Mike shuffles his bound feet to the edge of the platform and swan dives 44 floors toward the bottom of a rocky canyon. The rope catches, he bounces up like a rag doll, and with each fling of the elastic he screams…pure joy. This is the sound of the highest bungee jump in Australasia, AJ Hackett’s The Nevis. We had no intention of bungee jumping. Ever. But something comes over you when you pull into Queenstown, adrenaline is in the air, and within an hour of our arrival we not only signed up to bungee but also ride the world’s biggest gorge swing and jet boat the frighteningly narrow Shotover river. Welcome to the Adventure Capital of the World and a mountain town so beautiful, you are putty in its powerful hands.
Set at the foot of the glacial blue Lake Wakatipu and the sawtooth Remarkable Mountains, Queenstown is one of the prettiest little cities in the world. People always talked about its extreme adventures (220+ on offer) but we had no idea the view alone would get our heart racing.
On our way downtown to the AJ Hackett office, we were dodging burly mountain bikers to ladies who lunch. Queenstown is an eclectic mix of sports shops, trendy restaurants, dive bars, designer stores…a bit of everything for everyone, without trying too hard.
We weighed in and signed our life away to the Nevis, then headed east of town to the bungee and swing site. I was slightly petrified but the gorgeous scenery of autumn vineyards and vibrant blue rivers calmed my nerves.
They called my name to take the plunge. I do the shuffle to the edge and freeze. “Darlin,” says the Kiwi running the ropes. “Don’t hesitate.” I nod with a delirious affirmation, and he walked me to the plank, so I didn’t have to look down at the jagged gorge floor. “1, 2, 3, bungee!” I leap, with a “Oh Crap! Crap! I’m faaaaaaaallllliiinnnnngggg!” After eight seconds of free-fall, the rope catches and I soar in reverse–weightless, free, and alive. By the second bounce, I pull the foot pin and flip right-side up, the fear of death had subsided and it was one of the most oddly peaceful experiences.
Still high from bungee, I couldn’t believe we were about to throw myself ourselves off another cliff but we’d already signed up for the Nevis Combo: 440-ft Bungy plus 545-foot high gorge swing–the biggest in the world. The Nevis Swing has you sit at the top of a pendulum and it swings in a 1000-foot arc going 120 kilometers an hour until it slows down enough to reel you back up. This was an equally insane activity but with bungee under my belt and with Mike strapped to me, it seemed like a piece of cake. We aptly chose the “honeymoon position” and were sent off with a “1, 2, 3, kiss!” We gave a smooch like it would be our last and kept our lips locked until I had to let out a scream, but this time it was more of a “Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” with my profanities. I never thought I’d be a proponent for bungee jumping or gorge swinging but…when in Queenstown.
To fully reach cloud nine, we got to stay and review one of the greatest hotels of the HoneyTrek, Matakauri Lodge. We combed our windblown hair, dusted ourselves off, and went to the front desk to check in. “Actually, we don’t have a check-in,” said the innkeeper in a delightful British accent. “We prefer to get to know them over a glass of wine. Would you care for some local wines and I can trouble you try a few of our new cheeses?” No trouble at all. We tried three varietals and endless nibbles, chatting until we realized we should change for dinner.
We walked through the beautifully manicured grounds and arrived at our drop-dead gorgeous cottage. Panoramic views, sunken living room, perfectly decorated bedroom, and this bathroom. We slid open the floor-to-ceiling windows, drew a hot bath, and soaked in the surrounds. Look straight to the rippled mountains, look left for the snow-dusted Remarkables, and all around for stunning lake views. Is there such thing as a cloud ten?
We were hard pressed to leave this incredible Relais & Chateaux hotel, but there was more thrill-seeking to do. Shotover Jet was arguably the first adventure attraction in Queenstown and still a must-do for every visitor, even for the Queen, Will and Kate. This jet-boat ride whizzes down the scenic Shotover river at up to 80kmh, doing 360 spins in both directions, all inches from the canyon walls. Watch this wild and gorgeous ride in action.
We couldn’t leave Queenstown without a stop at the famous Fergburger for a Bambi venison burger with spicy mango chutney. With full bellies we started our drive to Glenorchy, the old hippie town at the head of Lake Wakitipu. It should have taken us 40 minutes but add in 20 photo stops to document the shoreline gorgeousness and it took us close to two hours. Not to mention the time it takes to climb roadside cliffs and the summit the camper roof for the perfect shot.
We followed the Glenorchy-Paradise road into the forest to the edge of the famous Routeburn Track. We took a sunrise hike to Lake Sylvan, followed by a tramp through a moraine to Chinamans Bluff. Even better than any official hike was just pulling over, walking 30 feet into the forest, and feeling like we were in The Fellowship of the Ring. Look at all those crazy mossy, creepy tree formations!
Driving back through Queenstown with our mouths agape, we made our way north to Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. These sister lakes aren’t nearly as popular as Wakatipu, but dear lord are they spectacular. Glacier-cut mountains shoot from all sides of the deep waters and no matter how many panoramics you take, you can’t fit all the beauty in.
The stunning scenery was relentless from Queenstown to the west coast. We kept waiting for the landscape to flatten to corn fields or strip malls…but it never happened. It was one freakishly majestic mountain, after pristine lake, after gushing waterfall. We almost parked it right here forever, thinking it just couldn’t get better but in New Zealand, it’s always worth going around the bend.