Three mostly sunny months later, and we've concluded our time in Queenstown. Though I wish the place was about 10 degrees warmer at all times, living in the "adventure capital" of the world did have its perks.
Here are some of the awesome adventures we got to experience while living in Queenstown:
When Arno from Expedition X invited us for a packrafting trip, we said, "Absolutely!"
Having little to no idea what packrafting was, we were pleased to discover how much fun it is. Intrigued?
Basically, a packraft is an inflatable one-man vessel that you can take on rapids and rivers. It rows sort of like a kayak but it's wider like a raft. The coolest thing is that it packs away into a tiny ball weighing 2kg and you can put it into your pack, which means you can hike into some forest and raft out all on your own.
I wish I could say that we did a crazy adventure, but we only had time for a half day trip on the Kawarau River. It was still beautiful though and we learned a ton about how to navigate and control the boat while exploring the little inlets and beaches. Makes me want to own one of these babies!
Hiking (or Tramping as the Kiwis Call It)
One of the best things about living in Queenstown is that you can access a bunch of great walks right from town! This makes it super convenient for those of us who don't have cars to access nature.
For spectacular views of Queenstown, the Remarkables, and Lake Wakatipu, you can't do much better than Ben Lomond Summit.
You have several options for getting up to the Summit, including paying to take the Gondola, which cuts about 1 hour of walking. You can also take the Tiki Trail (not recommended as it's better to take down) or the Skyline Gondola Access Road. The latter is a wide open road and the fastest way to access the trail to Ben Lomond.
At the Ben Lomond Saddle, take some jumping shots if you're so inclined!
The Summit is a further 1 hour beyond the Saddle, and that's where the views really open up. There was snow on the ground when we hiked, which also meant ice. If you're doing this hike in spring or fall, you may encounter the same, so make sure you watch your step.
If you get an early enough start from Queenstown, you'll be one of the first ones at the top. It took us 2.5 hours from our apartment in town and we left at 8am.
You can go down the way you came up (should take about 1.5-2 hours), or better yet, detour to the Gondola.
Check out the views over Queenstown from here and then take the Tiki Trail down, which will take you under ziplining platforms and past all sorts of funky carved wood chairs.
The Tiki Trail drops you off right in town, so you can grab drinks immediately after!
Another option, and the one we took, is to follow the Moonlight Track from the Saddle to Arthur's Point. Note that while the sign says 3 hours, it's wrong. DOC typically overestimates times, but this time, either someone ran or someone just screwed up.
Allow at least 2 hours from the Saddle to reach the Moonlight Track, which includes jumping the fence as soon as you come to it. Do not follow the fence up. It goes nowhere. From there, it's another 8km or so until Arthur's Point. The last hour of the walk is quite pretty, as you can see the Shotover Canyon with the swing and jet boats. But adding this route makes it a very very long day.
Hitch a ride home if you do end up taking this side trip and allow at least 8 hours for a fast walker.
There are several other amazing walks that leave from Queenstown, including Queenstown Hill, the Frankton Track, and the walk out to Sunshine Bay. Even walking around Queenstown Gardens is awesome. Having all these walks at our disposal made not having a car a lot easier--warmer temperatures would have been the icing on the cake!
I'm not sure when I decided I wanted to bungy (maybe I never actually made the decision?), but when AJ Hackett graciously offered to host me for my birthday jump, I couldn't say no. Not only was bungy invented in New Zealand by AJ himself, but the first commercial bungy jump location is right outside of town. If you're going to jump off a bridge, you may as well jump here. (Plus they have a superb safety record, which made me feel just a wee bit better.)
Our bungy trip began with a 40-minute ride to the Nevis site, which is close to the "desert" of New Zealand. While the first 30 minutes of the trip were on the main road, the last 10 or so were when things became real. As our truck/bus climbed up a narrow winding dirt road, I looked out the window, all the while seeing the Nevis River, the one we were going to bungy over, getting farther and farther away below us.
Once you're on site, there's hardly time to be nervous. The AJ Hackett crew obviously knows how to deal with freakouts and seems to realize that the less time you give people BEFORE the jump, the better. (You get plenty of time after to take in the view, walk around, look at your photos, etc.)
As soon as we arrived, we got harnessed in, reweighed, and directed onto the cable car that took us out to the Nevis Bungy platform, 134m (~450 feet) above the Nevis River.
And then there was only one thing to do. JUMP. (If you watch my bungy jump video, you'll see that I hesitated quite a bit before actually walking out to the platform. But seriously, it was amazing. Do it.)
What I found most surprising was how smooth the actual jump was. There was no sharp pull on the bungy cord once it caught, only a feeling of sailing through the air with little concept of up or down. The feeling of zero gravity is amazing and like nothing we've ever experienced before. Rob kept saying he felt as if he was flying through a vortex, one that ended in the bright blue of the Nevis River below.
One of my favorite New Zealand experiences for sure!
The Gibbston Valley is about a 20 minute drive out of town, and there are tons of wineries to explore.
My favorite is Chard Farm, which is a small winery with awesome views near the Kawarua Bridge bungy site.
Chard Farm has an idyllic setting, a Burning Man-esque statue, and some nice pinots.
This is Rob trying to win us a free weekend at the Chard Farm cottage for my 30th birthday. The owner told him he got an A for effort.
Central Otago is 45 minutes from Queenstown and is New Zealand's most famous region for pinot noir, which just so happens to be my favorite wine (along with the most expensive varietal). Lucky for us, most wine tasting in New Zealand is dirt cheap, as in either free or a "gold coin" ($1 or $2) donation.
My favorite area in Central Otago is the Bannockburn region, which is known as the desert of New Zealand. It was pretty incredible to see the change in landscape from Queenstown.
The views at Mt. Difficulty were sublime, and the wine wasn't half bad either. Even though you can't sit on the terrace unless you buy a flight, you're welcome to go out there with your glass and take in the views.
Although the tasting room wasn't much, the wine at Akarua was superb. We didn't want to splurge for the pinot, but did buy a bottle of the sparkling wine for New Year's Eve. Rob's parents bought a bottle of the rose, but we convinced them to take it home with them rather than share!
Have you visited Queenstown?
What were your favorite things to do? Let us know in the comments!