Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On Queenstown being made of equal parts beauty and fear

You cannot imagine how beautiful it is here. You either know because you've been here or you don't but it's impossible to have the gaping beauty of this place imparted by words or pictures (a fact that somewhat undermines my project for the next forty minutes as my internet kiosk time counter clicks down). I had been told, I'd seen pictures and to be honest despite it all, before I left, I'd always had more of a soft spot for the idea of the exotic that is brought to mind by the thought of travelling through south east asia but god I wasn't expecting this.

I could stop trying to achieve the impossible now and just say this is a cold Laos and be done with it, since heretofore it's the most beautiful country I've seen, but I'd be doing the place an enormous disservice if I didn't at least mention that I couldn't drive more than two minutes today and yesterday without wanting to pull over or slow down or say something stupid like 'Jesus look over there'.

And that reminds me: I don't generally like driving. I got my first car when I was 17 and the novelty wore off pretty quickly. Maybe it's because I play too many video games. The same fact might be a reasonable explanation of why I'm mostly unimpressed with real life boxing; the virtual equivalent of both is full of so much more visual and visceral hyperbole that it sort of dampens the colour of the real thing. Until now. I've been driving for almost 10 years now and I can honestly say I've had the most enjoyable spells behind the wheel (of our rented Toyota - a car this time, thank christ) of my life in the past two days. Beautifully maintained roads wind through canyons and along mountainous ledges beside massive lakes backed by row upon row of white torn-paper mountains. A serious delight.
I'd planned on riding horses through this country; a kitsch and slightly tacky hangover from Lord of the Rings but the weather hasn't been right during our short stay. However a couple of hours ago I did take a ride on the Shotover Jet. 80 clicks an hour doing 360s through a canyon, shaving teethlike rocks as close as a couple of inches might not sound intially like a relaxing afternoon's entertainment but believe me with the prospect of what awaits me tomorrow it seems akin to embroidery or flower pressing.
I told myself and everone else that I wouldn't Bungy jump here. Since I knew we were coming here, which has been quite a while, I had been torturing myself with the idea of it and I decided to just live like I wasn't going to do it. That way, I reasoned, I wouldn't be walking around here trying to smile through the lurching ball of fear that is currently sitting squat in my stomach. You see, while we waited for our driver to pick us up today Adam booked his jump (at a bridge which I'm told was the site of the first ever jump; bungy that is, not regular :) ) and it got to the point where I couldn't pretend it wasn't an inevitability anymore. So there we are, my plans for the immediate future are as follows: Get sushi in town tonight and follow it with a few beers. Wake up at around 9am, check out of here and throw my stuff in the car. Jump off a bridge. Drive to the airport. Almost sounds reasonable. Almost.

A bona fide mountain. One of an infinite number on the most beautiful road I've ever driven; the one between Queenstown and Glenorchy.

A snapshot while Adam was at the wheel of what it looks like for almost every second of that glorious 45 minute drive.

Here I am, impressively well layered even if I do say so myself - considering I had to pack for both tropical islands and alpine ski town, looking cavalier with the man himself before getting thrown around shotover canyon in the afore mentioned Jetboat.
Here we are getting thrown around said canyon in said boat. Second row from the back on the left clenching our respective sets of teeth.
Real life kiwi ducks who swam across the lake and got out to say hello as we took pictures. Of course you won't be able to ignore the look of disappointment on their faces here; they had just realised neither of us spoke a word of duck. Maybe they were looking for directions or something but whatever it was they got back into the lake quicksmart.
The driver of this ship did some showboating (ahem) before he picked us up.

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