of New Zealand’s best scenery and adventures. We based ourselves in two small, friendly towns, just 300 miles apart. Near the Southern Alps we stayed in Queenstown, with access to mountain and river adventures, and a tour of Fjordland’s Milford Sound. On the northern coast we stayed in Nelson, with convenient access to the Abel Tasman coastline, beaches, wineries, and art galleries. Let’s go adventuring!

Dart River & Alps Jet Boating & Canoeing the Dart River

Water spraying and hearts pounding, we skipped over small rapids, skirting rocks and trees, hurtling upriver into Mt. Aspiring National Park. Mount Earnslaw towered 9,000 feet above, often visible between steep cliffs. For an extra thrill, Mitch, our Fun Yaks jet boat driver, signaled, "Hold on!" and spun a complete circle, water flying in all directions. At beautiful Unknown Falls, Mitch stopped to fill us in on the Dart River Valley’s natural history.

Approximately 30 km. upriver, we disembarked and joined Wayne, our Fun Yaks canoe guide. It was time to get to work, so we assisted Wayne in pumping up the inflatable canoes. Wayne shortly had our small group feeling comfortable with the canoe maneuvering and stability, and we set off paddling downriver. He kept us in smooth, swift water as the shoreline passed quickly.

Reaching the Rockburn, we walked the canoes up this shallow tributary, finding a secluded bank for a welcome lunch stop. Then Wayne introduced us to an unexpected highlight, 20-foot wide Rockburn Chasm. Paddling between sheer rock walls, we continued for several hundred feet, discovering an aqua blue cascade pool fed by rushing waters.

Jet Boat Rockford Chasm

We retraced the Rockburn to rejoin the Dart and enjoy some fast water sections. Ever changing valley views awed us. When we reached the end of our paddle, we quickly deflated our canoes for the journey back to Queenstown. As Wayne drove the van and quipped his friendly Kiwi humor, our small group buzzed and glowed with the experience of this unforgettable day.

Paragliding above Queenstown

"Are you set?" asked René, my paragliding guide. We stood, hooked together in the double-seated harness, with the parasail lying behind us.

"As ready as I’ll ever be!" I exclaimed, still breathing heavily from the 20-minute hike up from the top terminus of the Queenstown Gondola.

"Walk strongly forward six steps, then run until the earth drops away and sit back into the harness," explained René. "Let’s go!"


Above Queenstown
René takes our photo

Within five seconds the air was whistling through the harness lines as we sailed in the skies high above Lake Wakatipu. The next ten minutes were an exhilarating blur of adrenaline, as we descended 2,000 feet to a Queenstown soccer field. Zooming over the gondola observation tower, we took two quick 360-degree turns, then floated in a long arc, with ever-changing views of the lake, the town, and the Remarkable Mountains.

Nearing the town, René zeroed in on the field, and we floated in comfortably. "Not bad for a first flight," remarked René. I was still feeling the adrenaline, already thanking my lucky stars that all had gone well. Only two hours earlier I had strolled into the Sightseeing Shop on Camp St., inquiring about introductory paragliding flights. Now I was glad that I hadn’t second-guessed my decision to "take the leap."

Rafting the Kawarau River

Floating quickly downriver in the smooth current, the background noise increased, becoming clearly discernible as the roar of powerful white water. Still unable to view the rapids, Collin, our helmsman and guide, confidently told us, "Dogleg Rapids veers around the bend of that rock wall. We’ll hit the rapids plumb in the middle. Paddle hard until we’re in the steep descent! Then hold on when we jump over the first standing wave!"

The roar and our adrenaline-level increased as we negotiated our raft into position. Then, it was into the foam and spray as we pulled hard on our paddles. We took the roller coaster wave buried in froth before bouncing over the top. Then we paddled hard again, keeping the raft aligned, and enjoyed the 1/4-mile-long section of white water all the way home to our take-out spot.

Photo: Challenge Rafting

raftb.jpg (4359 bytes)
Photo: Challenge Rafting

Challenge Rafting’s afternoon Kawarau River Rafting Excursion was the perfect experience for a limited time frame: round-trip bus from Queenstown to the river; the beautiful river canyon and vibrant green waters; three sets of class 3-4 rapids, time for raft horseplay, and optional diving from rock wall ledges, all within 4-1/2 action-packed hours.

Cruising Milford Sound; Touring Fjordland National Park

We had decided to use Fjordland Travel’s broad range of options to best experience Milford Sound and Fjordland National Park. Boarding an early ferry from Queenstown, our small group crossed Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak Farm and boarded a minibus. Our experienced guide navigated gravel roads across large sheep ranches, crossing highland passes and rejoining the autoroute to Milford Sound at Te Anau for lunch. We took the winding road from Te Anau through rain forest and over steep mountain passes, surrounded by sheer rock faces and waterfalls, to Milford Sound.

Photo: Rita Furnanz

The Wanderer, Milford Sound
Courtesy: Fjordland Travel

Plane and mountains
Ctsy: Fjordland Travel

After a short hike to beautiful Bowen Falls, with afternoon sun highlighting rugged Mitre Peak, we boarded the Milford Wanderer for an overnight cruise. We spent the late afternoon on deck, talking with the naturalist and viewing waterfalls, glacier-covered peaks, steep fjord walls, isolated tree fern groves, waterfowls, and jumping fish. After cruising to the open sea, we anchored for the night back inside at Harrison Cove. Before dinner, we took the opportunity to explore the shoreline up close by kayak, then again at dawn. Later that next morning we returned to the our starting point and boarded a small plane for an exciting 45-minute hop over the fjords and mountains back to Queenstown. The views of fjords, mountains, lakes, and glacial valleys were even more entrancing from this heavenly perspective. Later reflecting on our Milford Sound experience, we found it hard to imagine a more rewarding two-day tour.

Kayaking the Abel Tasman Coastline

"We’re lucky to have high tide conditions today, allowing us to paddle across Torrent Lagoon. We’ll leave our sea kayaks there for a short hike on Abel Tasman Track to Cleopatra’s Pool," remarked our guide, Stewart. He then led our group of four tandem kayaks to the far end of the lagoon. Aquamarine waters shone brilliantly, rimmed variously by golden beaches and dense forest growth.

Photo Courtesy: Ocean-River

Abel Tasman Coast
Courtesy: Ocean-River

Earlier that morning Ocean-River Adventure Company’s bus had picked us up in Nelson, bringing us to the southern boundary of Abel Tasman National Park. We then water taxied to isolated Anchorage Bay, where our kayaks awaited.

Reaching the point where the lagoon narrowed, we beached our kayaks and hiked upstream along a shaded trail to the fabled pool. Stewart stripped to his trunks, scrambled over some rocks, then slid down the 30-foot natural water slide into the cold pool. "Come on in!" he yelled, and I had to follow suit, glad for the refreshment. Returning to our kayaks and paddling out of the lagoon and Anchorage Bay, we headed north and found a small, isolated beach for lunch and a swim. Later that afternoon, we reached our turn-around point at North Head, then set our spinnakers for a thrilling ride downwind back into Anchorage Bay.

Choices Aplenty

We had many other great experiences on the South Island, including mountain biking; a train trip and Alps hike; wine-tasting, and beach lounging on the north coast. Our appetite is whetted for our next visit. Will it be a trek on Marlborough Track? A climb on Fox Glacier? A ski down Mt. Cook’s Tasman Glacier? — all pleasant decisions for our next New Zealand itinerary.

Click here for details to plan your own adventure trip to New Zealand

Les Furnanz
Photos by Rita Furnanz

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