BootsnAll Travel Network

The Road to Paradise

(Happy Belated Birthday to my friend Vicki. Sorry I’m a little late! Hope you had a good day.)

The past few days have again flown by, as I’ve been going at a pretty fast pace trying to get everything done that I had on my “list.” After my awesome experience with the dolphins, I was picked up in Kaikoura by two complete strangers. Sam and Chris are friends with my Australian friend Denika, and I was spending the weekend at their home in Blenheim to attend the Marlborough Wine Festival. They picked me up around 8pm, after having spent a week in Christchurch at a wine convention. The awkwardness of getting into a car with two random people quickly abated and we chatted the whole two hours up to Blenheim. It was still raining pretty heavily, so I wasn’t able to see a lot of the coast that we were driving along. We arrived at their house pretty tired and we quickly got ready for bed to rest up for the next day.

Since Sam works on a vineyard in Blenheim, we got up pretty early so I could head to the festival with her. It was set to start at 10am, and we arrived about 9:45am and Chris dropped us off at the vineyard where the festival was being held. The one disappointing thing about the festival was that with the NZ$35 ticket price, the only thing we got was a free wine glass. We weren’t given any drink tickets or anything like that, and you had to pay for all the wine separately, most tastings were around $3 and full glass was between $5-8. So it really turned out to a be an expensive day in the end. I was also meeting Susannah there, the English girl I had met in the North Island, and I found her at about 11:30am. The wineries in Marlborough Sound are most noted for their Sauvignon Blanc, but also make a lot of Reisling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Sam got off working at her winery’s booth around noon, and Chris met us there as well around then. They had a few bands there and that was a big draw for many of the people, as they were pretty popular New Zealand bands. The “headliner” was The Black Seeds, a funk band which is world-renowned in New Zealand. (That is a local joke they say about many things here.) They were actually pretty good, and somehow we managed to get backstage with them afterwards and chatted with them a bit. They are trying to start touring the US at some point, so if you come across their name, give them a try. Sam also had two French girls who were meeting us there and they arrived around 3pm. The festival ended at about 6pm, and we made our way to our cars. Since the French chicks (as they were affectionately called the rest of the weekend) only had a couple glasses of wine, they drove both the cars. In New Zealand, they are allowed to do random breathalizer tests, and every car that was parked on the festival grounds, it’s driver was given a breathalizer test. We had a couple of hairy minutes there, when Mathilde was asked to pull over her car and had to get out and take a blood test. But she was just under the legal limit which is .08 here as well. The rest of the evening was spent in the town of Blenheim at a few wine bars and a small street festival. It was a beautiful day weather wise, and it turned into a really great weekend.

The following day, Mathilde and Else the French chicks were driving the Christchurch and offered me a lift there. Since I was just spending one night before heading to Queenstown, they offered to let me spend the night. We got in pretty late, and since they live with 6 other people in a big house, we didn’t stay up too late and I easily fell asleep on their couch. I was then awoken by a loud booming voice telling me that I could “absolutely not stay here and I had to leave this minute.” Since I was dead asleep, it took me a moment to realize I wasn’t dreaming. Apparently, their landlord is a big fat jerk, and he doesn’t want them to have guests spending the night. I went to get Else in her room, and she came down to talk to him. We finally convinced him that I was leaving the next day, as he thought I was going to turn into some secret boarder or something. But it totally shocked me out of my sleep, and I also felt like I got Else and Mathilde in trouble, but they said not to worry about it. So after a slightly fitful night, Else dropped me off at the bus stop the next morning and I boarded the bus to Queenstown.

Queenstown is a 7 hour bus ride from Christchurch and we passed some beautiful scenery along the way. Since everything is so pretty in New Zealand, you kind of start to not notice a lot of the things along the way you are going. We stopped for our lunch break at Lake Tekapo, a bright blue glowing lake nestled among some mountains and hills. We arrived at Queenstown around 3pm and I checked into my hostel, The Hippo Lodge, which was a grueling climb up a very steep hill, but I was then rewarded with stunning views across Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu, the third largest lake in New Zealand. It is a glacier formed lake, and Queenstown is also surrounded by mountains. It is also known as the adventure capital of New Zealand, and frankly, probably the world. This is where they did the first commercial bungy jump in the world, and the variety of hair-raising activities you can do here is amazing. Since I am not an adrenalin junkie, my choices were cut short a bit, but there was still plenty to do. The guy who works at my hostel was trying to convince me to do the FlybyWire, where you are basically strapped to your own personal rocket with an engine, attached to a wire high up in the hills, and let loose, careening through the sky on your own. I said I’d think about it, and signed up for a horse-back ride finally, since I’ve been trying to go riding ever since I left.

The location of the horseback riding was in a small town outside of Queenstown called Glenorchy. With only 230 people living there, they pretty much make their entire living off of tourism. I haven’t been horseback riding in a few years probably, and was a little nervous at first, but quickly got comfortable with it. My horse Charlton, or Charlie, was pretty well behaved, except for the fact that he didn’t like to stand still. Anytime we stopped to admire the view or take a picture, he wouldn’t really cooperate and wanted to start nibbling on the clover and grass. But as far as quirks in horses go, this was a pretty easy one to get over. Our group of eight trekked through the braided river and around the valleys of the mountains, and past some more Lord of the Rings scenery. It unfortunately was not the greatest weather, so we didn’t even realize there were mountains all around us until our guide Per told us so. The scenery around us was still stunning, and as we walked through the braided river, we also walked through a small area and town called Paradise.

Because of the rain, Paradise looked like a big foggy wet nothing that day. But the horseback riding was still a lot of fun, and forgot how much I enjoy it. I was walking a little funny afterwards for a while, as 6 hours on a horse is a long time for anyone, let alone someone who hasn’t been riding in years. After our trek was over, we made our drive back to Queenstown in silence. It had been a tiring but really fun time. The next day, I had also signed up for what is called a Dart River Safari. This was also based out of the town of Glenorchy, and our jet boats would take us deep into the mountains of Paradise. Jet boating is a fairly new activity in Queenstown, and it involves speeding along the braided river at insane speeds, while only going through 10 cm of water at times. Because the boat is moving so fast and is so light, they don’t need much water at all, and the drivers are of course insane and do turns and spins and soak you to the bone. It was all in good fun, but the best part was that it was an absolutely gorgeous day today and I was able to see all the scenery that I missed yesterday. The peaks are pretty high here, and one famous scene in the first LOTR movie where Gandalf fights the Balrog on top of the mountain was actually filmed on top of a mountain here. They also filmed the movie Vertical Limit and White Fang here, and numerous commercials. One slightly amusing one was for Coors beer, which is ironic that they are in Colorado, and came to New Zealand to film the mountain scenery.

We again made the drive back to Queenstown and along the way passed the spot in LOTR where Sam and Frodo spotted the Oliphants and watched the battle there. It looked exactly like it did in the movie, which was cool because some of the other scenes have been digitally altered. I was very happy when I arrived back from my tour to see Stuart standing at the reception at my hostel. Stuart was my kayaking partner in Nelson, and it really is strange to always randomly bump into people. The chances of him being not only in Queenstown at the same time, but at my hostel also is pretty slim, and it was nice to see a familiar face. He hadn’t sent me the photos of the Orcas, and I assumed he just forgot, but he actually didn’t get my email address that I left for him. So he quickly got it from me then, and has emailed them to me, and I will either post or email them soon. We are going out for a pint or two tonight, as I haven’t gone out much while I’ve been here and Queenstown is supposed to have some great bars. Tomorrow I leave for the coast and Milford Sound, for some more stunningly beautiful scenery. I just can’t imagine how anything can be better than Paradise.

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