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Queenstown, the city of adventure and Lord Of The Rings
After our adventures in the southernmost part of New Zealand, we arrive in Queenstown. This city is beautifully situated, surrounded by mountains and next to one of the largest lakes in NZ, Lake Wakatipu. You can do all kinds of water activities there. From water skiing to a crocodile-like hydrometer that shoots up from underwater. Or something like that… Queenstown is definitely the city of adrenaline and the adventure
We arrive at what is probably our most expensive campsite ever, almost $ 100 a night! And to say that it is the most beautiful we have been to, no not at all. But there are not many campsites in the centre of Queenstown and this one is right in the middle of the city.
Since there is a lot of adventure here, we also want to do some fun activities with our kids! We have selected two “family activities” with the necessary adrenaline. The first is a jeep safari with Nomad Safaris through Middle Earth, the land of Lord of the Rings. The second is a rafting trip with Family Adventures along the Shotover River.
Discovering Middle Earth with a 4WD
Whoever spent the last twenty years in an atomic air-raid shelter has probably never heard of Lord of the Rings. These beautiful adaptations of the books of J.R.R. Tolkien, directed by Peter Jackson, made New Zealand world famous for its beautiful scenery and landscapes and tourism grew faster than ever. Middle Earth is the continent where most storylines take place. And a large part of the scenes was filmed around Queenstown.
After being picked up by Thomas, our friendly guide for today, we immediately head into the mountains with our tough Landrover. The children are very enthusiastic and have great fun in the back of the car. Via a steep path, we reach an amazing view of Queenstown and the surrounding area. The Remarkables are right next to us, the mountain range that is often used in the films. Then we drive along the highest Benji Jump bridge in Queenstown. A few daredevils venture the jump of their lives for a mere $ 200. Benji jumping originated here in Queenstown. Fortunately, I am at a safe distance and Heleen has no wild plans …
From there we drive on towards the Arrow River, and then the real work begins. We go across and through the river. Hanne and Yuna are in the back seat and fly in all directions. Luckily we didn’t eat any fries at noon. They think it’s fantastic! After a nice break with chocolate milk, tea, coffee and home-made banana cake, we continue our journey and look for gold in the river. But then it’s time to go back to our much too expensive campsite. What a day! For a full report of our day, check this blog post.
The Wakatipu lake
We still have a few days left in Queenstown. Nevertheless, we decide to leave our campsite and head towards Lake Wakatipu. We pitch our tent at a campsite of the DOC (Department of Conservation). These are a lot cheaper and have a basic comfort. But above all, they are located in the middle of nature. We find a fantastic place and have a picnic at the lake where Yuna and Hanne play in the water for hours.
Rafting with Family Adventure
In the morning we have to get up early because we go rafting on the river. Quite exciting, our kayak adventure in Laos a few years ago are coming back… Via the super narrow and occasionally frightening Skippers Canyon, we reach the departure point. It was also this route that gold diggers used decades ago to search for the first gold in the river. Along the way, you see a few remains, but you are particularly surprised how people could ever bring this job to a successful end.
Fortunately, rafting is a lot less dangerous then what the gold diggers had to do. Occasionally there are big rapids but thanks to our two guides everything runs smoothly. However, there are also two New Zealand girls who are friends with the guides. Thanks to them we are flooded several times by the splashing waves of the Skippers Jet. That is an ultra-fast speedboat that you can take through the canyon. But we didn’t mind, it was lots of fun! At the end of the trip, Heleen and Hanne jump into the water and let themselves float in the river. Yuna and I stay safe on the boat. Yuna turns out to be a little less brave than we thought, probably because of the ice-cold water. Hanne, however, goes 100% for it and has no fear at all.
This nice gold digger town is just outside of Queenstown. Arrowtown is located next to a river where they found a lot of gold in the 19th century. And when you walk through the town, it is like going back in time. The buildings have been beautifully restored, the streets are cosy (although that was certainly not the case at the time) and you can even visit the old Chinese settlement to get an idea of how they lived during the gold rush.
And best of all, people still come here to look for gold. Of course, you will no longer find large quantities, but occasionally there is another lucky person who goes home with a nice amount of gold! With the jeep safari of Nomad Safaris, we already drove through the town. Our adventure through the river started here. But we’re glad we came back. It’s nice to see how the locals also drive upstream, swim, search for gold, fish, … Arrowtown is definitely worth a visit!
Haast Highway – Glacier Country
Na een lange stop in Queenstown, is het tijd om onze weg verder te zetten. Via Wanaka en de Haast Highway vervolgen we onze tocht richting de Franz Joseph Glacier, een van de vele gletsjers in de omgeving. De Haast Highway wordt beschouwd als één van de top routes om door Nieuw-Zeeland te doen. En we begrijpen onmiddellijk waarom. Onderweg komen we enkele prachtige watervallen tegen en genieten we van de meest adembenemende landschappen. Telkens wanneer we denken dat het niet mooier meer kan, ligt er achter de bocht opnieuw een prachtig postkaartje.
After a long stop in Queenstown, it’s time to continue our journey. Via Wanaka and the Haast Highway, we continue our road trip towards the Franz Joseph Glacier, one of the many glaciers in the area. The Haast Highway is considered to be one of the top routes through New Zealand. And we immediately understand why. Along the way, we come across some beautiful waterfalls and enjoy the most breathtaking landscapes. Every time we think the views can’t be topped anymore, another beautiful postcard shows up behind the bend.
Once we arrive at the Franz Joseph glacier, it is a bit of a search for a suitable camping place since most of the campsites in Franz Joseph have a boulder layer that our pegs cannot withstand. It seems that we are the only ones who are crazy enough to camp in a tent. Fortunately, we find a Doc campsite next to a small lake just outside the city. There we are treated to a beautiful sunset but we’re all so tired so we want to get into our beds as soon as possible. A large number of aggressive mosquitoes also drives us into our tent faster than usual.
Glacier Valley Eco Tours
Samen met Glacier Valley Eco Tours gaan we wandelen richting de Franz Joseph gletsjer, samen met de Fox gletsjer de twee grootste en meest toegankelijke uit de regio. Ze smelten jammer genoeg steeds verder weg en in tegenstelling tot 10 jaar geleden kan je al niet meer te voet op de gletsjer. Dankzij de verschillende bordjes met foto’s van de laatste jaren zie je hoe de opwarming van de aarde ervoor zorgt dat deze gletsjer jaar na jaar inkrimpt. Maar de wandeling erheen met bijhorende uitleg is nog steeds fantastisch en we genieten ervan om alweer buiten te zijn in deze woeste omgeving. Als we dan ook nog eens ijsblokken aantreffen in de rivier en allerlei blinkende mineralen vinden, zijn de kindjes helemaal verbaasd over de gletsjer en de werking ervan.
Together with Glacier Valley Eco Tours, we’ll walk towards the Franz Joseph glacier. This glacier is together with the Fox glacier the largest and most accessible one in the region. Unfortunately, they are melting further and further away, and unlike 10 years ago, you can no longer reach the glacier by foot. Thanks to the various signs with pictures from the last few years, you can see how global warming is causing this glacier to shrink year after year. But the walk through the valley and towards the glacier, with accompanying explanation, is still fantastic. We enjoy being outside again in this wild environment. When we find ice blocks in the river and all sorts of shiny minerals, the children are completely surprised about nature, the glacier and how it works.
When we left for our walk, there were still some low-hanging clouds, but slowly they started to disappear. By the time we reach the end of our hike, and the closest point to the glacier reachable by foot, we have a wonderful view of the Franz Joseph Glacier! After the fog rises, the helicopters also start to fly again. Since you can no longer reach the ice by foot, helicopters land on the ice and you can do a guided ice walk. That seems to be very worthwhile, but our budget does not allow this and the children are also on the young side for it. We walk back through the valley towards our car. It was another great day in the wild New Zealand nature!
On our way to Hokitika, the capital of jade!
Wie droomt er nu niet van om eens in een psychiatrische instelling te verblijven? Wel, 1 adres! Hokitika. Dankzij alweer de fantastische Wikicamps komen we terecht op een groot domein waar vroeger een psychiatrische instelling was. Alleen zijn de patiënten verdwenen maar alle gebouwen blijven staan. Aanvankelijk gingen we hier kamperen, maar ze voorspellen heel veel regen. Onze gastheer overtuigt ons dan ook om op de slaapzaal te gaan liggen en uiteindelijk beleven we zo vier fantastische dagen in dit gebouw.
Who doesn’t dream of staying in a psychiatric institution? Well, one address! Hokitika. Thanks to the fantastic Wikicamps app, we end up in a large domain that used to be a psychiatric institution. The patients are gone but all the buildings and furniture remains. Initially, we wanted to camp here, but they predicted a lot of rain. Our host, therefore, convinces us to hire a bed in the dormitory and in the end, we have four fantastic days in this building.
The building is filled with authentic furniture from the ’60s and ’70s. The dining and living room has a magnificent view of the sea with its black sandy beaches. Every evening we are treated to a fantastic sunset, which is why this town is known throughout New Zealand. When night falls it is a bit spooky, The Shining is nothing compared to it …
Our serach for Jade…
Hokitika however, is also known for jade and that it would occasionally wash up on the beach (the biggest pieces can be found along the river, but only the local Maori people can search for them). So we look together on the beach and find all kinds of debris, rock and also a perfectly cut green block of stone (clearly carved by man). After some research on Google, we think we have found a jade stone and we go into town with our bag of stones. And it is soon confirmed that we have found a fairly large piece of jade that we could possibly use to make some jewels! Via the Lonely Planet, we end up at Bonz N Stonz, a store and workshop where you can carve jewels with your own found Jade.
Terwijl papa verder werkt, gaan Heleen en de meisjes naar de werkplaats. Steve is de meest vriendelijke man en leert ons alles over jade en hoe we het moeten bewerken. De meisjes vinden het ongelooflijk interessant en kijken vol bewondering toe hoe de steen verandert in een paar oorbellen voor elk van ons. Terwijl wij bezig zijn, zitten er in de werkplaats nog vele anderen die ware kunstwerkjes uit de harde edelsteen aan het maken zijn. Na enkele uren zijn we trotse eigenaar van ons eerste paar zelfgemaakte oorbellen, gemaakt uit onze op het strand gevonden edelsteen. Een mooier souvenier kunnen we ons niet voorstellen!
While daddy continues working, Heleen and the girls go to the workshop. Steve is the most friendly man and teaches us all about jade and how to work with it. The girls find it incredibly interesting and watch with admiration how the stone turns into a pair of earrings for each of us. While we are carving and polishing, there are many others in the workshop who are making true pieces of art from the hard gemstone. After a few hours, we are the proud owners of our first pair of homemade earrings, made from our gem found on the beach. We cannot imagine a more beautiful souvenir!