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Going Wild in South Island, New Zealand


Tripoto.com
Duration: 11 Days
Expenditure $ 3000
Have you ever been crazy enough about a spot that you’d let an airline shave your head so you could have a free flight?  I am.  That’s why I let Air New Zealand shave my head in October 2008, along with 34 other “cranial billboards” in Los Angeles.

 

Although I had attended the competition to blog about it, after I saw a few women signing up, I threw my head into the ring.  The advertising agency seemed eager to shave some female heads. Since I primarily contribute to the travel sections of major American newspapers, I thought the free flight would still allow me to report on my trip because the contest was open to the general public.
 
I was one of the 35 skulls selected to sport a henna tattoo that read: “Need a change? Head down to New Zealand.” They were promoting new nonstop flights from LAX to Auckland, and Air New Zealand tends to create very unique advertising campaigns to promote its uniqueness.

 

Believe it or not, many complimented me on my well-shaped, dent-free skull.  (Of course, it’s possible they believed I was nuts and pitied me.  I certainly gained empathy for bald men in winter.)  I participated for three reasons:
  1. Despite a miserable experience sharing a campervan with one friend and two strangers on a seven day exploration of South Island, I fell hard for Queenstown and Christchurch.  I learned that New Zealand is a fabulous destination, and to never live in a campervan when you don’t know everyone with whom you’ll be sharing intimate quarters.  I hit it off with Gigi’s best friend from high school but despised her friend Joanne.  (We were like oil and water, and she detested me in equal measure.) Despite that, I fell hard for Queenstown and New Zealand.
  2. I thought by trading my hair for a ticket I could write about my adventure for the Los Angeles Times, but when I got home my editor said: “You advertised for an airline on the back of your skull.  At the very least, it’s the semblance of a conflict.
  3. I was curious about my hair color actually was, after many years of lightening it to be blonder.

That’s why my hair is so short in pictures in my guide from bungy jumping with AJ Hackett at the Ledge and Kawarau Bridge and jumping over another river with Shotover Canyon Swing.

 

When I arrived in Queenstownin Feb. 2009, I had just turned 50 and had about an inch of hair.  This trip was focused on pushing limits, and I quickly learned that I’m an adrenaline junkie.  Whether I was tandem skydiving with NZSkydive over Glenorchy, bungy jumping or canyon swinging, ten seconds of total terror were well worth the adrenaline rush I got after realizing: “I’m alive!  Woo-hoo! Kia ora!”  Whether you’re 18 or 60, Queenstown can put you in touch with a dormant or active wild side.

If you would rather cruise through a fiord in Fiordland National Park, Real Journeys or Air Milford depart from Queenstown.  Whether you’re seeing Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound by ship or airplane, you’ll come home with spectacular images engraved in your heart. 

South Island offers a wide range of adventures that don’t require having your ankles bound before you walk the plank off a bridge.  Whether you want to hike a glacier (Fox Glacier or Franz Josef), see little penguins or learn more about the history of beer, South Island has it all. 

By going wild on New Zealand’s South Island, I’ve learned a lot about myself, fiords, penguins and beer.  On my next visit, I can’t wait to learn even more.  I still need to take a hike, a long bike ride and taste a lot of wine.

This town should be on everyone's bucket list, even if you want to stay indoors and just get a spa treatment at the Sofitel or taste wine at Amistead Winery. And if you thrive on adventure, Queenstown is the place for bungy jumping, tandem skydiving, white water rafting, jetboating as well as hiking options (that I have yet to explore).
Photos of Queenstown, Otago, New Zealand 1/4 by Terry Gardner
Photos of Queenstown, Otago, New Zealand 2/4 by Terry Gardner
Photos of Queenstown, Otago, New Zealand 3/4 by Terry Gardner
Photos of Queenstown, Otago, New Zealand 4/4 by Terry Gardner
If only I could afford my taste. The Sofitel is heavenly. I spent one night and I loved it. The accommodations were so spectacular that I came back for a hot stone massage after I moved to a less expensive lodging. The Spa is first rate too.
Photos of Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa, Duke Street, Queenstown, New Zealand 1/4 by Terry Gardner
Photos of Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa, Duke Street, Queenstown, New Zealand 2/4 by Terry Gardner
Photos of Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa, Duke Street, Queenstown, New Zealand 3/4 by Terry Gardner
Photos of Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa, Duke Street, Queenstown, New Zealand 4/4 by Terry Gardner
I wish I had some pictures of my white water rafting adventures, but I didn't want to worry about having a camera on me. The scariest part about the rafting isn't the rapids, it's the ride to get to the rapids. The bus winds up and down this narrow road with hairpin turns. One guy got so nervous on the ride there that he started having an asthma attack and decided he couldn't go rafting on the Shotover River. He wanted to be driven back. They tried to tell him that he might be less nervous going down the rapids than experiencing the trip back on the bus. As I recall the rapids are mostly level 2 and 3, with maybe one level 4 if the water is high.
Photos of Queenstown Rafting, Queenstown, Otago, New Zealand 1/3 by Terry Gardner
Photos of Queenstown Rafting, Queenstown, Otago, New Zealand 2/3 by Terry Gardner
Photos of Queenstown Rafting, Queenstown, Otago, New Zealand 3/3 by Terry Gardner
I didn't know I was an adrenaline junky until I experienced bungy jumping with AJ Hackett at the original Kawarau Bridge location. I loved it so much that I also jumped off The Ledge. But Nevis Arc seemed a bit too high to me.
Photos of AJ Hackett Bungy Queenstown, Queenstown, New Zealand 1/2 by Terry Gardner
Photos of AJ Hackett Bungy Queenstown, Queenstown, New Zealand 2/2 by Terry Gardner
Hank Sproul is a wonderful pilot, and his flight-see of Milford Sound is fantastic. I did the Fly/Cruise/Fly option where you fly from Queenstown to Milford Sound, then take a cruise through Milford Sound on a smaller vessel than Real Journeys uses, and a flight back. Flying over the glaciers is simply breathtaking. A flight see of Milford Sound and bungy jumping in Queenstown should both rank high on your list. And even if dangling from a bungy cord isn't your cup of tea, a flight with Air Milford is bound to please.
Photos of Air Milford 2000 Ltd, Tex Smith Lane, Queenstown, New Zealand 1/2 by Terry Gardner
Photos of Air Milford 2000 Ltd, Tex Smith Lane, Queenstown, New Zealand 2/2 by Terry Gardner
The Crowne Plaza is very comfy, and its rooms are more moderately priced than the super posh Sofitel. Its lower nightly price left me with enough cash to do a flight-see with Air Milford of Milford Sound and other activities.
Photos of Crowne Plaza Queenstown, Beach Street, Queenstown, New Zealand 1/2 by Terry Gardner
Photos of Crowne Plaza Queenstown, Beach Street, Queenstown, New Zealand 2/2 by Terry Gardner
This place was just a kick. You don cold weather gear and then literally step into their freezer for drinks. Drinking a frosty beverage surrounded by ice makes you feel a bit like you are inside the drink. It was cold, however, so I don't think my group lasted more than half an hour or so.
Photos of Minus 5 Ice Bar, Beach Street, Queenstown, New Zealand 1/2 by Terry Gardner
Photos of Minus 5 Ice Bar, Beach Street, Queenstown, New Zealand 2/2 by Terry Gardner
I can't believe I don't have a photo of my Fergberger. I've eaten there at least twice. I guess I've been too busy chowing down to bother with a photo. You will want to get some exercise before or after because it is a big burger, very filling, but oh, so good.
Photos of Fergburger, Queenstown, Otago, New Zealand 1/2 by Terry Gardner
Photos of Fergburger, Queenstown, Otago, New Zealand 2/2 by Terry Gardner
Dunedin is a great little town for wildlife watching along with a tour of Speight's Brewery. We stayed by the ocean in St. Clair.
Photos of Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand 1/1 by Terry Gardner
I went to Dunedin to see little penguins. I didn't expect to fall for a beer during my visit. I wish we could get Speights imported into the U.S. On a brewery tour, I learned that beer dates back to Babylon. Vikings enjoyed it, and so can you at the end of the tour when you can sample up to 6 brews.
Photos of Speights Brewery, Rattray Street, Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand 1/1 by Terry Gardner
Penguin Place is a private nature preserve in Dunedin that's dedicated to helping endangered yellow eyed and blue eyed penguins. Many areas are off limits to visitors, and the tour is conducted so that you can observe the penguins without disturbing them. I was in love with this place until I observed penguins in the wild the next day in the Catlins, and nothing beats actually watching wildlife in the wild rather than in the confines of a preserve.
Photos of Penguin Place, Pakihau Road, Dunedin, New Zealand 1/2 by Terry Gardner
Photos of Penguin Place, Pakihau Road, Dunedin, New Zealand 2/2 by Terry Gardner
I'm not sure why, but I hadn't expected Dunedin to have such an elegant resort. This is one of the best hotels I've experienced in New Zealand. They have a pillow menu, and although my allergy-free down pillow was pretty good the first night, I slept on a tempur pedic pillow the second night.
Photos of St Clair Beach Resort, Esplanade, Dunedin, New Zealand 1/2 by Terry Gardner
Photos of St Clair Beach Resort, Esplanade, Dunedin, New Zealand 2/2 by Terry Gardner
Doubtful Sound is the second largest of the 14 fiords in Fiordland, and is huge compared to Milford Sound. Doubtful's sights include waterfalls, sea lions and lush, green landscapes.
Photos of Doubtful Sound, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand 1/2 by Terry Gardner
Photos of Doubtful Sound, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand 2/2 by Terry Gardner
These guys are crazy. Since I had bungy jumped forward, they thought I should go off the Canyon Swing backward. Unlike bungy, where they tie your ankles, in the Canyon Swing, you're in a climbing type harness to keep you safe. Whereas the AJ Hackett folks tell you how safe bungy jumping is as they bind your ankles, these guys put the feat of God in you. Just when you think you're ready to go, they pull you back in. I asked if they wanted to know where I'd like to hit the water, because I'd told the AJ Hackett people I'd like to hit at boob level. They said: "Oh, you're supposed to stop about 100 feet above the water, so if you touch the water, something has gone horribly wrong." I immediately said: "I don't need to touch the water."
Photos of Shotover Canyon Swing, Shotover Street, Queenstown, Otago, New Zealand 1/1 by Terry Gardner
As much as I enjoyed seeing the little penguins at Penguin Place, nothing beats observing them in the wild. I could have spent the whole day here watching penguins (even though we only saw two).
Photos of Curio Bay, Curio Bay 9884, New Zealand 1/3 by Terry Gardner
Photos of Curio Bay, Curio Bay 9884, New Zealand 2/3 by Terry Gardner
Photos of Curio Bay, Curio Bay 9884, New Zealand 3/3 by Terry Gardner
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