Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Queenstown (Just for you, Prince William)

Seeing as I just heard about Prince William's engagement to Kate Middleton, I thought it was perfectly fitting that I headed to the town of Queenstown today, reputedly named for Queen Victoria. I bid a fond goodbye to Wanaka Bakpaka and to Wanaka itself; I definitely want to come back. Wanaka kind of reminds me of the town of Lake Cowichan; still not fancy-schmancy, but in a beautiful location and poised to become a far more popular destination in years to come.

Indeed, coming here to Queenstown is like seeing a preview of what Wanaka may become in twenty years, which is unfortunate because it is exactly what Queenstown is that makes me love that Wanaka *isn't* that. Queenstown is a major tourist centre here in New Zealand, known for adventure sports: if you can imagine any sort of daredevil situation, be it jet boating, white water rafting, canyoning, skydiving, bungy jumping... you can do it here in Queenstown. As such, there are tons of young(ish) people wandering the streets, and a plethora of bars, caf├ęs, and restaurants just waiting to take their money. All the commercialism and the tourist feel don't attract me at all; I was much happier in Wanaka, surrounded simply by beautiful scenery and a small-town, low-key feel.

Not that Queenstown isn't in a beautiful setting, and not that I'm not looking forward to spending a little time here: I'll spend tomorrow walking around and relaxing, and on Saturday I am going for a day-long horse trek up in Glenorchy, through all sorts of Lord of the Rings scenery.

On the way to Queenstown this afternoon (after having to turn around and go back to Puzzling World because we managed to leave someone behind who had gotten off to go to the bathroom!) we stopped in at Kawarau Bridge historic reserve, which is the site where Henry van Asch and AJ Hackett did some of the first bungy jumping in the world in the late 1980s. The Kawarau bridge was built in 1880 when the practise of building suspension bridges was still a relatively new art, and the 28 galvanized steel ropes were ordered of a precise length from England to ensure ultimate strength. The bridge was so well-consturcted that when it was examined for restoration in the 1990s (having been closed in the 1960s after the building of its two-lane replacement) its cables, steelwork, end towers, and anchors were all judged good enough to remain in place. Today bungy jumpers at Hackett Bungy fall the 43m to the Kawarau River below, with an option of a head-dunk in its frigid waters. As bungy jumps go nowadays, however, this one is positively tame; although one person from the Stray bus jumped, most are saving themselves for here in Queenstown, where there's a 134m bungy jump... over three times as high, and includes eight full seconds of free-fall.

Bungy Viewpoint

Far side of bridge, as seen standing on the old highway track

Bungy platform, 43m above the Kawarau River

Suspension cable housing. Note the "1880"
engraved on the keystone.

Tonight I'm going to go out for a drink in one of Queenstown's previously-mentioned pubs or bars, and then bid goodnight to my fellow crazy Stray Bus mates who are off to drink themselves silly on the pub crawl... I'm going to nurse my ever-lingering cold and go to bed early. Night!


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