Here in Dunedin my Dad works most days but luckily he managed to secure 2 weeks of holiday to spend some quality time with his visiting family (aww). I knew this would mean only one thing… ROAD TRIP! After um-ing and ah-ing about where to go we all came to a decision, loaded up the car and headed to Queenstown – the adventure capital of New Zealand!
The drive took about 4 hours but the time flew by as I spent most of it asleep on the back seats; waking up occasionally to admire the incredible views. The scenery here is spectacular – everywhere you look is a picture-perfect sight! Plus, the roads are mostly empty so it’s smooth cruising all the way.
We decided to stop mid-journey for a break in a small town called Alexandra. Once again, it was a beautiful sight to behold and we grabbed lunch in a cute café before soaking up some sun and continuing on our way.
Before we knew it, we’d arrived in Queenstown. First thing to note: the weather is a million times better there! The sun shines more often and the temperatures are a bit higher meaning that my shorts and vest tops were FINALLY permitted to make an appearance!
We checked into our hotel, Copthorne Lakefront, pretty much hassle free. I was lucky enough to bag my own room with a king size bed and a gorgeous view, plus it’s a 5 minute walk from the centre. What’s not to love? Okay, there was no wi-fi in the rooms but I think that was secretly a blessing; we needed a detox!
I decided to ‘Go Green’ while I was there, meaning that I bypassed on room service and the hotel allegedly donate the time they would spend cleaning my room to environmental projects. I learnt a very valuable lesson from this, which I will share with you now… Going green is something that everyone can partake in, even if you like squeaky clean rooms. It’s just about creating the ILLUSION of room service, which is actually as simple as making the bed and folding the end of the toilet roll into that triangular shape… you know? (I’m unsure why they do this but it makes me feel sophisticated) Typing this I’m beginning to realise that you guys care more about the city than you do about my hotel bathroom… I’ll move swiftly on.
So, Queenstown, what can I say? It’s genuinely one of the best places I have ever visited in my life. The vibe is electric. There’s something going on everywhere you look and there’s so much to do – it’s almost impossible to accomplish everything in a week (which we quickly discovered). I’ll be honest, it’s definitely catered to a younger audience and it’s ridiculously backpacker friendly but that’s not to say families and older groups can’t have a blast here. We found out that there were 8 year olds and 80 year olds skydiving and white water rafting there just a few weeks ago! That leads me on to my next point – it’s adventurous. Every single crazy activity that you can think of exists there; it’s a 24/7 adrenaline rush, which I welcomed, with open arms. My parents, however, struggled to find things to suit their level of fitness, so definitely take this into account if you’re planning a trip.
I hope that I’ll be able to move there one day, even if it’s just for a year or so, because the lifestyle is everything that I love in the world. Skiing in the winter, watersports in the summer, friendly people, incredible landscapes, great food, SO much to do and it still somehow maintains that relaxed, laid back traveller vibe. After speaking to a few people, the prospect of me working there doesn’t actually seem that impossible! The only thing stopping me would be if I changed my mind (highly likely because I fall in love with every city I travel to… oops). There are so many opportunities for young people in New Zealand, so let’s wait and see what happens shall we? Queenstown, please wait for me!
Right, you’re clued up on the area so here’s the best bit: a breakdown of all the cool stuff I’ve been up to over the last few days. I’ll try and keep it short and sweet for you, but we all know I like to ramble so I can’t make any promises… Ah, let’s face it, it’s not going to be short. Here goes!
- SENSORY MAZE
We did this on a whim during our very first few hours in Queenstown. It’s hard to know what it is before you actually do it because there’s just a few flashing lights and a sign that says ‘Odyssey: Sensory Maze’. Me and my Mom decided to risk it whilst my Dad opted out… Who made the right decision????
We girls did. Obviously.
It turned out to be great fun and apparently they don’t like to tell people what’s inside it beforehand so I’ll try not to give away too much. It’s a series of rooms with obstacles to overcome or tasks to complete before being able to move on through a one-way door (once you leave a room you can’t get back into it). There was one point where my Mom panicked about her claustrophobia – let’s just say there were a lot of exercise balls and some bungee string… I genuinely didn’t think we would be able to go any further but after some teamwork we made it. Not only is it fun but it’s a great activity for groups to support each other through. That said, my Mom did let the ‘teamwork’ aspect down when we opened the door into a pitch black dark room and she didn’t want to go in before she knew what happened in there so she pushed me inside and shut the door, leaving me to report back – so kind! I think there’s a few different sensory mazes around the world – So go ahead and try it for yourself!
- ICE BAR
Our tour company, ‘Happy Travels’, gave us free entry to an ice bar so we thought we’d give it a try. I’d never been to one before and have always wanted to try it but I thought it would be an experience I shared with my university friends not my two sober parents… For this exact reason, I was apprehensive about going but we settled on a pre-dinner visit and everything turned out great. We had the entire bar to ourselves and it was so much fun. I even managed to get my Dad on the rum and we celebrated with some good old ‘Polar beers’. There was a dress up booth, tons of sculptures and themed rooms, ice hockey and at the end you could smash your cups (made entirely of ice) on the walls – super awesome touch. Cheers, Below Zero!
- FEAR FACTORY
Now forget any skydive, shark dive or bungee jump… I’m pretty convinced that THIS is the scariest thing you can do in New Zealand. I love the horror genre and I’d heard great things about this particular haunted house so I begged my parents to come with me. Of course they both said no and I was disappointed because I was 100% sure that there was no way I’d be able to face it alone. Eventually after a few days of persuading, my Mom agreed to join me. We climbed some stairs and edged our way towards the booking desk when an air cannon went off next to us and my Mom screamed the place down. Seeing as we hadn’t even entered the maze at this point I was seriously questioning whether it was a sensible idea. The girl at the desk said ‘Can I just ask your age there Sweetie pie?’ to me as there is an over 15 rule. I said ‘20’ and she was shocked and slightly embarrassed. Sigh. This happens to me on a daily basis here; I am not kidding.
Moving on… the rules of the haunted house mean that you can only enter with people you know, so it’s not like other places where you walk round in a long line holding onto strangers. This is mainly because if you scream the safe word (CHICKEN) then the whole group has to leave, which would be unfair if you were with people you didn’t know. So it was just me and Momma Manjunath braving the maze alone. One person in every group has to fill in a questionnaire at the beginning, so I just quickly clicked some buttons and we opened the first door.
It’s shit scary. No lie. I’m a huge fan of scare mazes and haunted houses so I was convinced I could hack this one no problem, but it was new levels of creepy. I went first and my Mom clung onto me – I couldn’t see a thing I just had to feel around the walls for an exit. There were people stroking our faces and legs and grabbing onto us, doors slamming, lights flashing, sudden jumps, prolonged periods where we had no idea where we were and where to go, electric shocks (We were cornered at one point and every single wall was live meaning everything I touched shocked me… eek!) and so much more. There was one point where we had to crawl through a tunnel in the dark and, at the end, there was a giant spider – it was only then that I put 2 and 2 together and realised that they catered the experience depending on which fear you chose on the questionnaire. I’m petrified of the 8 legged fiends so I clicked the spider option without hesitation just assuming it was for research purposes. We had to run through cobwebs and face insect-like tickles…. Oh, how I wish I’d picked another option. That said, the guy behind us picked clowns and was followed the entire way around by a murderous Ronald McDonald so I don’t think there’s a safe choice. All I know is that you CANNOT be prepared for this kind of fear and you run out of the holy exit door after about 45 minutes sweating buckets and trying to slow your heart rate down before your body implodes. Good work Fear Factory, good work!
- GONDOLA AND LUGE
This was easily one of my favourite days. The weather was SO good, boiling hot and tons of sunshine, making it the perfect day to be at the top of a mountain. We took a gondola from the city to the lookout and the journey was really relaxing and scenic. We spent some time on the balconies watching the bungee jumpers and admiring the views before taking another chairlift right to the VERY top. This is where the fun began as we were introduced to the world of LUGING! Now, luge is a word that I believe can only be shouted enthusiastically (LUGE! Go on try it…) so I screamed it approximately 7 times per minute (I’m starting to realise now why people think I’m 15 instead of 20). I then took my appreciation of the word to a new level and annoyed my parents by singing any song that I could fit the word luge into. My personal favourites: luge glorious luge, lugin’ 9 til 5, some of them want to luge you, some of them want to be luged by you… I’ll stop before I start to annoy you too. I should probably explain the concept to those who are unfamiliar with this activity. It’s essentially go-karting downhill where you pull a lever left and right to turn and back to brake. Super easy but you still have to have a luge instructor on your first go (Potential future job? I think so.) There are two 800m tracks to choose from, a scenic route and an extreme route, and we had 5 turns each so it kept us occupied for quite a while! Of course, I ended up going too fast and accumulated some serious airtime when going over a bump causing some onlookers to scream ‘GURLLL SLOW THE HELL DOWN’. I had faith in my luging ability though (and in my trusty helmet) so I carried on. I’d say it was great family fun and a must do in Queenstown.
- SKIPPERS CANYON JET
My parents wanted to do something adventurous that didn’t require much physical ability so we settled on jet boating because you can just sit back and enjoy the ride (whilst also holding on for dear life). The trip began with transportation to the canyon along the 10th scariest road in the world! We were ridiculously close to the edge and the drop below was terrifying. Combined with a lot of twisting and turning around sharp corners and narrow squeezes through rock faces, this was an adventure in itself! Along the way we also saw some famous Lord of the Rings sights like the gates of Mordor (I don’t know what this means as I’m not a fan but I thought you guys might be interested). When we arrived we were given life jackets and introduced to our driver. The jet boat ride was really cool – we span around, bounced over the water and narrowly dodged rocks and cliffs. We even got absolutely soaked at one point by a speedboat coming the opposite way! The parentals loved this and I had a great time too so it was an all round thumbs up 👍. On the way back we even saw the old bungee bridge, which closed in 1994 as it was no longer safe… The views were breathtaking though, yet again. I swear there isn’t a single part of this country that isn’t beautiful!
- SEGWAY TOUR
In case any of you aren’t familiar with Segways then they are a ‘self balancing human transporter’ that you control by placing your weight forwards or backwards and moving the frame left or right. They’re said to be super safe and practically impossible to fall off – so naturally, I found myself lying in the middle of the road with the Segway on top of me within the first 2 minutes of the trip…
Now, this wasn’t actually my first Segway ride. I’ve done it before and I thought I was pretty good at it, so considering I was the ‘expert’ of our group (a.k.a the only one that wasn’t a first timer) it was pretty embarrassing when I fell off. Although anyone that knows me probably won’t be surprised, as I’m now so familiar with falling and injuries that it’s on the skills section of my CV.
I soon learnt that these particular Segways had speed inhibitors. Mine was set to ‘turtle’ which meant that I couldn’t go above 9km per hour without the Segway locking up and throwing me off – which is exactly what happened – luckily the cars swerved around me… It’s true that there’s barely any traffic on the roads in New Zealand but Queenstown during high season definitely had enough cars on the roads to make you consider not lying in the middle of it.
I wasn’t injured at all (thank you God/science/sheer luck) so I was able to hop straight back on my Segway and the tour began. We headed along the bay area and saw some incredible scenery. It was also a lot of fun because they kept boosting our speed levels (much to my satisfaction) so we could go as fast as we liked at one point. Minus my slight stumble it was a great activity and I’d recommend it to all! I even got a certificate to say that I’m officially a competent Segway rider and I don’t mean to brag and all but I’ve heard that employers value this kinda thing on the same level as a Bachelors degree…
We took a day trip to Wanaka, which is about an hour away from Queenstown. We had a tour booked but it was cancelled due to extreme wind, so instead we had our own adventure. We walked along the lakefront and ate at a local café, which made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside and for the first time in the history of ever the Manjunath family lasted a whole day without any arguments – Hoorah!
The best part about our mini trip was our visit to Puzzling World. We had no idea what it was but we stopped there because it looked interesting and there wasn’t much else to do – I’M SO GLAD WE DID! It’s a 2 part thing. First, you look around a gallery of illusions, where you can experience holograms, see clever tricks, pretend to be a giant or dwarf and explore a tilted room where gravity starts to pull you all over the place.
Afterwards, you head to the maze section. It’s all based outside and there are 2 challenges to choose from. You can either find all 4 corners in any order or find all 4 corners in a particular order that they give you. I decided to go for the harder challenge because I got cocky and thought that it couldn’t possibly be that difficult. Little did I know that the estimated time of completion for this tiny maze was 2 HOURS!! It didn’t take me long to understand how accurate that estimate was – it was near impossible to find the right way at times and me and my parents decided to split up to race and see who could do it first. After about 40 minutes of running around like a headless chicken, I bumped into my Mom who said that she’d found 3 out of 4 corners whilst I was still yet to find 1. Instantly, my competitive gene powered into overdrive and I ended up being the maze queen (this is not an official title sadly, just one I have bestowed upon myself) and found all 4 corners in order before my Mom and Dad had found their last one. My Dad actually told me to ‘shut up’ when I was still gloating about it 24 hours later…
- MINI GOLF
The one downside of Queenstown – rain brings everything to a halt! Trips don’t run, water sports and sky sports are affected, boats can’t sail, etc. etc. So with absolutely nothing to do we decided to go and play mini golf at Caddyshack and I don’t think we could have spent our time any better! It’s an 18 hole indoor course with insane moving objects and intricate designs – it so advanced, they even warn you beforehand that you can’t get a refund if you struggle to complete it! I lost by 1 point unfortunately, which I think was karma for all my ‘maze gloating’ but everyone gets a free lollipop at the end so I didn’t mind toooooo much.
- LORD OF THE RINGS TOUR
I have approximately zero knowledge of Lord of the Rings. I’ve never seen the films or read the books, so a scenic tour of the sets based in Queenstown wasn’t entirely my first choice of afternoon entertainment but for the sake of my parents I decided to tag along. Apparently, we visited important places that Legolas and Gandalf and all the gang had once stood and saw landscapes that shaped some of the key events in the films but my lack of interest meant that I spent more of my time looking forward to lunch than I did taking notes of the exact details. Long story short, if you’re a Tolkien fan then this is for you. If you’re not, then hey you get a really good sandwich and a hot chocolate half way through so it’s actually kind of worth it anyway.
YES…. This happened!!! I’ve saved the best until last.
I have to admit though, it wasn’t a smooth process to organise this jump and at the end of the week I was convinced that it wasn’t going to happen. This is how it went down:
On the first day, I mentioned to the tour company that I was interested in skydiving and somehow within 30 minutes I was on a bus to the airport with 5 other brave souls who, like me, quite fancied the idea of throwing themselves out of a plane.
We arrived at a place called Glenorchy Airfield where we signed waivers, watched a safety video and got suited and booted ready for take off. We were being sent up in 3 loads and of COURSE my name was called for the first jump so I waved goodbye to onlookers and began the ascent. After we reached 9000 feet the pilot said ‘The plane’s going down’. Stupidly I panicked and thought that he meant the plane was about to crash… What he ACTUALLY meant was that they’d been told to land because the winds were too strong. I really couldn’t complain though – I got a free scenic plane ride with a Portuguese man called Mario straddled around me! Life could definitely have been worse.
I rebooked my jump for the next day, only to have that one cancelled due to weather conditions too! Yep, you guessed it – this just kept happening. I’ve learnt now that just because it’s sunny and warm outside does not mean that the conditions are suitable for skydiving; even the slightest change in wind speed or direction affects EVERYTHING. There was one day, though, when we were sitting by the lake and noticed that the birds couldn’t even land because the wind kept throwing them backwards. At this point I felt relieved to be safely on the ground and not hurtling through the air.
The problem with the cancellations is that it gave me too much thinking time. I couldn’t believe I had been in an aeroplane WILLING to jump out… was I insane? I started to panic about every possible situation: What if I pass out? What if it triggers an unknown heart condition? What if I can’t breathe? What if the instructor dies mid air? What if the parachute doesn’t work? What if the straps come undone and I fall to my death? What if the plane crashes? What if I break my back when I land? … You get the gist.
Luckily for me though, we have an expert in the family… my Mom has skydived before and to make things even more impressive – she did it completely alone, no tandem! She was super quick to calm me down and convince me that it’s totally safe and a MUST do in life. So, I decided to go ahead and be brave. I also swapped to a company called N-Zone because their dropzone was located in an area where the weather was more stable and I thought there’d be a higher chance of me getting to jump.
The day arrived and I was introduced to my tandem master – Wesley. He was super serious but really cool and I definitely felt like I was in good hands. The best part about N-Zone is that you also get a personal photographer who jumps with you – mine was called Blair. He was so funny and kept my nerves down whilst filming every single second of the adventure – shout out to Blair!
The base itself is SICK. I never use that adjective but it’s the only one I think is appropriate to describe how cool the place is. Their planes are huge too, there’s enough room to fit about 25 people in them!
I’d drawn ‘I ❤ LIFE’ on my hands to get some good pictures beforehand but all the staff at the base had insisted that I wear my gloves for the dive as it was 7am in the morning and minus 10 degrees above cloud level. I was just about to put my gloves on when Wesley said ‘Don’t forget to show Blair your hands when we’re falling’. I took this as permission to go down with bare hands and although the photos were incredible I have never, in my life, been more convinced that my fingers were going to drop off…
The experience was INSANE. The bit where you’re dangling on the edge of the plane is the only genuinely terrifying bit (because 15,000 feet is overwhelmingly high) and suddenly your instincts are screaming at you to stay inside the perfectly good aircraft. Then, before you know it, you’re free falling at speeds of 200km per hour and life is sweet again. The free fall lasted about 70 seconds before my pal Wes deployed the canopy and then it’s just a gentle 10-15 minute ride to the ground (unless, like me, you ask if you can do some spins and stuff). When it was over, the first thing I wanted to do was go straight back up… I may have just discovered a VERY expensive new hobby.
A guy I met in Russia told me that he thinks skydiving is ridiculous and only idiots do it because it’s like ‘agreeing to kill yourself’. All I can say to him is that I felt safer in the sky strapped to Wesley than I do strapped into a seatbelt when my Dad is driving… I loved every second and I would urge anyone to try it. There is no better way to see the world.
I had vague traces of the permanent marker on my hands for hours afterwards and every time I looked down and saw the faint ‘I ❤ LIFE’ I couldn’t help but grin like an idiot and do a little dance in the street.
‘She loved life and it loved her right back’