Have you ever been crazy enough about a spot that you’d let an airline shave your head so you could have a free flight? I am. That’s why I let Air New Zealand shave my head in October 2008, along with 34 other “cranial billboards” in Los Angeles.
- Despite a miserable experience sharing a campervan with one friend and two strangers on a seven day exploration of South Island, I fell hard for Queenstown and Christchurch. I learned that New Zealand is a fabulous destination, and to never live in a campervan when you don’t know everyone with whom you’ll be sharing intimate quarters. I hit it off with Gigi’s best friend from high school but despised her friend Joanne. (We were like oil and water, and she detested me in equal measure.) Despite that, I fell hard for Queenstown and New Zealand.
- I thought by trading my hair for a ticket I could write about my adventure for the Los Angeles Times, but when I got home my editor said: “You advertised for an airline on the back of your skull. At the very least, it’s the semblance of a conflict.
- I was curious about my hair color actually was, after many years of lightening it to be blonder.
When I arrived in Queenstown in Feb. 2009, I had just turned 50 and had about an inch of hair. This trip was focused on pushing limits, and I quickly learned that I’m an adrenaline junkie. Whether I was tandem skydiving with NZSkydive over Glenorchy, bungy jumping or canyon swinging, ten seconds of total terror were well worth the adrenaline rush I got after realizing: “I’m alive! Woo-hoo! Kia ora!” Whether you’re 18 or 60, Queenstown can put you in touch with a dormant or active wild side.
If you would rather cruise through a fiord in Fiordland National Park, Real Journeys or Air Milford depart from Queenstown. Whether you’re seeing Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound by ship or airplane, you’ll come home with spectacular images engraved in your heart. Although I didn’t visit the Fiordland in 1998, I visited Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound in 2009 on two separate trips.
There are lodging options ranging from posh to backpacker and camper van accommodations, and I haven’t found a lousy spot yet. If you can afford ritzy digs, the Sofitel Queenstown offers incredible comfort and has a great spa where you can get a hot rock massage. The Crowne Plaza fits more moderate budgets and Creeksyde is a great, eco-friendly backpacker option.
Queenstown’s neighbor, Glenorchy, offers spectacular adventures in its own right. Kinloch Lodge is a wonderful spot to stay, and you can kayak over with Rippled Earth Kayaking to spend the night. The next day, I did two tandem skydives with NZSkydive which is based in Glenorchy. Although I’ve paraglided in tandem over Queenstown, the sights are more scenic over Glenorchy. Many visitors that come to hike the Routeburn Track, stay at the Kinloch Lodge.
South Island offers a wide range of adventures that don’t require having your ankles bound before you walk the plank off a bridge. Whether you want to hike a glacier (Fox Glacier or Franz Josef), see little penguins or learn more about the history of beer, South Island has it all.
This little town offers you an opportunity to see penguins at Penguin Place, enjoy swimming in saltwater at the St. Clair pool, sleep in luxury at the St. Clair Beach Resort along with a brewery tour of New Zealand’s oldest brewery, Speights.
By going wild on New Zealand’s South Island, I’ve learned a lot about myself, fiords, penguins and beer. On my next visit, I can’t wait to learn even more. I still need to take a hike, a long bike ride and taste a lot of wine.
By: Terry Gardner – Check out Terry’s Guide to Going Wild on South Island