It’s been a boring couple of days. Since my last post, I’ve jumped out of one airplane, flown another, summited two 5,000+ ft. mountains, plummeted 360 feet into the Shooter canyon whilst suspended by my feet, and raced downhill luge karts overlooking Queenstown. (Er, spoiler alert)!
While I was disappointed to miss out on the hell-hike onto the massive Fraz Josef glacier, the remainder of my day was graciously spared when the weather permitted my skydive to continue as planned. What an incredible stroke of luck that was! I’d been skydiving once before, several years ago, but in rural Georgia – a far cry from the incredible snow-capped peaks that provided such an epic backdrop for my freefall plummet from 16,500 feet in the New Zealand sky.
From Franz Josef, the bus meandered further South towards Wanaka, a place where I scheduled woefully little time and will be spending a lot more time in next time I find myself in this part of the world. Hugging a lake of the same name, Wanaka is a gorgeous town nestled amongst massive mountains – the more chilled out ‘sister city’ to the much-lauded Queenstown (more on Qtown in a bit). On the way to Wanaka, we were privy to some pretty excellent views.
Before actually arriving into town, however, I had another fun first planned for the afternoon. Having jumped out of one perfectly good airplane, I thought it was about time I’d tried my hand manning the controls of another – the classic Cessna 172. There’s a company based just outside of Wanaka that allows you to take one for a spin with a bit of instruction from pilot instructors – so of course I jumped on the opportunity. I was able to bring a free passenger as well, so my friend Nicole from Switzerland was nice enough to snap some photos from the back seat. Though brief, it was a fun experience!
I mentioned that my time in Wanaka was dreadfully inadequate, and truth be told, I really didn’t get to see the town much at all – because I skipped the lake boat cruise that the bus group had planned for the evening and called it an early night instead. A REALLY early night, in fact – because I had other plans. I knew I was in for something special, but I had no idea just how incredible my next morning would be – it’s the best thing I’ve experienced in this mind-bogglingly amazing place.
Like some sort of deranged lunatic, I woke up at 2 AM to tackle a grueling 6-hour return hike to the top of Roy’s Peak, a 5,178 foot stunner overlooking the town with handsome authority. The hike is tremendously vertical, and is very challenging – it’s unrelenting in it’s consistent elevation climb.
Having started in the black of night, I muscled forward under the brilliant spilled guts of the milky way, stopping every so often and turning my headlamp off just to stare up in a complete stupor, bathing in the glory of the starlight. As I glanced back to the base of the mountain every so often, I watched a parade of LEDs slowly winding their way up the unforgiving terrain – an ambitious string of headlamps lighting the path for their determined owners.
Despite my calves begging for mercy, I persisted, reminding myself that mind conquers matter, and that the view at the top would surely be rewarding. I didn’t know the half of it. Drenched in sweat, I reached the summit in 5:15 (having made incredibly good time) and watched that massive ball of fire in the sky emerge – slowly at first and then triumphantly, brilliantly – with warming authority and drape the surrounding landscape in velvety purples, yellows, and oranges. Since I’d walked up in total darkness, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw what lay before me. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
Reeling from the sheer euphoria of having watch the landscape light ablaze with color from the emerging sun, I traversed back down the mountain, sharing the path with native sheep and wide-eyed hikers, riding an unparalleled high. As I reached the base, I decided to try my luck with another first.
Hitchhiking is immensely popular and common here in NZ. It’s as common – or perhaps more common – here than taking a taxi or bus; it’s just an accepted part of the culture. Some residents use it as their sole means of getting around on a daily basis.
I needed to get back into town (15 minutes away by car) quickly to catch the 9:30 bus out, and figured this would be the most interesting and adventurous way to make that happen – but even I couldn’t have anticipated just how easy it would be. It took me less than 60 seconds of thumb-up time to snag a ride back into town, with time to spare to grab a hot shower and cold coffee before hopping back on the bus – which was bound for Queenstown. ‘The adventure capital of the world’. Needless to say… I was excited.
I’ve been in Queenstown for a few days, and I’ve already given a little tease as to what I’ve been up to here (and those who follow me on FB or Instagram have some ideas as well) – but there’s still a lot of great stuff ahead on my Q-town itinerary, so I’m going to summarize everything together once I’ve wrapped this chapter up this weekend. My time in New Zealand is drawing short, but there’s still a lot of incredible stuff left on the docket in this amazing place – stay tuned.