Wednesday, 26 December 2007

The Great Kiwi Road Trip - Day II

0.0 km
19th December '07
With the almost inevitable late nights, things seem to start off a little slow on the summer mornings. Of course, the fact that even though it is summer, it's usually absolutely freezing till the sun gets past the hills and into the valley might have something to do with that. Breakfast, however, is available early enough, if you are prepared to look for it.Hunger satisfied, we proceeded to wait for the promised pick-up for paragliding. The jumping point was Coronet Peak, a scenic 20 minute drive out of town. I'm quite sure we took less, as the driver practically raced up the narrow twisting route at speeds that I'm sure were well over the recommended limits :|. Soon we were above the rather low-lying clouds, and shorts, I realised were not the best idea :-S.
Let me clarify, paragliding for us was strapping on an already open parachute, and running off a hill top. Let me also clarify, we weren't allowed to try and commit suicide running off cliff faces by ourselves :-<. There was to be a 'pilot' and we were to do tandem jumps. Nonetheless, the prospect of running off into thin air wasn't exactly a walk in the park. I got a little more concerned when my pilot turned out to be the rather rash driver /:). In the end it wasn't all that hard or anything (for me that is, I just hung in there, taking pictures :D). And it was a really cool feeling, when you are no longer running on solid ground, but treading clouds instead, having been whisked off by the wind in your parachute! To make it even better, the clouds chose to clear up right then, opening up views of the whole valley, lakes and snowcapped peaks! And there was the complete surprise (for me) of flight without any sound! Not the muffled roar of jet engines, no thud-thud-thud of whirring rotor blades, just the occasional whistling of wind. We managed to catch a particularly helpful updraught and came practically within reaching distance of the nearest craggy peak. I was beginning to get really used to the whole thing when I was taken for a wild spin, literally! I have never been on a roller coaster, but I was told this is better, primarily 'cos there are no rails :). The landing was a rather undignified thud on the bum, but that eliminates the possibility of falling on your face while your feet try to come to terms with having to support your weight again. By the time we were dropped off at the town centre again, the sun was well and truly up and we we chose to explore the city and its waterfront with the tiny jetties and yatchs and stony beaches. Soon we were off again, this time to the base for the Shotover jet ride. The Shotover river winds its way around and between the hills and valleys around Queenstown before emptying into Lake Wakatipu. On its way it flows through some narrow but fairly spectacular canyons. Shotover Jet takes you for a fast and furious ride through these rapids and some very white and shallow water on a twin jet (impeller) powered, aluminium hull boat that can do 360 degree flips (no, not on its head, unfortunately) in an incredibly tight space. It was definitely a whole lot of fun, but I guess it would hold somewhat more of a novelty for those who haven't actually gone around driving jet boats in fjords and travelled on twin jets with mad (and supremely skilled) coxswains who did multiple 360 spins for fun.... Not that the driver didn't try, with some seriously cool manoeuvres and very close passes to the rocky canyon walls. And the scenery was spectacular, as we'd by now pretty much come to expect. It was too bad we couldn't take our cams along. But then, I didn't have a splash-proof cover anyway, so it was a good thing. What we did instead was hand around the base for a while after the ride, soaking up some more of the sun. You get used to the beauty, I tell you. Then you could forget how ordinary ordinary landscapes can be, and end up expecting only the extraordinary. The good news is, as long as you are in New Zealand (or at least the South Island from personal experience) you will almost never be disappointed! But by now we were used to the ground level vistas of Queenstown and headed up for a bird's eye view. (The glide we took was in the next valley and didn't really give a clear view of the town.) The ride up was in one of the tiny cable cars they call gondolas for some strange reason. But it was very vertical and finally as we cleared the trees, the lake came into view, with the clouds shredding the light into strips of gold over the mountains and speckled silver over the oh-so-blue lake. We were already running out of superlatives by the time we actually got to the top :). When we made our way to the viewing deck though, the wind hit us like something fierce! It wasn't quite as bad as it used to be out at sea, but it still made your eyes water and at that height, the threat of getting blown off, while never quite real, still seemed quite intimidating. Past the activities and the local variation of a go-karting track lay the thick pine forest that completely covered this particular hill. We picked our way along a trail and it was quite scary how the trees suddenly blotted out the light that we knew was still quite bright outside! Eventually we made our way back but only to avoid being stuck on top of the hill overnight. When we got to the cable car stop, apart from staff, we were the only ones :).
(was) Feeling:
saturated, by the absolute spectacularity (?) of it all!!
Listening to: Norah Jones - Don't know why

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