Madelyn Given, enjoying the forest where they filmed for The Lord of the Rings, in Glenorchy, New Zealand.

Glenorchy, New Zealand

I took a ride to Glenorchy to trek in the forest of The Lord of the Rings movie fame. Actually, there were many areas of New Zealand that were used to film the series: the Southern Alps, the pasturelands, and the very-moss covered forest of Glenorchy. This is not a dense, covered forest, but a mixture of deciduous and evergreen, with lots of moss-covered trees and rocks. There were few signs that man had been there, aside from one giant chair sitting out in the middle of the woods near a large hollow tree. The natural hollow is big enough for six or eight people to stand inside it. After The Lord of the Rings movies were released, tourism skyrocketed in New Zealand.

In Glenorchy, a very popular activity is to take a jet boat ride on the Dart River. At the center of this tiny town, which appears to have a population of only a dozen or so, there is a small building where you sign in and pick up a heavy weighted blanket (like a poncho) and a life jacket. We were bused a couple of miles to a place where we would be picked up by the jet boats for a one-way ride up the river. The boats are flat bottomed and hold a dozen passengers and a driver.

It was a fast, bumpy boat ride, going past car-sized boulders, around sandbars, and over small rapids. There is a rapid current and the water is frigid. The ponchos, which seemed as heavy as lead, covered the passengers from the splashing water. The scenery is beautiful: mountains covered with glaciers, green hills, and waterfalls were visible around some of the turns.

We were warned at the beginning of the ride that if the captain uttered the word, “Hamilton,” we should watch out. It was true—a moment after he said, “Hamilton,” he pulled the jet boat in a 360-degree turn! He did this a few times and it was an exhilarating ride. At another dock a few miles downstream, we ended our ride, thanked our captain, and took a bus back to the activity center.

Back in Queenstown, I enjoyed sitting in the park. It is a peaceful, safe place with a flow of activity. There were children playing ball, parents with baby strollers, pets being walked, and people of all ages taking time to enjoy this beautiful environment. I would enjoy spending more time in New Zealand: it is clean, healthy, and safe. The way of life there is very desirable to me. I hated to pack my bags, but it was time to return from this journey.

(posted May 24, 2016)

View over Queenstown, New Zealand. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Fun Activities in Queenstown

Queenstown is a beautiful town with a population of about 28,000. It was first settled by Irish immigrants and was a mining area. It now is a year-round area for sports and outdoor fun: 220 adventure tourism activities were listed in 2012. There is skiing in winter, and in summer there are Skagway tours, paragliding, parasailing, sky diving, river rafting, tubing, hiking, fishing, and so much more.

Madelyn Given enjoying the view over Queenstown, New Zealand.

Madelyn Given enjoying the view over Queenstown, New Zealand.

The first thing I chose do was take a gondola ride up to a lookout high above the town.  Below are homes on the slopes of the many hills, and the downtown area is on the shore of Lake Wakatipu. There were people paragliding and people strolling in the park. It was a place for relaxing in a setting of awesome beauty.

The Maori came first to New Zealand. In the building with the gondola platform above the town, a Haka cultural performance is performed by the Maoris.  Haka means hello and welcome. Each Polynesian Island Maori greets visitors; they have similar characteristics, yet they are all different. The facial expression of the New Zealand Maori is unique: their eyes bug out and the tongue is stuck out as a fearsome gesture, unlike any other native culture I have ever seen portrayed. It would have been scary to meet them a century or two ago.

The large city park runs along the shore of the lake. I walked along the well-manicured gardens and admired the beautiful rose garden. Skagway groups came along the path, and in another area, people were playing tennis.  All throughout are the grand old trees from around the world, some of which were planted when the park first opened many years ago. There is a large carved rock memorial to George Shackleton and his crew, commemorating his feat in Antarctica. New Zealand was the take-off place for Antarctica expeditions.

Milford Sound is just one great place to see. I planned to fly there, but people drive or take tour buses from Queenstown. The Milford Track is considered one of the most gorgeous hikes in the world. It is 53 kilometers, beginning at Lake Te Anau, and it takes several days. Hikers stay in huts, as no camping is allowed along this track. There are many tracks in New Zealand: Kepler, Rakiura, and Tasman Coast Track, just to name a few.

While I was in Queenstown, it was Christmas time, but there were few decorations and no festive street lights. Despite the Christian heritage here, the people don’t make a big deal of Christmas like in the United States. Boxing Day, after Christmas, is a day of celebrating.

One afternoon, I decided to wait in the usual long line for a famous Fergburger. It was worth the wait! It was a giant hamburger—great tasting food at reasonable price. The town is small, with only a few streets with stores, shops, and restaurants. Yet Queenstown is alive with young active people, coming and going from daily adventures, sky diving, fishing, boating, and hiking. What fun to enjoy this beautiful place!

(posted May 10, 2016)

The river along the road from Mount Cook to Queenstown, New Zealand. Photo by Madelyn Given.

New Zealand: Queenstown

It was an all-day drive from the base of Mount Cook, at 12,349’, the highest peak in New Zealand, to Queenstown. You cannot imagine a more scenic route almost anywhere in the world. The route goes along a river and through lush, green rural countryside. New Zealand has 60 million areas of parkland, which is 20 percent of the country. No wonder it remains so beautiful and pristine.

Located 1,200 miles southeast of Australia and 6,500 miles southwest of California, New Zealand is part of Polynesia. It is a stepping-off place to Antarctica.

Queenstown is on the southern part of the South Island. There is a refreshing breeze even in summer. No place is more than 80 miles from the coast and nowhere are mountains out of view. Queenstown is not flat; it sits on the shore of a lake, and homes are on the sides of hills. There is a British air about all of New Zealand, as at one time it was part of the British Empire, and now it is an independent member of the Commonwealth. On the walls in government buildings you will find a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II as their monarch.

As I drove closer to Queenstown, the river funneled into a narrow gorge. I stopped in a small parking area and walked across a high suspension bridge over the gorge, where there once had been gold mines. Further along our drive, I saw another higher bridge, being used now for bungi jumping.

A vineyard cave near Queenstown, New Zealand. Photo by Madelyn Given.

A vineyard cave near Queenstown, New Zealand. Photo by Madelyn Given.

As the gorge opened up to a slightly hilly valley, there were vineyards along the roadside. Another day, I visited two of the vineyards on a wine tasting tour. One had a deep natural cave, a perfect natural refrigerator for storing barrels of wine for aging. The vineyards produce good wines and some are being recognized internationally.

On the highway were a few dead stoats and possums; these two animals were both introduced to New Zealand and have caused native land birds to become extinct.  Others are endangered, like the national bird, the kiwi.

A kiwi is an interesting bird to see. It lives in forests, and it is very shy and nocturnal. It is the size of a chicken, covered with shaggy dull brown feathers. It has a small head, short neck, and a long, flexible bill. It is the only bird that has nostrils at the tip of the bill, which it uses to find food: earthworms, berries, and insects. The female lays one to two big white eggs. The male sits on the nest for 75 days or until they hatch.

While I was in Queenstown, I went to a bird preserve in the center of town, where there were only two kiwis to see. They are kept in a building with a dark enclosure where visitors walk along a dark corridor, adjusting to the darkness before the door of the viewing room is opened. We are asked to be silent with little movement, as the kiwi is very shy.

After a few minutes, one of the kiwis came out from behind a small shrub, walking slowly on short stout legs, and I could see its long narrow bill and small beady eyes. You can’t come to New Zealand without seeing a kiwi. The kiwi is so rare now to see in the wild, as are so many other species of birds, amphibians, and animals. People are taking more and more space on the earth. What are you doing to make a difference?

I arrived at my destination in Queenstown before nightfall, and I was excited to begin my stay here. What adventures would happen next in this beautiful place?


(posted May 3, 2016)