SOUTH ISLAND ROADIE: QUEENSTOWN

Back into it. The third and final installment of our south island roadie with my sister Kelly and her hubby Adam. To recap we’ve camped Kaikoura and Lake Pukaki, backpacked Mount Cook and recharged in Wanaka.

Now for the crescendo: Queenstown. First time for all of us. And while we’re at it, our first time bungy jumping. In true fatalistic fashion we opted for the highest jump in New Zealand: the AJ Hackett Nevis at 400 feet (which I booked while Kelly and Adam were asleep). DOUBLE GULP.

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A tram takes you out to a pod where the jump happens. In the pod were three backwards hat-wearing twenty somethings blasting hip hop and doing their best to not look stoned.

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The nevis is the third highest bungee jumping platform in the world at a height of 134 metres. My heart stopped when they called my name. It’s hard to describe the feeling as my brain hibernated in defense of anxiety … but I remember shuffling to the platform and gazing down. Then it was three, two, one – blank.

The second I jumped it was utter relief, which is crazy because those thirty seconds of dangling above a rocky death are when you’re most at risk. But what an experience! TAKE IT SLEAZY!!!

And what about Uncle Jessie?

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A well deserved cold one back in Queenstown.

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Our first two nights we stayed at the Treehouse Spa Escape, a decent wood-heated rental near the Shotover River.

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The quintessential vantage point from the top of the Skyline Gondola.

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The Skyline Luge is real life Mario Kart without the red turtle shells.

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That afternoon we hired mountain bikes (kiwis say hired instead of rented as if the bikes are landing jobs) at Gibbston Valley Winery and set off along the Kawarau river. Sitting along this spanking new 11K Gibbston River Trail are a handful of pinot noir vineyards. Heaven on earth for us active winos.

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We hit four wineries and one pub in total. My favourite spot was Peregrine Winery on account of the friendly pourer, delicious rose and snazzy Y2K bunker decor. We grabbed a bottle of chardonnay for dinner which didn’t make it to dinner.

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Then down the road to Waitiri Creek.

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The last spot on our self guided wine tour was Brennan Wines. A good spot made gooder with bocce! I seem to remember our middle aged white pourer dude wearing Fubu but all was forgiven when the clock struck five and he allowed us to stick around and keep chucking balls.

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After our ride we took a load off on the Kawarau bridge, ground zero for the world’s first commercial bungy jumping operation back in 1988. Since then, AJ Hackett’s bungy empire has stretched to all corners of the globe.

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Back at the house we capped off our last day with Kelly and Adam with a game of slop bucket and NY strips on the deck. Saying goodbye to them brought a cloud of sadness over Jess and me. Our first visitors and such good ones – gone. But what a week! Stories we’ll share for a lifetime. Wink wink you guys.

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***

Reduced to a duo, that afternoon Jess and I swapped the Forester for a beater and hit the road to Glenorchy for a wee look around. Again, the scenery seemed outrageous but I couldn’t tell for sure. Seems I was suffering from mountainmindblownitis – a common condition that strikes NZ travelers.

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That night we checked into a new spot up in Arthur’s Point and prepped for the Queenstown Marathon. The second marathon for both of us (third if you count Jess’ ironman). The forecast was not pretty and we went to bed expecting cold, wind and rain.

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And that’s exactly what we got! The course started in Arrowtown, a 45 minute bus ride from Queenstown. We were deposited on a golf course where we stood nervously in the rain for 90 minutes waiting for the airhorn to blow.

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This mid-race iPhone pic captures the run’s essence: narrow, sloppy and epic. Despite the storm the course was a joy, winding its way along rivers and lakes, over bridges and undulating hills, through parks and farmland, and finishing in downtown Queenstown to nearly zero fanfare. The cold rain sent the spectators running. Upon crossing the finish line I too kept running, bypassing the abandoned vendor booths and music stage, and (painfully) up the stairs to seek shelter in the expo hall.

Even with the slow, muddy course I was happy with my 3:44:59 finishing time. One second ahead of my goal time and twenty minutes ahead of my NYC marathon time. Jess, who faced the brunt of the storm after I had finished, was happy with her numbers as well. Our last mission: complete

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That night we did what any sane* marathoner would do – we ate our idiot faces off! At a little cafe in Arrowtown I housed with impunity: a bread bowl of seafood chowder, salad, steak, fries, a hot fudge sundae and three IPAs. Four hours later I ate most of a large pizza. Had my shoes been made of caramel I would have eaten them.

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Eight days after arriving in Picton, we were back on a plane to Wellington. New Zealand’s south island is ungodamnbelievable and we can’t wait to return. In fact, just days after this trip we booked a ferry back down for Christmas. In three days it’s back on a boat with Walter White for 13 days down the wild west coast.

Merry Christmas everybody. Heaps of love from NZ.

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