Its reputation as New Zealand’s adventure capital drew Daisy Sillis to this alpine town, where she took on new challenges amid spectacular scenery.
It’s 7am on the dot and I’m fed, dressed and awaiting pick-up. Unfortunately, I’m half asleep and slightly suffering from the night before, but that’s nothing a little Queenstown air and a jet-boat trip can’t cure – right? We’re heading from bustling Queenstown out to Dart River’s base, a 45-minute drive through stunning hills and mountains. Once we hit the quaint town of Glenorchy, it’s time to suit up. Thermals, wetsuit, socks, booties, jacket, beanie and lifejacket: I’m ready to funyak.
Funyaking (a combination of fun and kayaking) involves journeying in an inflatable kayak through Mt Aspiring National Park. But first, we head out in the jet boat along Dart River and out towards the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site, where our funyaking adventure will begin. Regardless of the boat’s high speed and 360° spins, and the rain, I’m comfortable and dry in our covered jet boat. We whiz along the clear blue lake, darting between rocks and tree branches in our rollercoaster ride on water.
It’s grim weather, but the grey fog adds a beautifully ominous tone to the mountain views surrounding us. The nearby mountain peaks are to thank for the magnificently coloured grey-green rocks that border the lake. No two days on Dart River are ever the same, says our guide. The ice and rain levels are responsible for the ever-changing water depth and sinuous twists of the river.
After 45 minutes, we settle down lakeside for a hot chocolate before a quick kayaking lesson. Conveniently I’m paired with a guide, which makes for a far less strenuous trip. Now, to take in the view. Jet boats speed by and while others in my funyaking group are smart enough to hold on, I fall victim to the wake, half tipping the kayak into the river. We all giggle at my expense.
By the time we make it to our lunch spot, the sun is creeping through the clouds and while the guides set up lunch, we explore a nearby cave in our kayaks. One by one we paddle into a small crevice against the oncoming current. My kayaking buddies are determined to make it as far into the cave as possible. Despite the rough water and my reluctance to get wet again, I’m outvoted.
We paddle up to the small waterfall; waves land in the kayak and fill it with water. I hold on (quite dramatically) for dear life while my funyak clan hoot and whistle with excitement. As we paddle out of the cave I’m decidedly wet, but feel revived and ready for lunch. With only a few hours left of the kayaking journey, we paddle at a steady pace downstream, allowing the warm sun to dry us off.
My guide, Guillaume (French for William), has singlehandedly built more than half of these special rock-climbing routesin Queenstown: these routes are different to traditional outdoor rock climbing,
as they are constructed of metal rungs, ladders and wire ropes. Varying levels of difficulty make them perfect for everyone from amateurs to climbing enthusiasts.
Pushing off and gripping onto metal handles, I climb my way up Queenstown Hill, attaching my harness every few metres to a new rope that acts as my safety net if I fall. Once we’ve made it past the first 100 metres I’m on a roll, using my lower body to push myself up the cliff and taking in the stunning view.
Guillaume tells me it’s important to take a rest every so often, so after I’m clipped onto the next safety point he encourages me to let go of both hands and hang from my rope. Dangling off the side of Queenstown Hill is both terrifying and exciting.
Two-thirds of the way up we move onto the steeper section of the climb. By the time we make it to 300 metres above ground level, the morning sun is beaming down and Queenstown looks positively picturesque. I climbed my first rock face and survived to tell the story.
Arrowtown is a charming scenic treasure only 20 minutes drive from Queenstown. It’s the perfect place to grab lunch, shop or cycle. The Queenstown Bike Hire headquarters sits among the daffodils by the river where settlers once mined for gold. After testing out a few bikes (including a so-tempting electric bike), I pick a blue land cruiser.
Our guide Dylan points us in the direction of a nearby path and we head out into the wilderness, following signs with blue arrows along the rugged cycling path. We ride past farmland, cliffs and rivers, and over wooden bridges, until we reach the Kawarau Bungy Bridge – from which dozens of adventure seekers leap daily. The Queenstown Trail is designed so you can ride as little or as much as you please, and the guides at Queenstown Bike Hire can pick you up at any point along the trail. With the Gibbston Valley Winery only a few kilometres down the road, we decide it would be rude not to stop by for a glass of wine and a hearty platter.
Reach for the sky
An enduring Queenstown attraction, perched atop Bob’s Peak, Skyline Gondola is the steepest cable-car lift in the Southern Hemisphere. Its 220-degree views sweep across Lake Wakatipu, Coronet Peak, Cecil Peak and The Remarkables. The Skyline Queenstown Complex has a restaurant and bar (open day and night); the adventurous can hit the luge or go bungy jumping. If you’re in the mood, set aside an hour and walk up the mountain path instead of taking the gondola. (It makes the view at the top more rewarding.)
Find a feast
Queenstown offers a wealth of top-notch restaurants and cafés – deciding which one to try first is the real challenge. We head to the lakeside Public Kitchen & Bar for a shared-plate dinner and indulge in oysters, spiced chicken and venison. The other restaurants will just have to wait until we visit again.
From the editors at Good Health Choices