*Make sure you read it all the way through, there are some sweet pictures throughout!*
I stood peering down the edge of the mountain as I dug my boots deeper into the slushy snow. It was a steep drop and with one misstep I would slide hundreds of feet down the peak. The breeze began to pick up its intensity, easily penetrating through my shield of four shirts and a jacket. I wanted to let out a shiver, but the adrenaline and blood pumping through my veins would not allow it. Angus suddenly tapped me on the shoulder from behind and cheerfully said, “Time to go. Are you ready, mate?” I gave him a stiff nod and then he shouted, “Walk hard! Now RUN!”
We were running down the same snow cliff which I was nervously peering down only moments prior. One step…two steps…three steps. On the fourth step, my boots were ferociously ripped from the snow and shot into the air. Within three seconds, I was suspended hundreds of feet above the tall, snow-capped mountain peak; hanging in disbelief as a scene of white mountains, blue lakes, and green pastures floated innocently beneath my boots. Time stopped.
After Joe, Blake, Kevin, and I left Lake Wanaka, we drove to the city of Queenstown. The drive between Wanaka and Queenstown only lasted about an hour and a half, but the views were stunning – A layer of clouds settled below the white mountain peaks which collided with endless rolling green hills. Apparently Shanaya Twain owns the majority of the land between the two towns. We climbed in elevation as we reached a mountain pass, which is the highest point of any paved road in New Zealand. From that spot, we could see down on Queenstown. The city sits in a valley nestled against mountains on one side, while crystal clear Lake Wakatipu harbors the city on the other side.
I hung outside of the window like a giddy puppy as we drove down the mountain pass and towards Queenstown. Snow covered the tops of the mountains as the sun pounded down on the lake, illuminating its deep blue color. A layer of fog gently rose from the lake, only adding to its beauty.
Once we entered Queenstown, we found Queenstown Holiday Park, parked our RV, and set off to explore the town. We walked along the harbor, which was home to many live musicians, street vendors, restaurants, pubs and shops. At one point, we passed an older man singing and playing the guitar – he played well and had a fantastic voice, but his guitar case only had a few coins in it. Kevin threw him a two dollar coin as we passed. A few steps further along the harbor, two eight-year-old girls sloppily practiced a dance routine to I’m Sexy and I Know It; their tin cup was far more filled with money than the guitar player. There is no justice!
After we explored the city, we decided to go on an easy hiking trek, or so we thought. The woman at the information center told us that hiking up Queenstown Hill would give us some amazing aerial views and would be relatively easy…at least she was right about the views.
We climbed up…and up…and up…the entire time. The hike reminded me of the Incline in Colorado Springs, however, the end reward on this hike was much more satisfying, despite the angry burn in my calves, glutes, and hip-flexers. I turned and looked back every few minutes, only to shake my head at the view with more disbelief than the previous time. About 80 percent of the way up, there was a sculpture called Basket of Dreams. It sat atop of a rock, peering down on the lake which wove between the mountains. A plaque near the statue read:
“The Basket’s spiral steel follows you…inward, to reflect…to draw inspiration from the mountains, lake, and from those who are with you…outward, to dream for the future. Time flies, eternity awaits.”
I felt for my dad’s ashes on my back. Inspiration, from those who are with you…eternity awaits. At this point, I had raced ahead of Kevin, Joe, and Blake by a good distance; therefore I took advantage of the solitude and dropped some of Dad’s ashes into the middle of the sculpture. Not only was the view fitting, but I message on the plaque hit home.
Kevin, Joe, and Blake caught up with me and we snapped a photo at the Basket, before we finished trekking to the top. From the summit we looked down on Queenstown. The city was quiet and distant; the only movement we could really see was from a steam boat on Lake Wakatipu. A blanket of misty fog continued to rest over the aqua lake. “Does anyone else feel like a viking longboat will appear at of that mist at any time?” said Blake.
We all stood in silence for several moments, surveying our surrounding; using our eyes to create an imprint of this picture onto our minds. I walked over to a pile of rocks and sprinkled a few more ashes in one of the crevices. Part of Dad was now resting atop one of the most stunning mountain views in the world. Joe, Kevin, Blake, and I took a few more snaps from the top before we began the journey back down from what seemed like the top of the world.
Everyone we talked to in Auckland told us that the nightlife in Queenstown would not disappoint. After experiencing the nightlife, I can understand why people told us that, but I am not sure it is for me. We began the evening by making dinner in our RV, playing cards, and sharing a bottle of wine. We decided to hit the town about 9:00, which was too early to experience the real night life. We started out at a place called Buffs, which was occupied by what seemed to be every 18-20 year old in the southern hemisphere. We quickly relocated to a historically renowned pizza joint called Winnies. On Friday and Saturday nights Winnies makes the flip from restaurant to night club at around 11:00 PM – we didn’t stay long enough to see the flip in action, however.
We left Winnies and strolled through the streets of Queenstown before we ended up at a place called Locos – a Mexican restaurant and dance club. It seemed that everyone who was in Buffs had relocated to Locos, so we did not end up staying there long either; none of the four of us were too fond of being surrounded by the immature crowd welcomed by a younger drinking age. We briefly walked back to Buffs, which was still too crowded, and Kevin and Blake decided they wanted to go home. Joe and I figured we would go back to Winnies just to see what the transformation from restaurant to night club looked like.
We stepped into Winnies and I immediately felt like I was thrust into a European techno club. There were hundreds of people, no space to walk (which meant I was getting pushed from every direction), and a long line at the bar. Joe and I stayed about an hour, which was 55 minutes too long. The one interesting part of our experience at Winnies was that we did get to talk to more internationals. We struck up conversations with people from Brazil, Australia, Canada, and Denmark. We eventually left as the floor started to bow more and more with every song; it felt like it was about to cave. On our way home we stopped at a bakery and ordered two meat pies – I had the Thai Chicken and Joe had the Steak. Needless to say, the pies made our late night escapade worth every second.
The following night, the four of us ate dinner at a pub called Surreal while watching rugby. After dinner we went back to the camper and headed straight for bed. It was the relaxing evening I desperately needed. — Call me old fashion, but I have never been more grateful for America having its drinking age set at 21.
On our last day in Queenstown, the four of us decided to channel our inner Indiana Jones and have an adventure. We met with a man named Angus who drove us up near the top of Mt. Courland, a skiing hotspot in Queenstown. From the parking lot (3800 ft), Angus and Blake jumped off of the mountain with a hang glider. Kevin and I watched anxiously as the glider disappeared down the mountain for several seconds before we saw it flying in the distance. Joe had gone with another pilot up the ski lift to a spot on the other side of the mountain peak which was about 5400 ft; he and his pilot would paraglide down from that peak.
Kevin and I waited for about a half hour before it was our turn. We both took the ski lift up to the top of the mountain and then trekked around to the back side of the peak. I walked slowly because we were on the side of a snow covered cliff with no real path. I was clinging to a rope which was bolted to the rock as I heard Kevin laughing at me from behind. Soon we were in position and Angus began to unpack his paraglider. I stood, digging my feet into the ground while the adrenaline began to pump through my veins. The anticipation was torture. Finally, Angus told me to walk forward and before I knew what hit me, we were off; in the air, away from the skiers, away from Kevin, and away from the ground.
The views were absolutely stunning. I floated above snowy mountain peaks of the Southern Alps. I watched as Lake Wakatipu, the third largest lake in New Zealand, glistened below. Rolling green hills and farms swung back and forth between my legs. Unlike my bungee jumping experience in Africa, I never felt at risk paragliding because of the constant tension from the glider.
“Care to pilot a bit, mate?” said Angus as I could feel his grin behind me.
“Uh, sure,” I responded nervously.
I took the left and right air-break and Angus gave me a quick tutorial on how to turn, slow down, and speed up. I pulled down on the left handle and we immediately dipped and turned towards the left. I did the same with my right hand, and then pulled both handles down at ones. Pulling both handles slowed us down tremendously, which I only noticed when I released the tension and we picked up quite a bit of speed.
“Ready for some roller coaster action?” asked Angus, although I was not sure he was really giving me an option.
“Why not,” I said apprehensively.
He pulled hard left while rocking his weight right, and then did the opposite. Before I knew it, we were rapidly spinning towards the ground. My body hung perpendicular to the field below us, my head facing straight down. We were dropping 18 meters a second while traveling 145 kilometers an hour. After about a minute of free-falling, Angus eased out of the spin and before I knew it my feet were back on the ground. I looked up at the mountain peak, grinning in disbelief. I watched Kevin land a few moments later and gave him a high-five. He was laughing uncontrollably as Joe and Blake joined us.
“Unbelievable,” Kevin said.
I nodded to him trying to soak in everything that had just happened (see the pics below…video to come when I get back to the States). Queenstown, like Auckland, Piha, Lake Tekapo, and Lake Wanaka, did not disappoint. I will never forget the sheer beauty of the city, the fog gently rising off of the lake, or jumping off of a mountain with three great friends. I will never forget pouring some of my stepfather’s ashes at the top of Queenstown Hill – “Inspiration from those who are with you…time flies…eternity awaits.”