Wednesday, March 1, 2006 - Wanaka to Queenstown,
Including Jet Boating

10:00 a.m. The wind howled all night long, and we awoke to a rainy morning. It's only an hour's drive to Queenstown, but the maids were hovering outside our room so we had to go. Purple Cow has a full kitchen, but we made instant coffee this morning from the tap water in our room. New Zealand doesn't use those pesky scald-guard settings we're so fond of in the U.S., so the water is plenty hot for coffee.

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Wanaka from Purple Cow

There are two roads between Wanaka and Queenstown. We opted for the more direct and more scenic route through Cardrona. Most people take the longer, duller route on Highway 6 because it's less curvy, but I took my Dramamine so we were good to go. The rain let up during the drive, allowing us to enjoy the lovely scenery and some wonderful rainbows, all but the pot of gold at the end!

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En route to Queenstown

By the time we reached Queenstown, it was pouring again. Thankfully, Aspen Lodge Backpackers had our room ready early, at 11:30, and let us check in as soon as we arrived. This is our best room yet! There was actually (drum roll, please) a king-sized bed!!! Also, big fluffy towels, soap, and a clock. Plus, there was a heater. This is the only place we stayed with either A/C or heat. Though still summer, it was pretty chilly, mid-50s Fahrenheit, and we turned the heat on immediately. Our room was attached to a few others in a building separate from the main part of the hostel, and we shared a kitchen within our building. Parking was right outside our door. Luxury. At NZ$75 a night, we got a lot of value in a touristy town like Queenstown. We stayed here for an almost unheard of (for us) two nights in a row.

The forecast for the next two days was bleak, and we hoped we wouldn't be trapped in our room for the duration of our vacation. I made sandwiches while Tom consulted the GPS. We had arrived at 4501.7171' south, an all-time low for us. By 1:30 we resolved to walk into town within an hour, rain or no rain.

2:00 p.m. It stopped raining -- Hooray! -- and we walked down the hill into town. Queenstown is a compact place of only 7,500 residents, so it doesn't take long to get around. The sun came out, and we went directly to the town pier and bought tickets for a 43-kilometer, one-hour jet boat ride with Kawarau Jet, the world's first jet boat operation.

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Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

The Kawarau Jet jet boat ride starts at the Queenstown pier, goes across Lake Wakatipu, up the Kawarau River, and a short way up the Shotover River. The Remarkables mountain range towers over it all. The jet boat is a New Zealand invention, conceived in Queenstown for whizzing across the shallow Shotover. A jet boat can travel at speeds up to 85 kilometers per hour in as little as four inches of water and can spin 360-degrees in its own length.

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Weather still a bit dodgy

Ian, our boat driver, did plenty of death-defying near-misses of rocky cliffs and spun loads of loopdiloops. It rained off and on during our ride. The rain was like tiny gravel hitting our faces, but we didn't care. It was still great fun! Highly recommended. Ponchos were provided, and the heated hand-rails were a nice touch.

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Ian on the jet boat

The jet boat trip included free admission to "Underwater World," Queenstown's underwater observatory, a not-so-impressive glimpse through dirty windows of the life under Lake Wakatipu. All we saw was big giant trout, lured to the vicinity by the fish feeder. Here they displayed our photos on the jet boat, naturally available for purchase and of course overpriced. This time we declined.

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Kawarau Jet jet boat

We walked over to check out the luge, but it was closed today because the track was too wet. So we made the most of the now sunny afternoon and took a drive to and around the famed Shotover Gorge.

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Shotover River

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Shotover Gorge

Back in Queenstown, we got recommendations for the best pizza in town and decided on Winnie's Gourmet Pizza Bar. We ordered a large half Luigi's Italian and half Mexican Fiesta pizza, and it was AWESOME! Our waitress was from Mississippi. New Zealand lets in a lot of foreign workers for the summer so they'll have enough help for tourist season. Winnie's has that same kind of ski-town ambience you find in the resort towns in Colorado. We might have hung out longer if not for the Lionel Richie music.

 

Continue to Day 18

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