Queenstown, located on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand, is a small, hyperactive, adrenalin-fuelled town. It’s boundaries have been determined by the terrain, the sinister looking peaks of the Remarkable and Eyre mountains which often cast a shadow over the town, and Lake Wakatipu whose glacier waters constantly lap the shores of the town (Maori legend has it that this constant water movement is caused by the breathing giant that lives under the surface).
But it’s this terrain which also what makes Queenstown a town tailor-made for adventurers and adrenalin junkies. Here, there are white water rivers to raft, canyons and caves to explore, and mountains to ski, snowboard, bike down, or even jump off. This was once gold rush country but these days the streets are not paved with gold. They are, instead, covered with signs and placards aimed at enticing tourists and visitors to expand their horizons and find their ‘inner adventurer’.
Queenstown, however, is not just about adventure. It does have a quieter, more refined side.
There’s plenty of places to walk and explore without having to suit up in climbing gear, get wet, or throw yourself off a bridge. It has numerous cafes, restaurants, and surrounding wineries, so there is always somewhere to sit, eat, drink and watch the world go by. The TTS Earnslaw, a vintage coal burning steamship that was once the lifeline for farming communities living around the mountain ringed Lake Wakatipu, offers regularly scheduled cruises. And for more spectacular views of Queenstown and it’s surrounds, nothing beats a trip up Bob’s Peak on the Gondola.
So when my partner and I couldn’t agree on where for the weekend – he wanted action and adventure, I wanted to be wined and dined – Queenstown was an easy choice.
Arriving late Friday night, we hopped into a waiting rental car and hightailed it for Millbrook Resort twenty minutes outside of Queenstown. Formerly a 19th century wheat farm, Millbrook Resort is located in the historic gold mining settlement of Arrowtown and is an oasis of peace and tranquillity, a refreshing contrast to adrenalin high Queenstown.
Settling in, I fell asleep dreaming of a day of pure indulgence, lazing around the resort and booking into a spa treatment or two. But these dreams were quickly shattered the next morning. Turned out that, unknown to me, my partner, aka ‘the serial jumper’, had bought tickets for a bungy jump. Handing me the brochure during breakfast, he launched into a running commentary.
“After breakfast, we’ll head down to Kawarau Bridge. That’s the oldest and smallest of the jumps – a place to get your feet wet, so to speak.” Gulping my coffee, I weakly nodded.
At this stage, I was ready to jump. Jump into the car and headed back to the airport. But instead, I simply sit, too stunned to say anything, thinking that I should have taken seeing Susan Jeffers’ book ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’ prominently featured in the airport bookstore as an omen. Here in Queenstown, anyone who didn’t know better probably thought it was an instruction manual for adventure sports.
But mostly, I sit cursing AJ Hackett. It’s all his fault really.
He’s the one who, in 1988, introduced bungy jumping to the world. Before that, Kawarau Bridge was just another historic wooden bridge, a relic from the gold mining days. Now it is home to the first ever commercial bungy jump enterprise, with up to 30,000 jumpers a year.
Located just a few miles outside of Queenstown, Kawarau Bridge is now, at 43 meters, one of the world’s shortest bungy jumps. The perfect place, apparently, for a novice to take the plunge. So why was it that I felt like a condemned prisoner on her last walk. Perched on the platform, high above the crystal clear Kawarau River, I suddenly decide that there is no perfect place to jump.
Sorry Susan Jeffers, but as an instructional manual, your book didn’t work. As soon as the guide came forth bearing straps to attach to my ankles, I felt the fear and ran for the safety zone. There I stood with others on the side of the bridge, gasping and shuddering, as one after another, normally sane people throw themselves into the air, protected only by the elastic cords attached to their ankles.
Meanwhile, my ‘serial jumper’ who had already flung himself off the bridge, was on the beginning of an adrenalin high and looking for another place to jump.
Laughing, he drives us back to Queenstown. Keen to get to the next jump on his itinerary, he comes up with a real ‘me Tarzan, you Jane’ compromise – he’d go bungy jump, Id go shopping . Now, that was a compromise I happily jumped at.
(orginially written as an entry for last year’s Wanderlust & Lipstick travel writing contest)
The second annual Wanderlust and Lipstick Travel Writing Contest is now open. Click here for guidelines and information on how to enter.