The King of Queenstown

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

We arrived before Katie and the blue van by almost an hour, so Norm and I checked in and got everyone set up. I managed to finagle a room for just Chris, Brad, and myself, though Norm would soon join us the next day. I made some nachos and garlic bread for lunch and then Chris and I took a stroll into town to check it out and grab a few things – I’d left my toothbrush up at the top of a mountain, for example. Something I ate wasn’t agreeing or else extreme fatigue set in, but we came back up and I went to sleep and slept through dinner – which I had discovered after lunch was nachos anyway. Then Katie woke me up because we were having a group meeting to address the food issue. Which, really, is a non-issue and was basically a waste of time, and I was more than a little annoyed to have to listen to peoples’ gripes. Brown rice vs. white. Voting on meals. Groups deciding amongst themselves what to make. Pandemonium. It was a cacophony of voices talking over each other to say something worthless. But then again, maybe I was tired and annoyed at being awakened. Nothing came of the meeting except that we would use brown rice instead of white once in a while. The fascinating tale continues below.

I was feeling a bit better and we wound up going out that night. I didn’t drink really, but did have a great time. Rachel was out and got pretty wild, which was hilarious. Kristen also let loose a bit though she insisted she was only tipsy. Her and Chelsea had a splash fight in the fountain before running into the water and taking a little swim in their jeans. And then it was back home and to bed – we had a big day of bungy jumping ahead of us. The alarm was useless as I was up at least an hour early tossing and turning and thinking about throwing myself off a ledge. I don’t often get scared of these extreme sports because they are clearly designed to be safe and hundreds if not thousands of people do it every single day with no problem, but bungy was freaking the heck out of me. We got to the Kawarau Bridge, which incidentally was the first bungy jump in the world, and I almost felt sick I was so scared. Which I should probably not be writing, but it was terrifying. It probably didn’t help that I was taking photos and video of the others preparing to jump and sitting on the ledges and hesitating. Chelsea was the funniest, leaning back, holding on to the post, but eventually doing it. Lauren and Dustin went tandem as did Lana and Amanda.

Then it was my turn. I’m embarrassed to admit that I have the whole babyish ordeal on DVD, but as I stood on the ledge looking down and thinking that I was basically hoping a bunch of elastic bands wouldn’t snap and plunge me to my death, I froze. The guy lost patience with me, I think, saying, “What I need to know is if you want to do this or not. If you don’t, step back from the edge and we’ll get some other people going. If you do, then I’ll work with you and we’ll do it. So do you want to or not?” To which I answered, “No, I don’t, but I am definitely going to.” We argued about the speed of his countdown and methods of motivation. I really didn’t want to do it, but knew I had to. And so I did eventually go over the edge and bungy jump about 100 ft, being dunked to my waist. It was a huge adrenaline rush but so scary that it almost wasn’t enjoyable. I really regretted that I had signed up to do the thrillogy. I had done it (perhaps with a nudge) and I never wanted to do it again. It was far more scary than fun and the jump itself was really a blur that even the next day I don’t really remember. But I’d paid for two more jumps and I was going to do it.

We stopped for lunch at a place in town called Fergburger, which has all sorts of burgers, and they are delicious. Chelsea had the original Fergburger, I had the Sweet Bambi, and Anthony had a sweeter burger as well, with bacon (I remember the word swine in his burger name). My burger was great but a little too sweet (there was a thai plum chutney on it) for what I was after. The Fergburger had a nice beefy burgery taste and was probably my favourite of the three.

Then, off to Nevis, the second highest bungy jump in the world, jumping off a gondola suspended from a gondola over a gorge. I was a little more confident as I focused on the positive facts: hundreds of people do this everyday, this particular company has a 100% safety record (doesn’t that mean they’re due, a little voice in my head cried), I had done it once and it was just fine, etc, etc, etc. We went across to the suspended station in a little trolley car with an iron grate for a floor and it was pretty terrifying all over again. Straight down into a ravine 134 metres (440 ft) below. We got into the station and it was surrounded in glass, including a glass floor and some other fun. They were blaring heavy music which somehow helped relax me. I did this one without hesitation, knowing that if I didn’t go right away I would never go, and it was amazing and so much more fun than my first jump. After the first rush, it was actually really peaceful. Being yanked from the canyon bottom back into the air, floating for a few seconds and really looking around, hearing the water below, people cheering above, and the birds, and then falling again. THIS is bungy jumping. And I was so happy I had done multiple jumps at this point.

We had one more jump to do that afternoon, and it was from the ledge. We took the gondola up to the top of the city (about 400m above Queenstown) and from the ledge we had to run and jump into the abyss, which was what I had been wanting to do since hanggliding. Then we got talking about flips, and since I was last, I got to see where the bar was set. Katie started with one flip, Meridith made two, Dustin two and a half, and then my turn. I resolved to take everything I’d learned in my one diving class and few years in gym to beat Dustin and set the record for the day. Then I ran off the edge and jumped. 1…. 2…. 3…. and the cord tightened. It was a really fun jump and though I was a bit nervous this time, it didn’t compare at all to the bridge or Nevis in terror. I could see strapping up and doing that one again and again. I truly felt like the king of Queenstown. And I mostly added that line in so I would have a good title for this post.

We had dinner tonight which Albrie made, a chicken dumping soup and some vegetables which were good and needed. Some of the group had class, so I helped Katie and Norm finish the dishes while Lauren looked at my photos of bungy and the night prior. Then she kept going and went through old photos and started laughing at my high school pictures which drew attention, and then I went through a bunch of them with her and Katie, doubtless boring them to tears. Then Chris, Brad, and I went into town to have a quiet drink away from the girls. We were going to go to a lounge or quiet pub but instead picked up a six-pack and sat in the harbour drinking and relaxing. It was much needed separation.

The next morning, I had to be up early to do breakfast. Later today, we were heading out to do the luge high above Queenstown. We stopped first for another Fergburger and then Katie took Chris, Brad, Anthony, and myself to a couple vineyards a little ways out of town in the Gibson Valley. The first one also had a cheesery on site so we grabbed a platter of cheeses (my favourites were the bree and the blue cheese which was very mild and not much like what my dad enjoys, but tasty) and some wine and sat in the sun and peace. Quiet can be hard to come by, so this was very nice. Then we came back and did the luge five times. It’s actually a lot of fun and a really cool little track. Actually, two tracks. A slower scenic route and the high speed route. I actually did pretty well against the group if I may say so myself, and I also managed to get some video including Brad almost biting it when I had my camera on my back. Hopefully I’ll get some of these videos up soon.

Our wine group went for dinner at a place called Avanti which wasn’t really my pick but it was an outdoor cafĂ© and the food was decent even if the service was not. Then the group went back to watch a video for their class and that left Chris, Katie, and myself to do what we wanted. Chris, however, wanted to see this video as well so Katie and I went to a chocolate shop and picked up some 71% dark Belgian chocolate (mine with Macadamian nuts, her with almonds) and ice cream. It was a nice shop and quite delicious. Then we went to a neighbouring pub and watched a band play covers most of the night. They were great for a three piece though I wasn’t a huge fan of his vocal reworking, the guitars sounded great. The one guitarist had an E-Bow which gave a really sweet pedal steel sound for a few of the songs, and they both played mandolin as well.

Then, the next morning, our last full day in Queenstown, I was dragged out of bed early for a group meeting on Routeburn, our 3 day hike through the Alps. I got put in Norm’s group which puts me with Lauren Sanders, Katie Phillips, Albrie, Anthony, Alli, and Kristen. It will be interesting because it’s pretty much exclusively people I haven’t spent much time with. I guess after four days we’ll all hate or love each other. Then Anthony and I went riverboarding with Mad Dog on some category 3 and 4 rapids. Riverboarding, for those sane enough to not know what this means, is going through some white water rapids with nothing more than a flutterboard. And in case you’re wondering, there are 6 categories of white water, category 6 being something like Niagra Falls, 5 being a big fall like we did in our raft that would be very troublesome otherwise, and 4 being sheer insanity on anything smaller than a raft. And it was insanity.

We got going and it seemed relatively tame at first. We learned to barrel roll, duck dive through waves, catch a whirlpool (by far the easiest thing to do), and squirt. We took off and eventually came to a standing surf wave. I wasn’t able to surf it the first time and walked back upstream a ways to try again. Anthony, on the other hand, was a natural. The guy is in his element on the water. The second time I paddled hard and far as I could, getting tired just in time to catch the wave. I surfed it for about 5 seconds before the front of my board caught, so I was still physically exhausted when I was pulled from the wave and underwater through the rapids. It all happened quickly and when I surfaced I was amazed to see how far downstream I’d gone underwater – these are not your little sister’s rapids. I was also amazed to see one of the guides who had come to grab me and keep me from going too far right in my face as she ran over me just as I went to inhale a much-needed lungful of air. Back under her board I went, and I’ll admit I was a little scared and later miffed. But obviously I’m here and it wasn’t really that bad in retrospect.

Then we came to the category 4 section. 3 metre waves, holes, all sorts of crazy stuff. This was wildly intense but a lot of fun. I managed a barrel roll off the top of one of the taller waves and caught some air before plunging into the trough for the next big wave. This section alone was worth it. Then we went back to our hostel, making it just in time for a BBQ (thanks, Brad!) and I made my dad’s baked apples for dessert. The next group (PC3) was there and we took them out for a night on the town much as PC1 had taken us out. Katie Phillips brought us to a place that wasn’t very popular and the group somewhat fractured there. Leader Katie and a few others went to this other upstairs bar where they served minipitchers out of teapots. A pretty neat idea though I can only imagine the breakage. Chris and I got them out there and brought the two groups together at Altitude, which was a fun time. A great night to celebrate our beginning the most arduous of our adventures the next morning, the Routeburn…

Queenstown Photos

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