Be warned. the Ziptrek tour is only accessible via Gondola, for which you must pay the Gondola Company a 2-way ticket ) even though you’re only using the gondala 1-way). The Ziptrek Company along with the others sharing the site, are working hard to have this policy changed. But please don’t let that put you off or you’ll miss the thrill of a lifetime. Actually the trip up the gondola is very smooth. Here’s Michael…um.. enjoying the spectacular views (forgot about his fear of heights).
So what’s it all about? The Ziptrek Kea Tour involves 6 differently graded Flying Foxes plus a 20 min walk. I’m relieved that it’s broken down (poor choice of words folks) into 6 different flying foxes with varying speeds and lengths. Good intro to the longer and faster ones to come. The staircase beckons..gulp…I’m not mentally prepared despite the great orientation. The staff are young, fit and goodlooking. Tom, a cheerful Brit, helps me get the safety harness up pass my bum (don’t mind if Tom’s helping, right?).
..yeah, I know, it’s a bit of a forced smile. The first flying fox is the easiest, but the hardest in which to overcome your fear. Taking those last three steps off the platform is an act of faith - but I have no intention of looking back. I breathe deeply to accommodate the sudden rush of air into my lungs and suddenly I’m suspended in a moment of sheer joy. The valley echoes to my happy squeals.
Sometimes you get to bond really well in a small tour group and today we’re struck gold. It’s jokes all around and we encourage each other. The tour guides are loving it.We’re ziptreking with some lovely ladies from the USA with very strong southern accents. The word “hang” sounds like “hi-ang”. Like me, they were apprehrension at first but after the first experience, they’re hungry for more. One of them, a spritely 70-year old, accepts a challenge to “hi-ang” upsidedown all the way on this one:
About three-quarters of the way through, the guides give a brief chat about sustainability, keeping it short and to the point. It’s just enough information to retain and achieves a good balance to the tour. I Won’t forget the kindness of the wee Asian lady who helped one of our party down a steep part of the track. Nor will I forget the Americans who look forward to the response of their children and grandchildren when they see the photos on facebook. Look at how we laughed at our fears:
Recently, we took a 2-day break at Azur Lodge Queenstown, one of New Zealand’s top-end lodges. Michael and I were celebrating a significant wedding anniversary and needed a secluded hideaway. I was relieved to find the gated entrance to Azur so quickly without having to compromise my wedding vows. As we drove through a gentle winding private road to the lodge carpark, Gavin Swan, who helps to manage Azur, ran to meet us (well, more of a fast trot really). From that moment, every wish was granted – self-indulgence is encouraged here. There are 9 freestanding villas at Azur and this was ours for 2 nights -seventy five sqm of space – yay! :
The only down side of top-end lodges is they’re usually high tech. Gavin delivered a detailed orientation of our villa and this was deeply appreciated, given that fact that it took me 2 days to get acquainted with the lighting options. Thankfully, it only took 5 mins to sniff out the culinary treats. The trick is paying attention and not being distracted by the spectucular views. The villa’s guest compendium is practically a book, but first I needed to check out the bathroom, leaving the boss to contemplate the coming season:
Wow, the bathroom’s huge with ‘his’ and hers’ vanity. Now talking about bathrobes is kinda boring but the ones at Azur do require a special mention. They’re made of the most luxurious silky fabric which drapes the body down to the ankles. Michael wants to take a photo of me in the bath. I try to look as sexy as hell, only to be told that I’m looking as “pink as a wee pig.” That’s the last time I’ll play the tart for you Michael Nees!
Azur does NOT have a formal communal dinner surely that’s an advantage. Isn’t it better to have a choice? We can either eat out or have “in Villa Dining” Just consult that marvellous compendium where you’ll find a selection of menus from around 10 different recommended downtown Queenstown restaurants. Make a selection, Azur staff will place the order and deliver the dinner to your villa whenever you like. How cool is that! All food is transferred to Azur’s own gorgeous bone china before being delivered to your villa, where the staff will set the table, light the candles and pour the wine. Of course they draw the line at eating the food for you.
There’s an absence of ‘others’ here. Sure, you know there are other guests staying, but you don’t really get to see them unless you’re passing them at the carpark or along the driveway. No helicopters swooping down to drop off or collect guests and (big-sigh-of-relief), no small chat at breakfast if you don’t feel like it, cos you can have breakfast delivered to your villa. Azur Lodge is not a gilded cage nor does it have a famous executive chef (although the beautiful Maria would give them all a run for their money). It’s understated and styly with discreet staff and as much seclusion as you desire.
I didn’t expect to enjoy this tour. Like many of my generation, I’ve seen the whole ‘farm’ thing before. However, this is the first time I’ve been on the TSS Earnslaw, a beautifully restored steamboat leaving from Queenstown to Walter Peak Station. You’ll get gently serenaded by the pianist who you can just see behind Michael’s head- It’s a nice festive atmosphere and plenty of standard fare to eat onboard. Wonder if these two Asian visitors have placed bets on how quickly Michael can scoff down an egg sandwich?
While you’re on the TSS Earnslaw, have a browse over the engine room, it’ll make a great photo from the viewing platform and there’s also a separate viewing area for those interested in bygone days; photos of solemn people in big hats – hey life was hard in those days. The TSS Earnslaw docks at the Walter Peak Station wharf, where Lindsay and his dog Bess, are there to welcome us.
Our “Rural Host” (an absurd description in my opinon) is at the wharf to welcome us onto the Station. Lindsay is a ‘hard case’ kinda guy – lotsa laughs. He actually has some tourists believing that the spots on baby deers (bambi) can be bought for a price. He’s looks every inch the High Country farmer complete with oilskin hat and coat - love this guy to bits!
Ze grande walking tour of the farmyard begins! Lindsay bellows out a greeting to the animals who respond by racing towards us from all sides of their holding pens. Romney-Cross & Merino Sheep. very hairy and adorable Scottish Highlander cattle, Llamas etc. But for me, this magnificent rather bad-tempered Stag is my favourite. He’s currently looking for a female and I hope he finds her. We all get to feed the animals and shamefully I elbow a few kids out of the way to get my hand into the food tin first. Gee it’s nice to feel all these hungry mouths gently feeding from my hand (Michael had to get in line). Watch out for Bess the Huntaway farm dog, she’s an opportunist when there’s food around!
Lindsay’s banter is relentless. Although he provides interesting information, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction – be on ya guard for ‘porkies’. But the visitors are slowly catching on and we’re all beginning to laugh. It was hard work Lindsay, but you got there in the end. Big surprise await – we’re invited into the station’s beautiful old homestead for refreshments before the sheep demonstration begins. Yum! – divine cheese & onion scones still warm from the oven, scones and cinnamon buns with homemade jam and cream. Beautiful open fireplace. Now that’s a welcomed sight:
Time for Bess to show off. Folks you have to see this intelligent working dog in action – pure poetry as she leaps with one bound over the fence and disappears up a hill – no further prompting from Lindsay. After a minute or so we hear the frantic beat of hooves and in the horizon we see a small group of sheep being rounded up by Bess who keeps them in tight formation all the way. It only takes a bit of subtle body language from Lindsay for Bess to change her strategy.
Initially it’s a bit hard to see Bess, then suddenly she’s flying past us, obliviously to flashing cameras.
After more showing off, the sheep are penned and Bess is triumphant. Time for the shearing demonstration – great entertainment. Lindsay changes into overalls to prevent the lanolin from the sheep’s wool from getting on his clothes. He politiely invites a Romney sheep to come through the gate pen to be shorn. No big surprise when this proves to be ineffectual. Lindsay drags her out and she becomes as docile as a …lamb. The shearing begins:
This process is surprisingly quick and isn’t this magnificent pelt an awesome sight!
Now the bidding begins. Lindsay holds up a piece of sheep poo. “Let’s start the bidding at four dollars” he yells. He points to an unsuspecting woman in the front row and pretends to accept her non-existent bid. The dear lady looks embarrassed but her family think it’s hilarious. This’ll be a good one for the dinner party back home!
After the shearing we get to see the wool being spun in the shop next door. Wish I’d bought something here because in my humble opinion, you’ll be paying a lot more back in Queenstown. This tour is for everyone, especially those with kids. For a couple of hours, you don’t have to entertain your children. Leave this to Lindsay and his dog Bess, who incidentially has the last word!
“So where are you guys from”? asks Rod of a young couple boarding the Dart River Safari bus. “Australia” they reply. “Darn, thought we might sneak through without you lot”. Everyone laughs, including the Australians and that sets the tone for this fantastic 3-hour journey of discovery. Just 50 minutes from Queenstown is arguably the most beautiful area in New Zealand, Glenorchy. This is where The first part of the Dart River Safari tour begins with a one hour bus ride through Lord of the Rings Territory. With a little imagination, maybe I’ll come across Aragorn or a dishy elf or two…
I’m literally gobsmacked by the scenery here. I’m overpowered by it and I now understand why film crews from all around the world come here to make their award winning films and commercials. The film Narnia was shot here and in fact one of New Zealand’s famous daughters’, Jane Campion, will be commence her new film next week.
Rod stops the bus at the Arcadia Homestead and what a sad story this is ! The homestead was built by a idealistic young Englishman who leaving his Fiancee in the care of his father back in England (alarm bells are ringing). He was overwhelmed by the beauty of the area, built this beautiful home then sent a letter to his father requesting that his Fiancee be sent to join him in New Zealand. The father replied by return mail saying that he had married the son’s Fiancee who was effectively now his son’s stepmother. Cunning old fox!
The second part of this journey involves a short bushwalk to the Dart River Safari jet boat. Now a word of caution to visitors. On some outdoor tours on offer in New Zealand, there are NO toilets provided along the way, except the bush where you can discreetly disappear behind a bush. Most people are ok with this but if you have a peanut-sized bladder, be prepared to have a closer look at the plant life, ok.
We’ve enjoyed the bushwalk cos good old Rod is a seasoned performer and makes it interesting without drawing out for too long. He’s a funny guy and entertaining. We’re given fleecy-lined waterproof coats with zips and velcro to keep us warm. All abroad and we’ve off – well, not quite. Bill, our driver, requires audience participation. The gravel from the shallow water needs to be ejected before we get full acceleration. We all stand and lean forward in a half bow – lots of laughter all round.
The Hamilton Jet engine ejects the stones, we all sit down and now it’s hang on to your hats folks, let the adrenaline rush begin. We travel up and down the dart river and with Bill stopping in strategic places to explain a little of the area. This is a total ‘ buzz’. Our comfort has been provided by the heated rails to keep our hands toasty warm.
These are are some of the up front and personal views from the boat:
This tour is further enhanced by perfect weather and boy, we’ve been lucky today. Loved this tour and great value for money with a variety of experiences. Of course the scenery speaks for itself. After disembarking at the Glenorchy Wharf, we were driven by bus back to the depot just five minutes away. Boy, it’ll be sweet dreams tonight - Hopefully ‘Aragorn’ will feature in at least one them.
It’s often the guide that can turn a great tour into something truly special. I’m referring particularly to Keren, one of the tour guides from Appellation Wine Tours. Keren sparkled with personality thoughout this entire half-day trip. It seems that Appellation Wine Tours choose their driver-guides carefully – personality alone, is not enough. An extensive knowledge of the region and it’s exceptional wines, is essential. (hey don’t let this go to your head Keren!)
We started our tour through the Gibbston wine region stopping first at Peregrine Winery. Gotta love Peregrines distinctive architecture representing the wingspan of a Peregrine ( native falcon). Michael is the only male on the trip and he’s milking it for all it’s worth. One dear lady on the tour doesn’t care for alcohol and has never tasted Rieslings before. I’m getting concerned. Seriously folks, it’s not touching the sides. Believe me, Peregine’s rieslings have the power to seduce. Keren tactfully advises the procedure – sniff, swirl, taste and spit ( obviously the latter is optional but if you want to last the distance, it’s advisable to spit more than swallow). Isn’t Michael looking comfy!
We’re loving Keren’s storytelling skill of the region, some factual, others mythological. She;s cranking them out making us hungry for more. Hey the rest of the tour party are very quiet (must be challenging for a guide). Great teamwork from everyone in this region with Keren getting behind the bar to help the winery staff pour the wine for sampling. Here we are at Carrick Winery for lunch platter.
The view from Carrick Winery cafe is spectacular – provides a sobering moment for me, excuse the pun:
The Mt Difficulty winery is located in the Bannockburn Region and has been specifically requested by one of the passengers. That’s the joy of a small group tour – flexibility – you hum it son, I’ll play it. Mt Difficulty wasn’t on the list for todays tour but it is now.When we arrive it’s buzzing. Diners are enjoying a late lunch and the staff are run off their feet but they couldn’t be more cheerful.
My fav winery is Chard Farm. We have a butt-clenching ride up an incredibly steep gravel road but the views below are incredible. Keren negotiates the bends with ease, ensuring great photo opportunities of the AK Hackett Bungy jump at Kawarau Bridge in the Gibbston Valley . Chard Farm has a special rustic character and is a recognised icon for this region. Doncha just love Lola – she’s made from old wine vines (that’s the one on the left, ok).
I’m feeling pretty mellow. It’s cosy in here and these Pinot Noir wines are delicious. Business is brisk. Time for the drive back into Queenstown. Keren’s still in fine form and begins a fascinating story that only ends on drop-off at the hotel. Here’s a toast to Appellation Wine Tours and a fantastic guide.