Travel

Go high & low in Queenstown

Adventures in New Zealand town come with a stunning backdrop

On flights, I often look forward to the moment the pilot's voice crackles over the public address system to let us know he is making the descent, not only because I am itching to get off my seat but also because I yearn for that first glimpse of my destination.

All those months of planning culminate in this moment.

Like so many times before, I expected to get an aerial view of the landscape in map-like patches of green and brown when descending on Queenstown, New Zealand, but what greeted me outside the tiny window made me sit up with excitement.

There was an instant stirring among the other passengers too, as a vast expanse of white came into view.

The dramatic Southern Alps, specifically The Remarkables, were outside our windows and it felt like we could reach out and touch the snow.

Below, the jewel-blue waters of Lake Wakatipu and Milford Sound hugged the mountains, swirling through the granite.

Go high & low in Queenstown
Jetboat ride in Skippers Canyon.

POPULAR DESTINATION

In addition to such stunning scenery, the alpine town on South Island is also home to a smorgasbord of adventure activities.

Go high & low in Queenstown
Cherry blossoms in Queenstown's town centre.

It is a popular destination for adrenaline junkies looking to experience bungee jumping, sky diving, canyon swinging, jetboating and river rafting, to name a few. It is also the only place with gondola-accessed downhill mountain biking.

The many trails along the mountain side, which cuts through pristine lakes and surreal landscapes, is popular among joggers and hikers.

It is also where the annual Queenstown International Marathon, organised by Air New Zealand, is held. Started in 2014, the marathon is the largest such race in the country.

The backdrop of The Remarkables mountain range and Queenstown Lakes District, coupled with the Kiwi hospitality, give the event its epic draw. This year, it's on Nov 18.

If you do not have a single thrill-seeking or marathon bone in your body, do not fret.

My Queenstown experience began with an aerial tour with Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters.

Mr Alfie Speight, the legendary man behind many amazing aerial shots in various movies, was our pilot. His stellar 38-year career makes him a highly sought-after filming pilot among Hollywood producers.

We were so impressed with his manoeuvring skills as he took us through the crevasse-filled glaciers and peaks.

After showing us the panoramic views of the lakes, he landed the helicopter in the snow high up on Jura Glacier, where I felt like a mountain climber.

We half-crawled onto the striking white carpet to capture our Instagram-worthy shots against the surrounding alpine peaks.

For a more grounded adventure, we went up Queenstown Hill with tour company Nomad Safaris. Our guide whisked us off in a four-wheel drive for a personalised tour of the awe-inspiring New Zealand backcountry.

After 30 minutes of driving through the rugged terrain of Skippers Canyon, we had a picnic lunch in the cold wind, looking across The Remarkables and the Wakatipu Basin.

We then headed to Arrowtown, travelling back in time to a historic gold mining era.

The town looks like it came out of a scene in a wild west movie. At its centre, in Buckingham Street, you can find alleys of quaint stores selling vintage items and clothing.

We also had the rare experience of driving through a river to visit the filming locations of Middle-Earth's Misty Mountains and more.

If you prefer a less conventional mode of transportation, opt for the quad bike tour.

The following day, we took a spectacular guided tour of Skippers Canyon via the infamously gravelly Skippers Canyon Road. It is one of the top 10 most dangerous terrains in the world and was hand-carved off a sheer cliff face by gold miners more than 140 years ago.

We felt safe in the hands of our skilled driver from boat tour company Skippers Canyon Jet.

He also gave us live commentary during the ride, such as interesting insights into the history of the canyon, which was formed by glaciers about 25,000 years ago. There are many great photo opportunities along the way.

The adventure ended with a thrilling jetboat ride, where my screams echoed throughout the canyon and Shotover River.

In between our activity-packed days, we took time to explore Queenstown's compact town centre, where iconic New Zealand stores are aplenty. It also packs a punch with its breathtaking lakefront vista and mountain views.

Adding to the stunning beauty are the cherry blossom trees decorating the streets, parks and even driveways.

The pink and white flowers were in full bloom at this time of the year, and I could not get over the fact that I saw more cherry blossoms here than I ever did in Japan.

This is the last of our three-part series on New Zealand.

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