Wanaka was my favourite town in New Zealand. It definitely had a similar feel to Jasper in Canada. A touristy mountain town with a population of around 7000 and a focus on the outdoors lifestyle – hiking and biking in summer and skiing in winter. If I had to go back and live somewhere in NZ I’d choose Wanaka.
All up we only spent three days in Wanaka. It was just enough time to explore the town, climb Mt Iron and Roys Peak, swim down the Clutha River and mountain bike the awesome Deans Bank track.
The biggest day was spent climbing the very photogenic 1578m Roys Peak. It took us 7 hours return I believe, well worth it if you ever get the chance.
The trail was a 4WD track most of the way, which snaked it’s way up the mountain at a consistent grade – fairly steep but I’d say a good balance between gaining elevation and reducing distance walked.
The views of Lake Wanaka opened up almost immediately and as there were no trees, remained with us the entire way. Our group was a diverse one including Finnish Lari, Swedish Adam and us two Aussies.
On Day 31, the 21st December 2014, Matt, Lari and I rode the 75km from Wanaka to Queenstown via the Crown Range. I didn’t know at the time but the Crown Range road is the highest sealed road in all of New Zealand!
It goes without saying then that a tough day of climbing ensued, but our reward was an even longer descent down the other side. Riding the Wanaka to Queenstown direction was definitely the easier way and I felt a little sorry for the poor touring cyclist grinding their way up at 4 km/hr as we whizzed down at 60 km/hr.
A highlight of this ride was the incredible wildflowers near Cardrona. They proved an incredible distraction from the climbing and I couldn’t believe just how many vibrant flowers there were.
When we made it into Queenstown that afternoon Lari was a happy chap. He had finally finished his 1850 km ride and tomorrow he was free to relax. A bus was his mode of transport back to Christchurch.
We spent five days in Queenstown, with the majority of it spent eating ridiculous amounts of calories and playing many games of frisbee golf in the botanical gardens with Lari. Frisbee golf is a game like golf, however instead of getting a ball into a hole you have to throw a frisbee into a metal basket. The course was 18 holes with each ‘hole’ around 60 metres long. Matt just edged out Lari and I for the title of frisbee golf champion.
Matt was also the king eater, and somewhat disturbingly, managed to eat a McDonald’s family value dinner box. That’s 2 big macs, 2 cheeseburgers, 4 small fries, 2 medium cokes and 2 small cokes. He did this with surprising ease!
Another day in Queenstown he ‘triple threated’ which meant eating three meals back to back to back. All within an hour or so. This time it was one meat pie, followed by one large Domino’s ham and pineapple pizza, and finally a McDonald’s hunger buster meal of a big mac, cheeseburger, medium fries, medium coke and small sundae!!!
I couldn’t do such things, a full pizza was enough for me.
The biggest thing we did in Queenstown (and the whole trip) was go skydiving for the first time in our lives. It had been something we had agreed on doing weeks ago when we arrived in New Zealand but we’d been waiting for the right moment.
What better place to do it than here, the ‘adventure capital of the world’ as they say.
I was more nervous than Matt about the whole ordeal of jumping from 12000 feet but surprisingly when we got to the runway with our ten fellow jumpers I was less nervous. I guess when you see all these other people doing what you’re nervous about doing, you think hang on, if they can do it then surely I can too!
The plane was cramped and as we steadily ascended to our drop point, there were only 7 of us in the plane. A pilot, 3 apprehensive jumpers and 3 uber calm and collected jumpers (our tandems). No one said a word. For us three it was our first jumps.
I was the first one to go so when the door opened and the cold air rushed passed my face I realised this was it. I was about to lose control and face the freefall.
Mario told me to sit on the edge and tuck my legs back under the plane. From here he counted 3, 2, 1 … and with a gentle nudge, rolled us out.
BAM! There was the world below us. I lost my stomach for a second but after that it was just a feeling of total freedom. The air rushed passed my face so fast and my ears were filled with the ‘whoooshhh’.
As we fell Mario spun us around in a slow 360 and the vivid blue Lake Wakatipu struck my line of vision, backdropped by bare brown mountains to the east and snow capped ridges to the west. Glenorchy surely has to be one of the best places in the world to jump from. Amazing.
When the parachute opened after what was apparently 45 seconds of freefall, although I completely lost track of time, it reefed us into the air with quite a force. It felt like I was being pulled higher into the sky.
From here Mario gave me a go at the controls and as I tugged hard with my right arm it sent us into a tight right hand spiral. This was actually the most nauseous part of all and I was happy when we got back on the ground. I’d skydived!
It was then a rewarding moment laying back on a bean bag, sipping hot chocolate and watching the next group of jumpers barrel through the sky 12000 feet above.