Queenstown, New Zealand

After nearly three weeks of gradually making our way south, we reached our terminal New Zealand destination of Queenstown.  As illustrated in the photo above, Queenstown is a lake town with the Southern Alps surrounding it on the land side. It reminded me of Lake Tahoe with a few hundred thousand less people.

Queenstown is a town dominated by young adults who come for the extensive trekking and recreational activities. There are mountain bikes everywhere. Hanggliding, bunji  jumping, water sports, and hiking abound. There are wineries in the area, and visitors can drive out to the gold rush towns we saw on the way here. There were jet boating and sailing cruises on Lake Wakatipu. And some of these activities are extreme. Bunji jumping was invented here. You can take a gondola up the nearest peak, strap yourself to a tandem hang glider, and jump off. Thankfully, I was over the weight limit which prevented me from actually having to decide on this one.

In the late afternoon, Queenstown turns into Key West. The performers set up on the dock sides and put their hats out. My favorite was an old man singing accompaniment to his dog. The dog’s high-pitched wail could be heard three blocks away.

In the winter, the town puts the gliders and jet boats away, and turns into a ski resort. The season is about 12 weeks because of the relatively low elevation, but draws skiers from a Australia and Indonesia.

I spent one of my Queenstown days traveling to and back from Milford Sound. We spent another cruising the lake and stopping at a local farm…In the USA, this would be a “ranch.” It had over 40,000 acres of primarily grazing land. The sheep make their own way into the high mountain pastures and have to be rounded up in the Fall. The “farm” has 30 working dogs for this purpose, and we were able to observe their roundup skills…very impressive. It takes three years to train, and if you bite a sheep, it’s automatic flunk out of the program.

We then cruised back and rode the gondola to the mountain crest above the town. In addition to the view, you can actually watch the extreme sports unfold. There was an endless line of kids strapping their mountain bikes onto gondola cars, and the bunji jumping station was reached from the gondola. Mrs Bear and I celebrated our New Zealand experience with a round in the cafe, admired the views, and then did a little trekking of our own by walking back through town after taking the gondola back down the mountain.

We were lucky to have an afternoon flight the next day, which let us walk around the point and through the gardens one more time before heading back to Sydney for a connection to Hawaii. Mrs Bear says New Zealand is the most beautiful country she has visited. When I suggested the Scottish highlands or Ireland, she countered with the warmer temps of a New Zealand summer as her tipping point. It’s hard to disagree with her logic.

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