Monday, December 1

Queenstown, New Zealand

(see map) mike: Leaving the hustle and bustle of Sydney behind we flew east to our first stop on New Zealand's south island, Queenstown. So named because it was considered suitable for Queen Victoria herself. It wasn't easy getting out of the airport though. The customs department was by far the most thorough we've encountered. A diligent officer removed our tent and painstakingly examined it for bugs and seeds then sprayed disinfectant and gave our hiking boots a good scrubbin. With such a large percentage of NZ's income coming from agricultural exports (meat, dairy, wool, wood), their extra caution was understandable.

Finally we were out the door and into a taxi. After asking to be taken to Pounamu Apartments and passing signs for places like Lake Wakatipu and Wanaka we had our first encounter with a unique part of New Zealand culture, the Maori, the indigenous Polynesian people. Numbering 600k out of a total NZ population of 4M, their history, culture and presence is much more prevalent here than what we've observed back in the states or in Australia.

Queenstown is a beautiful small town nestled on the shores of the huge Lake Wakatipu. It reminded us a bit of a small town along North Shore Tahoe. Besides the stunning setting, its claim to fame is being the adrenaline capital of the world which started with the first commercial bungee jump. Not being quiet that brave (yet) we signed up for a jet boat trip, scenic-helicopter flight and a gondola ride up the mountain followed by some luging (gravity powered go-kart type things) back down.

Propless jet boats are the only way to navigate the sometimes ultra shallow water in the nearby rivers. The goal of the Shotover Canyon jet boat experience is to haul ass down a river bringing the ~15 occupants as close to the nearby canyon wall as possible while mixing in several high speed 360 degree turns along the way. I was sceptical but found myself yelling with panic after we came within inches of the first giant boulder in our path. Actually I was thankful to be in the middle of the boat instead of the sucker on the outside who ran the risk of a flattened face.

Next up, a helicopter tour around the lake with a stop up on the nearby Remarkable mountain range.

Followed by the Gondola with awesome views of Queenstown and the surrounded area, passed a bungee jump platform to reach the luge.

Queenstown luge. Goal: Race as quickly down the mountain as possible without losing control and crashing. Definitely better than Singapore's, longer and faster with a couple of really steep drops where you can launch a couple of inches into the air. Trinity claimed victory.

The following day I rented a bike and checked out some of the surrounding trails. It felt great to be back on a mountain bike though I quickly realized how rusty I am. My Sea Otter finish time may be slow come April.

This ultra healthy Lupin is everywhere.

We spent the rest of our time hanging around town at a couple of the many tasty restaurants and bars. One thing we began to appreciate was the sun. A couple we met back in Europe warned us that if you have good weather in New Zealand, you need to take advantage and check out the sights and views because there is a good chance you won't see it the next day, or even later the same day for that matter. We initially thought naw, they had bad luck and we generally have good luck. Well, that perspective was about to change.

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