Cheryl Tay recounts her thrilling and activity-filled adventure in New Zealand
For adrenalin junkies, the best kind of holidays are those that leave you exhausted at the end of the day from all the physical and adventure activities. Before my trip to New Zealand, I was filled with excitement. And, I wasn’t disappointed; I had an entire week of thrilling activities that were certainly not for the faint-hearted.
When I boarded the domestic Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to Queenstown, I barely had enough sleep the night before, due to jet lag and the five-hour time difference with Singapore. However, my senses were immediately woken up by the stunning views as we flew into Queenstown.
Birthplace of the Bungy
After landing and collecting the rental car from Budget, the first thing I did was to take a walk along the Frankton trail to soak in the mesmerising views of Lake Wakatipu. To get closer to these views, take the K-Jet, a commercial jet boat operation which will take you on an hour’s ride across Lake Wakatipu, Kawarau River and Shotover River. Expect to get wet here as the driver does 360-degree spins!
One of the most thrilling things to do in Queenstown is the AJ Hackett Kawarau Bridge Bungy, a 43-metre jump off the bridge. This was where the first ever bungy took place back in 1988. The bridge offers a pretty view that helps to distract you a little when you’re preparing to jump. If this isn’t harrowing enough, there is always the 143-metre bungy jump, The Niven.
Another heart-pumping activity is the Via Ferrata, an alternative to rock climbing offered by Climbing Queenstown. Instead of scaling the actual rocks, you use this Via Ferrata system (of carabiners and cables) to climb rungs that fixed into the sides of Queenstown Hill. A guide will take you up to about 400 metres. My advice is not to look down at your feet too much.
Thankfully my legs didn’t get too jelly and I was able just them to complete the 10km run at the annual Queenstown Marathon. This was my first time running a race overseas and I enjoyed the scenic route which included the Frankton and Queenstown trails. I loved the cool atmosphere, which meant less perspiration and no high humidity to battle
To soothe the aching legs from the run, I went for a soak at the Onsen Hot Pools (at the bottom of Coronet Peak Ski Field). These pools are indoor, but you can open up the room to get the best views.
If you are feeling adventurous, in more ways than one, you can drive to Arrowtown, a historic former gold mining town or go for Trust the Chef, the shared dining experience at Amisfield Winery Bistro. You have no idea what’s on the menu and it’s up to the chef who will prepare a selection of dishes for you with the freshest ingredients available that day, paired with wine.
Throughout my stay in Queenstown, I couldn’t stop taking my eyes off the spectacular views of Lake Wakatipu. Staying at The Rees Hotel & Luxury Apartments ensured that the beautiful views of the lake are the first thing I wake up to each morning, as it is located right on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. Sitting atop a small hill at central Queenstown, Hotel St Moritz is another hotel that gives pretty mountain views from its rooms.
Queenstown is such an active town and I will definitely want to go back again, perhaps for skiing and snowboarding in the winter.
My next stop was Wanaka, just an hour and a half’s drive from Queenstown. There are a few ways to get there, but the most scenic would be to take the Crown Range road route.
Once we arrived at Wanaka, we left our car and followed the most famous Wanaka guide, Chris Riley from Eco Wanaka Tours, who took us for the Rob Roy Glacier walk. At 57 years of age, Chris has immense experience and knows every valley, mountain, river and tree in Wanaka like the back of his hand.
Riley is very proud of the fact that this is one of the few places in the world to get a view of lush green rainforest set against a backdrop of glaciers. We trekked for 2.5 hours through the alpine rainforest before we got to herb field at the top, which was the closest we could get to the glacier faces. The iconic swing bridge marks the start and end of the rainforest trek.
Although I was wearing proper hiking boots, my feet were sore from the five-hour trek. Fortunately, I got a chance to rest them while I was on the Wild Hills Ridgeline Adventures tour. Driven around in a 4WD, our guide Mark Orbell took us to a private high country farm to give us a look at farming life as well as explain the history of Wanaka. A bonus was the exclusive viewpoint overlooking Lake Wanaka.
There are other tours you can explore with Eco Tours Wanaka and Ridgeline Adventures. Or, you can go on your own photo walk around Lake Wanaka. There is a dedicated map with all the Insta-worthy points marked out and you can choose to go to as many as you want, via foot, bike or car. One of the photo points is the Wanaka Tree, a lone tree rooted in the lake.
Wanaka is quite a close community with only two supermarkets. Depending on your preferences for the day, restaurants recommended include Francesca’s Italian Kitchen, café-bar Kai Whaka Pai, or French cuisine at Bistro Gentil.
For the two nights I was at Wanaka, I stayed at Lime Tree Lodge, a Bed&Breakfast accommodation run by couple John and Pauline, the warmest hosts ever. The fireplace, dining area, kitchen, swimming pool and gardens are for all guests to share and there is an in-house chef to cook your meals too.
From Wanaka, I drove 3.5 hours to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, which houses some of the highest mountains and the longest glaciers in New Zealand. You get a pure sense of alpine here, with snowcapped peaks, white snow fields and the brightest of stars at night (please sign up for the stargazing tours!).
Choice of accommodation is few, with the Hermitage Hotel, its chalets, or the motel. Food is limited too, but you can have a snack at The Old Mountaineers Cafe Bar & Restaurant any time or book dinner at The Panorama Room at the hotel.
Get a map from the hotel reception and check out the self-guided walks you can do on your own, such as the Hooker Valley walk. I first went for the 4WD & Argo adventure tour where the guide took us in with this Argo vehicle, before we climbed climb a slope to get to the vantage point that overlooks the amazing Tasman Glacier and its terminal lake.
A faster way to get more views is to go on your own trail biking adventure. Rent mountain bikes from the motel and follow the paths of the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail which will give you beautiful pictures. Fighting the headwind can be quite a struggle though – don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Definitely a must-visit at Mount Cook is the Tasman Glacier helihike, where you get the chance to see the longest glacier in New Zealand with experienced guide Charlie Hobbs. He will arrange a helicopter from Mount Cook Sea Planes & Helicopters, then he will lead you for a hike on the white ice after providing you with the right equipment, such as crampons to your shoes.
It was gloomy when I left Mount Cook, so I wasn’t able to explore it as much as I would have liked to. It was on to the last stop of this road trip – Christchurch, the biggest city in the South Island of New Zealand.
Christchurch is still in the process of rebuilding after the earthquakes a few years ago and the best way to witness the progress is to go for the Christchurch Rebuild Bike Tour, a two-hour guided cycling tour that covers sights like the Re:START Shipping Container Mall and Transitional Cardboard Cathedral.
My time was limited in Christchurch, but I managed to grab coffee at C1 Espresso, a hipster café that sits on what was once Christchurch’s post office building in the 1930s. I also had a good meal at King of Snake, which served a fusion of Asian and New Zealand dishes.
The return journey with Air New Zealand consisted of a domestic flight from Christchurch to Auckland, before flying home to Singapore. I was certainly beat by the end of the trip, but this is exactly the kind of trip I enjoy the most.