NZ Day 3: Queenstown!

Ahh Queenstown.  It reminded me a lot of Interlaken, Switzerland, except less bucolic.  No cow bells, fondue, or half-timber houses, but just as strikingly beautiful.  We had a whole day free to choose from all the different crazy fun things to do around town.  It's the adventure capitol of NZ, where bungee jumping was started.  With all the dramatic natural landscape, you can do all kinds of adrenaline-fueled things, like dropping off a ledge of a canyon and swinging something like 1000 feet off the ground, or something insane.  I didn't choose any of these, nor did I even decide to do the crazy speed-jet thing that does 360's in the middle of a narrow canyon, inches away from the canyon walls.  Nope - I chose a horseback ride!  There really wasn't a tough decision for me- it had been YEARS since I'd even been on a horse, and the stable was in Lord of the Rings territory.  No brainer!  But, some of the others who chose this option were also doing something in the morning, so our ride would be after lunch. 

With the free morning, I decided to check out the gondola up to the top of the mountain overlooking the town.  A roomie & I headed the block or two over to the base of the gondola, where luckily there was not yet a line.  She considered walking up instead, as there is apparently a path, but I was having none of that.  Just from looking at the gondola (you couldn't see the top), I could tell it was pretty much straight up, like many of the mountains on the south island.  NZ doesn't seem to do gradual changes in landscape!  So up the steep gondola we went, and it seemed that each foot we rose, the views just got more and more impressive.  Up at the top, there was a nice complex with overviews, shops, and restaurants.  Um, can you say GORGEOUS??
This really doesn't even do it justice - I really wish I had a panoramic lens or something, it was unreal.  So, once we drug ourselves away from the views (it was really breezy up there), we checked out what else was up top.  Turns out there were a few trails (mountain bikers had started coming off the gondola in droves), and also a luge track.  Not ice luge, like in the olympics, but a paved curving track that you rode down in teeny little carts.  When a grown man went by us and let out an unexpected delighted squeal & laugh, there was no way I was not doing it.  My roomie didn't want to, but we ran into one of the young dudes on our bus, so the two of us excitedly forked over the cash and got helmeted up.  It was awesome!  I of course got scared, and wouldn't allow myself to go too quickly, so the 18-year old kid completely smoked me, but we had a great time. Plus, we got to ride a little old ski-lift back up to the top of the hill, and resisted the urge to buy more trips on the course or photos (thank goodness).  So, so fun though!
After the luge, I decided to head back down to town instead of tackling one of the trails, as I wanted to make sure I had time for lunch before my ride, and also I was in search of some internet.  Who knew that finding free &/or reliable internet would be harder in NZ than in Thailand??  Oof.  However, Starbucks is everywhere, and they'll give you 30 minutes free with any purchase, with is great.  However, instead of using that 30 minutes to call home or something, I found two of my other roomies and we gossiped and facebooked.  Oops. 

Anyway, after some mexican for lunch (YUM!), I met up with the others in my group for our short trip out to the stables!!  So, there were a couple of options to choose from:  a boring, walking ride that was right through Lord of the Rings locations (like the elvish forest), a more exciting ride through rivers where you'd have the chance to go a bit faster than walking, or third a mega hardcore gallop for 3 hours.  Everyone on my bus had decided (or been talked into) the middle option, especially as it was the best option for different levels of experience.  According to our experience levels, they assigned us our horses and I got a really sweet big bay named I think Ronnie or something.  Unlike many trail horses, these were really well taken care of, but they still have personalities and need to go in a certain order.  So once the utter beginners (including the two chinese girls from our bus!) had a little lesson, we were put in our order and headed out.  Unfortunately, most of the beginners didn't have the best english, so it was a little bit of a disaster once we got on the trails, with their horses stopping to eat, ect.  After crossing one river, which would be really the only one since everything was soo dry, we finally got to try out trotting.  Remembering how to post was funny, and we didn't get to go for long since there were so many beginners.  Luckily though, it was at this point that they split off the 5-6 of us who actually knew what we were doing from the beginngers, and we really got moving.  Cantering along a gorgeous valley, alongside what I think were the "Misty Mountains" from the movies was pretty fantastic.  Of course, my legs were absolute jello, which was embarrassing, but I wasn't alone.  Most of us hadn't ridden in quite some time, so we were all in the same situation.  We ended up being out on the horses for almost 2 & 1/2 hours, which was just awesome. 
 


 
 I seriously loved it so much, I was considering how nice it would be to move to Queenstown and work at the stables!  Of course, this didn't last long, but still- great afternoon.  After a shower, me and some roomies went out for a lovely dinner by the port.  Bonding over a bottle of wine - definitely what I'd been missing over the last several weeks!  :)

The next day would be a long drive over to Milford Sound - but little did I know that it would be one of the most impressive drives I've ever been a part of!