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Practice Makes Perfect Nonsense

With only a couple days left here in Queenstown, we’re trying to pack in as many exhilarating experiences as possible! And the uber-popular Shotover Jet is uber-exhilarating! It’s probably one of the most advertised adventure sports here, and from a business POV probably one of the most successful. The name comes from the fact that this particular company is the only one permitted to operate in the Shotover River Canyons.

And with good reason, as these canyons are really narrow! You can barely fit one of these boats through the rock walls…

…let alone two or more.

The trip starts in Queenstown where a bus takes you 10 minutes up the road and over the river…

Then you grab a smock to keep you dry and life jacket to keep you… well, alive I guess.

And then you pile into the 500 horsepower boat. These custom designed boats can travel at speeds of up to 85kmph in as little as 10 centimeters of water! Not only that, but with the twin-engines thrusting 800 liters of water a second out the back, these boats can whip around in a full 360 degrees! And whip we did! Whipping through the canyon at break neck speeds just inches from the rock walls.

And when we’d reach a clearing, the captain would give the hand signal for a 360, so you hold on tight and WOOOSH! He spins the boat in one full rotation. Sometimes it actually felt like the captain was trying to scare the crap out of us! Sheesh! The nerve of the guy! He would steer the boat directly at a giant rock and then just seconds before impact he’d whip the steering wheel and the boat would drift sideways past the obstacle, missing it only by a matter if centimeters! The guy was clearly insane! But at least he was trained to be insane! Only 10 people on the entire planet are¬†licensed to be this insane. Each pilot has to go through a minimum of 120 hours of insanity training before taking any customers. It’s just so much more comforting knowing you’re putting your life in the hands of a highly trained insane person!

I took a video of the experience, but don’t currently have the bandwidth to upload it, so here’s another persons video so you can get the full experience of the insanity:

Delta Whiskey X-Ray

Looks like today we will FINALLY catch a break with the weather. We got the call this morning that the sky was clear over Milford Sound, which is apparently a rare occurrence seeing as they average about 28 inches of rainfall during the month of January!¬† So with the good news about the clear skies, we made our way back to the airport for yet another altitude based adventure. Right next door to the hangar where we took off in a helicopter a few days prior…

…was the hangar for Milford Air, and the home of our little 5-passenger Cessna 206. This high-winged plan is basically the big brother of the 152 model that I trained on and let me tell ya, it felt great to get back behind the yoke of a plane again!

God I missed that feeling! There’s just something really comforting knowing that if for some reason the pilot passed out, I’d know exactly how to put the plane on the ground safely. Only problem is… there wasn’t exactly a plethora of good emergency landing spots! Once you leave Queenstown, your options to ditch are either in the water…

…or into the side of a jagged mountain…

…because I don’t think gliding it into a glacier is recommended by the FAA.

The flight there was just stunning. One photo after the next, after the next, after the next. I’m actually glad I didn’t have to land the plane because I would have been far too busy operating the camera to be distracted with air speed, ailerons and rudders.

After about 25 minutes of weaving through mountain peaks and ducking in and out of clouds…

…we arrived at the mouth of Milford Sound.

Which we then followed inland…

…towards the small airstrip at the end…

where the pilot set her down.

We then walked a few meters along the coast line through the rain forest…

…to the ferry terminal, where we hopped on a boat to take a cruise through the bay…

The pictures really don’t do it justice. You just HAVE to go there and see it yourself. It’s just magical.

With waterfalls…

…and wildlife…

…throughout the glacier carved fjord.

It’s safe to say that New Zealand is the most beautiful place I’ve seen on this entire trip. It’s picture perfect from both the land, sea and air.

I don’t ever want to leave.

Actually Hangin’ Out

So after multiple failed attempts, a miracle happened! We actually hang glid glode glided… erm. We actually flew in a hang glider! There’s quit a bit of preparation that goes into this sport, like loading up the van with all of the gear…

…driving the van to the top of a mountain…

…hauling the gear from the van to the launch pad…

…assembling the giant wing…

…and suiting up in the jump suits…

…and while it is fun to soar through the air on a giant wing, I’m not convinced that it’s worth all of the effort to take on the sport as a regular hobby. It’s definitely worth trying it out once or twice however. Especially if you have the chance to glide over Queenstown!

I can’t think of a better place to fly!

Running off the top of The Remarkables, and then gliding through the air over the beautiful land below without any motor is amazing. Just wind and a wing.

But when you finally run out of wind and altititude you have to go through that whole routine again in reverse…

Take off the jump suits… disassemble the wing… pack up the gear… and load it in the va… Oh crap! The van! We left the van at the top of the mountain! Who’s gonna walk back up there now and get it!?

Just Hangin’ Out

Today we’re FINALLY going to hang glide! We’ve been trying unsuccessfully for 4 days now to get a break in the weather. Each day calling in, only to hear the voice on the other side say it was too windy, or not windy enough, or too rainy, or too many much lightning. Sheesh! Come on people! We’re only here for 8 days, we can’t wait around forever for you to be comfortable with the weather, let’s just get on with it!

This morning though, that voice on the other end of the call said something different. It caught me by surprise. “Yup, we’re flying today!” Excuse me, can you repeat that? “We. Are. Flying. Today.” Yippee! I lept out of bed and threw on some warm gear and we headed out the door to the pick-up point. We climbed into the van and started making our way towards the mountain. It’s really gonna happen! I’m finally going to get to experience hang gliding!

At the foot of the mountain the driver pulls over to the side of the road. He looks off to the right towards the harbor. He sees clouds. Big fat gray rain clouds. There are water drops hitting the windshield. He turns around to us and says “Sorry, but we’re gonna have to rebook you for another time, the weather is just not cooperating.”

ARGGGG!!! Curse you momma nature!

So we are rebooked for 3pm. And now we are just hangin’ out, trying to kill time before we make yet another weather check call.

Fat Tyre, Frequent Flier, Madd Tired

You remember how the other day I mentioned needing mother nature to cooperate in order to partake in the many outdoor activities here in New Zealand? Yeah, well today she was a bit feisty!

We were picked up at the hotel in the Fat Tyre vehicle this morning…

…and after a few minute drive down the road, we took the mountain bikes off the roof-rack, and wheeled them into the hangar.

Sort of a weird place to mountain bike, right? Right. Except, out back behind the hangar, and next to the Red Bull acrobatic plane…

…was this beautiful blue & gold helicopter, complete with bike racks!

That’s right, today’s adventure sport will be: Heli-biking!

Heli-biking is the sport of strapping mountain bikes to a helicopter, and then taking said helicopter up and over the airport…

…over the river…

…to the tipity top of the highest mountain you can find.

Once at the top, you take the bikes off the helicopter, and it then takes off. Leaving you, your bike, and your helmet there on the mountain top to fend for yourself.

And fend we did! Mother nature got the best of us at the top. The winds up there were in excess of 40 knots, gusting up to 60 knots! At those speeds you can barely even stand upright, let alone balance on two wheels! At times we would be leaning on the bikes into the wind riding at a 45 degree angle to the ground! Once you were blown off the bike, there was no way you were gonna get back on it. So you had to walk it to the next alcove to duck out of the wind and start all over again.

Sometimes I think the only thing holding me on the mountain was the banana I ate that morning and the bottle of water in my backpack! You could literally lift the bike off the ground and the wind would just blow it sideways so that it was practically laying flat, hovering over the ground. If I let go, the bike was a goner. But I liked that bike. It was the only way I was gonna get down off this mountain and out of this vortex.

Luckily, after several minutes of walking the bike through the wind, the trail ducked back down below the peak. This sheltered us considerable from the gusting wind.

From there on down, we were able to blaze a trail to the foot of the mountain with very few injuries. Jay nearly injured a bovine in the path, but no burgers would be compromised this day.

At the end of the trail, it emptied us off into some farmland, and we peddled out of the farm and down the road to an old inn, one of the oldest in New Zealand according to our guide.

We sat out back and ate some food and downed some refreshments to replenish our energy levels.

We then loaded the bikes into the trailer and headed back home. This will be one of the best nights of sleep ever! Fighting against those winds at that altitude really wears ya down. Good night!

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