Saturday morning I completed my drive to Queenstown, the adrenaline junkies dream city, and also perhaps the most expensive city on the Southern Island. Located next to Lake Wakatipu, the sky is filled with paragliders, helicopters, and airplanes taking off from the local airport. I’m beginning to find most New Zealand activities to be out of my budget. Sure I’d love to skydive over a glacier or see a wild kiwi, but these things cost hundreds of dollars. At $99 NZD, kayaking will most likely be my most expensive activity. When I return home I’ll still be unemployed, this trip is coming completely out of my savings. Fortunately, New Zealand’s natural beauty can still be enjoyed for a low cost with a hiking/camping combo and a careful selection of activities.
The first thing I did when I arrived in Queenstown was take the hike up Queenstown Hill, which is definitely worth going up if you ever find yourself in the area. It was a quick hour and a half hike, but offered a 360 degree view of the city, lake, and surrounding areas. Afterwards, I met up with Kat, my roommate from Christchurch and we checked out the Kiwi Birdlife Park together. I might not be able to swing Stewart’s Island, but for $49 NZD I could see the Kiwis involved in this center’s hatch and release program. Once dominating the islands, the kiwi populations face similar threats of habitat loss and introduced predators that endagered species struggle with across the world. The program in Queenstown focuses on breeding and releasing the Kiwis back into the wild when they can fend for themselves and have a better chance of survival. They explained that baby Kiwis are large when they hatch and basically left alone by the parents. In addition to Kiwis, they had a number of other endagered birds unique to New Zealand and a few of a very special lizard, Tuatara. The Tuatara are the only remaining animals around from the age of the dinosaurs, and believed to live up to 100 years. They also did a fun conservation show introducing and explaining the threats to several different types of New Zealand bird that they flew over the audience’s heads, to the horror of Kat who’s afraid of birds. After a touch of souvenir shopping I made my way to Lake Hawea about an hour away where I would spend the next two nights.
The following day I woke up bright and early for the estimated 5 -7 hour hike up Mount Alfred, located an hour out of Queenstown. It started as steady switchbacks, before turning into a straight, uphill climb for the last 45 minutes. Unfortunately, you can no longer reach the summit because it’s on private land, but it’s still worth it for the workout. After heading back to the city for some more souvenir shopping, I made my way back to Wanaka and it’s famous tree. The willow tree standing in the middle of water is known worldwide as THAT wanaka tree. I hoped to catch it as the sun set, and I was definitely not the only person with that idea. The sunset was a bit of a letdown color wise, but I still got some nice pictures.