Queenstown was the last leg of our epic road trip from the North Island all the way to the South in our campervan, Betsy. It was a bitter-sweet moment knowing that we had to say goodbye to our trusty campervan. On the other hand, I was quite thrilled about sleeping in a proper bed and having my own private shower again.
Queenstown was a fitting end to our amazing 2.5 weeks around New Zealand. It is a picturesque town sitting on the shore of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by the Remarkable mountains. It is also known as the adventure capital of the world, with adrenaline-filed activities such as bungee jumping, sky-diving, boating, and water rafting offered year-round. It’s no wonder that it’s the most popular destination in New Zealand, hosting over 2 million visitors per year.
The first thing we did after we got into town was drive to the airport to drop off our campervan. The Britz people were quite impressed with the mileage we put on it. Apparently people only drive about 3000 km going from Auckland to Queenstown, but we drove for 3800 km. The drop off process was very efficient and took less than 10 minutes. Afterwards they called us a cab to take us back to the hotel. The ride was less than 10 minutes and cost us 20 dollars.
In Queenstown, we decided to stay at the Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa. The Hilton is actually not located in Queenstown, but rather in the Kelvin Heights area on the other side of the lake. It looks close on the map, but the cab ride into town takes about 15-20 minutes and cost about $45 NZD. If you don’t feel like driving, there is a water taxi that leaves every other hour and takes you across the lake for $10 NZD per person. The hotel also offers shuttle bus services to and from Queenstown that leaves every hour or so.
We are both Gold Hilton members, so upon check in, we were given a lake view room with free wifi and breakfast. The room was spacious and luxurious, especially after all that time in the van. It came with a with a lovely bathroom, a big inviting bed and a living room area complete with a fireplace. It also had a balcony overlooking the water. The property was huge with several onsite restaurants and shops. We were in heaven!
After we took a shower and had a quick nap, we headed back into Queenstown. The city center is cozy with lots of shops, cafés, bars and restaurants. This cosmopolitan city has a population of 24,000, many people who hail from all over the world come to work and live here. There are lots of things to do, with over 200 activities for thrill seekers. This was going to be the place where we try out some of these adrenalin-racing and blood-bumping pursuits for the first time.
Right in the heart of Queenstown Bob’s Peak is the place with the best view of the region. The easiest way to get to the top is aboard the Skyline Gondola, the steepest cable car in the southern hemisphere, taking you all the way to the top, 450 metres above the city. At the top on the viewing platform, you will have a spectacular panoramic view over Queenstown, Coronet Peak to the north, the iconic Remarkables ranges to the east, as well as Walter Peak and Cecil Peak to the southwest. Another way to go up is to take the Tiki Trail, a walking track that starts at the base of the Skyline Gondola and winds its way up through the pine forests of Ben Lomond Reserve all the way to the top of Bob’s Peak.
Aside from the magnificent view, you can also go bungee jumping or ride the luge on Bob’s Peak. The Luge, invented in New Zealand, is a gravity fuelled ride where you sit in a plastic cart and zip down a twisty mountain track at your own pace. There are two tracks at Skyline Queenstown, the scenic track or the advanced track. All beginners are required to take the scenic route for the first time. This track is a leisurely ride with a gentle gradient, easy bends, and tunnels. For all subsequent rides, you can take the advanced course which has more bends and bumps. The carts can go pretty fast and there were a couple of times where I went airborne over a dip. This activity is fun when you’re racing other people, imagine Super Mario Kart. The Luge course can be accessed by a scenic chairlift which takes you high above the Gondola and Skyline building.
The ticket to the luge course can be bought when you buy tickets for the Skyline Gondola as a combo. The experience is reasonably priced at $47 for 2 runs to $59 for 7 runs (including the cost of the Gondola up). Since it was our first time, we decided to go for 2 rides but most people opted for the largest package because you just can’t get enough once you start.
In New Zealand we finally got to try hang gliding, which was something that we’ve wanted to do since Rio. I’m pretty scared of heights but I also wanted to conquer my fear and what better way to do it than to jump off Coronet Peak at 3800 feet. We joined SkyTrek on a tandem hang gliding experience, strapped to a professional pilot who ensured that we were safe and secure.
On the day of the flight, we checked in to the office where we were taken up the Coronet mountain. We were strapped into our equipment while the pilots set up their 30 kg hang gliders. Once ready, we did a few practice runs to get the rhythm for takeoff. We took 2 steps and ran as fast as we could down the steep slope. Before I knew it, the wind picked us up, and our body become lighter and lighter until we finally lifted off and took flight. I felt a sense of weightlessness, like a bird gliding in the air, over the snow covered mountains and lakes. The crisp, cool wind in my face made me feel alive. We were going as fast as 80 km per hour, but it didn’t feel like it. That feeling of exhilaration cannot be replicated anywhere else.
We were up in the air for about 10-12 minutes before we had to do our diving maneuvers. In order to land, we had to do a couple of daring swoops and nose dives to get down. That part was a little topsy-turvy, like a roller coaster, but overall the whole experience wasn’t scary. We came to a skidding stop on the grass and waited for our driver to come and pick us up and drive us back to town.
A few years ago I had a little midlife crisis and created a list of all the things I wanted to do before turning the BIG 3-0. Skydiving was on that list, even though I am terrified of heights. It was one of the items that I never ticked off, but had always remained at the back of my mind. So when we’re in Queenstown, I thought there was no better time to jump out of a plane, then right in the adventure capital of the world. After debating and putting it off for a few days, we finally threw caution to the wind and made the booking with NZONE, one of the skydiving companies in town.
On the BIG day, we woke up early and decided to skip breakfast, because to be honest I was feeling quite nauseous as it dawned on me that I was about to jump out of a plane! My heart was racing, my sweat glands were overly active and I felt nervous and clammy. We met at the main office on Shotover Street, where we went over a short safety briefing and learn a little bit about what our dive experience was going to be like. In America there are usually 3 waivers to sign, but here all we had to do was fill out our names, emergency contact, and weight information.
Next, they went over the different jumps and video/picture options . You can choose the height from which you jump with the price increasing the higher you go up. It cost $299 NZD per person at 9,000 feet, $339 NZD per person at 12,000 feet and $439 NZD at 15,000 feet. We opted to dive from 12,000 feet which translated to about 45 seconds of free fall. Since they do not allow personal cameras and GoPros for safety reasons, we were forced to purchase one of the photography packages. There are three different video/photography choices, all vary in price – the basic GoPro, the free diver or the combo. The most expensive package cost almost as much as the dive itself, coming in at $329 NZD.
At 10:45 am, a van came to pick us up and drove us out to the drop zone right under the Remarkable mountains, about 20 minutes away. Our group was broken up into smaller groups of 5-6 people, and sent in to change into unflattering grey jumpsuits that are secured at the wrists and ankles with velcro and cinched tight at the waist with a thick harness, which made walking quite uncomfortable. The outfit is complete with a soft helmet, gloves and goggles. After we changed, we were introduced to our tandem instructor who went over the safety procedures and showed us how to position ourselves. The small plane held 6 divers, their instructors, and camera men.
The plane ride up was easily the most terrifying part of the entire experience, rising higher and higher. The instructor tried to distract me from my fear but all I could think about was how to get out of this predicament that I got myself into. Before I knew it, our plane reached altitude and it was go time. Luckily, I was the first one to dive so I barely had time to regret the decision. The door was rolled back and we quickly got into position, dangling from the side of the plane with my legs tucked back and my head over to the side. That’s the moment that it hit me that I was actually going to jump out of a plane.
Within seconds, I was pushed out of the aircraft and plummeting towards the ground at the speed of 200km/hr. The clouds came rushing at my face and I was enveloped by mist for the next 30 seconds, which was the most disorienting part of the whole experience. The next part is a bit of a blur, I was freefalling and summersaulting weightlessly through the air while my body literally blacked out. Once we cleared the clouds, the landscape finally came into view and I could see the snow-capped mountain ranges, blue lakes, rolling green hills, and the city of Queenstown. Seeming like only seconds later, the instructor pulled the parachute, and we were violently jerked up.
After a few minutes of gliding toward the ground with adrenaline pumping, I finally made it safely back to earth. Before I knew it I was told to assume landing position with my legs tucked into my chest. It sounds easier than it is, because we are strapped in pretty tight and it’s hard to move. Once I landed, I was in shock and my hands were shaking so hard from the adrenaline. That went away after a few minutes, but my dazed smile was firmly on my face for the next few hours.
Nothing caps off a whirlwind trip to New Zealand like a little relaxation at Onsen Hot Pools where we soaked our travel-weary bodies. It is set in the mountains in the midst of breathtaking alpine scenery and uninterrupted views across the Shotover Canyon. This is the only indoor/outdoor hot tub in NZ, utilizing the same idea as the Japanese spa. As you immerse yourself in the warm waters while breathing in the fresh mountain air, your troubles and worries will melt away.
The pools are located in Arthurs Point, about a 15 to 20 minute drive north of Queenstown. You get a private room that comes with its own cedar-lined bathing room, complete with shower, change area and those stunning views. Onsen has 6 wooden tubs, each one heated to 37.8C – 39.8C, and can accommodate up to four adults. Since there are a limited numbers of tubs, the place gets booked up pretty quickly, especially during the night time slots. We paid $106 NZD for two people, a package that comes with water, drinks, chocolate and towels.
Entering the facility, you pass through a light and airy reception area, where you’ll be greeted and escorted to your beautifully appointed room overlooking the rolling hills and the winding dart river. At a touch of a button, the retractable roof converts the room into an uninterrupted outdoor space. The jet pool is filled with a mixture of pure mountain spring, rain, and lake water. When things get too steamy, you push a button to add in a dash of cold water. This place is a quiet piece of paradise.
- Distance: 280 km from Milford Sound to Queenstown
- #Nights: 2
- Accommodation: Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa– $207 NZD per night
- Lugging at Bob’s Peak – $47 NZD per person
- SkyTrek Hang Gliding – $220 NZD per person
- NZone Skydiving – $339 NZD per person
- Onsen Hot Pools – $53 NZD per person