New Zealand 3: Queenstown

Well. Where do I start. Everyone always raves about Queenstown and anyone I discussed my travels with said how much I would love Queenstown. Maybe it’s my stubborn nature not liking to be told how I will feel about somewhere, maybe it’s the pressure of high expectations, maybe it’s not really knowing what it is that makes Queenstown so great, but I felt a bit wary and unsure about Queenstown. Especially when I realised a big part of the hype was centred around it being the “adrenaline capital”, which, quite frankly, felt like a peer pressure to succumb to; something you just MUST partake in while you are there, and I just wasn’t sure I wanted to.

 

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Anyway, we arrived into Queenstown at around 5:30pm via Frankton, driving alongside Lake Wakapitu under the shimmering sun and the surrounding grandiose mountains – ok, so maybe it wouldn’t be SO bad. We were dropped on Athol Street and then walked 10 minutes (part of which was up the insanely steep Turner Street) to get to our accommodation for the next few nights – Hippo Lodge at $32 NZD per night in a 6 bed dorm. After asking my standard thousand questions to the guy on reception, collecting a map and dumping our bags we headed back out into the city to have a little explore and to grab some food. 

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The view from our hostel

We decided to eat at Searle Lane (funnily enough, on Searle Lane) for their $4 1/4 metre pizzas between 7 and 8:30pm daily where we ended up ordering 3 between us as the waitress indicated they were a lot smaller than they actually were – sure, we ate it all, completely cancelling out the work we did on our bikes earlier that day (especially when you incorporate the jug of beer), but still.

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Feeling insanely full we went for a walk down to the wharf by Lake Wakapitu – it’s hard to describe the size and magnitude of Lake Wakapitu whilst also capturing it’s beauty and peacefulness, but it really is a gorgeous lake that, with the stunning grandiosity and detail of the mountains behind it, took my breath away every time I looked at it. 

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The following afternoon we headed up Queenstown Hill – a steep, slightly rocky unsheltered path up the side of the hill that offered beautiful, panoramic views of Queenstown and beyond with a few pit stops on the way (including the Basket of Dreams). The afternoon turned out to be really hot and we had not dressed at all appropriately, wearing jeans and casual shoes as opposed to gym shorts and proper trainers, and it was pretty demanding on the calves despite taking only an hour to get to the summit, but the diverse landscape on view of the city, the lake and the 360 mountains made us forget about all that pain. 

We then headed into town to grab a healthy smoothie but ended up being seduced by the 42 flavours of ice cream at Mrs Fergs. Mrs Fergs makes up a frozen third of the Ferg brand, which also has Ferg Bakery and, the original, Fergburger, which has become something of a Queenstown Institution. First opened in 2000 as a burger shack on the street, 16 years later the place stays open until 4am and is never empty – on average you can expect to queue at peak times for at least an hour (even sometimes two) to order never mind wait for your food to be cooked. You would be ridiculously lucky if you barely have to queue at all, regardless of the time of the day.

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The queue outside Fergburger. At 4:30pm.

When we went to grab our ice icecreams at 4:30pm (not your usual dining hour) the queue had a 40 minute wait and went past other restaurants up the street, with people munching on a Mrs Fergs ice cream while they waited. Anyway, we planned on having a Fergburger the following day and we’re far too hot for anything but the ice cream and, after sampling about 10 of their flavours, I went for the refreshing Watermelon sorbet and Lychee, Lime, Passionfruit and Mint sorbet, paying $6.90 for two flavours in a tub. Claire had Salted Caramel and Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice creams, which were insanely rich and delicious. Highly recommended.

We then went for a wander around town before heading back down to the river and then further along to the entrance of the botanic gardens. It was narrower than we imagined and more prickly/bushy the further inland you went (a lot of the botanic garden is on a stretch of land that looks almost like an island in the lake) so we decided to walk on the path round the periphery of the garden, offering us views of the lake on our way. The further round we got, the larger the expanse of water and the more impressive the lake became; the rocks near us, the mountains in the distance and the residential area just across the lake from us. In stark contrast to the other side of the gardens, right by the town centre, there was absolutely no one else around. One of those majestic places that makes you feel tiny yet full of strength.

I should probably mention something quite significant that happened that morning. We’d been feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the options in Queenstown and going round in circles with our decisions. The thing about Queenstown is that there are so so many activities and adventure sports that even if you hadn’t planned on doing any of these things you are suddenly tempted to, to the point where it’s hard to decipher if you actually want to do them or just feel like you should. Cos, y’know, while in Queenstown! I almost convinced claire to kayak on a Lake Wakapitu, even though I have already kayaked twice since travelling, because I so badly wanted to do something on the lake. And, sure, it would be a different experience everywhere and it would be so cool to do all these things in New Zealand but money is, unfortunately, a factor so we had to really figure out what our priorities were and what we wanted out of our time in Queenstown. So naturally we booked a bungy jump.

Still to this day I don’t quite know how it happened. I’m sure I have some random bucket list somewhere, the words Bungy Jump scribbled on a crumpled piece of paper in the loose, carefree handwriting of a daydreamer not feeling any obligation or commitment to the words they have written. But that didn’t mean I actually thought I would do it. Plus, after doing my skydive in Australia I said I wouldn’t do a bungy jump as it felt like it was more about the thrill rather than the experience, and it just didn’t interest me. Maybe it was my fear of a bungy jump talking, pretending I didn’t want to so I wouldn’t have to face that fear, or maybe i didn’t actually want to do it and it was the challenge of it and being able to say I had done it – to be able to tick it off that crumpled bucket list – that made me decide to do it. I’m not really sure, but after Claire had (much to my surprise) hinted at the receptionist that she was suddenly interested after previously having not been, and then when 12 hours later I casually enquired (much to Claire’s surprise) about availability for 2 jumpers on the Kawarau bridge jump the next morning and was informed there was space for 2, we were suddenly booking it and handing over $195 each. 

I’m really glad we decided and booked it last minute and I’m really glad we decided not to tell anyone from home, as the suspense, build-up and responses of others might have chipped away at me to the point where I wouldn’t have done it. Having said that, though, I couldn’t sleep at all the night before and felt physically sick picturing the moment where I would jump off the bridge. I just couldn’t see myself actually being able to physically throw my body over the edge. Writing it as a loose future aim is one thing. Verbally saying you will do it is one thing. Booking yourself in for a slot is one thing. Actually having to do it is another thing entirely. With only my dark thoughts and fears to keep me company at 3am, I convinced myself I wouldn’t be able to go through with it and made the decision I didn’t want to do it anymore. I even ate a protein bar at 4am to try to settle my nauseous stomach and still my beating heart. 

I probably got a total of 1.5 hours sleep and got up at 6:30am feeling dazed and disorientated. Claire and I barely spoke a word to each other and we somehow got ourselves dressed, walked down to the AJ Hackett office in the city, registered ourselves for the jump and got ourselves weighed (twice – your weight dictates the length of rope needed to make sure you don’t hit the ground, or the bottom if the lake in our case!), clambered onto the bus and arrived at Kawarau bridge. I had zoned out at some point that morning – almost operating like a soulless zombie – as it was the only way I could go through the steps and get myself there. Kawarau bridge bungy is the first commercial bungy jump site and, at 43m high, is mild in comparison to others (the Nevis canyon bungy is something like 134m high) but it was perfect for me. I honestly don’t believe I could have jumped from anything higher and, even though I appreciate it would still be fatal or at the least catastrophic if you were to plummet into a lake/river/ocean at that speed, I felt reassured by the gorge below me and it seemed to feel less daunting to fall towards water than towards ground, plus it was such a beautiful location; the bridge across the mountains over beautifully blue water cascading down the gorge. Despite having shut down by this point, I am sure this somehow comforted me. 

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NB: This is actually after the jump; I was NOT smiling like this beforehand

I did have a moment of “I don’t know if I want to do this” as we arrived at the entrance and I needed a last minute dash to the toilet, but suddenly we were on the bridge getting harnessed up and I knew I wouldn’t be backing out and that I just had to get myself through each stage. I watched a couple of jumpers go off the edge before me, screaming as they did, but not really taking in my surroundings. I moved down towards the platform as instructed but didn’t process what it meant. I told the crew I didn’t want to dunk/touch the water (an option on the K bridge bungy, but I almost wanted that extra bit of leeway in case they had miscalculated my weight/rope length, plus it turns out they were new roles so it was harder to achieve water dunking anyway) and mentioned how nervous I was – Dom, the guy looking after me, was lovely and told me it was good to be nervous but the best thing was to jump on his countdown, as the longer you leave it the harder it is. Knowing that was true from experience, and knowing from my skydive that following instructions on autopilot mode was the best thing to deal with my nerves and actually get to go through with it, suddenly I was stood up, posing for the pre-photos, and hurling myself off the bridge on his count without a moment of hesitation. 

I had been so worried about not jumping off properly, about my knees buckling and my legs giving way, about making sure the rope was tied correctly, about shutting my eyes as I wouldn’t be able to do it otherwise. But somehow I shut out all of that and threw myself off just as I needed to. Just as quickly as I jumped I felt that unnerving falling sensation, where everything is going the wrong way, and just as soon as I felt that I felt like I was flying downwards, and just as soon as I felt that I was being gently bounced back up to then experience the unnerving falling sensation as your body swings up, around and down. Oh and I should mention I screamed – a proper piercing screech – as I jumped off and possibly most definitely swore with delight as I came back up again.

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I bounced up and down a few times until two guys in an inflatable dingy came towards me with a pole in the air for me to grab onto, being pulled down into the boat as I was told to look at my feet (it took me a while to figure out where my feet were and which direction to look in), where I laid flat with limbs outstretched in exhausted joy. I felt dizzy, exhilarated and on a high. 

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I jumped off the boat and legged it up the stairs (my adrenaline still pumping) to make it to the viewing platform in time to see Claire jump – I still felt nervous for her, although nothing compared with the nerves for my own jump. Once she had jumped and made her way back up the stoats I ran towards her and we hugged and jumped in ridiculous pride and buzzing energy – posing for photos by the bridge and giggling at our achievement, we couldn’t quite believe we had done it. I still can’t.

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Feeling pretty badass after our bungy jump, the rest of the day was spent napping and organising the next leg of our trip before walking up the Tiki trail – the walking track that takes you up the mountain that most people pay $33 to take a gondola ride up for views across Queenstown. It was pretty steep and rocky, plus you have to navigate extreme cyclists as their route crosses over yours, and it was a very hot afternoon, but with the trees offering intermittent shading we managed to make it up in just under an hour. The views were amazing but the eye line wasn’t as wide as at Queenstown Hill, plus the gondola ride, luge experience and cafe made it feel commercial and less raw.

After walking back down we went to the hostel to shower and change before heading out to the Wharf to have a drink on Perky’s – a boat cafe/bar moored on Lake Wakapitu. Peter – a guy in our hostel from Colorado (NOT Canada, although you would be forgiven for thinking that was the case) cycling his way around NZ – joined us for house wine and tap beer at $6.50 each. Oh and while we were chatting to the bartender, Claire made yummy noises over the blueberry muffins and as it was near the end of the day he let us have them for free – that was breakfast sorted for the next day!

We had already walked past Fergburger on our way to the Wharf at 8pm but there was a 40 minute queue followed by a half hour wait for food so at 9:15 we went back in the hope for a shorter wait – the eta was 15 minutes of queuing followed by 30 minute wait for food and determined to not leave QT without sampling a Fergburger we committed ourselves and spent our time in the queue ogling the pies at Ferg Bakery and salivating over food.

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I ordered a Fergburger with Brie and bacon for around $13, coming complete with aioli, tomato, lettuce and tomato relish; a medium-cooked, juicy meaty Pattie in a crispy yet soft seeded bun, with just the right combination of sauce, and washed down with a Monteiths crisp cider made for a pretty satisfying meal. I did make the mistake of ordering a side of calamari for $5, which I didn’t need due to the size of the burger and was also disappointing in the world of squid.

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Feeling food-merry and in the mood for continuing our post-bungy celebration (have I mentioned we did a bungy jump?!), Peter took us to Habana – a Mexican themed, shabby chic cocktail bar down Searle Lane where I had a glass of Marlborough Pinot Gris for $9.50, which is about £6/7 so not bad for a city bar. Lizzie – a Brit from our hostel – joined us for a drink while Claire and I inundated them both with photos and stories of our bungy jump without them even asking. We were definitely milking the glory (and knowing how long I held on to the glory of my 2010 London Marathon achievement, I will be for a long time yet) and they were a very obliging and accommodating to our basking – not that they had much choice.

Absolutely exhausted after our long day (*cough* bungy jump) and all the associated emotions and adrenaline, we headed back to our hostel at midnight to try to get some sleep before picking up our hire car the next day. And, yeah, Queenstown is everything it is cracked up to be. Bloody annoying, really.

LS.

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