I had a dream last night that I was in the audience for ‘Hamilton’ in London. I was so excited: all dressed up, fizzing with anticipation… and it was a massive, crushing disappointment. There was a stage at each end of the theatre, so half the action took place behind all of our backs and at one point, for some reason, we were instructed to start pouring gravy in our own and our neighbours’ laps. Plus the songs sucked. Dontcha just hate it when something you’ve built up to be the absolute dog’s turns out to be cack? Well, people, this is not the case with Queenstown.
Ever since we landed in New Zealand, there’s been one word on everyone’s lips: “You’re gonna love Queenstown”, “There’s heaps to do in Queenstown”, “They’ve got a bigger/better/higher/faster X in Queenstown”. It’s got a semi-mythical status here, especially amongst ‘youngsters’ (get Grandma here) and … it doesn’t disappoint. It helps obviously that we’re more than half ‘youngsters’ (five out of seven if you include Adam) because this is a backpackers’ paradise. If there’s something high enough, there’ll be a way to jump off it; something deep enough, a way to dive under it; something wet enough, a way to motor over it like a mentalist, doing the boating equivalent of wheelies and handbrake turns. Queenstown is a massive outdoor funhouse.
It’s the place that finally took the wuss out of me, wild-swimming wise: I’ve lived 5 minutes walk from Hampstead ponds for nearly a decade and I haven’t ‘broken the ice’ once in all that time. But Lake Wakatipu is moments from our hotel and (get the medals ready) I’ve jumped off the jetty twice a day since we arrived, into 9 degree water so clear and so cold it makes you thirsty just looking at it. We all have actually, although John got the shock of his life and cried quite hard (not that it stopped him doing it again, getting shocked again, crying again – he’s either brave or stupid).
I’m still a complete wuss when it comes to heights though. The girls and Adam signed up immediately for AJ Hackett’s (the ‘Home of Bungy’) Ledge Swing, which manages to combine extreme heights, freefall and nauseating pendulum swinging all in the same batshit package. Adam went first, got dangled over the abyss, got the countdown and unclipped himself from the rope securing him to the ledge like he’d done it a million times before. Alice was next, got dangled, then freaked out, followed by Jamie. They were so distressed, I cried. But it’s obviously not the first time someone’s thought a bit too hard about the lunatic position they’re in because they gave the girls a second chance, this time unwatched by moi… and they ACED it. And then did it again, immediately. Amazing.
Ed has also inherited the Knight daredevilry (turns out my chicken genes will die out with me) because he blagged himself upwards an extra two weeks of age to score a ride on the Hydro Attack boat, just him and the driver. It’s a special stunt speedboat/submarine in the shape of a shark that bombs around the lake, rolling, diving and shooting straight up out of the water for a good ten minutes. He LOVED it. Here he is doing ‘rock on’ fingers like his life depends on it:
Our hotel is half way from Queenstown to Glenorchy, where the bulk of the outdoor shots for Lord of the Rings were filmed. We saw it by chopper and had a picnic lunch on a hill overlooking the Dart river. The heli pilot morphed into an al fresco chef and his co-pilot made a most pleasing bus-boy and waiter. TRANSFORMERS!
Good job, Peter Jackson’s location scout by the way: the scenery doesn’t suck at all.
The beauty of being in a chopper is that you can do barmy things like landing on a tiny pebbly beach at the mouth of Milford Sound to collect greenstone:
And they’re also extremely useful for terrorising packs of basking seals. These guys were all the way down the coast from the nearest tourist spot and thought they were safe… until we arrived.
Great whites patrol the seas off this coast waiting for a fat wad of seal to chew on which partly explains the number of dead baby seals we saw: apparently the lovely, over-worked mummy seals get munched by the big slavering Jaws and then the cute widdle babies starve to death. Not for the first time, I’m glad we didn’t bring the boys: ‘rotting seal’ is a sensory experience for a PG12 audience only.
Finally, we spent a bizarre hour at Milford Sound, a place of impossible gorgeousness that’s filled with big ships, small tourists and medium-sized flies. We’re heading back there today for a longer look – it’s one of the most famous sights of South Island – so watch this space. The takeaway message from this post, friends, is that Queenstown rules: there’s no better place to chuck yourself off a mountain, or come up with a convincing way of politely declining to do so. I always find that GET LOST I’D RATHER STAB MYSELF IN THE HEAD works quite well.