Queenstown: Silky smooth adrenalin surge

By Jim Eagles

The boat accelerated into the wind and suddenly I was rising smoothly into the air, 10m, 50m, 100m and finally 200m above Lake Wakatipu, floating on top of the world under a smiley-faced parachute.

Below were stunning views of the lake and its girdle of mountains, the
coloured walls and shiny glass of Queenstown and, way down at the other end of the rope that was holding me in place, the Paraflights boat from which I had been launched.

Queenstown bills itself as the adrenalin capital of the world, with bungy jumping, jetboating, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, four-
wheel drives, flying-by-wire, a giant swing, canyoning, river surfing
and, of course, snowboarding and skiing.

Paraflights probably fall into the adrenalin-boosting category - there's certainly a buzz to be had from dangling 200m up over a lake and quite a few of my fellow passengers looked nervous as they awaited their turns - but it's a gentle form of adventure activity with no jerks or violent plunges.

Just to add to the excitement, the boat's crew like to slow down so the happy pilot drops towards the lake, speeding up again just in time to avoid a wetting. "We have a lot of people offer us a few bucks to dunk their friends," said our skipper cheerily, "but we haven't been offered enough ...


I presume my wife didn't offer a big enough bribe either, because although I dipped to within a couple of metres of the lake's cold waters, I stayed dry.

Instead I spent most of my 10-minute flight admiring the scenery, trying to identify what I was seeing, and twisting about taking photos.

From up there you get an amazing view of Wakatipu, at 80km our longest lake, and its S-shaped valley which, according to Maori legend, is the hole left by the body of a giant who was set on fire after stealing a chief's beautiful daughter.

Almost in the middle on the lake is Queenstown, its development sprawling like a loincloth across the start of the stubby Frankton Arm, which from on high seemed rather like the giant's genitals, where the jetboating mecca of the Shotover River flows in and the Kawerau River flows out.

As I watched, the TSS Earnslaw chugged smokily away from the town wharf heading across to Walter Peak Station and a couple of jetboats roared away in search of whitewater.

I could even see the hotel where I was staying, the refurbished (and renamed) Novotel Queenstown Lakeside, set right beside the lake and the peaceful Queenstown Gardens, just a couple of minutes' walk from town.

At the head of lake was Kingston where - though I couldn't see it - I knew the grand old steam-powered train the Kingston Flyer operates twice a day in the warmer months.

And at the feet was the village of Glenorchy, at the mouth of the Dart River, which I had earlier explored on a wilderness safari with Dart River Jet Safaris.

This involved a scenic bus ride along the lake shore to Glenorchy, then a 4WD expedition up the Dart River Valley, a guided walk through a beech forest escorted by a kaumatua who looked as though he had been provided by central casting - and turned out to have appeared as an extra in numerous films - followed by a jetboat ride on the river.

The jetboat trip was stunning - the most picturesque I've been on - set in the unrivalled scenery of the brilliant blue Dart River and its snow-capped mountains, mossy ancient forests, waterfalls and weird rock formations.

Meanwhile, my 10-minute ride was coming to an end as the crew on the boat wound me in over the top of a posse of kayakers enjoying the calm waters and the mast of a yacht which looked to be struggling to find any breeze.

Finally, after a gentle touchdown, I was again standing on the boat's launch-pad.

"How was it?" asked a young Asian couple waiting nervously for their turn. "Fantastic," was all I could think of to say. "Just fantastic."

Jim Eagles visited Queenstown as guest of the Novotel Lakeside

GETTING THERE: Qantas flies daily Auckland to Queenstown
return. Visit qantas.co.nz.

WHERE TO STAY: Novotel Queenstown Lakeside has regular special offers. Visit accorhotels.co.nz or phone 0800 44 44 22.

WHAT TO DO: Find out about parasailing in Queenstown at paraflights.co.nz.

You can get details of Dart River Jet Safaris at dartriver.co.nz.

FURTHER INFORMATION: For further information about Queenstown see queenstown-nz.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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