22 October 2011

Shot Over Jet and Skydiving in Queens Town – NZ Feb 2011

From the Maori adventurers looking for Pounamu (greenstone, the green gold) in the 1100’s to the gold miner and high country sheep farmers in 1860’s; on the edge lifestyles have always been the norm in Queenstown. The culture of adventure still rules and now being home to skydivers, mountaineers, free skiers and others who dwell on the edge – no wonder the town is known as “Adventure Capital of the World”.


Stephen had asked us to find out the shape of the Lake Wakatipu and so as we had reached our hotel the previous night I had done some research on the net. And read a very interesting Maori Legend which states that the giant Matau was burnt to death in his sleep after he abducted a chief's daughter, burning a massive hole in the ground and melting the ice and snow of the surrounding mountains, forming the lake. The lake is a large "S" shape, like a giant, curled up and sleeping on its side. Matau's head rested at Glenorchy, at the north of the lake, and his feet south in Kingston. Queenstown sits on Matau's knee. One of Wakatipu's mysteries is the rise and fall of the lake by about 12cm (5") every five minutes. Legend states that a Giant's heart is impossible to destroy, and causes this rise and fall, while science says it is due to fluctuating atmospheric pressures. We were going to enjoy views of this lake from several heights and in my case even from 9,000 feet above!!!

It started at an easy pace with a half day city tour on a lovely sunny morning. We enjoyed beautiful views of the Lake Wakatipu, saw a London Bus doing the tourist rounds here and then went for a gondola ride - reputed to be the steepest lift in the Southern Hemisphere to the Skyline complex located on Bob's Peak for still more spectacular views of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.

Queenstown is the birthplace of bungee jumping and we visited the place where it all started and watched people as they were flung off the bridge. I commented –“These people are crazy. How can they jump off like that?” I turned around to see my friends with THE LOOK. Dipti commented – and what you plan to do later in the day, thatz not crazy???

Our adventure started when we decided to go for an exhilarating ShotOver Jet Ride - a unique, breathtaking white water ride through dramatic and narrow Canyons. IMG_2409The boats speed in mere centimeters of water (as little as 10 cms) in the famous Shotover River and move deep into the spectacular Shotover River Canyons where the jet boat drivers aim their high-speed boats at rock walls and then veer away at the last second with just centimeters to spare. They skillfully whip past rocky outcrops, skims around crags and boulders and steer their boats into sharp 360-degree turns, throwing up plumes of water that drench us. What an unforgettable adrenaline rush!!!

IMG_2432A walk in the beautiful Queenstown gardens to calm us down was needed. The rest decided to have lunch and go back to the hotel as they had other plans for the evening. But me? I decided to skip lunch. I was too scared that I will throw up during my SKYDIVE slated for a little later.

After exploring the gardens for some more time I went to the skydive place. I was NERVOUS. But a very nice couple who were also going reassured me.

I was going to jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane – don’t ask me why, from 9,000ft   for 25 secs of free fall at a terminal velocity of 200kph. Then a 15 mins parachute ride land back.

We reached the drop zone and our jump masters were assigned to us. As I waited, I saw each one getting instructions from his/her jump master but mine was nowhere to be seen. I asked around and I was told ‘Ahhh don’t worry, sometimes he decides to take a nap!!!” What??? He should be giving me instructions!!!! I anyways listened to someone else getting their instructions. Then my jump master comes along and casually hands me a cap and gloves and asks me to get into the suit. As I tell him, let me try the cap on, he smiles and says. Don’t worry, you just trust me!

And gives me exactly 5 mins to get ready and takes me to the plane. We are the last to get on, coz it seems we will be the 1st to jump off…heavens noooooooooooo!!!!!

skyAs we reached the desired height of 9000ft, he opens the shutter and asks me to dangle my feet over the side. I shudder, he gauges I am nervous. Tells me…don’t worry, take ur time and as I decide to relax and look around he nudges me over and before I know it I am off the plane, into the air. But no fear now. There is just too much beauty around to enjoy that there is no time to worry about anything else. I am so engrossed that I forget to pose for the camera man! Adam nudges my face and asks me to look at the camera for a few shots.

Even after we landed I was on a high. My lunch was still in my bag. I couldn’t even think about eating anything. I didn’t know how I would feel after the dive so I had opted out for the dinner plans that the rest were going to. When they were doing their bookings, they told the lady that our friend who has gone for sky diving may join. It seems she told them – she will be so high on adrenalin that I doubt she will be able to eat anything!!! How right she was.

Decided to just sit around in the park, next to the lake and let it all sink in. After nearly 2 hrs, took a bus and went back to the hotel. But the excitement that day had been much – I couldn’t even sleep!!!

What do I feel now - if given a chance I would do it again!!!! It was simply wonderful.

01 October 2011

Milford Sound New Zealand Feb 2011

“The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time” - David Henry Thoreau”

The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is regarded as one of the most scenic roads in New Zealand and is an experience worth living. The benefit of a driving holiday with a very knowledgeable guide cum driver is that he made these frequent stops for us to enjoy the beauty.

Eglinton ValleyWe travelled along the edge of Lake Wakatipu, through Kingston and Mossburn to enter Fiordland National Park. With the Eglinton River besides us we reached Eglinton Valley, once filled with glacier ice. We made our first stop here – the open green field against the backdrop of huge mountains that tower along the valley sides, some two thousand feet above the valley floor looked very surreal!!! The majesty of the mountain scenery and valley definitely called for some dancing and singing ‘The Sound of Music’. As we entered our van we found a bee inside. True to NZ tradition where they don’t interfere with nature, Stephen gently caught it in his kerchief and let it free.

Sweet, Sweet WaterSoon after that we stopped at a small stream, which had the sweetest water I have ever tasted. We filled our bottles with the chilled sweet water before taking off again to changing landscapes and thick forests – the location of several scenes from the Lord of Rings series.

Other highlights of the drive included a stop at the Mirror Lakes. Luckily for us it was a nice still day so that we could see a perfect reflection of the Earl Mountains. And it was time for more of Stephen’s stories – a small Korean boy while peering into the lakes lost his glasses and Stephen retrieved them for him, for which he was treated to Tequila! Mirror LakesHe insisted he had only Tequila unlike the Koreans who have blood and whiskey!!! Later I googled and found that there is a drink called ‘Blood and Whiskey Sour’ made with blood red oranges and whiskey!

The next part of the road is called the “Avenue of the Disappearing Mountain” so called because an optical illusion causes the approaching mountain to get smaller rather than larger. Next stop was for a short walk at Cascade creek to view the creeks of splashing water.

Wood PigeonAs we reached Lake Gunn, it was time to stretch our legs - Stephen sent us off one a nature walk, an easy 45 minute loop track through thick forests where we managed to see some birds including the wood pigeon.

At The Divide, which is the lowest of the passes in the Southern Alps the road goes gradually downhill and after a short distance we stop at viewing platform with impressive views of snow topped mountains. Some of us catch a fleeting glimpse of the Kea, a bird found in this region flying around.

Ramp Walk Show Stopper
At the Homer Tunnel, a man-made tunnel cut out of the rock wall, we wait for our turn – the tunnel is only one way. And then the highlight – a Kea bird decides to do the ramp walk for us!

IMG_2291The last stop of the day, before we reach Milford Sound for our cruise is at the Chasm. A 20 minute walk leads us to the spectacular waterfall where the Cleddau River has scoured its way through solid rock.

The Southern Discoveries Milford Sound Scenic Cruise takes us through the majestic fiords and we see the Mitre Peak, one of the highest mountains in the world to rise directly from the ocean floor. Seals laze on the rocks and we relax on the cruise. Magnificent waterfalls can be seen on both sides. The captain of the ship takes us under one of them and insists that if we go under it we will emerge looking 10 years younger – guess that is the secret of my young looking friends!!!

After the cruise we travel to Queenstown and on the way we see this fence strapped with shoes. Nice way to dispose of old shoes, I say. If Stephen is to be believed there was a similar Bra Fence in Queenstown!!!

As we approach Queenstown the “Adventure Capital of the World”, my heart starts thumping. Because it is here that I have decided to do Sky Diving – but more on that tomorrow!