May 17, 2013 writing about May 15, 2013
Driving to Wanaka
We headed off to Wanaka from Te Anau, having visited the pristine paradise that is Milford Sound, and the amazing drive there and back (aside from the tunnel bit). This was just a one-night stopover we'd planned on our way to the Glacier Country, so there wasn't much planned to be done, other than the possibility of Karthik paragliding.
The road back was the same from Queenstown, as we'd have to pass it on our way to Wanaka. The drive was pleasant and shortly into it, on a particularly rare long stretch (the roads are usually always winding in the South Island), Karthik was clocking 130 kmh in a 100 zone. You guessed it, we saw flashing lights in the distance and a cop running onto the road ahead of us signaling us to pull over. Eeeh! Quite the buzz kill. But, yes, we weren't just shy over the limit; quite a bit actually. So we took the blow, said our apologies, happy that nothing would go into any record of any sort, and took our $230NZ fine and went off. Karthik felt bad, but we chalked it off as another experience. Our first international offence! And hopefully nothing to top this one.
We stopped over for a snack at a neat little cafe converted from a cottage, with lots of wooden toys and playthings for children. Kaelen didn't want to leave, but we had to be on our way. So we grabbed some coffee, more "Starbucks milk" for Kaelen, some cool "rolls" which were just long pieces of bread rolled up with cheese/pineapple filling and were back on the road. We saw Lake Wakatipu and the pretty mountains lining it and followed it all the way into Queenstown. That drive never gets tiring! In town, we grabbed some really cool lunch (pies) from a BP gas station. Imagine, baked pies with all sorts of cool fillings - this spicy veggie filling, a Thai chicken filling, and as well, this fried butter chicken patty! Yum! Beats 7-11 crap back home any day!
We drove up the Crown range of mountains past Queenstown, which featured some really winding roads with sharp hairpin bends, but were rewarded with some stunning views of the valley below. Crossing the range, we were back into low lying flatland countryside. It's just crazy how much the scenery can change in just half an hour!
The drive to Wanaka from there was surprisingly short, and we were already near the shores of Lake Wanaka and were calling up Richard, our paragliding tour operator. He instructed us to come to the foot of the Treble Cone ski area about half an hour's drive from Wanaka. So, Karthik was going to jump from a height of 1100m to 300m above sea level, making this one of the longest paragliding descents in New Zealand. More sweet scenery and cows crossing roads later, we met up with Jane and Richard, this sturdy outdoorsy couple who'd take Karthik up the Treble Cone in their beat-up old van, the "Flying Bus."
Penny was going to remain behind with Kaelen to watch Karthik fly down, however Jane and Richard both convinced us that they should go along the ride up the mountain, as it was something spectacular to behold from that height. So, convinced, we all boarded the Flying Bus, joined by Thierry, a French ex-pat who has called Wanaka his home for 20 years and spends his time paragliding and taking landscape photographs (nice life!).
The ride up was pretty shaky, as it was just a dirt road with steep dropoffs beside us and no guardrail of any sort to protect vehicles from tumbling down the side of the mountain. We reached our launching point and climbed a big down the hillside to a small level plateau. As Jane prepared the chute and gear, Richard explained the basics of paragliding to Karthik while Thierry took off on his own and Penny was busy trying to keep Kaelen from wandering off too far. It was an exciting time with a bit of nerves thrown in. We were quite high up and the views were just wicked from up there!
So, with Karthik finally ready and instructed to just run with all his weight leaning forward, Richard said Go! and they both began running off the mountain! In a few short seconds, the chute lifted up and they were airborne. Karthik has no words to describe the experience other than "Brilliant!" it was just remarkable flying up like a bird, hearing the whoosh of the wind, feeling the tug of the chute above, sweeping left and right, and just looking all around at mountains, valleys, and lakes from that height! And of course, apart from approaching the side of the mountain they took off from a bit too close for comfort (or at least it seemed like that), it was an amazing thing to do! Richard even tried to get the shadow cast by the parachute on the side of the mountain to avoid the cows grazing along there, as they apparently get spooked easily and run down the mountain and kill themselves. Luckily, no cows were hurt during this flight!
As Karthik approached the landing site, he couldn't see Penny and was a bit sad. The whole idea was to have Penny watch Karthik come down from atop. The landing was all good, but it wasn't until a good 10 minutes later that the Flying Bus came down. Penny too was really disappointed she couldn't see Karthik fly and land. We both had thought that they'd come back down in time for the landing. Blah!
But still, a worthwhile experience and Karthik definitely feels like he'll do this again! We then came back on the same road to town and found our apartment and just rested the rest of the day. Kaelen was happy this apartment had a bathtub (all our places so far only have had showers), so we had him indulge in a really bubbly foam bath. The next day would be a long day driving all the way to the Glacier country.