Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

There . . .

After approximately 36 hours of non-stop travel, we finally landed in Queenstown, the starting point of our New Zealand journey. Queenstown is a old-mining-turned-resort town nestled in the mountains of the South Island region of Otago. The Remarkables are the adjacent mountain range to Queenstown, and boy do they live up to their name—they truly are remarkable!

But the flight into Queenstown must be remarked upon before we go any further. What a flight! It is stunningly beautiful. I can see why New Zealand is called Aotearoa or “Land of the Long White Cloud” in Māori.

The Remarkables are the first thing you see out the plane window as you land in Queenstown. After the plane had taxied off the runway, the airline told us not to stop or take pictures on the tarmac, but the impression of walking out of that plane down the stairs will forever be etched on our memories. Bam! The Remarkables are right there in front of you in all their grandeur. And since we were arriving still in late winter, snow was still clinging to the peaks and lining crag and crevice, accentuating the jagged shapes of the peaks.

It took us some time to get our bearings after collecting our luggage off the carousel. We went outside for a few moments to snap some pictures before calling Britz to shuttle us over to their Queenstown office. The air was a bit chilly, but not bad.

A Peruvian woman named Rose picked us up in a passenger van with a trailer hitched to it. She put our luggage in the trailer, and we made a short drive down the road to the Britz headquarters. Our campervan was parked right out front. We were all a little bit surprised at how big it really was in real life, even though we knew it would be fairly big based on measuring the dimensions against the minivan at home. What did we get ourselves into? I think we were all still in a bit of a daze.

Another young woman named Chelsea helped us inside with all the paperwork for our rental. We didn’t spend more than an hour and half at Britz. It’s almost kind of funny how quickly they turn over the campervan to you to use. No experience driving on the left side of the road? Here’s a campervan. No experience driving on crazy New Zealand roads? Here’s a campervan.

We each made a few rounds around the Britz parking lot to practice driving the van. We discovered the rear-view mirror had a back-up camera and was a Gentex mirror–even Philip couldn’t escape work in New Zealand!

Our first real on-road experience was only 15 minutes, to the our first campground, Queenstown Creeksyde Holiday Park, but it was definitely a roller coaster ride. But we survived our first trek, albeit short, on the left-hand side to Queenstown Creeksyde Holiday Park, where we were assigned site 33 R.

Queenstown Skyline Gondola and Bob’s Peak

Weirdly, none of us were really all that tired yet, and we had read online that after making distant time zone jumps like this, it was best to stay awake and active during daylight hours and not to nap right away, to ward off jet lag. So we decided to set off toward the Skyline Gondola ride as soon as we had situated our campervan in our spot.

The gondola was not far from Queenstown Creeksyde. A primary school is actually next to the entrance. It’s sort of funny how on vacation you forget that ordinary life is going on for the locals–it winter here after all, and school is still in session. And it’s hard not to be a little jealous of the school children–how cool that they get to go to school in such an extraordinary location!

The ride up was quick. Jessica was a little nervous, but we had hardly been on the ground again after many hours up in the air, so it was understandable. But the view over Queenstown at the top was so worth it. The top of Bob’s Peak provides a spectacular panorama over Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and the adjacent Remarkables mountain range. It was hard to walk away from when we were done.

We proceeded to our short luge ride down that wound down the peak of the mountain (it doesn’t go all the way to the bottom–that would be a long, wild ride!). First we had to ride another gondola–actually more like a ski-lift to a higher point on the peak–to the beginning of the luge track. We had feared that it might be hard to control the luge carts, but quite the contrary. They were simple to operate, and the brake allowed you to take the sloping, winding path as easy or as fast as you wished. We totally could have done it two or three more times, after realizing how fun it was, but we since the daylight was waning and we wanted to save our money for souvenirs and other adventures ahead, we stopped in the gift shop instead where we picked up a kiwibird pillowcase and Queenstown magnet for Mom, NZ hat for Dad, and Philip got his requisite shot glasses.

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