Queenstown is New Zealand's "adventure capital," where you can bungee jump, climb into a giant zorb, take a luge ride, or parasail over Lake Wakatipu. Of course, it is overrun with tourists from all over the world. To get there from Wanaka, we hiked the Motatupu Track to an abandoned mining settlement called Macetown, then walked a full day through sprawling suburbs to reach the city center. Queenstown was, by far, the largest ‘trail town' on the South Island.
Motatapu was a beautiful trail, if short (less than 25 miles). It was filled with sharp ridgelines covered in golden tussock, and though it was hot, we were rewarded at the top of each climb with a breeze and a glorious view over the rippling valleys. The section ended with a river walk through a perfectly clear stream complete with burbling waterfalls and colorful underwater rock formations.
Macetown might have been slightly eerie had we not passed through on a weekend when giant car-camping tents were tucked into every patch of trees. We hopped on the 4WD road down to Arrowtown and joined in the weekend spirit by free camping along the side of the road.
Arrowtown marks the beginning of the Queenstown suburbs. From there, we followed wide gravel bike trails through golf courses and gated communities, then turned onto side roads which turned into highways. We even visited the oh-so-scenic Frankton water treatment plant. Lucky us.
Joking aside, though, we did get some pretty rad views from the road. The Remarkables towered to the east and the city itself is nestled along the western banks of Lake Wakatipu. The walk into Queenstown was greatly improved by a quick stop for pies at Pac 'n Save (basically, the Costco of New Zealand) and by the perfectly located Altitude Brewing taproom.
Once we made it to the city center, our first stop was, naturally, more food. We hopped in line to try out the "best burger in the world" at Fergburger. Obviously, we also stayed for gelato at Mrs. Ferg, next door.
Lake Wakatipu forms the last big break in the trail, and hikers generally have to hitchhike around the lake from Queenstown to Glenorchy. Instead of taking the standard Te Araroa route, Jonathan and I planned to hike the Routeburn Track (another one of New Zealand's Great Walks) and then reconnect to the main trail via the Greenstone valley. We'd still have to hitch the road, but the added miles promised to deliver some extra oomph.
For me, the unquestionable highlight of our time in the Queenstown area was getting to skydive for the first time. Charlie and I signed up for a jump from Glenorchy so that we could look out over the Routeburn Track, where we'd be hiking the next day, as well as the massive glaciers of Mount Earnslaw and Mt. Aspiring National Park.
I can see why people get addicted to that feeling of freefall, but my favorite moment by far was when the chute opened and the world fell totally silent. The lake seemed impossibly far below. I peered down into the green valley of the Routeburn with the ice blue Earnslaw glacier dominating the skyline to the west. Little green pastures lined the lake below, and as we did some wide swooping turns, I could see the little merino sheep dotting the landscape.
As we hitchhiked up to the start of Routeburn, we were starting to feel like the end was near.