The trip from North to South Island started swimmingly, with an on-time flight (that never happens these days!) and the most beautiful aerial view I’ve ever seen:
The trip quickly derailed, when Caroline (my SF friend who lives in Sydney and was supposed to land an hour after me) texted “still in Sydney…plane engine failure”. To which I reply “Oh no! So….are you still coming to New Zealand?”
Turns out Caroline’s flight was cancelled and re-booked for the next morning. I then have to decide what I’m going to do, as we have an airbnb booked an hour away and I have a canyoning adventure the next morning. I figure out a bus Caroline can take to meet me the next morning, and on to Wanaka I go, where my mood is immediately uplifted by the epically beautiful views:
The next morning, I get ready for the one adventure I am sure will scare me: extreme canyoning…aka plunging down water polished chutes, abseiling down waterfalls, and jumping off cliffs!
I opted for the most extreme canyoning route: The Leaping Burn:
Before we even begin canyoning, we hike a treacherous route to get into the canyon. The scramble is so dangerous, we have to attach our harnesses to rope, in case we mis-step (and to avoid falling to our deaths). 45 minutes later, we step into the canyon’s ice cold waters. The first few repels we do are relatively tame; then, we come to a waterfall. How do we get down that? Repel. We literally repel into the waterfall and then duck behind it to avoid getting blasted off our rope by the sheer force of the plummeting water. Guess who’s going first? ME.
The guide attaches me to the rope and points below. I begin repelling, and get to a point where I am inches away from the waterfall. I point below, indicating a question to the guide “Straight down?” He gives me the thumbs up. I look below. I again point below, indicating “Are you sure? But do you see where I am?” He yells “Straight down, yep!” I look down again, shrug my shoulders, and down I go.
The water immediately begins pummeling my face and helmet and I figure the easiest way down is speed. I go down so fast I don’t even realize the rope is out and I fall the last few feet into the water below, instead of sticking the landing on a rock. I swim across and situate myself between two rocks while I
shiver wait for my fellow 2 Canyoners.
The next spot is my favorite! The waterfall is too strong to repel down so our guide sets up a zipline made of rope between one cliff and another, with the water below us. We clip our caribeners on and weeee we go down the faux zipline! So fun.
We swim, walk, and jump down a few more spots until we come to the last sequence. A series of three 90 foot drops straight down the waterfall. The first two are relatively easy; the third…not so much.
We have to rock climb along a very slippery rock face to stand on a very small ledge, waiting for our turn to repel. Our guide belays us halfway down the waterfall, and throws the rope down for the latter half, telling us “k, don’t let go! Or if you do, it’ll be okay, you’ll just fall 30 feet…but into a nice big pool!”
I, for one, do not want to fall backwards 30 feet so I hold onto the rope very tightly. So tightly that I get my hand stuck between the rock face and the rope. I spend a few seconds jiggling myself around, hanging 60 feet over the waterfall pool, with the waterfall’s powerful force a mere 3 feet from my face. Still stuck. I try to go down, but the rope bounds itself tighter to my jammed hand. As I’m contemplating my next move, a scene from 127 hours pops into my mind. While I’m debating how to cut off my hand, my hand gets wind of what my brain is thinking and magically frees itself; yay!
I make it to the end of my rope (literally, I was freezing and at the end of my rope), fall the last 10 feet into the pool, and get the F out of the water and into dry clothes. First canyoning experience: Very thrilling! But next time, I’m doing it in a geo-thermal waterfall.
Once I return to the city, I meet up with Caroline and we head to Franz Josef Glacier. We later realize this is a 5 hour journey but oh well, the destination is worth it! Kind of.
It ends up pouring rain most of the weekend, but we snapped some pretty sick pics during the brief moments of sunshine:
Caroline’s booked helicopter glacier trek ends up being cancelled last minute. This understandably annoyed Caroline, as it was the 2nd cancellation of Caroline’s trip. But life’s seemingly random turns happen for a reason, and this cancellation turned out to be a very fortunate turn of events. A mere hours after Caroline’s tour would have been, news broke of the tragic accident at Fox Glacier, where 6 tourists and a pilot were killed in a helicopter crash. You can’t help but think how finite life is, and remind yourself to seize every day as if it’s your last.
After counting our blessings, we drive back to Wanaka, stopping for a walk to a remote beach. Where our car battery dies. Where we have no cell service. Reminder that we’re still alive, reminder that we’re still alive, reminder that we’re still alive…
I start working the corner, asking for jumper cables and gotta say, I was surprised by how unwilling to help most people were. It was a disappointing moment in mankind.
In face, we’re still stuck in Monaro Beach, someone send help!!
I kid I kid, we eventually got it sorted and continued on our journey (through the rain, uphill both ways).
Our efforts are rewarded ten-fold by our next airbnb host, who has the CUTEST dogs. Oh my gosh, y’all I seriously made a connection with these dogs. One was a golden retriever/labradoodle mix (WHAT), and the other two were a NZ breed I forget the name of, but they are CUTIES:
After begrudgingly separating from the 3 pups, we head to Mt Iron for a quick hike, promising panoramic views of Wanaka:
We treat ourselves to a wine tasting post hike, at Rippon Vineyard, where Caroline has decided she will get married. And I don’t blame her:
Once we’re wined up, we head to Queenstown where we do the one activity that does not cancel on Caroline: The luge!
To get to the luge, we take the Gondola up:
Then we pretend we’re MarioKart characters as we race down the twists and turns, on our luges:
All that luging really bulks up our appetite, so we head to queue up in the world famous Fergberger…home of one of the world’s best burgers:
We decide to walk off the burgers with a delightful walk around the lake:
The next morning, we get ready for skydiving! As Caroline is showering, I call the skydive center to confirm the skydive is still on.
It’s not. In fact, it is very much cancelled and Caroline is now 3 for 3 in activities/flights being cancelled.
Instead of skydiving, we hike Queenstown Hill, which is lovely and super windy…good call to not fly up 15,000ft in a small plane. Also because our battery died again so we would have missed skydiving anyway! #silverlining
After we get the battery jump started and finish the hike, Caroline hits the road back to Sydney and I am VERY sad she is leaving!! I drown my sorrows at a local pool bar which is a pretty ridiculous place for me because I don’t play pool. The remaining 3 days I have in Queenstown are filled with:
Road trip to Milford Sound:
Canyon Swing, aka world’s craziest bungy jump:
Queenstown winery bike ride on a gorgeous day:
One final trip to Fergburgers:
One final lake view:
Although Caroline was only with me for a third of the trip, she summed it up perfectly:
“This trip definitely had its ups and downs (last minute cancellations, car battery deaths), contrasted with the gorgeous beauty of New Zealand and some amazing experiences. During those moments, I was reminded of the power of nature, and that I need to go with the flow. It’s easy when we live in cities to forget how the world surrounding us is powerful and we are simply humans in a large world. The mountaineers of Mt. Everest had to wait weeks to accomplish the summit. When pioneers first discovered the new world of America, they had to wait out many storms to move to the next destination. These days, we simply go inside or proceed onto the next thing. It was a refreshing reminder for me to respect and love the world that we live in.
I would also like to add how much I LOVED the epic beauty of New Zealand, and the many activities I had the pleasure of being scared by (minus the plane from Queenstown to Auckland, where terrifying turbulence and plane malfunctioning noises caused the passengers to scream in terror and I for one, thought we were going down).
Until next time, New Zealand. Can’t wait to reunite, San Francisco!