Rainer Jenss and his family are currently on an around-the-world journey, and they’re blogging about their experiences for us at Intelligent Travel. Keep up with the Jensses by bookmarking their posts, and follow the boys’ Global Bros blog at National Geographic Kids.
I realize I misspoke in my last blog post–we hadn’t quite yet taken all possible forms of transportation on this trip–I forgot about helicopters!
For us, Thanksgiving fell during our second week of cruising New Zealand’s South Island by camper van, so to celebrate, we set our sights on the village of Franz Josef to visit one of only three glaciers in the world that meets a temperate rain forest. In fact, it almost reaches the ocean. One of the others, Fox Glacier, is just 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) down the road. So to make it memorable, we treated ourselves with the ultimate way to experience these imposing ice flows: a 40-minute aerial “flightseeing” tour over Westland National Park, which included a loop past Mt. Cook, the tallest peak in the country. Simply put, it was spectacular and easily one of the highlights of New Zealand, if not the entire yearlong trip. And in a country with so much awe-inspiring natural wonder, that’s saying a lot.
Now if we included hang gliders, four-wheel ATVs, speedboats, gondolas, and a luge on this list of mobile options, they too would have been checked off after our visit to Queenstown, the home of every kind of wild thrill imaginable, all amidst a magnificent scenic backdrop. The boys have never been ones for extreme adventure, so going to the top of Bob’s Peak via a slow-moving gondola to see the city from a dizzying height was perfectly suited for their age level. Even better, however, was the half-mile-long winding Skyline track that hurled them down the hill on hand-controlled luge carts.
One of the city’s premiere adrenaline-inducing activities, besides bungee jumping (the commercial version of which originated twenty years ago at the nearby Kawarua Bridge) is jet boating. We’re not talking about simply flying down a river at breakneck speeds. Operators like Shotover Jets will launch you down river surrounded by tall canyon walls while doing multiple 360-degree spins. Although they would gladly have taken our 9- and 11-year-olds for the 30-terror-stricken-minute ride, I decided the less harrowing, lengthier and more picturesque Dart River Jet Safaris, a two-hour drive north of Queenstown in Glenorchy, was the better bet. It proved to be a wise move because the Dart River passed by several areas used in the filming of The Lord of the Rings and our driver was more than happy to provide us with the occasional full spin to add some sheer excitement into the mix.
But I couldn’t leave New Zealand without adding a new form of adventurous pursuit to my resumé. Because I have already satisfied my aspiration to bungee jump and skydive, it didn’t take a lot of coercing to get me to try tandem hang gliding, especially when you’re surrounded by some of the world’s most amazing views. Please note that I said tandem, for if it weren’t for my Kiwi pilot, I could easily have ended up in Lake Wakatipu from the thermal updrafts swirling around Queenstown’s Coronet Peak.
Safely back in the camper van, we headed for the small laid-back town of Wanaka, primarily as a stop-over to the west coast’s more “must-see” attractions. But as is so often the case during a road trip, it’s the road less traveled that seems to deliver the unexpected surprises. Always up for going to a movie, I stumbled across a place called Cinema Paradiso in the local paper that looked inviting. Because the feature film that night was rated R, this would not be a family outing. Instead, I went on my own to discover an eclectic art-house that included a café/bar serving up some terrific light fare and locally grown Brewski Lager. The theatre included old lounge chairs and sofas to recline in and they had an intermission so everyone could refresh their drinks and grab some freshly backed chocolate chip cookies. I later learned that this eccentric little cinema is considered a national treasure by the locals, and it proved to be one of quite a few unconventional attractions we would run across.
Before leaving town, I inadvertently learned of a strictly New Zealand sport called Golf Cross. I was in a sporting goods store (which in New Zealand, seem to outnumber Starbucks) when I noticed an oval golf ball shaped like a football behind the counter. Initially, I mistook it for a gag gift, but after inquiring further, I learned that it’s used in golf cross, which is played like golf, but uses suspended goals instead of holes.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Because there was one of just four places to play just five minutes away, I suggested to Carol we cancel the day’s planned hike for a family round of golf cross. When she found out the course was located on Rippon Vineyard, she was sold. So we spent a gorgeous New Zealand early summer day wine tasting and playing golf cross as a family, all while admiring Lake Wanaka and the Remarkable Mountains in the near distance. And because the “ball” flies much straighter than a traditional round one, the boys loved it.
On yet another unusual and equally as interesting family outing, we ventured to the Te Anau glowworm caves. This mysterious place can only be reached by crossing Lake Te Anua by boat and traveling the 656-foot-long (200-meter) network of caves by foot and then by small raft far into the darkness to marvel at the thousands of glittering luminous insects.
But when we weren’t busy sampling various forms of transportable pursuits, plain old hiking boots proved to be the mode that carried us to perhaps the most marvelous spot of all. ‘Tramping’ the Key Summit trail (pictured), a classic 3.8-mile (6-kilometer) hike through stunning alpine scenery between Mt. Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks along the renowned Routeburn Track had no problem keeping even the kids mesmerized and rewarded us all with some of the most dramatic views in the entire country, and that’s saying a lot. Wait, I misspoke again . . . I already said that!
Photo: Rainer Jenss