Ziptrek Ecotours Over Queenstown – Face Your Fears!

One of the greatest things about Queenstown, alongside its incredible alpine scenery, is the amazing adventure activities! After all, this is one of the main reasons why Queenstown attracts visitors from all over the world. Whether you love the water, the mountains, or the forests, there will be an activity which is perfect for you. It also provides a great opportunity to do something which is slightly outside of your comfort zone. Pushing the boundaries of what you thought you were capable of makes for a very memorable visit to this country! One such company that offers a quintessentially Queenstown experience is Ziptrek Ecotours – if you have ever wondered what it’s like to soar like a bird, this is the tour for you!

Ziptrek Ecotours

Ziptrek Ecotours offers all of the thrills that you would expect from a nature activity in this area, but they have a strong sustainability focus too. They are aware that tourism can bring with it quite large social and environmental challenges, particularly in Queenstown which takes on a sizeable chunk of New Zealand’s tourists, and especially during peak season. So, Ziptrek Ecotours works hard to offset their impact through their ‘Tiaki’ approach. This is a promise to be respectful guardians of New Zealand’s natural environment. This translates to powering their site through solar energy, native shrub and tree-planting programs, and eradicating the invasive wildling pines from around Bob’s Peak. They also work hard to educate visitors on their tours about sustainability, and to inspire care for the natural world through fun and thrills. That definitely sounds like an genuine ecotour in our book!

 

 

Courtesy of Ziptrek Ecotours

 

What exactly is a ‘Ziptrek?’

Put simply, a ziptrek is an outdoor course made up of interconnecting ziplines through a forest. You zipline from one treetop platform to another throughout the tour, allowing you to see the forest canopy from an entirely different perspective. It truly is like being a bird! Ziptrek was originally started in Whistler, Canada, but was bought over to Queenstown in 2009 to take advantage of the similar appetite for adventure ecotourism. Ziptrek Ecotours is now home to four different zipline routes through the forest, varying in length and intensity!

Please note: Ziptrek  Ecotours is only accessible via the Queenstown Skyline Gondola. This means that you must pay the Gondola Company for a 2-way ticket (even though you’re only using the gondola 1-way).

Ziptrek Ecotours, along with the other companies sharing the site, are working hard to have this policy changed. It seems a little unfair, but please don’t let that put you off or you’ll miss the thrill of a lifetime! The trip up on the gondola is very smooth and has some incredible views, so it’s hardly a waste of money. Here’s Michael…um.. enjoying the view (I forgot about his fear of heights!)

 

 

The Ziptrek Ecotours Kea Tour involves 6 different Flying Foxes, plus a 20-minute walk.  I’m pretty relieved that it’s broken down (poor choice of words folks!) into varying speeds and lengths. It’s a good intro for the longer and faster ones to come! As the staircase beckons “gulp* I’m not sure that I’m mentally prepared, despite the great orientation. The staff are all young, fit and good-looking. Tom, a cheerful Brit, helps me get the safety harness up past my bum (you don’t mind if Tom’s helping, right?)

 

 

Facing the Fear

Yeah, the photo says it all. I know it’s a bit of a forced smile! The first flying fox is the easiest, but also the hardest to overcome your fear. They always say that the first is the worst! Taking those last three steps off the platform is a real act of faith –  but I have no intention of turning back now.  I breathe deeply to accommodate the sudden rush of air into my lungs, and suddenly I’m suspended in a moment of sheer joy. The valley echoes to my happy squeals. I did it!

 

 

Foxing Around

Sometimes you get to bond really well with others in a small tour group, and today we’re struck gold. It’s jokes all around, and we encourage each other to overcome our nerves. The tour guides are loving it! We’re ziptrekking with some lovely ladies from the USA, who have very strong southern accents.  The word “hang” sounds like “hi-ang” coming from them! Like me, they were apprehensive at first, but after the first experience they’re hungry for more. One of them, a spritely 70-year old, accepts a challenge to “hi-ang” upside-down all the way on this one!

 

 

About three-quarters of the way through the tour, the guides from Ziptrek Ecotours give us a brief chat about sustainability. They keep it short and to the point. It’s just enough information to retain and achieves a good balance with the tour. I won’t forget the kindness of the wee Asian lady who helped one of our party down a steep part of the track. Nor will I forget the Americans who look forward to the response of their children and grandchildren when they see the photos on Facebook! Look at how we laughed at our fears:

 

 

View our other travel blogs on the Queenstown region to help plan your trip:

 

Happy Travelling!

A Day Out With Wanaka River Journeys

Although Queenstown has won the well-deserved title of ‘The Adventure Capital of the World’, this doesn’t mean there aren’t some great offerings elsewhere! In fact, you don’t have to stray too far away to find some thrilling experiences. The nearby town of Wanaka, just an hour’s drive away, is home to the fantastic adventure activities run by Wanaka River Journeys. This is a fantastic way to take in the scenery, and also get a bit of a thrill whilst doing it!

When it comes to adventure activities in New Zealand, you have a plethora of options. Many travellers choose to visit the country specifically for skydiving, white-water rafting, and of course bungy-jumping opportunities! It’s quite a badge of honour to say you have experienced these things in New Zealand. However, they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. If you don’t have a head for heights or want trip more suitable for multiple age groups or families, a jet-boat trip is an excellent choice.

 

The Jetboat

The jetboat is a pretty iconic New Zealand invention. The country is full of many fast-flowing and shallow rivers, which make most traditional boat designs unsuitable. It’s just too easy for propellors to get caught on rocky riverbeds. The jetboat was invented by Sir William “Bill” Hamilton in 1954 (hence its other name, the Hamilton Jet) to overcome this problem, placing the propulsion system on the stern and inside the boat instead of under the water. This also made the boats much faster and more maneuverable (cue the famous ‘jet spin’ which is the mainstay of many rides!) Jetboat trips have become a mainstay of New Zealand tourism, and other adventure tourism offerings around the world. But it will always be an example of the old-fashioned Kiwi ‘No. 8 wire’ mentality!

 

Wanaka River Journeys

These days, there are many, many vendors offering jetboat rides all over New Zealand. This makes it pretty tricky to know which are the ones to choose. Hint: it’s not all about the price tag! With pretty much any tourism activity, boutique operators offer the best value for money. This is because they have the inside, local perspective of an area that is so valuable for visitors. They can take you to all the best views and photo spots that you would be unlikely to find on your own!

By choosing Wanaka River Journeys, we knew it was going to be more than just another jetboat ride. Their trip takes us through the spectacular Matukituki River, which runs to the northwest of Wanaka. Because the river flows right off the glaciers, it has the most extraordinary clarity. With all of the mountain views of Mount Aspiring National Park to boot, this is one incredible journey.

These small owner/operators are typically punctual and right on schedule. Sue, co-owner of Wanaka River Journeys pulled up right outside the Edgewater Hotel. We shared the van with some delightful Indians, one of whom thought I was the driver! Bless her! We arrived at the wharf and were quickly kitted up with giant size raincoats, gloves, and lifejackets. (You’ll see why the coats are necessary if you read on!)

And We’re Off!

 

Here’s where the trip gets really special. Brent, the jetboat driver and co-owner of Wanaka River Journeys, is Maori. His commentary on the land is informative and from a Maori perspective. We started the journey with a ‘karakia’, a Maori prayer to our creator, and for the remembrance of ancestors. Something that Wanaka River Journeys is also very considerate of is the environment. Their operation works closely with the Department of Conservation and local farmers to minimise their impact, and also monitors river activity for signs of any disturbance to the ecosystem.

Then the engine roars into life and we’re off, churning through the water at the rate of knots. Brent gives a pre-arranged signal, and seconds later we have first 360-degree spin. Thrilling! (This is where it pays to use the toilet facilities before you go). The raincoats also come in handy; as the boat spins around, you’ll get sprayed pretty heavily! But that’s all part of the fun. After a few of these spins, I begin to experience a dull ache around my face. I’ve been grinning like a fool throughout the entire maneuver, and can’t seem to stop!

 

Nature at its Finest

 

A really special moment for me is when I spy two beautiful black swans seemingly suspended in flight, their wings fanning the air in perfect unison. We stop in numerous places where Brent’s passion for the land shines through his commentary, and once again I appreciate how much more there is for me to learn about my own country. Unashamedly, I admit I love all things LOTR. This is solid LOTR country, so another added bonus. Today, the low-lying clouds gave the land a strong mystical feel. Back at the wharf, Brent translates the karakia into english. Another great memory to store away.

 

Happy Travelling!

 

Exploring Mou Waho Island with Eco Wanaka Adventures

When it comes to the easygoing alpine town of Wanaka, its breathtaking lakefront view is pretty hard to beat. Just a one-hour drive from Queenstown, Wanaka should definitely be on your itinerary. A good way to think of it is as Queenstown’s more laidback cousin. This isn’t really the destination for partying hard in; Wanaka is all about chilling out and partaking in the picturesque nature experiences of the region. In this post, we explore the incredible tranquility of  Mou Waho Island!

Exploring Lake Wanaka’s Islands

The islands of Lake Wanaka are actually one of the town’s best-kept secrets – and they are hidden in plain sight! A lot of travellers simply don’t realise that all but one of them can be visited either on an organized tour or independently. This is a great way to see the area’s spectacular alpine scenery from a different perspective. The photo opportunities are just extraordinary!

 

 

The Options:

 

Ruby Island – This island can easily be seen from the main town, as it is only 1km from the lakefront. This makes it one of the popular islands to visit, as it can be reached by kayak in less than an hour. This kayak trip makes for great half-day activity during your time in Wanaka, as rentals from the lakefront are very cheap. Ruby island is even home to its own BBQ, which makes it a fantastic picnicking spot! If you want to do this during your visit, it’s best to go early in the morning before the wind picks up. Kayaking across the glass-like surface of Lake Wanaka is a breathtaking experience!

Mou Tapu – This island is totally pest-free, as the lake formed a barrier against mice and other predators. This makes it very important to conservation efforts, as many endangered plant and animal species have flourished here unhindered. It can’t be visited on any tours.

Mou Waho Island – This is definitely the best of the bunch. Mou Waho Island is the largest at 120 hectares and has been pest-free since 1995. Since then, native flora and fauna have flourished. The buff Weka (one of the cheekiest birds you will ever encounter!) was transferred here in 2004, and is now part of a thriving population of native birdlife. Mou Waho Island is a joint project managed by DoC and the local Wanaka community, who have worked hard to ensure that the island remains free of any threats to the ecosystem.

 

Note: With the exception of Ruby Island, the rest are all managed by DoC (The Department of Conservation). This means that dogs cannot be taken on the island, and that there is a total fire ban in place all year round including in campsites.

 

Visiting Mou Waho Island with Eco Wanaka Adventures

Mou Wahu Island doesn’t have any public ferries on a schedule, meaning the only way you can visit is by joining an organised tour. Eco Wanaka Adventures are the real experts in running eco-tours in the area. Best of all, they take conservation very seriously. Their unique agreement with the Department of Conservation allows them to run tours to Mou Waho Island, allowing travellers the privilege of exploring this remarkable project. Best of all, they advocate for an extremely hands-on approach to conservation by getting visitors involved in their efforts. Every visitor to the island gets to plant a native tree on its shores! It’s an amazing feeling to think that you have added to conservation efforts by visiting somewhere, rather than taking away from them. It just shows how tourism doesn’t have to be destructive!

 

Lake Wanaka Cruise and Mou Waho Island Nature Walk

The only requirements for this eco-tour are an average level of fitness and a love of nature! Our tour was taken by Chris Riley, the founder of Eco Wanaka Adventures. His handshake is a real bone-crusher! Not surprising for a man who has lived an active life diving, sailing and trekking his way around the world. He has been involved in very hands-on tourism since the early 80s and has all the great stories to show for it!

The best thing about this beautiful wilderness is that it’s just that.  Absolutely nothing for miles. Just native birds, bush, and views that’ll make you gasp. Chris imparts his extensive knowledge of Mou Waho Island with enthusiasm and humour.

 

 

 

Learning About Native New Zealand

Guess what? I know the difference between a Manuka Tree and Kanuka Tree. I’m not telling! (Hint: it’s all in the size of the balls.) It was very enlightening to hear about how resourceful the Maori were on Mou Waho Island. They used the fibrous part of the Lancewood plant for their famous tattooing – a combined artist’s tool & antiseptic! We reach the summit and silence – except for the pure notes of the bellbirds. I can’t begin to describe the glistening jewel of the sea that awaits visitors on this trip. It has all the peace of the archetypal island paradise. Just for this moment, it belongs to ME. All too soon, we’re making the descent back to the base.

 

 

 

Chris plants a tree, then unpacks our lunch at the picnic table. It’s big enough to feed the local rugby team! Then, something funny happens. A cheeky and very curious Weka decides to inspect our provisions. It’s very charming until it snatches a plastic bag out of a lunchbox and takes off. Chris is in hot pursuit! After much squawking (the Weka’s pretty vocal too!) Chris appears out of the bush waving the plastic bag triumphantly over his head. But the Weka-the-Pecker wasn’t giving up without a fight. The tables are turned, and now Chris is the one being chased! But the winner is Chris, doggedly determined that no rubbish be left behind on his island paradise in New Zealand. What a sweet journey it’s been!

 

Happy Travelling!

 

Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary, Wellington

As the capital city of New Zealand, Wellington has a lot of the mainstays that most capital cities have. The parliament buildings (the aptly-named ‘Beehive’) museums, and the national archives (you get the picture). But there is far more to Wellington than this. Known by the epithet of ‘the coolest little capital in the world’, Wellington sure packs in a lot for a city of just over 400,000 people! Of the most incredible sights? An eco-sanctuary of native species spanning over 500 acres…right in the middle of the city! In this post, we give you: The Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary.

 

Credit: Julia Golledge

New Zealand’s Conservation Efforts

As an ecosystem, New Zealand was completely isolated for thousands of years. The result is a totally unique mix of flora and fauna which you won’t find anywhere else. Sadly, this was hard-hit by European colonization in the 19th century. Introduced plants and animals wrecked havoc with the natural balance, and many species went extinct. There are 50 bird species alone that this country will never see again. The most famous being the giant Moa and the Haast Eagle (which had a wingspan of 3 metres and once hunted humans!) However, there are now considerable efforts to turn back the damage.

Wellington is an area that was especially hard-hit by the degradation of native wildlife. Projects like Zealandia and nearby Kapiti Island are working hard to change this, and the results have been astonishing. Birds such as Tui and Kaka, once unseen and unheard in Wellington, are now a common sight in the suburbs. This is all the more amazing when you consider that these conservation efforts are a pretty recent development. New Zealand now has the ambitious target of making the entire country predator-free by 2050. When it comes to protecting native species, it really is a case of going big or going home!

 

 

The Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary

The Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the jewels in the crown of New Zealand’s conservation efforts. Zealandia is part of a 500-year vision to integrate New Zealand’s native flora and fauna back into urban areas. The entire sanctuary spans over 500 hectares and sits in the suburb of Karori, right next to central Wellington. Since it began, Zealandia has introduced 18 native species back into the wider Wellington area. Many of these species have not existed on the New Zealand mainland for over a century! This truly is an extraordinary achievement.

When we arrived at the Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary, it felt like we were the only people there – and we were. Feeling overjoyed that we’d have the whole place to ourselves, we smugly headed towards the ticket office. Except… it was closed! Be warned dear visitor, this vast paradise doesn’t open until 10am. Although we felt a bit like we had wasted our morning, it was definitely worth the wait. There’s an additional charge for seeing the exhibit hall, which is incredibly interesting for foreign visitors who don’t know much about New Zealand’s unique wildlife.

 

 

Exploring the Sanctuary

There are some great areas along the way where you’ll come across an array of buttons on a panel. Press any of them, and they’ll sound off some birdsong from one of the species represented at the Zealandia Sanctuary. Some of the folk became irritated with a tiresome little woman monopolising the panel (yes, it was me!) After his third attempt, Michael managed to drag me away. What struck me the most about the Zealandia Sanctuary is that this 550-acre valley of lowland forest and wetlands is so close to the city, yet feels so tranquil. My favourite spot (apart from the pushy button area) was the feeding station for the Kakas!

 

 

The Cheeky Kakas

The kaka is a native New Zealand parrot, which has disappeared from much of the New Zealand mainland. It’s closely related to the Kea, its more famous cousin, though Kaka are much more widespread. They are however just as inquisitive! As these large parrots swooped past just a few feet above my head, I was convinced they might land there if I stood still for long enough! Actually, these cheeky birds left me feeling that their intellect may very well be superior to my own.

 

Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary Tours

For something a bit different, you also have the option of booking onto their twilight and night tours. These guided tours take place outside the regular hours, so you can have the sanctuary pretty much to yourself! Here, you will get to see native New Zealand wildlife settle into a new rhythm. Birds will start flying back to their nests, birdsong will change, and you might well catch a glimpse of nocturnal birds such as Kiwi!

 

Info for visitors:

Zealandia is just a 10-minute drive from the centre of Wellington. There is a free shuttle from the central I-SITE, or alternatively you can take a public bus with Metlink. The sanctuary is open from 10am to 5pm daily. Last entry is at 4pm.

Definitely consider taking a break in the Rata Cafe – you will be surrounded by birdsong and great forest views!

 

Happy Travelling!

 

Cable Bay Walking Track, Nelson

The Nelson Region is home to some really fantastic walking opportunities, though they often don’t make it into the guides you see online. But this doesn’t mean they aren’t worth doing! In fact, some of these ideas are very much considered ‘local’ recreation. This means that you get to enjoy a really authentic New Zealand experience. The Cable Bay Walking Track is definitely one that you should add to your list. It’s a pretty demanding climb, but well worth the effort for the spectacular coastal views!

 

Cable Bay Walking Track

The Cable Bay walking track is a predominantly hilly hike over the coastline between Cable Bay and the township of Glenduan, which is 23km north of Nelson. This walkway is 8km long, and can be completed in either direction. It will take someone of an average fitness level about 3 1/2 hours one-way. There is also the option of doing the smaller Glenduan Lookout Loop, which takes about 2 hours. The reason why this walk is so spectacular is its location; spanning the right-hand side of the Tasman, good weather will give you spectacular views across the Bay. During the walk, you’ll get to enjoy the stunning vistas of the Abel Tasman and Kahurangi National Parks, and well as Nelson city.

Note: The Cable Bay walking track is not open all year-round. Parts of the track pass through private farmland, which gets closed off for lambing between August and October. It’s important to remember at any time of year that this is working farmland. This means following a one basic rule: leave everything exactly as you found it. It’s also worth checking the Department of Conservation website for any alerts such as fire danger before heading out.

 

Always Be Prepared!

When it came to our visit to the area, Michael just said “Let’s do the Cable Bay Walk.” “Ok.” I was my response, and it was a done deal. As I tried to keep traction on the steep hill climb, I remembered what I said and marvelled at my dumb acceptance! Why didn’t I pose a few pertinent questions, like “what grade is this walk”? and “will there be a lot of climbing?” It’s always a good idea before you set out to check the terrain of the walk before you head out. After all, there is a pretty big difference between 10mn on the flat and 10km up a hill!

Make sure that you bring some sturdy footwear for Cable Bay, too. It’s a common sight in New Zealand to see tourists trying to do some pretty hefty hikes in just a pair of tennis shoes! If you end up slipping and giving yourself in injury, it could put a serious dent in your holiday plans. As always with travelling, it’s better to be safe than sorry!

 

 

A Taste of Kiwiana

The view looking out over the sea is stunning. Unlike some of the water around the Tasman area which is more of a green-turquoise, this is the deepest hue of blue.

After leaving the carpark we stroll along a country road. The cicadas are singing and the bellbirds are hitting the high ‘C’s’. One of the best things about these birds is how plain they are. They look like little sparrows – it’s their beautiful voice that makes them stand out!

 

 

We arrive at the start of the Cable Bay track, where an old red tin barn is conveniently located for a photograph. Michael loves this bit of Kiwiana. These barns really speak of New Zealand’s rural farming heritage. We both stop to whip out the camera. This is probably a meaningless exercise to some, but one day these old barns will be gone.

 

 

The Climb

The walk begins – well, ‘climb’ is probably a better word! There are plenty of photos to be taken along the way! The track gets even steeper so it’s best to dig in. Commit yourself to making good time, and earning a rest on one of those nice park benches. Don’t forget to pause and admire the view:

 

 

As we rested on a park bench, we had to chance to admire a Harrier swooping overhead – gorgeous bird! Too soon, it’s time to move on. The climb continues…on and on it goes! Just when it seems as though we’ve reached a plateau, another marker higher up indicates an even steeper ascent. Did we miss the sign that said “MOON: another 384,403 Kms”? It definitely felt that way! Finally, the signpost indicating the beginning of the descent! I give thanks:

 

 

Happy thoughts are back again! The descent is wonderful. We come across some fearless livestock – mildly offended that we humans have interrupted their day. No need to worry though, they’re curious animals, but very used to humans. Mostly likely, they will ignore you. Don’t you just love this little goat lurking in the undergrowth?

 

 

Although I’ve whinged a bit about the Cable Bay Walkway, don’t let that put you off. It’s important that you have a good level of fitness if you want to do this walk. Start the climbing part of the loop first, and take stops on the way to enjoy the beauty. My hips are killing me, and I’m a little surprised to see Michael rubbing his own rump – seems we’re ALL getting on a bit! Time to pop the cork, kick back and watch the frost forming on the glass!

 

 

For some walks in the wider Nelson area, check out our specialist post on the subject.

Happy Travelling!

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