It’s an easy and gorgeous drive from Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland National Park, to Queenstown, the capital of adrenaline sports. We will not be bungy jumping, skydiving, paragliding, jet boating or any of the other high speed or high altitude adventures offered in nearly every storefront but we will appreciate the continued stunning beauty of this part of the world.
As we drove I noticed that the place names suddenly changed from Scottish to Irish, a phenomenon we see wherever Europeans emigrated to new territory, that they choose a place that feels like the home they left behind.
The drive reminds us that park boundaries are arbitrary and the landscape continues well beyond the exit sign. Once we entered the small town of Queenstown, jam-packed with young backpackers, families with small children and now us, we sought out a cozy pub where we could soak up the youthful energy and plan our day. Travelers at the Fiordland Lodge where we’d stayed in Te Anau suggested the luge, or at least the gondola to the top of the mountain. Once Jack heard “top of the mountain” he would not be denied.
We timed our ascent so we could see the town at magic hour. We watched as cyclists and lugers and paragliders all rode to various points on the mountain, then continued hiking up to the launch area where we waited and waited and waited to see the tandem paragliders launch. Then we heard a call that the flights were canceled because of too much wind over the water and we turned away disappointed, only to see one after the other solo pilots glide over the valley. We assumed the concession flights were canceled for patron safety but the individual experienced pilots took off anyway from another launch site we couldn’t see from our vantage point. They were beautiful to watch in the golden light.
On our walk back to our hostel I ran up a hillside to a small cemetery, as I often do. Most of the graves marked people born in Tipperary, confirming my earlier thought. “It’s a long way,” I said to Jack, and we went back to our cozy home for the night.