Weightless: Learning to Fly in New Zealand

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float, to gain all while you give, to roam the roads of lands remote, to travel is to live!” – Hans Christian Andersen

One of the most adventure-filled places on earth lies in the South Island of New Zealand, in a magical place called Queenstown. I had always dreamed of going to New Zealand and in the fall of 2002 my husband and I went on an epic two-week vacation of the North and South Islands of New Zealand. We were still newly married and kid-free thus craving adventure and excitement. Despite being the bungy-jumping capital of the world, I had no interest whatsoever in trying this form of thrill-seeking. Instead, my husband and I decided on trying tandem hang-gliding. It would be our chance to fly like a bird, soaring off the tops of the Remarkables and experiencing the sensation of weightlessness, exhilaration and joy.

I should have been concerned when we were about to book our day of pure kiwi-style adventure in Queenstown and the tour agent informed us that the day before there was “a wee bit of drama“.  But I was young, childless and full of that intense wild and crazy adventure that lead me to brush aside the fact that a woman and her “pilot” were in the hospital, barely alive, after crashing and free-falling thirty feet just after take-off on their tandem hang-gliding adventure.  Apparently the bolts weren’t correctly tightened.

After careful consideration of all of Queenstown’s fabulous, adrenaline-pumping activities, we settled on hang-gliding and I had my heart set on it, even though the story about the accident was still promptly displayed in the papers.  No it couldn’t happen to me?  What would be the odds?  We felt slightly reassured by our choice of a different company that according to our overtly friendly hotel concierge had a “no failure” safety record.  I didn’t want to chicken out at this point but the thought of being that first failure was still lodged inside the back of my mind, eating away a bit at my nerves.

It was with this mindset and apprehension that Paul and I set out one early afternoon to Coronet Peak a world-class ski resort in the winter and the launching off point for our hang-gliding adventure in the spring and summer.  Our van picked us up and drove us out of lovely, peaceful Queenstown and wove slowly up the mountainous terrain until we reached our destination:  Our launching point at 3,800 feet elevation!

Adventure Travel New Zealand TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION

Back to Christchurch

Ok, I know I was going to jump into the North Island of New Zealand but I found a few more pictures and stories that I forgot to include on the South Island.  I guess that’s what happens when you are writing about a trip that was ten years ago!  So let me back up here and return to where I left off in the Milford Sound.  To read the last post on exploring the Milford Sound click here.

We rose early to the morning sun coming over the serene Milford Sound.  It was yet another glorious day and not a soul was in sight.  Paul and I enjoyed our last hour of solitude while we sailed back to shore where we would be boarding the oddly shaped Real Journeys bus back to Christchurch.

Everyone was tired and quiet on our long ride back to Queenstown.  I for one looked awful, like I’d been punched in the eye.  Actually I had an unfortunate encounter with a sand fly (that nasty thing bit me hard!) the day before while I was kayaking in the Sound and my left eyelid had swollen up like a balloon!  That was a fun one to explain to a bunch of strangers!

We arrived in Queenstown by late afternoon and headed straightaway to the tourist office.   We had one more thing to accomplish in Queenstown:  Our very last adrenaline-pumping activity, Jet-boating.  Luckily there was one last ride of the day.  If we hustled, we would be able to catch the 5:30 pm jet-boat on the Shotover River just outside town.  I should have been scared when I met our driver, a twentysomething Kiwi with a dangerous grin on his boyish face.  But “no worries” as they love to say in New Zealand.

Adventure Travel New Zealand TRAVEL BY REGION

Hiking into Middle Earth: A tramp along the Routeburn Track

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.   So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.    Explore.   Dream. Discover.”   – Mark Twain

The New Zealand Silver Fern, the symbol of purity and beauty.

The Routeburn Track in the South Island of New Zealand is perhaps one of the finest hikes in the world.  It rates up there with neighboring Milford Track as well as the world-famous Annapurna Trek in Nepal.

The 24 mile/29 kilometer Routeburn Track generally takes three days and climbs up to some of the most spectacular, pristine temperate rain forest and alpine scenery in the world.  Unfortunately my husband and I only had one day allocated to a tramp (what the Kiwi’s call hiking) along the Routeburn Track, and we were going to make the most of it.  Given what we had already seen of Queenstown and the surrounding area, we knew that our visit to Routeburn would be one of the best parts of the trip and we weren’t at all disappointed.

Below is a panoramic shot of the view at the top of the Routeburn Track….a view that we didn’t get to see.  This means we’ll have to someday go back and do the whole thing! (Photo credit Wikipedia Commons). 

Adventure Travel New Zealand TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking

Queenstown: New Zealand’s Adventure Playground

Photo above taken just outside of Queenstown, New Zealand.

The drive from Christchurch southbound to Queenstown was perhaps the most spectacular, awe-inspiring drive of my life.  It rated up there with the scenic, mountainous drives on the tops of the Austrian and Swiss Alps, two drives I have done back in my Euro-craze days (I was obsessed with Europe in my twenties and have been there over a dozen times, constantly exploring as many places as I could cram in).

After a few hours of intense motion sickness, I accepted my fate and cursed myself for over-indulging the day before on the Waipara Valley Wine Tour.  Oh well.  The handful of mouth-watering, lip-puckering NZ Sav Blanc’s certainly tasted delightful at the time!

Around three o’clock, exhausted of driving along the serpentine, rolling roads of Southern New Zealand, we saw signs that we were nearing Queenstown, the adventure tourism capital of New Zealand.  The verdant fields of white fluffy sheep slowly disipated while signs of life and civilization appeared.  About a half hour or so out of town we saw our first sign of New Zealand’s Adventure Playground for adults:  The first ever real, live bungee jump!

Bungee jumping hit the world stage in 1986 by New Zealand’s very own A J Hackett, who fearlessly dived from the top of the Eiffel Tower with nothing but a rubber cord attached to his ankles.  The craze caught on and there was no better place to offer this kind of adrenaline-pumping extreme “sport” than in the adventure paradise and capital, Queenstown.

Adventure Travel New Zealand TRAVEL BY REGION

Taking off: Getting a Remarkable View of the Remarkables

I don’t normally want to “double post” but I couldn’t help sharing my latest postcard from thethirdeyeworld on my blog.  Hope you enjoy!  To see more postcards, please go to www.thethirdeyeworld.com


Greetings from Queenstown, New Zealand….wish you were here!

Photo taken in November 2001 in Queenstown, New Zealand.

I made him go first.   I had to.  I was so nervous, scared out of my mind and anxious about actually going through with this ride that I thought I’d make my loving, wonderful husband of one year take the first jump off the mountain.  All I could think of was how the booking agent told us that the other day there had been “a wee bit of drama”.  An accident occurred in which a woman and her “driver” fell a couple hundred feet and didn’t take off.  Instead of landing safely on the bottom, they wound up in the hospital with lots of broken bones.  But amazingly enough, they were ok.

I watched him and the driver run, and gracefully take off the edge of the mountain soaring like a bird through the stunning blue sky.  It looked crazy.  I still had time to change my mind.

Twenty minutes later they arrived back on top of the hill.  My husband wore a big, satisfied smile across his gentle face.  “How was it” I asked, terrified.  “Oh, it was awe-some!” he replied easily.  “Was it scary”? I asked skeptically.  “Not at all.  In fact, it was quite relaxing.  You’ll love it!” he replied encouragingly.

Ok.  I’m doing it, I decided confidently.  I got hooked up to all the protective gear next to Steve, our Canadian hang-gliding driver and off we went.  “Run, Run, Run” Steve hollered.  Clumsily, we ran as fast as we could and magically the giant wings of the hang-glider began to take off and up, up, up we went.

I screamed bloody murder, at the top of my lungs!  What in God’s name was my husband talking about?!  This was anything but relaxing!!!! It was the must frightening, exhilarating feeling I’ve ever experienced in my entire life.  I screamed for at least the next ten minutes until I finally was able to relax and realize that I wasn’t go to die.  Instead, I giggled and laughed at the realization that I was flying like a bird, taking in all the remarkable beauty of Queenstown and the towering Remarkables in the background.  The hang-glider had a camera tied to the wing and the pictures of my ride were priceless.

As we safely landed, circling like an airplane, I breathed a big sigh of relief and threw my arms in the air in triumph.  Steve informed me that I was the most enjoyable, fun passenger he has ever had.  I’m sure my screams and giggles were rather hysterical.  I was hysterical.  I’m glad I did it, but I wouldn’t do it again!  The things we do when we are young and free. As they always say:  CARPE DIEM!  Seize the day.

Written by thirdeyemom.