Saturday, June 23, 2012

June 18 - Queenstown

June 18 - Queenstown

Last night my computer died so I wasn’t able to complete my daily journal entry. We didn’t have anyway to charge my battery so I am now two days behind on typing. The night before we froze our butts off in the tent, but the weather was much warmer last night. I kept my pants on, wore my new long-sleeve merino wool shirt, and stuffed my jacket, hats, gloves, and fleece by my feet and used my pillow as an actual pillow. I have also been using my scarf to cover my face since it sometimes pokes out the top opening of my sleeping bag. It seemed to work very well.

I went to bed extremely early so I woke up extremely early. I think I must have woke up around 5 AM. It was pitch black, but I couldn’t sleep anymore. I just laid in bed until the alarm went off at 7:30 AM. At one point in the night I woke up and it was lightly raining, but it wasn’t too hard thankfully.

We have been setting it early because I like to wake up slowly. Andy pushes snooze until about 8:15 AM when we get up. It’s not even that early to wake up, but since it stays dark until about 7:45 it’s fine. I don’t know if it’s because the tent is dark, the clouds and mountain block the sun, or if the sun actually doesn’t come up until much later in the day because of where we are. I think it’s a combination of all of those things.

Our goal today is to do a jet boat ride at 11:30 AM and then do paragliding at 1:30 PM. We had a few hours to waste and I needed to charge my batteries for my camera and computer. We decided we would go to McDonalds and have a warm breakfast and charge the batteries that we could from 9 AM until 10 AM, and then go to the library and transfer pictures to clear our memory cards and possibly use the internet until 11:00 AM when we intended to drive to the jet boat location.

We left for the McDonald’s a little after 8:45 AM. It was very cloudy outside and cold. We knew the weather in the morning would be bad, but we were hoping it would clear up in the afternoon for paragliding. We wanted to park for free so we parked a few blocks from the McDonald’s near a church on Church Street. It was a one-way road so we had to make a loop in order to get into the parking spots. They were only good for 30 minutes free.

As we pulled up we had to wait on an old man who was trying to back into a spot in order to drop off some huge wooden thing he had in the back of his car. It looked like a piece of furniture of some kind. He was trying to park in a spot that was slanted and facing the opposite direction of how he was positioned. I don’t know what he was doing, but he was nowhere close to making the turn. He couldn’t see well apparently because he had the driver’s side door open slightly, but that was still useless.

There was a car, four empty spots, then another car. He had plenty of room to park the way he wanted to, but it wasn’t really working out for him. We watched him for about 5 minutes try to maneuver his car how he wanted to no avail. He backed his car up, slightly turned, and then smack. Right into the back of a station wagon. He pulled forward a few feet, made a small adjustment, and smack. Right into the back of the station wagon again. He tried one more time. Smack. Right into the back of the station wagon. This time he got out of the car, inspected the damage. Shook his head no as if nothing was wrong with the car, even though there was an obvious dent in the bumper, and then tried again. This time he finally made the proper turn. It was the funniest and saddest thing I had seen in a while. It was kind of pathetic.

We parked, a few spots away from the guy and across from him and walked to the McDonald’s. It was about 100 yards down the street. There was an upstairs and then a basement which was a food court for a tiny shopping mall. It seemed like it was just a few clothing stores above, not much to choose from. We walked around for a few minutes looking for an outlet and found a couple. I plugged in my computer, but there was no power. A key needed to be turned to activate the switch. We decided we were hungry anyway so we went ahead and ordered food. We each got a Kiwi Big Breakfast. It consisted of eggs, hash brown, two link sausages, and an English muffin. It was kind of expensive. I think it was about $6.50 NZD. It was decent though and warm.

We finished eating and got back to the car at 9:35, right as our 30 minutes was ending. We drove a few blocks to the library and waited in the parking lot at 9:45 AM. It didn’t open until 10 AM. Other people were waiting too, most of them came walking up and just stood by the door. Nerds. A lady parked next to us, fixed her make up and then dropped off her book. I only mention it because her hair was a mess and all she was doing was dropping a book in a box. It didn’t seem necessary to spend 10 minutes putting on lipstick to do that.

They opened the doors a few minutes early so we went right in. I immediately plugged in my computer and started transferring my gopro memory cards so I would have enough space for the day’s adventures. Andy tried to use one of the library computers, but it cost money to use internet so he assumed it would cost to do anything. He wanted to transfer his pictures too. He only has a few memory cards and most of them are 8 GB. He is borrowing one of my 16 GB cards in his gopro now.

My cards took about 30 minutes to transfer. While that was taking place I was completing my journal entry that I had get cut off from the battery dying. I finished transferring my cards and then Andy hooked up his external hard drive and transferred his. I continued typing my journal.

Our things finished around 10:50. We had wanted to leave around 10:45 to get to the jet boat because we weren’t sure how long it would take to get there. We were told it was only a few kilometers, but we wanted to make sure we were on time. There are a few different companies that do jet boat tours, but we are using the Shotover Jet Boat company. They have been doing these rides since 1970 and have taken over 3 million people.

We got to the jet boat around 11:05. We parked and went inside to check in for our 11:30 appointment. They said that they could fit us on a little early since the boat they had ready wasn’t full. We walked down to the shore and put on life jackets and long rain jackets to protect us. I was holding my gopro and they said I couldn’t take it on the boat. No cameras. Rip off. They pulled each group of people aside and took our pictures. Probably so they could identify the bodies or something.

The boats hold 14 people plus a driver. There was a group of 3 people already there waiting when we showed up. A bus dropped off another group of people and they joined us. A few of them had small digital cameras, but they weren’t told to put there’s in a locker like I had been.

The boat has raised seats slightly There are three seats in the front, one is for the driver. Then the next three rows have 4 seats each. We sat in the third row. The boat was completely full. On the front of the boat there is a camera lens on a pole that filmed us, and on the back is another camera that filmed us from behind with the view of what we saw.

The driver gave a quick overview of safety and then he started the engine. We had a quick group photo on the boat and then he flew around the corner down the Shotover River.

He drove for about 30 seconds and then spun around and took us back to the dock where a lady was stationed ready to take our picture as we passed by. We were told to wave as we rode by. He then took off again under a bridge through a narrow gorge. I was sitting on the left side and Andy was sitting on my right more in the middle seat. It looked like we were going to smack into the walls as he made sharp cuts back and forth. I felt that if I didn’t lean in slightly my face would slam into the cliff walls.

At times he would raise his hand in the air and spin it in a circular motion. This meant he was going to do a 360. He would drive to the right or left really hard, slam on the brake and then swerve hard in the other direction and fling us around. There were times he would do it near the beach, between the narrow gorge, or next to a tree in the water and each time it seemed like we were going to flip over and crash into something.

Occasionally water would fly up and hit me in the eyes. They recommend wearing goggles or protective eye wear, but we didn’t have any. In the open areas he would go really fast and my hood on my jacket would fly up and try to cover my head and eyes. I would have to hold it down at times. I did cover my head with it part of the time because it was so cold. The driver said that it was around -45 degrees wind chill. He meant Celsius, but it was still very cold.
I could barely feel my face most of the time. The people in the row in front of us had no hats on at all, they must have been really cold. One of the guys was bald and he kept trying to cover his head with his jacket hood. I was mostly trying to cover my chin and nose. It was so cold my teeth were hurting. Andy said the same thing.
We stopped in designated areas for the driver to tell us a few facts about the river and the jet boat itself. Also to allow the training boat to catch up and pass us. It wouldn’t be good to go down the gorge with other boats in the way. He said that the boats use 4 liters of gas a minute and shoot out 8,000 liters of water a second. The boats basically hover over the water. The wind was freezing. These boats go over 80 mph down this river in as little as 4 inches of water. It sucks up the water and then shoots it out the back. He said a few other facts, but I don’t remember them.
We went 7 kilometers down the river one direction, and then stopped and went back to the dock. We then went past the dock for a few more minutes. We passed a huge tunnel gushing water that fed into the river. He stopped and told us that was built by two men looking for gold. They dug for a few years hoping to get rich, but never found anything. It was unlucky because the river is the second biggest goldfield in the world. A few years ago someone panning for gold found a $40,000 nugget. The tunnel is now used for white water rafting. He said at times in the summer you can see rafters shoot out of the tunnel and wipe out and he has to maneuver around rafts, paddles, and people. That’s probably not entirely true, but it’s funny.
At one point we made a stop and he said last year the river froze up on him. It had gotten so cold that there was a small layer of ice and he couldn’t pass through. He was stuck with the passengers from 10 AM until 2 PM waiting to be rescued.
We got back to the dock and had one more picture taken. Back inside the gift shop we were given a packet with pictures of us on the trip with a information CD. They made the thing really fast. For $59 you could buy the photos and video of the trip. The video was only 3 minutes long, but it seemed worth it since we couldn’t film it ourselves. Andy was able to sneak his gopro on and filmed our faces, but I knew that so I was intentionally making dumb faces the whole time.
We had already spent a lot on the trip, but $59 NZD sounded like a good deal so we bought it. I also bought a shot glass. The whole trip was $119 NZD a person and lasted about 25 minutes. I thought it was a lot of money for a short trip, but 25 minutes was long enough. It was too cold to go any longer. The jet boat is one of the most highly recommended things to do in Queenstown, and it was definitely worth it.
We finished the trip around 11:45 and asked the people at the ticket counter if they could call the paragliding company to see if our trip was still going to be able to go. It wasn’t very windy outside, but it was still pretty cloudy. It did look like it was clearing up a little bit though in the area we would be jumping from.
Andy took the phone after they dialed, but nobody answered. He left a message which was useless because we didn’t have a phone so he told them to call the Shotover place. We realized we weren’t needing to call until 12:30 and it wasn’t even 12 yet. We decided we would drive back to town and see if we could find their building and asked them in person.
We drove back to town and looked for a parking spot. We couldn’t find anything close so we parked at the gondola parking we had used before. We hiked about half a mile to the city center and looked for the Sky Trek company we were using for paragliding. We didn’t know where it was. We went to the information center and got a brochure with an address. I thought I had seen a map before and it was just down the street from where we were, but we couldn’t find it. We didn’t ask for directions at the information center because it was 12:25 and the line was too long to wait.
We went across the street to the I-Site center, the place we booked with and asked if they could call for us to see if the trip was still scheduled. The lady called and said it was. We then needed her to call back and ask if they could pick us up. We originally planned to be picked up at the Shotover place, but had to leave there. They said they could pick us up around 1 PM.
We had about 30 minutes to waste so we decided to do some shopping. We saw a Katmandu store and went inside. It seemed very small at first, but it had a downstairs portion as well and it ended up being huge. They had some great sales, but things were still way overpriced. We didn’t need anything so we didn’t get anything. I just wanted to see if they had a titanium pot set, which they didn’t. They did have some cool jackets and shirts, but I didn’t want to pay that much. I plan to look up their products online and see if I can find it cheaper on Amazon or something.
We walked back around 12:50 and waited for our ride. About 5 minutes later the van showed up. We were the only one’s going on this trip. There are only two jumpers, so two is really the max per trip. We were the first scheduled trip of the day, but they did have one later to do as well.
We had to stop and pick up the guys that were jumping with us, and they picked up a hitch hiker as well who was going snow boarding. He said he was from northern California, but had been living in New Zealand for 3 years. The drive to the jump point was about 20 minutes. One of the guys told us a few things about paragliding and where we would be jumping from.
I chose to use this particular company because they jump from Coronet Peak, the highest jumping point in Queenstown. It is also the sight of one of the ski areas in town, so it was perfect for the snow boarder to get a ride with us.
The road to the jumping point was relatively steep and became icy and snowy the higher we got. We were going to jump at a little higher altitude, but due to the wind we had to start lower. It was about 700 meters above the valley below.
We got dropped off on a flat icy parking lot area. The guys got out their huge packs and started strapping us into our seats. They put on their seats and gave us helmets to wear. They then unpacked their parachutes and started untangling them.
We just stood there and watched. During this time they explained to us what we needed to do on take off, what to do during the flight, and on landing. My guide was named Ty. I think he was Israeli based on his accident. He was taller, maybe like 6’3”. Andy’s guide was about our height, maybe even shorter than me.
Ty asked if I had done paragliding before and I told him no. He said it was his first time too. He said he had just got out of rehab, but it was going well.
I got strapped in and we were ready to take off. We backed up about 10 yards from the edge. It wasn’t a complete drop off though. It was actually a sloped hill. I was told to start walking at a brisk pace for a few steps, then start running. He told me the ground was slippery so I should dig the outer part of my feet into the ground as I ran.
He pointed down to the road we had driven up and said go towards that when he said. We stood for about 2 minutes waiting for the wind to pick up. It never did. I was a little scared, but really just excited to go. I was hoping the wind wouldn’t be a problem.
Ty said to start going. I took about 3 steps and he said run faster. Just as I started to run my feet were off the ground. I felt a little tug backwards and we were flying. It was so smooth. It’s hard to explain the feeling. I didn’t have butterflies like a rollercoaster. It was more of just sitting on the swing ride at Six Flags. It was very comfortable and relaxed.
It felt like we were going about 10 mph maybe. We were only going to go about 3.5 kilometers total from start to finish. The guides each had gopros on a pole to take pictures and film along the way. We were told we were given a few complimentary photos or we could buy the video and photos for $50 NZD. We told them we had our own gopros though and they were fine with us using them as long as they were attached securely because if they fell on someone below it could be a problem.
I wore mine on my head strap and Andy wore his on his chest strap. We were going to use the helmet straps, but the helmets didn’t have the proper holes to do that. I filmed the entire time, plus part of Andy’s flight. I was in front of him so I couldn’t get shots of him until I landed. He was able to get shots of my take off and I got shots of his landing.
During the flight we were able to see mountains all around with the valley below. It was very peaceful. I wasn’t really cold, but for a few minutes my face was chilly. Ty was barely even holding onto the controls and was mostly using the pole and gopro to take videos and pictures. I was just enjoying the views.

I asked him if he had done hang gliding, but he said it’s much harder to maneuver and he prefers paragliding. As we started to get closer to landing I asked him what I should do. He said to put my feet down and brace my knees. My feet would hit the ground and we would slide like skis until we stopped.

Just as we were coming around for the landing he handed me the pole with the gopro and told me to raise it up as we got closer to the ground to get a better angle of us coming down. We suddenly started spinning out of control. We were jerking back and forth, side to side, twisting and turning uncontrollably. I could see the parachute above my head, and the ground behind it. It felt like we were upside down.

The whole thing was planned. I had read that the ride can get a little crazy so I was expecting it. I had just been thinking that we didn’t do any weird tricks along the way, and then he started doing some. I read one person’s blog that said it made him feel sick and he liked the whole ride except the end. I thought the end was one of the best parts.

I felt like blood was rushing to my head the whole time. I could see some people throwing up at that point. I never thought I would. Andy described it like butterflies in his stomach, but I thought it felt more like the big red rocket ride at Six Flags that hangs upside down.

As we came in for the landing I was focused on raising the pole with the gopro to the right level and not really paying attention to how close we were to the ground. I could see my feet were about 2 feet off the ground and then I extended my legs. As my feet touched the ground I didn’t ski along at all. We just stopped. I fell to the ground on my butt while Ty just stood there. He said that happens a lot because people are used to the weightlessness of flying and forget about gravity.

I saw Andy off in the distance and filmed him come flying in and land while Ty packed up his things. Andy also did lots of tricks as he came in for a landing and he and his guide both fell to the ground on landing. I went over to Andy and asked if he was going to buy the memory card for $50 NZD. I said I was going to since it was so neat and worth the money and would provide different angles. My gopro only showed the scenery, not me. The other shots included me which I thought was neat.

The guys got their things packed up and shoved back into the van. Ty had uploaded the video to his phone and let me see it. Andy’s guide had a laptop and showed him his shots. We paid our money and got our memory cards. I figured it would at least give me another memory card, but it was only a 2 GB.

I would say the paragliding was worth the money. It cost $199 NZD and lasted about 9 minutes. On good days they said they can go for 20 minutes if the wind is just right, but for winter time 10 to 15 minutes is average. It seems pretty easy except for the take off and landing, but it’s something I would want to do again. I would even consider training to do it so I could go on my own. It’s that fun.

Our guides were telling us that paragliding can actually gain altitude if the wind is just right. They limit commercial flights to 20 minutes to be able to get to the next appointment, but they can actually fly for hours and up to 400 kilometers at an elevation of 13,000 feet.

We drove back the 20 minutes and dropped off the guys at the parking lot. Andy’s guide gave each of us a coupon for free French fries with the purchase of a hamburger at one of the restaurants in town. He also gave me a coupon for a free beer with the purchase of a meal at another location. He couldn’t find one for Andy so Ty gave us a handful of coupons for another paragliding company that had discounts on the back. He said not to use the paragliding company though, which we didn’t plan to do anyway.

We got back to town and then walked back to the car. We drove to the library to upload our paragliding videos immediately. In the morning we had parked in a 60 minute parking spot, but this one was only 30 minutes. When we got there a guy was walking around putting yellow highlighter marks on the tires of cars in the parking lot. He seemed like someone that might be checking time, but I’m not sure. We had wanted to stay at the library from 2:30 to 5, when it closed. Now it seemed like we would have to move after 30 minutes.

We uploaded our videos in about 45 minutes. During our wait I wrote a little bit in my journal to catch up. Andy did the same. I saw that internet options were available, but the few I checked needed a password. There was one that might have worked, but we needed to go.

We drove back to the gondola parking one more time, knowing it was free for 240 minutes. We had parked there a few times already that day and we kept walking by a little food stand. The same girl was sitting in there all day. She was probably wondering why we kept going by over and over. She must have sat in there for 8 hours doing nothing.

We walked back to the town center to do a little shopping and take pictures. We had seen a camera store so we went in there to look for tripods. They were nice, but way too expensive. We went into a souvenir store that said everything was made in New Zealand. The girl working inside talked to us for about 15 minutes about life in Queenstown and what we had been doing. She was from Canada and was on a working vacation. She had spent 17 months in Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand with her boyfriend. She said the minimum wage in Australia is $20. That’s pretty good. In New Zealand she said it was $13. She said they were renting a room from a hotel for $420 a week. Very expensive. Eventually a group of people came into the store so we let her get back to work and moved on.

We then walked down to the boat dock and took pictures with the mountains in the back. Some little kids were chasing geese and yelling at them. One little boy started running at them and then a little girl started pouting. I think she wanted to chase them, but the boy scared them off. Then the birds stopped so the girl ran at them yelling. Two slightly older boys came running in from the side yelling “die birds, die!“ There was also a group of Chinese or Japanese people walking around.

We took a few pictures and then went into a few more souvenir shops. They sold some really neat things, but all way too expensive. There were neat carvings that I may end up getting at another location later in the trip, hopefully for cheaper. One of them was run by Chinese people and had everything you could imagine, none of it really looked like souvenirs though. They did have shot glasses, including one I had bought the day before for $8.50 NZD, they were selling for $6.70 NZD. I guess I should have waited and not bought something at the gondola gift shop. Usually those places are more expensive. I still haven’t seen the other shot glass I bought from the gondola gift shop, so that was a good buy.

We went down further on another part of the dock and took a few more pictures. A girl asked if I would take a picture of her in front of the mountains so I did. The picture seemed pretty good. We continued walking down the road trying to find a souvenir shop we had seen driving in before. We passed a few casinos on the way and I was tempted to go gamble to make all the money back I had spent today.

We got to the souvenir shop and looked around for about 30 minutes or more. They had an assortment of things. Mostly clothes that were way overpriced. They looked really cool, but were more than $150. Not my type of souvenir. They had a shirt with a map of New Zealand on it that said “Been There” that I liked, but it was $30. I decided I would just make one myself for a lot cheaper.

We keep finding a Lord of the Rings book at most places that talks about the sites in New Zealand where the movie was filmed. It would have been good to buy it before we came so we could know where things were because in New Zealand it costs about $45. Amazon probably sells it for $10.

We left there and walked down the main street looking for a restaurant called Fergburgers. We had walked by it before and saw they had huge hamburgers. We had planned to go to Devil Burgers because we had the free coupon, but the girl from Canada at the gift shop earlier said Fergburger was really good and that people come from all over the world to eat there. We decided we would go there based on her advice.

The restaurant is very small. It has two tables for eating outside, and two tables and two bars for eating inside. It is very popular though. We got there when the line wasn’t too long, but after we ordered a lot of people started showing up. I was hoping people at a table would hurry up and eat so I could sit down when my food was ready.

I ordered a regular Fergburger. It was $11 NZD. Andy got the same, but with cheese. His was $12 NZD. I don’t usually taste cheese on burgers so I didn’t think it was worth the extra money. As we waited a girl at the bar finished eating so we sat down. They had one guy taking orders, 4 guys cooking and decorating the burgers, and one guy standing around doing nothing.

It took about 15 minutes at least for our food to get done. They give you a ticket and a number and call it out when yours is ready. They kept calling out numbers, but the people weren’t coming and getting their food. Eventually they called out my number, 71, and Andy’s 72. The burgers are huge. We took pictures of them. Probably a bun that is 6 inches across and with everything on top the burger is about 5 inches high.
We didn’t eat any lunch so I was starving. The best part was that it had aioli sauce on it which was really good. It also included lettuce, mayonnaise, tomato, and pickle relish sauce. The bun was really good though and so was the meat. I wasn’t full from the burger, but it was enough. I considered buying fries, but they were $4.50 NZD and I figured I could just go to McDonald’s and get a small fry for $1 NZD.

We finished eating and then walked back to the car. It wasn’t really cold, but it was cold enough to see my breath. It seemed like it was going to be another ok night for sleeping. As we walked to the car I thought of ways I could make shirts showing the countries I have been and putting the words “Been There” on them. I was thinking I could do one for each trip, and maybe put major cities, or a line representing a route. The idea is still in the works.

We drove back to our campground kind of slow since it was dark and the roads can be icy. Back at the camp a few campers had shown up. We hadn’t paid for the night yet so we stopped to pay the $14 NZD fee for the night. At the site we sat in the car and wrote some more in our journals.

I ended up going in the tent around 9 PM or so. It was a late night and an expensive day. We went out to eat twice, bought a few souvenir videos of our adventures, and paid a lot for our activities. It was really fun though. We hope to do a few hikes around our campsite tomorrow if the weather is clear.

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