Canyon swing, canyon jet and Queenstown

I am going to use this post to tell you about our final day on New Zealand’s south island and also for some general photos of Queenstown that I took on various evenings throughout the week.

As you may know, Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand. Actually, they claim to be the adventure capital of the world… If you’re interested in bungee jumping, paragliding or white water rafting (to name just a few examples), Queenstown is a pretty good place to be!

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Paragliders over Ben Lomond

We decided that we should partake in some adventure tourism before leaving the south island, so we booked the Shotover Canyon “Double Shot”, which meant the canyon swing and canyon jet for a special price (cheaper than booking each thing separately). We were told to be at the Shotover Canyon shop half an hour before our booking, which we did. There, we were weighed and waited around a bit for the rest of our group to arrive before being driven up to the top of the cliff that we would be swinging from. Jan and I decided to do a tandem swing and I’m a wimp so we chose the least scary version, The Cutaway, where they lower you over the edge of the platform and then pull the pin so you fall down (the next least-scary option is jumping forwards). Neither of us wanted to go backwards because we actually wanted to see the view as well as having the adrenaline rush.

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The above photo shows the platform you swing from with the canyon below. We couldn’t take a camera with us on our swing (you are allowed a GoPro if you have a proper wrist strap for it, but neither of us own such a thing), but after our swing I took some photos of other people from our group. I think it’s okay to use them here since they’re too far away to be identifiable.

The initial freefall is 60m, but it seems much shorter… it was over so fast! I didn’t even scream when they let us go because my breath was literally taken away! After the freefall, you swing around at the end of the wire for a bit before being brought back up. Various jumping methods are available, including diving head first or going down a slide. For a small fee, you can do a second jump, but we chose not to since we had already spent a lot and had a whole week of north island to go!

Once everyone in our group had finished their jumps and purchased whatever photos/videos they wanted, we headed back to the van. Everyone else went back into town while we were dropped off at the canyon jet. Again, we couldn’t take any photos – all our possessions had to be placed in lockers so they wouldn’t get wet or fall out of the boat! But here are some photos of where we went and of one of the boats:

The jet ride was really fun! The driver (captain?) of the boat stopped a few times to tell us where we were and give us some information about the area and the views down in the canyon were absolutely spectacular! I so wish I could have taken photos. The only annoying part was that we had a lady behind us who would not stop screaming and carrying on! The driver used hand signals to indicate when he was about to do a 360° turn because we were supposed to hold on and brace ourselves at those times, and every time he did the signal the annoying woman would start screaming before we even started the turn (he gave us plenty of warning). Gah!! I thought the turns were fun. The worst part for me was when we went over huge rocks  because there wasn’t much warning there. We were right at the front of the boat and I got jolted around quite a lot! I can definitely recommend the Shotover Jet though.

After our jet ride, we took the free bus back into town where we decided to have a relatively relaxing afternoon. We went for lunch at an organic café called Rehab then went to play Frisbee/disc golf in Queenstown Gardens. We then took the gondola up Ben Lomond for some evening views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountain ranges.

I also found some more of my little friends the Paradise Shelducks. These ones were much easier to photograph than the ones in the Gardens and I spent ages trying to get a shot of them that I was happy with.

After taking the gondola back down, we tried to go to the Queenstown Birdlife Park to see the Kiwis, but it turned out to be closed (Good Friday!) so instead we went for dinner.

And now, as promised, some of the photos I took of Queenstown at various other points during the week:

Photo overload! Gallery two below:

Finally, I shall leave you with a photo of the full moon… which from our point of view was upside down!

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As you can hopefully see, despite being incredibly touristy and not really feeling “real” (I would like to know where the actual residents live/eat/shop!), Queenstown is a beautiful. There aren’t many of the original buildings left, but the builders have done a pretty good job of making everything feel quaint and not too modern. As a base for exploring Milford Sound, the Central Otago region and other parts of southern south island, I can definitely recommend Queenstown!

That was the end of our time on the south island. The next day we returned the rental car and then spent most of the morning at Queenstown airport waiting around because all flights in and out had been delayed due to fog! Watch out for my north island posts coming soon…

Arrowtown and South Island’s south coast

Day four on New Zealand’s south island saw us deciding to take the poor, neglected car for a drive – it had been sitting around doing nothing since our trip out to Paradise the day we arrived in Queenstown! The plan was to head to Arrowtown first and then drive down to the south coast. An excellent plan as it turned out – we had glorious sunshine all day while it poured down in Queenstown!

A former gold mining town located on the banks of the Arrow River, Arrowtown is mostly famous for its gorgeous autumn foliage. Unfortunately, we were a few weeks too early and the leaves were only just starting to change colour. The town itself is quaint though.

After leaving Arrowtown, we took state highway 6, which leads past Lake Wakatipu. The weather was starting to turn by this point and I was almost blown away taking the following photos:

Look how low the clouds were!

As we continued driving, the weather got continually worse and when we stopped for a cuppa we had to run from the car to the cafe! I would like to tell you where we stopped because we had an amazing vegetable scone there, but I can’t remember the name of the place. Sorry!

Next, we drove down to Invercargill, but it didn’t look that interesting so instead of stopping there we drove straight through to Stirling Point, in the town of Bluff. By this time, the weather was amazing! Here, photos:

There’s a lighthouse at Stirling Point, which was built in 1912. There’s also some art sculpture thing, consisting of a giant chain with an anchor at the end. From Stirling Point, you can see Dog Island, which houses New Zealand’s tallest lighthouse. The island has been uninhabited since 1989 when the lighthouse was automated.

Our next stop was another lighthouse, this time at Waipapa Point. First a few photos that I took from the car park:

Sheep and farms, grass and sheep. So very New Zealand! (Could also be Ireland…)

Now some photos of the lighthouse and the sea and stuff:

I took many photos of the lighthouse, from every possible angle. I’ve spared you most of them – be grateful!

We left the lighthouse and drove on for another half an hour until we reached Curio Bay, famous for being the site of a petrified (i.e. fossilised) forest. The rocks in the photos below are actually trees… or they were, once upon a time.

The signs also claimed that we would be able to see yellow-eyed penguins here. Supposedly it was malting season, so they would be on land and we weren’t to worry if they looked sick – that’s just what happens when they shed their feathers. Of course, the signs also warned us that we should stay away from said penguins and not frighten them, which I would have been very pleased to do if I had seen even one penguin! Of course, there were none to be seen so I had to make do with this guy:

Some kind of heron I presume? Where are all the bird experts?

With a three hour drive ahead of us to get back to Queenstown, Curio Bay had to be the last stop on our tour along the south coast. Instead of driving back along the coast, we headed straight inland and took the quick route back. At some point we stopped to take photos and I got the shot below. No idea where it was taken, but I like it!

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Finally, we stopped again in the same place as in the morning. By this time, the sun had come out in Queenstown as well (although we were assured it had rained for most of the day).

Oh, what a difference a day makes…

Back in Queenstown, we dropped off the car and went in search of food having had a lovely drive. With more time, I would have liked to stop off somewhere for a night and then drive further around the south coast, or maybe even take a boat trip out from Bluff to Stewart Island, but this was a lovely day trip. If you find yourself in Queenstown with a car and a day to spare, I can highly recommend this drive along the coast.

New Zealand was my April trip for the Take 12 Trips challenge (take 2!) and I’m also linking up for Monday Escapes.
Packing my Suitcase

Central Otago wine and scenic tour

NZ-wine

Continuing with my New Zealand posts…
The day after our Milford Sound trip, we had a wine and scenery tour booked with New Zealand Wine Tours. The “Pinot Paparazzi Tour” includes wine tasting and three vineyards, lunch, a visit to an aroma room and many stops to admire the scenery. The wine bottle labels above are the only photos of wine you’ll see in this post, since I drank the wine rather than photographing it 😉 Those bottles are the two we purchased to bring home.

Our first stop was just outside Queenstown, for a look at the view. Jake – our guide and owner of the company – did tell us what we were looking at, but I’m an idiot so I don’t know any more.

I think it’s safe to say the scenery was stunning anyway!
Some photos from our next stop:

I can at least tell you that we took the Crown Range Road, so that’s where all these photos were taken from. I just don’t know what we’re looking at!

Next up was a stop at the Cardrona Hotel, New Zealand’s oldest hotel. Very quaint looking. I also took some photos of the surrounding buildings.

Once we’d explored the hotel, it was back into the van and on our way to the first winery of the day! While we were driving there, Jake asked us all about our wine preferences so that he could choose which vineyards to take us to in the afternoon. There were four of us on our tour, but there can be up to seven.

Jake described Rippon to us as “the vineyard with the best view in Central Otago”. It looks over Lake Wanaka, and the view truly is stunning. Here, I’ll show you:

As you can see, it was a cloudy day. The view is already stunning, so just imagine how much more beautiful it would look with the sun shining! What a place to work!

I think we tried six wines at Rippon, all of which were tasty. I liked the Gewürztraminer best.

Our next stop was lunch, which we had here:

Hahahaha!

Lunch was a meat/cheese platter, served on a wooden stand that was originally part of a wine barrel. I wish I had taken a photo! (Bad blogger. Bad, bad blogger!). The food was included, drinks were extra. I chose a rosé wine that our tour guide recommended and it was delicious! (8 Ranges Rosé if you’re interested).

Once we’d eaten, we went into the aroma room, which is also at The Nose. All around the room there are little pegs? Pins? (I don’t know!) infused with a different scent – ranging from strawberry to coffee, from apple to violet, from peach to leather. A poster above each of the sniffy things tells you what you’re smelling. We first had to go around the room trying to guess each scent before looking at the post. I managed to identify quite a few of them. The we tried out our aroma identifying skills on two types of wine – The Nose Pinot Gris and The Nose Pinot Noir. Jake told us there were no right or wrong answers – if you think you can smell something, then that’s what you can smell – but he told us the most common answers that tour groups give for each wine. It was a fascinating experience!

Sniffing done, it was time to move on to the afternoon’s wine tasting. The first place that Jake had picked out for us was Aurum Winery. On the way there, Jake explained to us about their Amber Wine, which is incredibly unique! It’s made using traditional techniques. The grapes are fermented in their skins and strained through muslim cloth. It’s almost like a red wine, but not (so hard to explain… it’s not really like a rosé either – as I said, it’s unique). We tried some other wines, and also got to taste their port which was very nice! It was a hard choice between buying the Amber WIne or the port, but the amber won just because it’s so unusual.

Outside the tasting room is a beautiful garden:

As we were leaving Aurum it started to rain, and by the time we reached our final stop – Chard Farm – it was chucking it down! This place was a lot busier, so instead of the people there doing the tasting with us, Jake collected each bottle from them and provided the explanations himself. Again, we tasted some very nice wines and even managed to find some red wines that I like! Jan’s favourite was the last wine we tasted, but I didn’t like that one so we purchased the one you see above. Overall, Chard Farm was where we tasted our favourite wines of the day – I liked all the white wines and 2 out of 3 red wines (and I don’t usually drink red wine!).

This was another vineyard with a gorgeous view, but since it was raining heavily I didn’t go and seek it out. Here’s a photo from just outside the tasting building:

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You can see how green it is, at least.

If you happen to find yourself in the Central Otago region of New Zealand and you like wine, I can highly recommend New Zealand Wine Tours! Jake is an excellent guide (and I’m sure his other guide is great as well!), very knowledgeable, the aroma room is unusual and interesting, and having the afternoon vineyards selected specifically to meet your tastes is a really nice touch. This wine and scenery tour is just one of the available options – there are also ones that focus more on the wine. Basically, if you’re going to do a wine tour in Central Otago, go with New Zealand Wine Tours.

Queenstown Gardens

Because we had come back from Milford Sound by plane, we were back in Queenstown relatively early. I had to charge my camera first since it had died on the plane back, so while it was doing that we went to the convenience store to pick up something to drink then made use of the free wi-fi in the hotel lobby (note to anyone considering staying at Novotel – you get 1 hour of free wi-fi per day in the lobby; wi-fi in the rooms has to be paid for! Remind me which century we’re in?!). We weren’t ready for dinner yet having bought quite a bit of food in Te Anau to eat on the Sound cruise, so we decided to go for a walk and ended up in Queenstown Gardens. What follows will include many pictures of plants! I couldn’t help it – so many of them were so different to what I’m used to!

I spent way too long trying to get a decent picture of these birds, which I’m fairly sure are Paradise Shelducks. They just didn’t want to stand still!

The one with the white head is female and the male has a black head. Shelducks form long-term pair bonds, often life-long (aww!) and tend to hang around as couples. Driving around, we would often see a male and a female Shelduck standing in a field somewhere!

In the rose garden, I took far too many photos, mainly because I was trying to play with my camera’s macro setting. Here are a few:

I love the kind of multi-coloured pink/orange ones! They looked so pretty.

The gardens are on a little peninsula, so once we got round to the other side we had a view of a different part of the lake – a part without lots of boats on it (the side where we had entered from is where all the touristy boats are moored). The view there was stunning, especially with the way the evening sun was hitting the mountains.

Back round the other side, a few more photos had to be taken before we finally decided to head off and find something for tea.

There was also a Disc/Frisbee Golf course in the gardens, so we decided to come back and play on our final afternoon in Queenstown. We hired our discs from a place in town for $5 for five hours, but the Internet tells me you can also hire them from the ice rink, which is in the park.

If you have any idea what any of the plants in this post are (other than roses – I can recognise them!) please let me know in the comments.

New Zealand was my March trip for 2016’s redo of Take 12 Trips.

Also linking up for Monday Escapes:

Packing my Suitcase

Trip to Milford Sound

I meant to continue my New Zealand posts earlier in the week, but things got a bit crazy and I didn’t have a chance.

Anyway… for our first full day in Queenstown, we had booked a trip to Milford Sound. We chose the coach-cruise-fly option, which meant we were picked up in a coach at 6.30 a.m., drove to Milford Sound (with stops along the way), had a cruise on the Sound and then had a scenic flight back to Queenstown in a teeny, tiny aeroplane. The option with the flight back is more expensive than coach both ways, but so worth it! By the way, if you choose to just do the coach option, definitely go with Mitre Peak Tours. I highly, highly recommend. (We booked through Milford Sound Flights, and the coach/cruise parts were run by Mitre Peak).

It was dark when we left, but after a while the sun started to appear over the horizon, so we begin this post’s image overload with my attempts to take photos of the sunrise through the window of a moving coach!

I tried to take more photos through the windows once it started getting light, but it didn’t work very well, so here are some from our first stop instead. I have no idea where this is! Somewhere with mountains…

I don’t even remember whether those photos are from before or after Te Anau, where we stopped to pick up more people and so those who didn’t have lunch included could pick some up from the supermarket there. Jan and I had a sausage roll and a coffee for breakfast there. And I took zero photos.

The next stop was at Mirror Lakes, which is definitely after Te Anau 😉 In case you can’t guess where they got their name, here are some photos:

We then stopped at a little stream where our bus driver said we could fill our water bottles if we wanted. Again, I don’t remember where it was (because I’m an idiot), but have some photos.

The next stop was at the Cleddau Valley cascading waterfalls. Our bus driver told us that when it’s raining there are hundreds of waterfalls… everywhere you look, water is cascading down. It was not raining when we were there, but we still saw waterfalls. I can only imagine how impressive it must look in the rain.

Our final stop was at Karangahake Gorge.
Our bus driver told us that he recently found out all the other bus companies only have two stops – at Mirror Lakes and Karangahake Gorge. Apparently this is because people get out of the bus, have a chat, finally decide to take a few photos, have another chat, look at the photos, delete then and take more. So at every stop he asked us to please take our photos then get back on the coach so we could have more stops later. At Karangahake Gorge, he told us we could only stop there if everyone agreed to get round and be back on the bus in 10 minutes. As it turned out, the last person was back on the bus after 12 minutes. As our driver was pulling out he said “And that is how we get to make more stops than any other tour!” (Once again, book with Mitre Peak tours if you can – and hope you get Carlin as a driver).
I could definitely have spent more than 12 minutes at Karangahake Gorge, it’s so impressive! But don’t take my word for it. Check out the photos for yourself:

Yeah, I may have gone overboard with the photos… that isn’t even all of them! But if you think that’s a lot, wait until you see the ones of the Sound 😉

Finally, at just before 12 o’clock, we arrived at Milford Sound! Our boat was waiting for us, and we had a two-hour cruise on the Sound, complete with commentary from the guide. I have no idea what any of the things we saw are now though (other than Seal Rock). Mitre Peak is one of the mountains, obviously, and the two permanent waterfalls are Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls, but I have no idea which is which! Supposedly whales and dolphins can sometimes be spotted following the boats, but we didn’t see any. We did see seals though, which was nice. Anyway, enough rambling from me, you’re here for the photos – yes?

There are a lot of photos, so I thought I’d split this into two. Part two = seals and stuff!

Before we started our cruise, it was pretty cloudy, so the bus driver said he assumed we’d be going back in the coach with him. It gradually brightened up throughout the cruise though, so once we got back he told us to go and ask at the Mitre Peak information desk. Our flight was indeed going, so we wandered over to the airfield to meet our pilot (whose name I’ve forgotten!). Guys, if you ever make it to New Zealand, you have got to do a scenic flight over Milford Sound!! I literally cannot describe how amazing the views were! Here, have some photos, but they can’t do it justice either. It’s something you really have to see for yourself.

(Try to ignore all the random reflections from inside the plane!)
Unfortunately my battery ran out before we got back to Queenstown so I have no photos of Lake Wakatipu. So you’ll just have to take my word that it was stunning! So amazingly blue.

So, to sum up, Milford Sound is definitely among the most beautiful places on the planet and if you’re planning a trip to New Zealand, you must put this on your list! It was an absolute highlight of our entire trip. I literally cannot gush enough about this place! Also, look how cute the seals are!

A trip to Paradise, New Zealand

(Really the title should be to Paradise and beyond, but I didn’t like that as much.)

On our second day in New Zealand, or first full day, we got up early to return to Auckland Airport, where we got on a flight to the south island – specifically to Queenstown. Once there, we found our rental car, drove into town and checked into the hotel (we ended up at Novotel because literally nowhere else had a room available for the entire time we were there and we didn’t want the hassle of changing hotels after 2 days!). We had nothing planned for the afternoon, so we decided to just get in the car and take a drive. A map I had picked up from the airport recommended driving towards Glenorchy, so that’s what we decided to do.

After a drive involving many twists and turns, as well as fantastic views of the lake, we reached the tiny town of Glenorchy, where we parked up and got out to take some photos (along with all the other tourists!)

The map suggested that, if we had time after visiting Glenorchy, we should “drive on and find Paradise”. We did have time, and so on we drove. About 20 minutes later, after driving down some rather bumpy gravel roads and crossing a few fords, we spotted the sign for Paradise.

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Cue Green Day’s “Welcome to Paradise”

There are a lot of sheep in Paradise! Also, toadstools, which I couldn’t resist taking way too many photos of.

We drove on for another 10 or 15 minutes, then we reached a ford that we thought looked a bit too deep for our car to cope with, so we stopped the car, got out to take some photos and then drove back the way we had come.

Our next stop was at Diamond Lake, which is back down in the direction of Glenorchy. My photos seriously can’t do the stunning scenery justice, so you’ll just have to go to New Zealand and see it for yourself 😉

Jan also spotted a cricket in the grass and, just as we were about to get in the car, I saw some birds in a tree above us. Yay wildlife! (Click to see bigger photos)

Once we got to Glenorchy again, instead of driving straight back to Queenstown, we decided to drive around the top of the lake. The original plan was to go to Kinloch, but one road was closed, so we turned a different way and ended up in the Routeburn carpark, at the start of the Routeburn track, so we got out and went for a short walk. The trail we took follows the Routeburn track for a little way (the entire track is 33 km!) then turns off onto a small nature loop. Our entire walk took roughly an hour, which was perfect – long enough to stretch our legs without being too strenuous. We saw lots of little birds, but none that would stay still long enough to have their photos taken! So you’ll just have to make do with more scenery, and random plants that I thought looked interesting.

After our walk, we got back in the car and drove back to Queenstown for dinner, having got an excellent first impression of what the south island had to offer!

I’m linking this post up for Monday Escapes with Packing My Suitcase and My Travel Monkey.

Packing my Suitcase

New Zealand is also my March trip for 2016’s redo of Take 12 Trips, a linkup started by Clare from Need Another Holiday.