We made a quick stop at Lake Tekapo on our drive to Queenstown which was our longest drive so far and a stop for meat pies (lunch). The South Island can be more difficult (and time-consuming) to drive with mountain passes just about everywhere. And one way bridges! Lake Tekapo is located in Mackenzie Country which is known for its fishing (due to glacier lakes) and star-gazing. We had some incredible views of Mt Cook on our drive to Queenstown.
We enjoyed a couple of adventure packed days in Queenstown before heading to Milford Sound. We stayed in Frankton which was just a few minutes away from the actual city. Queenstown reminded us of Breckenridge and we were glad to have a more relaxed pace in the evening. We had great views of Lake Wakatipu while we driving to Frankton. Our rental house had spectacular views of the Remarkables and we saw a live hedgehog one evening on the front lawn. Our son has become obsessed with hedgehogs over the last 6 months and was over the moon excited at spotting a live one; unfortunately we had seen quite a few as roadkill. Below are some views of our rental house (thanks bookabach) but sadly none of the hedgehog.
Of course, there were mandatory wine tastings in Central Otago. There are over 80 wineries in this area and I think we visited five or six! Pinot Noir is the top wine made in this area and luckily both Stephen and I enjoy this wine. We did manage to find some bubbles at Akarua Winery though.
Our daughter had been researching the options for bungy jumping as soon as she knew NZ was a stop for us. She decided that AJ Hackett was the place to jump. Afterall, AJ Hackett invented the bungy jump! And soon her brother was on board also. Stephen and I were on board with the kids jumping but had absolutely no desire ourselves. The weather was beautiful for the jump! AJ Hackett has a smooth running operation. We signed up for a time slot online and showed up. The kids were weighed and attended a safety briefing. We signed the release forms and off they went! We all walked to the Kawarua Bridge while we waited for their turns. E&S were so calm while waiting while my heart was pounding. And before you know it- they were off the platforms and jumping 43m! And both wanted a second jump!
The Shotover River was once one of the richest gold rivers in the world but today it serves as a playground for boat jetting. Shotover Jet was the first commercial jet boat operator in the world and the jet boat was another kiwi invention. A jetboat is propelled by a jet of water ejected from the back of the boat. It only needs a few inches of water and that makes for a thrilling ride in the shallow waters of Shotover River. The jetboats can be maneuvered very quickly and perform sharp, tight turns and sudden stops. It is a thrilling ride as you zigzag through the canyons barely missing collision after collision. And the signature 360 degree turns that are close enough to the rocky canyon walls that you could touch the sides! Phones and cameras weren’t allowed on board, so the pictures are pre-ride.
Queenstown Gondola and Luge
We took the Gondola to the top of Bob’s peak and had panoramic views of Queenstown. We offered E&S the option of hiking up the mountain and were handed a resounding NO. Then we headed off for some luging! There were two tracks available- fast and faster! There was a short chairlift to return you to the top for another luge down. We arrived at the Gondola towards the end of the afternoon and the crowds had already thinned for the day; so we had no waiting in lines. The luge is advertised as “once is never enough” and I have to agree with that statement!
We ended up at a beach in Kelvin Heights one afternoon. In theory, it should be only a couple of minutes from Frankton but road construction made it a slightly longer drive. We passed many impressive beach houses that rivaled Malibu homes. Kelvin Peninsula has several public beaches on Lake Wakatipu (NZ’s longest lake) and offers massive mountain views. We found a beach that was virtually empty and enjoyed a lazy afternoon. And the water was COLD but the sun was warm.
We left the kids at the rental house and headed just out-of-town to hike the Mt Crichton Loop on our last full day in Queenstown. It was a well maintained path that included native bush, rivers, waterfalls, and an old mining hut from the 1930’s (Sam Summers Hut). We passed a variety of trees: manuka, red beech, and mountain beech. The hike ends with a climb over a ridge for views of Lake Dispute. And we were back at the house before both kids were awake- parenting win.
LOTR filming spots in Queenstown
We didn’t participate in a formal LOTR tour of the area but there are several filming spots in the region. Unfortunately many are on private property and inaccessible. The Shotover River through Skippers Canyon is where Arwen summons the flood to wash away the Ring Wraiths. We did not travel to the exact location but we did experience the river and canyon on our jetboat ride. The Remarkables were featured several times and we took in those views over and over again. Kawarua Gorge (near the bunny jump) was used in Fellowship of the Rings as River Anduin. Stephen and I hiked in the area by Twelve Mile Delta where the “potato” scene was filmed.
A few last pictures from Queenstown…..and Milford Sound is our next stop.
A parting shot of Queenstown….