It’s that time of year again… 🎅🎄✨ I’ll admit that Christmas in NZ is not the same as a cosy, wintery, northern hemisphere Christmas filled with late night shopping, carol singing and twinkling lights but it definitely has it’s perks. I mean, everyone loves the sunshine, right? Plus, it’s hard to complain when you’re spending the big day in the adrenaline capital of the world – Queenstown!
I first visited Queenstown 2 years ago. We stayed for a week and jam packed every day with activities from skydiving to segwaying, which you can read all about here. Unfortunately, this time, we only had 2 days to spare but, miraculously, we somehow still managed to do a ton of fun things.
We lodged at the Holiday Inn in Frankton (a 10-minute drive from Q’town). Although it’s not far away from the centre of the action, I wouldn’t really reccommend this location. If you don’t have a car then the walk into town takes about an hour and if you do have a car then you have to be prepared to pay for parking. Not ideal. Last time we stayed in a hotel just a 5/10 minute walk away from the centre and it proved to be a lot more convenient but obviously, at this time of year, there’s little availability at the best places. Not that it mattered to us in the end – we spent barely any time in the hotel! Here’s what we got up to…
The first thing we did, before checking into our rooms, was call into a travel company in Queenstown and book our activities. Given that it was the holidays, we weren’t 100% sure what would be available but it turned out that there were a few things to choose from. We ended up breaking the bank by deciding to do them all…
SKYLINE LUGE & GONDOLA
If you’ve read my previous Queenstown blog then this section will feel very familiar to you. If you haven’t, then I’ll fill you in quickly now…
The gondola takes you to the top of a mountain where there are restaurants, bike tracks, ziplines and something called the skyline luge. You basically just race downhill in tiny carts and it’s one of our favourite ‘family friendly’ things to do in Queenstown.
It’s pretty easy to get the hang of and you can choose how fast/slow you want to go and whether you take the scenic or the extreme track. We paid for 3 rides each but got an extra one because I was wearing a Santa onesie – Nice to see the Christmas spirit of giving in full swing!
As always, I went too fast and crashed into the side bumper so hard that I have a giant purple bruise on my leg. Probably a good thing that I can’t drive an actual car…
It’s a pretty expensive activity – mainly because the gondola ticket costs quite a bit but there are always offers where you can get luge rides and restaurant meals included in the price so it’s always worth checking out what the daily deal is.
I bought myself a Christmas present! Probably one of the most irresponsible things I’ve ever done seeing as I’m moving to the big city in January and need to buy furniture for my room/pay rent and bills (bungy jumps are NOT cheap!) but it was a ‘fuck it’ moment.
At the top of the gondola there is also an official AJ Hackett Bungy Jump called The Ledge. It is one of the 3 bungy jumps on offer in Queenstown and although it’s not the highest, it’s definitely the coolest. The harnesses are slightly different, which means you don’t have to do the traditional jump style. You can front flip off the ledge, run backwards, do a matrix jump or opt for the ‘pendulum’, like me.
The pendulum is basically where you stand with your back to the drop and your heels on the edge whilst one of the bungy masters holds on to you as you lean back into a horizontal-ish position. And then they let you go (without any notice) and voila!
I guess it wasn’t really a ‘jump’ and I can’t decide if it was scarier than running off the edge or not. One the one hand, running off takes guts and you have to force yourself to leap but on the other hand, being suspended over the edge without any control makes the experience last a lot longer and ramps up the adrenaline. I think everyone should try both and we can all make a collective decision…
Seeing as Christmas Eve was spent bungy jumping, I knew I’d have to step it up for the big day. The 25th is a public holiday and so I wasn’t expecting any activities to be running but it turns out that hang gliding and paragliding companies are still open for business! I know what you’re thinking – if it was irresponsible to buy a bungy jump with the little amount of money I had left then it would surely be irresponsible to pay for a hang glide too?! Whilst you are entirely correct in your reasoning, I’ll let you know right now that I still bought both.
Moment of silence for all the NZ dollars I lost that day…
It was worth it though. I mean, I usually spend Christmas indoors playing board games, so to be soaring through the skies above Queenstown was an incredible step up from that!
We flew from a place called Coronet Peak, which is actually a ski resort in the winter months. My tandem hang glider was called Kevin – he was super cool and kept me entertained the whole time. He mentioned that the flight would last about 20 minutes, gave me a quick safety briefing and, before I knew it, we were running off a mountain together.
Instead of soaring downwards, we ended up going upwards because we instantly got caught in a massive wind bubble thing (I’m aware there is a technical term for this but I can’t remember it, so therefore it has been renamed ‘massive wind bubble thing’). We went so high that the altitude monitor started to bleep – we were officially approaching airspace… Kevin was chuffed to have reached such a height but mentioned that they legally weren’t allowed to enter that zone (y’know, cause of crashing into aeroplanes and whatnot) ((😳)) and we’d have to push ourselves away from the air current.
We eventually dropped down into a safe height but the conditions were so good that we ended up staying in the air for a whole 35 minutes! That’s an extra 15 minutes than what I had paid for… crazy! When we landed, Kevin said ‘I’ve been a hang glide instructor for 12 years and I’ve flown more times than I can remember but I honestly think that was one of the best rides of my life’
How ridiculously cool is that? When your tandem master thinks it was good then it was definitely good. He even took the memory card from the GoPro and transferred the video we took to his own phone because he wanted to show off his airtime to his friends!
It’s crazy how much your experience comes down to luck. We were the 2nd hang gliders to take off and both Kevin and I and the 1st pair ended up having a pretty amazing ride. However, the 3rd and 4th pair ended up descending straight away and landed quite a while before us, despite taking off after us!
Thank you Santa for the ‘massive wind bubble thing’ – best Christmas present ever.
Whilst I was hang gliding, my parents drove to a place just outside of Queenstown called Arrowtown. I can’t really write much about it because I wasn’t actually there but they both gave it a thumbs up and said it was a cute town to walk around, so I’ll include some pictures that they took for anyone who thinks hand glides and bungy jumps are a little too far out of their comfort zones and would rather explore the sights instead. Apparently it’s like stepping back in time and, although there aren’t any specific activities to do there, it’s easy to pass an entire afternoon just wandering the streets.
With no presents to open, Christmas morning was spent wandering around the town before everyone else had woken up yet. It was actually quite nice to have the place to ourselves and appreciate the scenery before the masses of people flooded to the centre later in the day.
I went hand gliding, as you know, but before that we had lunch at a gorgeous lakeside restaurant and there was a VEGAN MENU! A 3 course vegan meal is so hard to come by, so I was pretty ecstatic. The portions were quite small and it was healthier than I would have liked it to have been (vegetables are fine but Christmas, to me, means carbs). If I was at home, I would have made sure to cook a mean nut roast with tons of potatoes, parsnips, gravy and vegan sausages galore but instead I had to settle for salad, roast peppers, rice, lentils and a chunk of chocolate brownie. One of the big positives was that, for the first time in a GAZILLION years, I didn’t feel too full and groggy on Christmas day due to over eating! Bikini body = still intact.
Queenstown Christmases are pretty spectacular! There is such a big backpacker scene here and tons of seasonal holiday workers, which means the lakefront ‘beach’ is jam packed with people in santa hats, drinking beers and eating their Christmas lunch in dingy boats. Although the town was taken over by young people, there was still a family-friendly vibe to it all and despite the fact that people were drinking and partying throughout the day, it never got rowdy or messy! I don’t know how they do it here!
We loved soaking in the atmosphere by the lake. We made friends with every stranger in sight and shared the Christmas spirit with people from all around the world. It was pretty magical and way better than being cooped up inside falling asleep in front of the TV! We ended the day by watching the sunset and eating vegan pizza by the lake. WHAT. A. DAY.
When we left Queenstown, we stopped at Lake Wanaka before heading to our next destination. Once again, this was one of the places we visited last time we were here, so it was literally just a quick break to soak up the lake scenes and breathe in some fresh Wanaka air.
In other news, I dropped my phone on the floor and smashed the screen 😫
I’ve had an iPhone for.. well, forever and my boring, grey, plastic case had served me extremely well considering how clumsy I am. That was, until I came to NZ and thought; ‘It’s about time I bought a pretty case’. So, that’s exactly what I did. Turns out that pretty cases don’t do as good of a job when it comes to protection and now here I am squinting through the cracks on my screen just to see these words. It’s still fully functioning though, so praise God/Science for not having to buy a new one!
The reason why this is relevant is because I like to share my lowlights as well as my highlights on here (always keepin’ it real) but also because I think it was exactly what I needed to happen that day.
Ok, I know that sounds really strange. Having a broken screen isn’t something that anyone should wish for but the fact that it happened after such an amazing Christmas with my family made me realise that it was such a small inconvenience in the grand scheme of things. The fact that I even have a phone to break is a privilege in itself and I was reminded that this time of year can be really difficult for some people – people who don’t even have the basic necessities to live never mind people with broken gadgets. We are ever so lucky to be in a position where we can sweat the small stuff. We can shout about red wine stains on the carpet, cry after silly family arguments, feel miffed when we lose at Monopoly and look down in horror at a cracked phone screen and that is, in a weird way, quite an amazing thing. I’m feeling extra thankful this Christmas time… Ditching decorations and presents for experiences and adventures has been one of the best decisions the Manjunaths ever made.
Cheers to happiness, health and a beautiful life. And thanks, Queenstown, for the magic! ✨