New Zealand- Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 370 (180)
Sunday 13th March (2005)
We appear to be slipping into a routine now that we’ve been travelling for a while here in New Zealand. We are moving around methodically and staying in every place we visit for either one or two nights. When it’s two nights, the absence of the threat of having to be out by ten o’clock the following day allows us the luxury of that all too welcome sleep in.
Even though we had to pass through Queenstown on our way down to Milford Sound, this is still the adrenaline activity capital of New Zealand, if not the world, and it wouldn’t be fitting if we didn’t partake in at least one hair-raising, blood-pumping activity whilst we are here. With that very much in mind, I eventually dragged myself out of bed to see about what sort of activity I could book for myself. Being pregnant, of course, adrenaline-pumping activities are pretty much off the agenda as far as Sandy is concerned. The truth is, however, that she really isn’t into that sort of thing anyway so I tried to limit my feeling of guilt that she would not be joining in as best I could.
After polishing off the last of the current box of bran flakes, I spoke with the chatty receptionist about the various activities to be had here in town and the list really is quite endless. If it gets your blood pumping, someone here has thought of it and has turned the idea into a commercial venture. To name but a brief few, there’s paragliding, hang gliding, jet boating, river rafting, kayaking, bungee jumping, bungee swinging, scenic flights, abseiling, mountain biking, mountain chair lifts, skiing in the winter months and many more besides. Nobody leaves Queenstown without at least one hair-raising thrill ride or adventure but plenty will leave this place with considerably less money in their wallet than what they came with as a result. Sure, you can choose from an endless list of activities but most are not cheap. The bungee jumps here are nearly NZ$200 (€116) a pop, for example. I decided that I would give the jet boating a go. For some reason, I thought it might be fun to storm perilously down a very narrow gully at eighty Kilometres an hour in as little as four inches of fast flowing water whilst attempting to avoid overhanging rocks on both sides of the gulley that the raving lunatic jet boat driver is doing his level best to smash in to. Call me old fashioned but it sounded like fun.
In booking the jet boat ride through the hostel, I was given a NZ$4,95 (€2,87) discount. As such, the total cost of the thirty-minute thrill ride was just NZ$85 (€49,30). My ride was scheduled for twelve-thirty so we went to the kitchen to fashion a packed lunch for the afternoon. We figured it might be an idea to get there slightly early and wasted no time in setting off in the direction the receptionist pointed us. The launching off point for the jet boats is a short ten-minute ride out of town. The Shotover Jet company is clearly making a mint out of this activity. In addition to the several, identical, twin-engine jet boats that they have, there is a very nice checking in facility and a complimentary bus service that ferry’s thrill seekers in from town every half an hour. As you might expect, they take photos of you in the jet boat and, as you might also expect, they charge an arm and a leg at NZ$15 (€8,70) for a single photo. When I arrived at the check-in counter in the main building, I handed over the receipt I’d been given at the hostel and forked over the remainder of the fee. Boats laden with about fifteen unsuspecting hopefuls launch about every fifteen minutes. As it happened, the very next departing rocket on water had a seat available and so I was booked onto that. They sent me down to the wide-open riverbank, where I was soon issued with a waterproof overall and a life vest. Sandy went off to find a good photographing vantage point whilst my group stood around waiting for one of the jet boats to stop storming up and down the river long enough to offload and re-load with a fresh batch of greenies.
Once in the boat, the driver gave us all a very brief safety blurb and told us to watch out for him wafting his finger in the air in a circular motion – apparently, that meant that he was going to spin the boat. He then sat down and gave a very brief thrust of the engines. It couldn’t have been for more than the briefest fraction of a second but the raw power generated by the two huge jet engines instantly propelled the craft forwards several meters and everybody back into their seats at the same time. I remember thinking to myself that this was going to be a ride to remember. And it was. With one smooth jerk of the thrust handle, the driver launched the jet boat forwards and we very quickly reached some hair-raising speeds. The curve in the river where the boats depart from is fairly wide and we were first taken on a brief spin around the bend and back. When we arrived back where we started, he spun the boat and everybody put his or her hands into the air for the photo opportunity. I don’t think I let my hands go from the rail in front of me for more than a second throughout the ride after that. We were now off at very high speeds, around the bend and out of sight. Just around the bend is a very narrow canyon with sheer cliff faces and huge, jagged boulders jutting out of the walls on either side. Our driver hurled the jet boat at these boulders at very high speed with the apparent intent to get as close to them as possible and then, at the very last possible moment, change direction abruptly so as to not quite hit anything. The boat goes extremely fast and it was a continuous ride of one near miss after the other. Every now and then, the gulley widens a bit and there is enough space, at least in the mind’s eye of our seemingly mentally unstable driver, to send the boat on a wild three hundred and sixty degree spin, after which the boat is very swiftly brought up to top speed again, lest the riders get enough of a chance to think about what just happened to them. We did one of these spins several times throughout the ride. Also several times throughout the ride, the driver would disengage the thrust, bringing the boat to a near instant standstill in the water. As if it was the most normal thing in the world, he would then stand up, turn to face us all and in a very calm and relaxed voice, start to tell us a few things about the jet boats, the river, the surroundings or whatever. He’d do this for half a minute or so, sit back down and send us all back into our seats again as he brought the vessel up to top speed and sent us hurtling at more rocks and boulders again. I’d say that the whole thing was a thrill ride but the word thrill just doesn’t do it any justice at all. The ride eventually came to an end and we all disembarked with huge grins on our faces. It took me several minutes to climb back down from the experience. We collected ourselves and drove away. I was still a bit giddy for a while after.
Seeing as it was a particularly glorious sunny afternoon, we decided not to head straight back into town but instead to look for a nice spot to enjoy our lunch. We continued to drive a bit farther away from town and followed a sign towards one of the mountain peaks. The very winding road took us steadily higher and higher until we found ourselves near the top of one of the ski resort peaks with a panoramic view of the surrounding valleys and countryside that was simply stunning. We sat there and enjoyed our packed lunch and watched hang gliders and paragliders launching themselves off of a flat overhang just below our position on the mountain.
After watching a dozen or more idiots launching themselves off of a perfectly stable mountain, we took the winding road back down to the valley below. The blissful sun was still beating down so we continued with our drive through the countryside. We stopped at a sign that indicated we might be able to pan for gold but it turned out to be one of those places where you were given a pan full of rubble and a few flecks of gold already in it to try to sift out for yourself. There’s no fun in that so we gave it a miss. A small turnoff with a ‘Gallery’ sign next caught our attention so we followed this sign down some of the smaller winding roads through the fields of sheep (there’s apparently ten sheep for every person here in New Zealand). After quite a drive, we found the art gallery but it was closed. Oh well, at least it was a nice day for a drive.
The temperature plummets after the sun starts its disappearing act here so we called an end to our aimless driving around and made our way back to the supermarket in town to pick up some more provisions. We spent the next couple of hours back in our room watching a DVD on the laptop.
We are driving to Te Anau tomorrow so that we can do a two-hour cruise on the Milford Sound the day after. I read through the guidebook listings of cruise companies but they are pretty much all the same. After talking this over with the chatty receptionist, we decided to go with a smaller company of her recommendation. I called them and made a reservation for the two of us on the three o’clock cruise on Tuesday. We had wanted to take an earlier departure but they are a little more expensive. A lot of people take the mid-day cruise because that’s about the time they roll in to Milford from Te Anau. Accordingly, all the cruise companies tack on another NZ$15 (€8,70) to the cost of that departure – that’s supply and demand for you. There are several advantages of taking the later departure. Firstly, it allows us all the time in the world to traverse the two-hour stretch of road between Te Anau and Milford. This road is something of a feature in and of itself and we will have the chance to stop along the way to enjoy all the waterfalls and walking tracks of we so desire. It also means that there will be fewer boats on the sound and less traffic on the road back to Te Anau.
Just up the road from the hostel is a bird sanctuary-cum-wildlife park. It’s one of a small handful of places in New Zealand where you can see the rare and endangered kiwi bird. We walked up there but it was closed. Right next door to it, however, is an indoor miniature golf course that looked particularly well done and inviting. It was due to close in an hour so I took off back to the hostel to get some money (just how we were planning to get into the wildlife park if it was open is also a mystery) and we spent an enjoyable and relaxing evening playing the mini links. As mini-golf course go, this was probably the very best we’ve ever seen.
Back at the hostel, we freshened up and I went back down into town to the Internet café to exchange some more e-mails on the subject of the camper-van sale fiasco that is still playing out back in Holland. It’s unfortunate that this is now starting to occupy much of my thinking time now. Whilst at it, I also took the opportunity to log onto Vodafone’s website to register both our phones. In doing so, we were both issued with another NZ$10 (€5,80) of talk time credit.