Queenstown is not for the faint hearted
Our next stop was Queenstown. It's a popular place which can be enjoyed in summer and winter alike because of the ski slopes. Here, temptation lures at every corner: three bungy jump sites, sky diving, white water rafting, rapid boatjetting, paragliding, skying, snowboarding and many more. It's also full of bars and restaurants to keep you entertained at night.
At the entrance of the town lies the birthplace of the bungy jumping: the Kawarau bridge, 43 metres high beetween the bridge and the river. Bungy jumping had always seemed pointless to us and we didn't foresee paying for it, watching however was free of charge! It's quite something to see people's face when they are on the brink of jumping in the void. You can see if they are nervous or not and most of all, feel nervous for them! Most people did dry jumps but others chose to do a water touch, i.e. to be dipped into the river (it sounds crazy especially in winter!). It was quite fun and exciting to see those people jump; all of them were rather young and came up with the same comment: it was awesome! Well, still, 3 seconds of sensation didn't seem worth the money for us.
Like many towns in NZ, Queenstown lies by a lake, sourrounded by beautiful mountains. The ski season was already open but we've been told that the snow was not good yet. To capture a nice view of the city, we climbed up a few hundred metres to the "gondola". The gondola concept exist in a few cities around NZ, it consists of a cable-car taking you up the mountains where you can enjoy
the view; there are also a restaurant, souvenir shop, luge rides (actually, those luges are wheel karts on a concrete track) and a bungy jump from the gondola, called "the Ledge". In lack of exercise we walked up the mountain instead of taking the cable-car. The view from up there was very rewarding and a bit of luge didn't do any harm. Down in Fjordland
Quuenstown is very close to Fjordland, on the south western part of the island, so we took a side trip to Milford Sound, the most famous and touristy fjord of all. Initially we wanted to
walk the famous 4 days trek route that ends into the sound, but the weather forecast was "snow from 400m for the next 3 days"... so we changed our mind and drove all the way up (chains at hand), taking the risk to be snowbound there. The next day (still no snow) we did a cruise in this massive fjord. Everything is so huge that you don't realise the size of things unless there is another boat in the distance allowing you to have a visual reference. We saw some fur seals for the first time, and drank pure water collected straight from a waterfall by a member of the crew. Nice and fresh! The fjord was quite beautiful to watch but photographing it is another story: masses of dark mountains, huge areas of shades on a sunny background, that wasn't easy to capture on a moving boat.
hadn't showed up yet so we went for a short walk up the hills before making it back to Queenstown, enjoying the beauty of the area, breathing the fresh air and making the most of the sun while it was still around...We took a section of the Routeburn trak, another famous "great walks" in NZ, which winds through lush forests and alpine crest. Since snow falls were due at any moment, we headed back to Queenstown at the end of the day. Pat and Saoyuth make the big leap
While driving back, we had a debate on whether or not do a bungy jump. As days passed, the appeal was even greater just like Frodo and his ring...Well we concluded that since we were here, we might as well do it, and let's go for the highest one so we don't have regrets! We signed up for the Highwired Nevis bungy: at 134 metres high, it's the highest in NZ. The other main feature of this bungy is that the platform hangs from cables over the canyon above the Nevis river, hence the name. This bungy cannot be publicly watched as you have to cross a private land to reach it so we didn't know what to expect really. The jumping platform can only be reached by a cable unit, needless to say that if you are unconfortable with height, you will realise it straight away!
We were 18 people to jump that day (we were the oldest ones!), it was not the clearest day of all but we couldn't afford to stay too long in Queenstown either. It actually started to snow after the first person had jumped. Jumps were ordered by weight order so Saoyuth was last on the list. Some people were scared, others loved it, but in such situation, one's feelings cannot be shared. As for us, we had very different feelings, Patrick was mildly stressed whereas Saoyuth was stressless and rather excited.Then Patrick's turn came. He did a beautiful long leap: it looked smooth and fast. Let's hear what he has to say: "I was not that excited by this bungy jump. I had no doubt whatsoever I would handle it fine, but since Saoyuth was keen on doing it, I had to go as well, otherwise everybody would have thought I chickened out...Once on the edge of the platform, the guy didn't let you much time to think: 1,2,3 here you go. So here I went! Strong jump, looking forward, so far so good. Then came the scary moment when I did really feel I was really in the air, really high...and really falling! A second later, as the speed started to build up came the exhilarating yeeeeeeha moment The one you are actually after... But it doesn't last, the bungy slows you down whithout the hint of a shock. It's so smooth that you hardly realise when you stop going down and start to bounce back."
Then Saoyuth's turn finally came. She jumped in a... singular way, let's hear from our crazy jumper:
"I didn't feel scared until I stood right on the edge. Oh boy, it's scary high! Despite a part of my brain telling me it's not dangerous, plenty of people have done it before, I couldn't possibly jump in the void! The instructor left me no time for more consideration before he started the coundown 3-2-1, jump! I was so f***ing scared but it was too late to back off:I did a miserable one. All ready to leap forward, strenght abandonned my legs at the crucial moment. Never mind, I made it down! It felt quite OK when I was sliding down, no exhilaration, just plain relief...All I could see were the snowflakes surrounding me. I will never forget this and till today I still talk to Patrick about this jump that scared the shit out of me!"
Snow fell as we were jumping. When the last jumper (Saoyuth) was done, the ground was covered by a thick layer so that we had to walk down the hill instead of boarding the bus and drive down the steep road, too risky. Driving back we could see the snow had created chaos on the roads! We were surprised how poorly the locals coped with this sudden snowfall, some had chains but many didn't. Living in the mountains, they surely get heaps of snow every year, but still, there were cars all over the place! They soon closed the road for 2 days and we got stuck in Queenstown. When the roads opened again, we lost no time hanging around, put our chains on and left for the north island. The road were cleared of snow except for some parts, one guy still managed to slide in the ditch while overpassing other cars. He had been stucked in Queenstown for 3 days and was rushing home...
On the side, a few abandonned cars were lying here and there. The weather was sunny again and covered in white snow, the mountains looked very different. Our plan was to drive all the way north towards Picton, where we could take a ferry to the North island.