Queenstown is a vibrant city with a population of about 19000. The morning we left town, we headed straight to Arthur’s Point, the base for the Shotover jet operations. Jetboats are propelled by water drawn from the underside of the boat through a nozzle into a pump jet and expelled from the back. This creates sufficient energy to propel the boat forward. These boats are lightweight and with the forward energy created are deftfully maneuvered. The experience involves a half hour ride on the Shotover River amongst its canyons which naturally have varied shapes and edges that the driver navigates at high speeds. At times, the driver executes a 360 degree turn as well. Shotover Jet is the only operator on this river. They do have similar operations in other parts of NZ as well.
At check in, we were asked to put away all loose items that could potentially cause injury to oneself or others. Go pro cameras well affixed to the head were allowed. 15 mins before our ride time, we were handed a long spray jacket and a life vest each. This was very handy especially for those seated at the edges lucky enough to be sprayed upon by the cold water.
After the photo session, we were led to our jetboat and driver Niam. There were 15 of us including the driver. After introducing himself and giving us a safety briefing, Niam led us away for our adventure. We sat in the third row. As Niam led us on a thrilling ride just barely missing the jagged edges and narrow inlets of the canyons, we laughed and squealed our way, slightly shivering from the water spraying over us. We held on to the railings as instructed as he skilfully executed a pirouette of sorts, making full circles in the water. I think he mentioned the fastest speed was about 60-70 km/hr. At any given time, there was at least one other jetboat in the canyon but on the opposite side of the canyon. Unfortunately, we misplaced the Go pro disk that we recorded this ride on but the Shotover jet website has a wonderful sampling video of this thrilling ride.
From Arthur’s point, we headed over to Arrowtown, a quaint historic village from the Gold Rush days of the Arrow River. A quick 20-25 mins from Queenstown, we stopped by its small village that has maintained many of the original buildings along Buckingham Street. There was a lady from one of the local orchards selling fresh cherries and blackberries and we couldn’t resist getting our hands on some. Walking past the post office, we really wanted to eat at the charming Postmaster’s restaurant but the menu did not offer much by way of vegetarian delights. So we walked past to the shady, tree-lined avenue, past the Library to the row of houses. These houses are the 19th century miners’ homes, still proudly standing in their original form. After admiring them and getting some pictures we stopped at the Provisions Cafe and bakery (next door) for coffee and their famous sticky buns. Their menu held some interesting choices,including for vegetarians. The setting of this little cafe, that seemed to be a favorite with tourists and locals alike, is very picturesque, and I enjoyed the spirit of communing with nature that this place strives for.
With the goal of getting to Wanaka by early evening, we drove on, stopping next at the Kawarau Bridge, home of the first commercial bungy jumping. Suspended 141 feet above the Kawarau River, this place was teeming with activity. The AJ Hackett Bungy offers a unique opportunity for thrill seekers to return to the birthplace of bungy jumping. It was with a palpitating heart that I watched from the viewing area as one by one people sat while their feet were tied together with an elastic cord. They then inched forward to the edge of the platform, many of them apparently nervous. After what seemed an eternity they seemed to take a deep breath and plunged down the 140 feet, upside down, touching the surface of the river beneath just before the bungy pulled them up and swung them down again. As they remained suspended in the air for a bit, two men in a rowboat would meet them with a long pole and help reel them in. The staff was very patient letting each person or pair (tandem jumping is allowed here) take the plunge on their own and not pushing them. I did not see a single person back off from fear, either. While Missy JJ did have plans of jumping initially, she changed her mind once she got there and instead the three of them chose the Zipride, where they got to fly like Superman.
Bidding goodbye to Kawarau, we turned back towards Arrowtown, making a turn onto the Crown range road that led us to Wanaka via Cardrona. There is an alternate route along SH 6 via Cromwell and Luggate but we chose the scenic route to drive past Cardrona. This road has multiple twists and bends and does not lend itself to people with motion sickness, so the first few minutes on this road were a little melodramatic. Hunger, nausea and motion sickness do not make for fun playpals. But the scenery kept getting so much better by the minute as we climbed in altitude that we forgot some of our misery and focused on enjoying the beauty. This road was also the start of several roadside lupins, wild and beautiful, as we got closer to Wanaka.
Famous for its historic Hotel Cardrona, ski fields, horse trekking and whiskey tasting, the small town of Cardrona was a very brief stop for us. Mostly to enjoy the outside of the functioning hotel, and the rusticity of this little town.
Wanaka, set on the shores of Lake Wanaka, is an hour’s drive from Queenstown. An excellent base for visiting several places and to do many activities. The town center was very lively around 3 pm when we pulled in. After parking at the public parking on Ardmore street near the jetty, we went hunting for food. The weather was changing rapidly, going from a sunny pleasant afternoon to rain and wind. The Doughbin did not have any of their famous veggie pies left, we marched on and found a fusion restaurant called Alivate Asian Fusion. As we sat down to order, the rain and wind came pouring down in sheets, creating choppy waves in the Lake and blowing the trees into a dancing frenzy. The blue waters of the lake turned gray and foggy in a short span of time.
Turning our minds to food, Missy JJ and I ordered the Tofu Larb while the boys went with the Asian sliders. It was amazing what the cook was able to achieve with the tofu. It was well marinated and carried the taste of the lemongrass and kaffir lime with a hint of the chilli. The chickpeas patty for the slider was equally good and very filling.
With our hunger appeased, we made our way to the i-SITE center. We had planned to visit Puzzling World only to find we were too late for a visit that day. After collecting more local information, we headed to our motel for the night, just a short distance away at the Wanaka Heights Motel. Another spacious accommodation, our upstairs room had wonderful views facing the town center, Lake Wanaka and the mountains. There was a smaller bedroom with two singles beds for the kids. The living room had a sofa cum bed and a queen sized bed facing the balcony and superb views. The hostess was warm and friendly making it easy to chat and get information.
As the rain continued that evening, we took a ride to Mount Aspiring National Park, home to multiple glaciers and waterfalls and the Rob Roy Glacier. Crossing Glendhu Bay, Diamond Lake, we eventually stopped at the Treble Cone Ski area. The roads here change from paved to gravel and we did not wish to risk traveling in our little car. Interestingly, at this junction, we saw herds of cattle, all mooing and chewing cud and secure in their own world. It felt like we were in a different world, at the base of a ski area, with the end of the paved road, surrounded on all sides by rain and cows, with no other car or human in sight. Far away from stress and hurry and emails and chores and school work and lunch boxes and daily routines. Had we reached another planet?
Lazily we made our way back, as twilight deepened, the rain continued unabated. Back in town, we made our way past the now empty town streets to The Spice Room, a very highly rated Indian restaurant. The initial wait was 45 mins but we were able to secure a table in under 30 mins. Both the outside waiting area and the inside tables were arranged with warmth and comfort in mind. The central skylight added some visual interest to the space. While service was courteous, it took nearly an hour for us to get the food. The quality was very good, with prices on the higher end.
Food prices in NZ tended to be on the higher side, even adjusting for the strength of the dollar. And portions weren’t as big as those in the US. Our dinner at this restaurant cost $92 NZD, inclusive of all taxes (about $70 USD). Tips are generally not expected. But it’s not often that one would eat dinner for $70 USD. Making our own breakfast nearly everyday with foods from grocery stores cut costs. Cooking dinner at B and B helped as well.
Originally, we had planned to visit the Cinema Paradiso to enjoy a movie in this unique theater with ice cream and hot cookies. But the delayed dinner meant we had to skip this and head back to the motel. As darkness descended, we spent some time enjoying mindless television before drifting off. The following 2-3 days would involve a lot of driving and we needed to rest up as much as we could.