The whispers had grown louder as we journeyed south. The rumours, the advice and the nervousness had all grown in volume. New Zealand had yielded glaciers, mountains and caves that twinkled with glow-maggots, and yet we were repeatedly assured the best was yet to come. Whether it was a local nodding in approval that we were headed to ‘the adventure capital of the southern hemisphere‘, or our bus driver urging us to ‘save some money for the big one‘, we knew we were in for an adventure to top all others. It was time to head to Queenstown…
After nine months in Australia, we headed to New Zealand where our adventures on our Kiwi Experience bus included glowworm caves, geysers, hiking across Mordor, horse-riding in Hobbit land, partying at the Poo Pub and heli-hiking a glacier.
Our driver Mangee drove our Kiwi Experience bus out of Franz Josef to Fox Glacier down the road, a similar glacier to Franz adjacent to Thunder Falls, a pretty epic waterfall. We also stopped at Fantail Falls and Haast before leaving the lush rainforest of the west coast and crossing the Southern Alps to Wanaka, our last stop before Queenstown. This was also our penultimate day as a group on the bus together, so Charlotte and I planned some awards to hand out to members of the group to celebrate all the hilarious events of the past two weeks.
When we arrived in Wanaka, a pretty but fairly quiet town whose main purpose is to seemingly to be the last stop before Queenstown and not a lot else, Jodes and I went to the local supermarket to get bits for dinner. Whilst wandering the aisles a voice called ‘JP! Fancy seeing you here!’ and to my astonishment I turned round to see an old mate from Edinburgh (as in other-side-of-the-world Edinburgh) who now worked in Wanaka of all places stocking shelves. This was up there with my small-world experience of bumping into an English friend I knew from America on Castaway Island, whose population was under a dozen, in Australia the previous year.
The next day we stopped at Puzzling World, an illusion themed attraction similar to Mystery Spot in Northern Michigan. Charlotte and I used the time to come up with awards for the bus crew and I persuaded the lady in the shop to give me loads of postcards to use as awards we could write on and hand out.
Our next stop was at a fresh fruit and ice cream shop near the new Highlands Raceway motorsports circuit. The ice cream was probably the best I have ever had: kiwi fruit and hokey pokey. Jodes, a true connoisseur of ice cream, went nuts for it.
We drove through some spectacular mountain scenery on windy roads before stopping at AJ Hackett – the original home of bungee jumping. A few of the guys jumped whilst we were holding out for the canyon swing I had won in the fancy dress competition. Meanwhile, I bought Jodes a New Zealand Silver Fern charm for her Pandora bracelet which seemed an appropriate memento of our incredible trip through this astonishing country.
Back on the bus I performed my ‘South Island Rap’ which everyone loved, before handing out the awards with Charlotte, culminating in a special award for our driver Mangee, who had made the trip so great for us.
We stopped in Arrowtown for a caramel slice and a trip to the sweetshop before heading into Queenstown itself. It felt like we had been building to this part of the trip for a while. There was that similar vibe to Cairns – super backpacker-y but in a very cool way, probably cooler than Cairns. I was feeling nervous for my canyon swing that I won and had scheduled for the next day, especially since Mangee had played us trailers for it including footage from Aussie TV’s ‘The Footy Show’, where the AFL guys looked petrified by it!
For somewhere that sells itself as the ‘best hostel in New Zealand’, Nomad’s Queenstown was a bit of a letdown to be honest. Our room was incredibly messy compared to others we had been in and there was barely room to walk. The air was so heavy with sweat that you didn’t smell the BO rather than taste it and choke on it. We didn’t hang around in there for long and headed with our German and Irish mates from the bus to the mountain on the edge of town. Instead of taking the gondola, we ascended by foot up the mountain zigzag path and the views were spectacular – we were breathless already from the climb but the sight of the town looking oh so small down below us took our breath away all over again.
At the top, as well as incredible views, there is the opportunity for luging which looked pretty fun but we didn’t bother with ourselves. We were cheeky and followed a tip given to us by Mangee, our bus driver. He explained that usually if you walk up you can get the gondola down the mountain for free if you are sneaky. This worked a treat and we got even more amazing views on the way down.
Nomad’s Queenstown continued to disappoint as we found on our return that someone had moved our stuff and fallen asleep in one of our beds, so after a bit of a palaver we had to change rooms.
That night we went to Loco’s for dinner. The portions were disappointingly small but at least we had some lining for our night out which continued at The Find, an establishment presumably named after the fact that it is actually a bugger to find. Here they served cocktails in teapots, which we all agreed was a brilliant idea. It inspired us to sing the following song, which seemed like a good idea at the time: ‘Tug my handle, suck my spout, that’s what you do when your teapot’s out’. Perhaps we had had one too many teapots by this point. Nonetheless we moved on to another bar for mulled wine and then on to Cowboy’s where they have a mechanical bull which some of our group ended riding!
You can see my video of the Road to Wanaka here.
Next time: Taking on the world’s largest Canyon Swing!