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Posts Tagged ‘skydiving’

12,000 Feet Above Sea Level

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

As I was flying over the Fiordlands on my way to Queenstown I said to myself, “this is someplace I will want to return one day,” and when I left Queenstown I said the same thing.  The southwestern part of the south island is a place of vast beauty; a scenic paradise.  On a clear day all one can see for miles around are Over Fiordlands glacier covered Alps, pristine-crystal clear blue lakes, and flowing waterfalls surrounded by rugged landscape.

Queenstown is a wonderful place, although it is clearly a tourist town.  It consists of many bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, and tour operators, but it is quaint in its size, and offers a myriad of activities to do.  Queenstown Gardens is a gorgeous park with both manicured lawns and rugged lakeside trails, as well as a Frisbee golf course, tennis, ice skating, and a bowling club.  This type of bowling is similar to bocce, not like our version with pins.  The trail around the lake goes for miles to neighboring towns, and is very pleasing to walk.  There are several other day hikes available at all different levels.  My favorites were the Queenstown Hill Trail and the Ben Lomond Summit Trail.  The Queenstown Hill was less difficult, through forest to a lookout of the lake where there sits a sculpture called The Basket of Dreams.  One can literally sprawl in it and let it absorb their dreams so that they may come to fruition.Wahoo, made it!

The Ben Lomond was a much more strenuous hike, eight hours return up steep inclines to 5375 feet, and it was well worth the effort.  The 360⁰ panoramic views were outrageously gorgeous from the highest peak in Queenstown.  From there you can see to the horizon and are surrounded by picturesque snow covered mountains (oh yeah, it had snowed the night before I did this hike), deep forested valleys, and a couple of lakes.  Absolutely breathtaking.

And then there is Fiordlands National Park and Milford Sound.  I went out there on a day tour from QT, but it is on my list of places to return to.  This area is huge, so vast there is no way to explain, and there are several different treks one can do, varying from 3-12 days, including the famous four day Milford Track, supposedly one of the most beautiful in the world.  The topography Fiordlands National Parkdiffers greatly here, too, from tropical forest with gushing rivers and falls to barren snow covered Alps.  The contrast is incredible to see.  This is one of those places that everyone should try to see in their lives, on scale with the Grand Canyon.  For pictures of Queenstown and Fiordlands, click here (no pics of Milford Sound because my camera conveniently stopped working).

From QT I headed to Wanaka, a smaller town about 1 ½ hours north, and the place I had chosen to skydive.  Why skydive?  Well, it is something I’ve always been scared to do, but also had a desire to try, to become the master of my fears.  When I began to plan this trip, I promised myself that if I’d made it to New Zealand I was going to skydive.  Why New Zealand versus anywhere else on my trip?  That’s easy…because of the vast beauty it offers.  And then, why Wanaka?  I knew I wanted to do my jump on the south island, mostly because it is sparsely developed and offers such diverse landscape to view.  Lake Wanaka is fed by Clutha River, the longest river in southern NZ, and is next to Lake Hawea, surrounded by the Pisa Mountain range and farmland.  Basically, it’s Free Fallingjust f-ing beautiful.

The skydive was amazing, unexplainable to anyone who has never done it, but one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.  I was really nervous until we jumped out of the plane from 12,000 feet, and then it was this overwhelmingly fun feeling of flying and taking in the beauty all around.  To me, it didn’t even feel like I was falling.  I was so relieved that I wasn’t scared anymore; I was just laughing and screaming with joy.  This is one activity I will do again.  For pictures of my skydive, click here.

In Wanaka, I also visited Rippon Vineyard, well known for its Pinot Noir and Rieslings, although I really liked their Sauvignon Blanc and it fit better into my budget.  It is situated just beside the lake so from the tasting room there are spectacular views of the area.  Another day I rented a bicycle to ride a trail along the lake to the next town.  This was additionally as stunning, for few people take this trail through the forest bordering the lake, the lake is pristine Rippon Winery(as all the water features are crystal clear snow fed waters), and it is incredibly quiet and peaceful.  In addition, there are several varities of wildflowers all over the countryside, in colors of yellow, red, orange, purple, blue, pink, and white.  I love them.  Riding back into Wanaka one passes the famous museum Puzzle World.  I didn’t want to spend a beautiful day inside this attraction, even though puzzles are my thing, but I did make a short stop to rest and test my skills at some of the free puzzles available to pass time with.  Some of them were incredibly hard, seemingly impossible, so I was happy when I was successful at a couple, less challenging ones.  For pictures of Wanaka, click here.

My next stop was Dunedin, on the southeast side of the island.  Dunedin is a city of 110,000 people, yet also home to New Zealand’s oldest university, University of Otago (Otago being the region), and the population swells to 140,000 when school is in session.  This is a very beautiful city, settled by the Scottish in the late 1800’s, which is noticeable in the architecture of the P1040127churches and cathedrals, railway station, and other various government buildings.  Apparently, 60% of Dunedin’s residents are of Scottish dissent.  There are a number of free attractions, including a National Art Gallery with a lovely collection; the railway station which was recently rated one of the most beautiful in the world; a large diverse Botanical Garden near the city center; and The Otago Museum which reminded me of a NZ version of The Museum of Natural History, and which was hosting an excellent exhibit on the earthquakes which have devastated Christchurch in recent years.  I hadn’t realized that CC experienced 4 earthquakes from Sept 2010-Dec 2011, and have had more than 13,200 aftershocks since the first quake.  It must be a scary place to live.  There are also plenty of to-pay-for attractions, such as the Cadbury chocolate factory, Brewery tours, The Settler’s Museum, and tours to Otago Peninsula to see albatross and penguins.  I didn’t do any of these, but I did hook up with a couple of backpackers who had a car and went out to the peninsula one day.

The Otago Peninsula is sparsely populated farmland with raw coastline.  The sand is soft and white, the dunes are huge and covered with different dune grass and wildflowers, and the beaches are often visited by seals, sea lioAt Tunnel Beachns and penguins.  We did see several seals and sea lions, and while we hoped to see albatross and penguins, we were not successful in that feat.  Oh well, hopefully  next time.  Regardless, we did incredible beach walks on Tunnel Beach and at Sandymount, which had some of the steepest dunes I’ve ever had to walk. For photos of Dunedin and Otago Peninsula, click here.

From Dunedin I headed north to Christchurch, where I met up with Dore.  We have been exploring the north of the south island for the last two weeks.  That will be in the next post.  Til then…

 

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