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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Adrenaline's Playground

April 14-18, 2010

After a week of wwoofing work, Aerin & I were ready for a vacation! ;) We were off for some traveling, pure tourist style. We left the north of the North Island for the south of the South Island (each island is about the length of Florida) en route to Queenstown, New Zealand’s Adventure Capital of the Country. This tiny town of less than 15,000 permanent residents is guidebook listed as: “Surrounded by the soaring indigo heights of the Remarkables (mountain ranges), crowned by Coronet Peak, and framed by the meandering coves of Lake Wakatipu, it’s little wonder than Queenstown is a show-off. The town wears its ‘Global Adventure Capital’ badge proudly, and most visitors take the time to do crazy things they’ve never done before.”

The plane ride in was the first stop on the adventure circuit. The plane flies extremely low between two mountain ranges, leaving only a minor gap, and our flight was blessed with an abundance of crosswinds! First attempt? Whole failure as we jetted quickly past the tiny town searching out another landing route. Circled, descended, and I started getting worried about when I felt the plane rocking from side to side, up and down, I’m catching air. I tighten my seatbelt, grab onto the armrests.
The pilot is talking about diverting to Invercargill, the neighbor is talking about two times maximum attempts. White-knuckles, holy geez. Plane still speeding up. Do our wheels touch the ground? Yes! Wheels down! I’ve never landed traveling so fast in my life! Indeed, Queenstown likes adrenaline, and we’ve started off with a bang!

This tiny little place reminds me of Aspen or Tahoe, but I haven’t been to either. It’s a little ski town with a bonus of an all-year-round playground for all ages! Here you can bungee almost 500 feet (the home of bungee jumping!), skydive, luge, jetboat at 100mph, white-water raft, and the list goes on and on. Personally I set my sights on luging and hiking, which combined the best of adrenaline and adventure, without breaking the bank. To luge, the first stop was a gorgeous gondola ride to the top of Bob’s Peak for some of the most spectacular views in the city. The city is looked over by the magestic “Remarkables” mountain range, which are truly remarkable. This vantage point shows off the lake and the mountains, and I probably got a tiny too shutter happy! Another short gondola ride hauls riders to the top of the luge, which involves traveling down a concrete track at overly high speeds while seated in a flimsy plastic vehicle of sorts. It’s awesome! I hit the corners fast, made my brakes smell of burned rubber, nearly tipped taking corners too fast, scared kids as I zipped by them at inordinate speeds, and overall laughed and squeaked to my heart’s thrill!

Later that luging afternoon Aerin & I hiked up Bob’s Peak for an hour (instead of the easy gondola ride) to earn our views, another we hiked 2 hours up Queenstown Hill, and the last day I solo summited the Ben Lomond track (5,734 feet) for more fantastic views, including forcing myself up forbidding cliff faces. Awesome!

Milford Sound
I’m not exactly sure how to describe this place… the majestic beauty that is Milford Sound…
Let’s start with this: In the “101 Must-Do Things For Kiwis” book, visiting Milford Sound is listed as #1 on the list. For good reason.

Milford Sound's Mitre Peak at dusk

Mirror Lakes
The road from Queenstown to Te Anau runs beautifully past The Remarkables (mountains) and fields of sheep, cow and deer farms (standard), but the views get kicked up a notch during the 119kms from Te Anau to Milford. This trip is the sort that makes cars swerve off the road as drivers reach for camera in sheer awe. There are stops along the way that are mere minutes walk from the highway that drop your jaw in amazement. To top it all off, there are 2-hour Milford Sound boat cruises which take in the stately sheer rock cliffs, the spectacularly photogenic 1692m Mitre Peak. My cruise was finished off with bottlenose dolphins and fur seals enveloping our boat on their own curiosity cruises. Humanity seems tiny in the midst of nature’s vastness.

There were ridiculous quantities of things to learn along this trip, but I only retained a few interesting tidbits as I marveled the sights…

*Milford Sound is not at all a Sound, but a Fiord. Sounds are valleys created by rivers, but Fiords are valleys created by (retreating) glaciers.

*Milford Sound is in a huge area known as Fiordland, which is an amalgamation of rocks that are between 500 and 100 million years old.
Black Coral

*Nowhere else in the world is Black Coral found so close to the surface as in Fiordland. It usually lives in deep waters of 150-4500 feet.

*Black coral, which looks white, grows only 3 feet every 100 years.
So, why Black coral and not White coral? When the polyps die (i.e. coral dies), only the black skeletal structure remains, which is predominantly seen by humans. In other words, the ‘name giver’ named dead coral, and not alive coral!

Too much writing loses readers. Must remember that… ;)

PS- On naming “Queenstown”, apparently the town was named because “…it was fit for Queen Victoria”. Oh. Makes sense now.

Milford Sound

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