Left at Motatapu, then straight on 'til Queenstown

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. It was, by far, the largest city we visited along the TA 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 wat 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.

Heading up the Motatapu Track out of Wanaka.  photo/ Jonathan  

Heading up the Motatapu Track out of Wanaka.

photo/ Jonathan  

photo/ Jonathan 

photo/ Jonathan 

So much texture!  photo/ Jonathan  

So much texture!

photo/ Jonathan  

Macetown might have been slightly eerie, but we passed through on a weekend and giant car-camping tents were tucked into every patch of trees. We hopped on the 4WD road down to Arrowtown and free camped 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.

You know town is near when the trail turns into a gravel bike path.    photo/ Jonathan  

You know town is near when the trail turns into a gravel bike path.  

photo/ Jonathan  

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 also greatly improved by a quick stop for pies at Pac 'n Save (the Costco of New Zealand) and also by a little craft brewery, Altitude Brewing, that had just barely opened up next to the trail.

The Remarkables towering above Lake Wakatipu  photo/ Jonathan  

The Remarkables towering above Lake Wakatipu

photo/ Jonathan  

Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, and the neighboring mountains  photo/ Jonathan  

Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, and the neighboring mountains

photo/ Jonathan  

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.

Fergburger: a tale of love at first bite.  photo/ Jonathan  

Fergburger: a tale of love at first bite.

photo/ Jonathan  

Such a juicy, delicious burger. Not sure I'd agree with the "best in the world" designation, but it didn't suck.  photo/ Jonathan  

Such a juicy, delicious burger. Not sure I'd agree with the "best in the world" designation, but it didn't suck.

photo/ Jonathan  

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, but I could peer down into the green valley of the Routeburn and the ice blue Earnslaw glaciers dominated the skyline. 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.

After landing, I ran to grab my phone so I could get a few snaps of Charlie coming down after me.   photo/ Molly 

After landing, I ran to grab my phone so I could get a few snaps of Charlie coming down after me. 

photo/ Molly 

Charlie comes in for the landing.  photo/ Molly  

Charlie comes in for the landing.

photo/ Molly  

As we hitchhiked up to the start of Routeburn, we were starting to feel like the end was near.