Friday, June 24, 2011

Flying Foxes and Fjords

Sunday, May 8 - Flying Foxes
South Island

Sunday was the day that I would be zipping from tree to tree with ZipTrek Ecotours, an eco-friendly zip-line (or flying fox, as the Kiwis call it) company with a set-up in Queenstown. Before I could do any zipping, however, we first had to make it to the top of the gondola line at the Skyline Complex that sits over the city.  It was a drizzly morning, but the view was still pretty amazing so high up.

In our gondola
Sheep having breakfast.
It doesn't look it, but this mountain side was steep!

The view of Queenstown from the Skyline.

And a good luck kiss before I went zipping.

Soon enough it was time to meet up with the guides for the flying fox at the first jumping platform a short walk down from the Skyline. As Chris isn't so fond of heights, I did this one without him, though not on my own. Along with three other flyers, I geared up and set out to take a ride through the treetops, expertly guided by Haley and Julia. Between the 2 Aussies, local Kiwi, American me and our Canadian guides, we were a diverse group, but you gotta love it when four different countries still equal just one language.
The first platform

Since ZipTrek is not just your typical adventure tour company, from platform to platform we learned about how they work to not only offer adventure tours without damaging the environment, but also how they use these tours to teach sustainability, minimizing our impact on our environment, and the benefits of community outreach.  Much of the money made from their tours goes to local charities and community projects, and even the platforms and lines between trees, once removed, will not cause irreparable damage to the forest.

The first line was scary only because it was the first, and a lovely Kiwi woman named Sonsoray stepped up to go first. (Forgive my phonetic spelling, it's such a beautiful name!) The feeling of flying among the trees through early morning, misty air was exhilarating and freeing.  Doing so while hanging upside down was a whole other experience! I took along our Flip Video camera to capture what I could - beware, wind and screaming may call for you to lower your volume. Upon further inspection, I opted not to include the video of me flying upside down, as there's the slightest chance some profanity made its way out of my mouth, and my mom reads this! (Yes, I'm a goody goody who wants to believe my parents don't know I know such words, let alone speak them.) But here is the one where I stepped off the platform backwards, arms out.

The first five lines were fun, not scary as they weren't steep.  Line number six, however, was another animal.  The sixth and final line of our tour was (and still is, I suspect) the steepest tree-to-tree zip-line in the world.  And I couldn't wait!  I wasn't able to record this one because of safety precautions.  Because the braking system is different for so steep a line, you can't have anything attached to you, like a camera, lest it get caught and royally screw up your chances of a safe landing in the event that the first brake fails. Lucky for us - and everyone else who's taken this tour - everyone made it safely to the final landing site, and from there we hiked down a bit further to the base of the gondola line to take off our gear and say goodbye. As I left my flying fox friends to meet up with Chris in town, I decided that though it was early in the trip, THIS would be my favorite part.

Chris and I met up down by the wharf, where we ran into a bunch of Wilsons on their way out to celebrate Mother's Day. Such great people, and a reminder to try to call home. We headed back toward the gondolas to lunch in one of Queentown's most loved, local eateries, Fergburger. When I tell you we had burgers, it is impossible for you to fully comprehend what we actually ate. Kiwis may make the best hamburgers in the world. Their menu had burgers with beef, venison, chicken, tofu, or lamb, topped with everything from streaky bacon, avocado, all kinds of cheese, curry, and vegetables.  These burgers had to be eaten partially wrapped in paper or it'd never make it to your mouth in one piece, so heavy and dripping with savory goodness were they. Fergburger started off as a shack and is now treated like a national treasure, in Queenstown at least. We felt honored to have been able to digest a little bit of that treasure.

Later in the afternoon was our ride on a jet boat on the Kawarau River.  Everyone put on their waterproof pants and jackets and loaded up for our hour long, high speed ride down the river, complete with 360 degree spins. If we were on a road and not a river, we'd have left some serious skid marks from the hard braking and spinning. It was a blast.

With nothing else booked and the need to chill for a bit, we took in a movie at a cute little theater in town  before meeting up with Kristin, Matt, and friends at a pub for drinks.  It was nice to kick back with friendly people over pints with a rugby game on, though we didn't make it too late of a night.  We had ot be up early for our tour of Milford Sound the next morning.

Monday, May 9 - Milford Sound 

Milford Sound is one of the best known and most visited areas in the Fjordland National Park on the South Island. We booked a tour with the BBQ Bus so we could sit back and enjoy the 5 hour ride there and back, which was great first thing in the morning when the fog gave us all good reason to nod off for a bit.  

Our driver and guide, Nick, told us stories from local lore, as well as the real stories of how several of New Zealand's animals came to the islands. Rabbits were introduced for hunting way back by the Brits, then when they did what rabbits do, the stoat was introduced to control the exploding rabbit population, a mean little cousin of the ferret.  Stoats were ideal because they can run, climb, swim, whatever to catch a bite to eat, and they eat almost anything.  Unfortunately, the stoats soon caught on that whereas rabbits ran very quickly, the native kiwi bird did not quite have speed on their side.  Kiwi birds are ground-dwelling birds with round bodies, that apparently are heaven on a plate to a stoat. It is due in large part to this that the kiwi has become an endangered species in NZ.

Something we saw a lot of on our way out to Milford were deer farms, something we didn't expect. Just as beef cattle are raised for their meat, and sheep raised for their wool (and lambs), deer here are raised in the same way. It was a little strange at first to pass by fenced in fields of adult deer with their antlers sawed off, but it made sense as venison is a popular meat choice in many places.

We made a stop in the town of Te Anau for some breakfast and a pick-up before we got to Milford. Before meeting Jamie from Fresno, Chris and I wandered down the road from where Nick parked the van to get a couple of pies from a tiny roadside shop.  Clearly all those deer farms had made us hungry, for we both went for a venison pie for breakfast. Yum. We have GOT to learn to make meat pies!

Along the way we made several stops to admire more of the area's unique characteristics, and it was nice to get out of the van and take a short walk here and there. Our stops allowed for short walks through forest to see a couple of lakes and a gorgeous chasm carved out by the rushing waters.

                           Mirror Lake

        The walk to Lake Gunn

The Chasm

One really great thing about visiting New Zealand in the late fall is that it's NOT tourist season, and every tour we went on reflected this in its low numbers of people.  It was nice.  Our group of five (all American) was joined only by two other groups on the cruise boat, so there was plenty of room and plenty of food at the nice little lunch buffet.  We found it a little odd that the food was mostly Asian, but hey, it was a good deal.

The day was mostly sunny and the water was beautiful.  The heavy low-hanging clouds lolled on the tops of mountains around us, but that just added to the beauty of it all. We saw one seal asleep on some rocks, got right up under a gorgeous waterfall, and I tried not to fall (more than once) on my rear when the boat tilted.

There's something about being out in the middle of something so enormous as this.  When the boat's engines were quieted, the only sounds came from birds and waterfalls.  The silence between is something beautiful, too, as there seems to be nothing but you and the air you breathe for a moment out on the water.  It's easy to forget that there are people around you and you start to wonder when you last heard silence so heavy and calm.

The drive back to Queenstown was as beautiful, as the fog had burned off in the afternoon sun and we could see the landscape around us. I'm drawn to water, be it sea or lake.  As I look over our pictures, it's apparent that the photos below are my favorite to take.

It was a full day and we were saturated by the amazing beauty of this place.  Until tomorrow then.

1 comment:

  1. Holy crap, man. Gorgeous. Lucky you! I hope I can see this someday. I LOVE the Milford047 picture. It caught my eye.
    And I'll do some zip-zip-zipping as well. Awesome.