|« Previous Report: Lake Tekapo||Next Report: Milford Sound »|
One of the fascinating aspects of travel is comparing perceptions of a place to reality. If you've never been then what images do you conjure up when you think of Queenstown on the South Island of New Zealand?
Formerly a gold rush town, today you could easily drop a bar of gold (worth $750 U.S.) into the pockets of the Queenstown locals among expensive hotels, shops and adventure sports. It's a busy, fast growing town but with a population of 11,000, it's really not that big. It reminds me of Banff, Canada: an upscale sports and party town in a gorgeous rural setting. Much of New Zealand is so rural that Queenstown is a welcome, albeit, abrupt return to modern life.
Our first stop was the information center; however, after getting out of the car and looking around, I realized many stores had "information" signs in their shop windows. We never saw an official information office, but information is a commodity on Queenstown's main street and everyone is willing to help you book a thrill-seeking adventure. The previous day we booked ourselves a good double room in one of Queenstown's many Backpacker hostels that overlook the lake.
Day 1: Queenstown to Glenorchy and back - 80 km: Half of the Remarkable Ride
There is a road that runs 90 km along the entire east side of Lake Wakatipu that is paradise for a road cyclist. As you bob and weave along the shoreline, the view of mountains on both sides of the lake is absolutely remarkable. (I could say beautiful or spectacular, but you probably think I've overused those words). Remarkable is more fitting anyway since there is a mountain range at the halfway point called "The Remarkables." The entire 90k shoreline on the west side of the lake is uninhabited. Other than the somewhat busy short stretch leading into Queenstown, at the midway point, this ride can appropriately be labeled The Remarkable Ride.
Click to Watch | Embed This Video
We cycled half of the Remarkable Ride on our first day and drove the bottom half on our way to Milford Sound, our next New Zealand report. Since we cycled north of Queenstown before dead-ending in Glenorchy, the self-proclaimed "Gateway to Paradise" we encountered little traffic on this 80k out and back ride. Glenorchy is also the starting town for the world famous (world top 10) 4-day hike ("tramp") along the Routeburn Track. We'll have photos and video from the last portion of the track in our upcoming Milford Sound report.
This ride starts at 1161ft or 354m elevation in Queenstown, never descends below that point (lake side) with many hills (several steep) hugging the shoreline along the way. We had paradisal clear weather for our ride which made the mountainous scenery more remarkable giving this ride a comfortable spot among our Top Ten.
Day 2 and 3: Rackpacking birthday ride to Wanaka and back 75 km x 2
Wanaka is a toned down version of Queenstown and a favorite retreat for those who want to get away from the "big city" hustle and bustle of Queenstown. We cycled there on Rebecca's birthday and stayed at the recommended Wanaka Bakpaka near the quiet shores of Lake Wanaka. The 70k route over Crown Range on Highway 4 was challenging with some good scenery. For the return ride, we hammered home down Highway #6 on the east side of the Pisa Range and along Lake Dunstan. Along the busy stretch leading back into Queenstown we stopped at AJ Hackett's Bungy Center.
Click to Watch | Embed This Video
A.J. Hackett is a New Zealand entrepreneur who parlayed his world infamous jumps off tall structures, like the Eiffel Tower in 1987, attached only to a super-stretchy elastic bungy cord into a global bungy jumping empire with it's roots in Queenstown.
At the Kawarau Bridge location, the first commercial bungy jumping site in the world, people were lined up paying $160 NZD ($122 U.S./ 84 Euro) for 15 seconds of adrenaline rush (t-shirt included; personalized DVD and photos extra). See the video (left).
It seems the entire town is dialed in to making your stay in Queenstown fun and exhilarating. A popular routine includes what I'll call the Queenstown's triathlon, consisting of bungie jumping, jetboating and hangliding. Jetboating is another adventure sport Queenstown has popularized.
If you like mountain biking than you'll really love this place and you should consider bringing a mountain bike with a set of knobbie and slick tires. There are many trails for a wide range of riders. While out walking one night we took a "shortcut" up one of the gnarely mountain bike tracks in the Queenstown hills that was so vertical we could barely climb it and I'll tell you, miss any of the banked corners on this section and you can kiss your holiday good-bye. Dana Farnsworth of Outdoor Travels had this to say about the local favorite Skippers Canyon track: "Big scenery, a scary mountain road and a downhill ride equal one great New Zealand ride!." You climb through former gold fields in the canyon, later made famous in the Lord of the Rings "Road to Middle Earth", to a Queenstown overlook with a literally remarkable view from the top. By the way, Glenorchy was also one of the many sites used in Lord of the Rings; however, one should not get to enticed by the New Zealand Lord of the Rings scenes since many of them were digitally enhanced often overlaying/adding multiple scenes together. Of course, we here at steephill.tv have given you the authentic product.
Just name your outdoor adventure sport and you'll find it here; you'll never be bored in Queenstown. — Steve, November 2nd 2007
The panoramic view from our Queenstown accommodations
The clean turquoise water of Lake Wakatipu
Wet your appetite or peak your interest?
The entire 40k ride to Glenorchy is along the water
The clarity of the mountains on the other side of the lake was stunning
A two-dimensional look at the steepness and a waterfall on our side of the lake
And there goes Helmut Headcam
Rebecca hammering the steep rollers
The west side of Lake Wakatipu is uninhabited for the entire 90k length of the lake
Close-up of a typical New Zealand sealed road... rough, but no potholes
Lake and mountain close-up
No respect for the dead
Taking the time to soak it all in
Steep hills everywhere
Lots of steep rollers hugging the coast
The crest of every roller has a great view
A look back at the shoreline hugging road
The road flattens out at the end of the lake
The view from the north end of Lake Wakatipu looking back at our road
We've officially reached paradise
Starting to bob and weave
Mt Turnball (el 1922 m)
Rebecca attacking on the biggest serpentine climb of the day
A wide-angle view of "The Devil's Staircase"
Steephill action footage ()
Putting the day into perspective
Beyond a shadow of a doubt... Queenstown took us to new heights
Later that night we drove up to the Coronet Peak ski resort
The view looking back toward the lake and Queenstown
The Remarkables from Coronet Peak at Sunset
Lens flare at sunset
Great weather again the next morning before rackpacking to Wanaka
Looking down on Crown Terrace where the second day's climbing started
Looking back while climbing Crown Range on Hwy 84
A different angle
A new day, a new climb and a fresh perspective
Breaking out the paper boy weave
Even an ordinary New Zealand view can look heavenly
The reward. it's now all downhill into Wanaka
Grassland hills on the other side of the range
The sun peaking through in Wanaka
Riding past what looks like a Lord of the Rings tree
A weeping willow on the shores of Lake Wanaka
Clams birthday dinner
Clearly, a great view
Lake Wanaka at sunset
Take 2 with typical New Zealand clouds
Another take of the Wanaka sunset
Snacking in the shelter of the 45th Parallel
A jetboating river just outside Queenstown on the return trip
A gorgeous view
... a gorgeous couple
Next on deck at the bungy jumping center
A leap of faith ()
Follow the scenic road along the south end of Lake Wakatipu
The paradisal view across the lake... something you never forget
Find the sliver of blue sky
Best viewed in person
Blue sky hole
Blue sky sandwich
The start or end of the remarkable 90K shore hugging road
I Wanaka back