After days of hiking and enjoying nature in Lake Tekapo, Aoraki / Mount Cook, Wanaka, and Fiordland National Park, it was time to hit the city known as the “Adventure Capital of the World” – Queenstown! Despite its nickname, we actually set up our two days here to be something of a rest. We bungy-jumped, visited a bird park, rode luges, did laundry, and binge-watched The Murdaugh Murders.
We scheduled bungy-jumping to be our first thing so that we didn’t have too much time to psych ourselves out. We have both been sky-diving before, but agreed that this was a little scarier because you aren’t attached to anyone else. During the brief orientation, the operator reassuringly said that all of his tips were for our comfort only, and not to worry about the safety part of things because they had that completely covered. It also helped to know that the company we went with, AJ Hackett, has run over 4 million successful jumps across their various worldwide locations. We were at the Nevis jump site, the tallest in New Zealand, but far from the tallest in the world.
I felt fine until I was standing on the ledge, looking down. One of the operator’s tips was that you should swan dive, because if you try to simply step off or jump feet first, the bungy will snap you upside down uncomfortably. As the operator started to count down from 5, I found myself wishing he would have started from 3, or would go faster, because staring at all the space below me was making me think, “I don’t think I can do this!” But when he reached 1, I did! A brief surge of pure panic (in the video you can see my arms waggle in fear, doubt, and futile self-preservation instincts at this moment), and then I was soaring down and suddenly enjoying myself. The feeling of free falling while watching the mountain valley walls rush past and the water below get closer was incredible. Even better was the sensation of removed gravity as I bounced back up! I didn’t quite manage to get my feet loose (another operator tip for comfort), so I had to be pulled back up upside down instead of sitting up in the harness, but even that part was still enjoyable as I took in the views and reveled in the satisfaction of having done something adventurous and new.
I asked Tommy to share his bungy-jumping experience in his own words:
“Unlike Emily, I was pretty nervous the few days leading up to both of our jumps. Thankfully I read lots of reviews of people much more afraid of heights then me that had jumped and loved it. I also had it in my head that I should fully commit when I dived and do a large swan dive off it since an extra foot or 2 of air is nothing compared to the 440 feet I’d fall. However, once you’re waddling over to the edge of that tiny platform that high in the air, it’s easy to forget all that. Then just muster the courage to actually leap. The jump itself was terrifying and I’m pretty sure I forgot how to breath immediately after which led to me making weird noises to myself for the first few seconds of falling. Eventually I remembered though and still had plenty of time to enjoy the terrifyingly long 8.5 seconds of freefall. The bounce up was good and I did manage to pull my foot strap on the second bounce which made dangling over the canyon much more enjoyable after the jump. Not sure I’d want to do this again for a while, but it was certainly an experience I won’t be forgetting.”
Kiwi Park Queenstown
That afternoon, we took things down a notch (many notches) and visited Kiwi Park Queenstown, a wildlife refuge that mostly focuses on birds. We got there just in time for a live animal show with a very passionate and informative guide. She did an awesome job showing off a variety of birds and one reptile while teaching us a lot of interesting facts. Some things we learned were:
- The New Zealand pigeon (kererū) can eat and excrete whole items the size of its head – this is the equivalent of a human eating and excreting a whole cantaloupe!
- Kiwi mothers carry such massively large eggs that at the end of their pregnancy, they cannot eat because their stomach has literally no more room. The egg is extremely heavy as well – in terms of proportions, it is the equivalent of a human giving birth to a 30 pound child (approximately a 3-year-old child).
- New Zealand sells a lot of clothing items made from possum fur. We had seen this in souvenir shops, especially in merino-possum blends, but didn’t know why. It turns out that possums are a major threat to kiwis, so bird conservationists set lots and lots of traps to try reduce possum populations. It is illegal to farm possums in New Zealand, so all the clothing made with possum fur is made from kiwi conservation trapping efforts. New Zealand has a problem with tourist hikers damaging or removing traps because they don’t realize why they are there.
After that, we were just in time for the kiwi show. This was in the kiwi house, which is very carefully set up to keep the kiwis happy and to make it easier for them to transition back to life in the wild when they are released. It is very dark, guests are asked to be quiet or at least whisper, and any source of light (including cameras and phones) is prohibited. It took a while for our eyes to adjust, but once we did we spotted some kiwis running around! Then the park guide stuck some tubes of meat in the ground for the kiwis to “hunt,” and we got to watch them find and eat it. I absolutely LOVED this part of the day. Kiwis are so round and soft-looking! It was so cool watching them use their long, skinny beaks to sniff out food – they often stick the tip in the ground, and it can fill up with dirt, so apparently sometimes you can hear them sneeze out the dirt! I was also impressed by how swiftly they run!
We then walked around and checked out the rest of the animal exhibits. They were fine, but couldn’t really compete with the two shows!
For the rest of the day, we did laundry and took it easy.
Skyline Queenstown: Gondola & Luge Racing
The next day, we went to Skyline Queenstown. The first step was taking the gondola up. It was interesting to see bikes being hooked onto many gondola cars. Apparently, it’s a very popular place for mountain biking! It’s also a popular place for paragliding, which we got a great glimpse of from the wildlife refuge the day before. The gondola was very steep and went up quite high, so we had awesome views of the city, lake, and mountains. Another gorgeous place in New Zealand!
Once at the top, we got a quick demo on how to ride a luge. I was pretty nervous on the first run, envisioning myself going too fast and flying over a barrier (even though they let children do it… you never know!). After the second run, I felt much more confident. A few runs later, I got too competitive while racing Tommy and ran into a barricade, scraping up my elbow. Oh well! Tommy and I both had a lot of fun and definitely recommend luge riding.
After that, we shared an affogato (delicious!) and went to an Asian grocery store (great stuff!), then took the rest of the day off from sightseeing in favor of Netflix, reading, and video games.
Next up, our last couple stops in New Zealand: Franz Josef, Arthur’s Pass, and back to Christchurch!