Taking the Kiwi Leap in Queenstown

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Some clients may prefer to ride “in” the rapids than over them—another Kiwi specialty that can be booked through Mad Dog River Boarding. It’s called “river surfing” or “whitewater sledging” in these parts. Using modified bodyboards, these die-hards dive into the rapids, running the white caps and whirlpools on highly maneuverable sleds.

An excellent researching resource for just about all products that stoke the adrenaline around Queenstown is the “Independent Travellers Adventure Guide,” or “ITAG,” which puts out a series of complimentary booklets available in Queenstown. Descriptions, prices and directory information is online at itag.co.nz.

Queenstown is chock-full of hotels as tourism is the major industry here. Luxury wrapped in tasteful country decor within breathtaking surroundings is not difficult to find in lodges, B&Bs and quaint hotels. Nugget Point Boutique Hotel combines charming and cozy with eclectic, artful adornment and classic European sensibility in a spot suspended above Shotover River. It is just 10 minutes by car or public transport to the Coronet Peak Ski Area and only a few blocks from the compact center of town. Nugget Point is recommended as an ideal base from which to explore the scenery of Fiordland and the majestic Southern Alps and also hop over to the vineyards of Central Otago wine country. Each room is a suite with rates starting at $360 per room per night ($194 in winter) for two people.

Sofitel Queenstown Hotel and Spa is also located in the heart of the city and features 82 luxury rooms and suites, all with private double spa bath and most with private balconies with mountain or lake views. Guestrooms come with LCD TV, CD and DVD player, espresso machine, wireless Internet and an additional LCD TV in the bathroom. Rooms are dripping with contemporary design elements. Rates start at $232 per night.

package it While it is difficult to find a package out there that does it all for adventurers from the U.S., companies such as Down Under Answers and AAT Kings, among a number of other tour operators such as Goway Travel and Swain Tours, work with agents to create customized itineraries and day trips for clients, whether on an escorted group trip or FIT tour.

Down Under Answers, for instance, offers such adventurous add-ins as Picnic on a Peak helicopter tour with a ride through narrow canyons in the Remarkables range and over skyward glaciers before landing at a heavenly lake. The $499 pp side trip also includes a tour of Milford Sound. A jet boat rip through Shotover runs $85 pp and a jet boat safari from Queenstown along the Dart River to the UNESCO World Heritage area of Mt. Aspiring National Park (including a 4WD tour of the “Lord of the Rings” scenic filming locations) runs $155 pp. Travelers can spend three nights on Fox Glacier, South Island exploring the glacier peaks amid primeval rainforests. The $669 pp dbl rates include a half-day walk on Fox Glacier, a dramatic heli-hike on Fox Glacier, breakfast daily and three nights at the Te Weheka Inn on Fox Glacier.

For Down Under Answers, adventurous itineraries are usually built from scratch. “We can arrange anything a client wants on a customized basis,” says Cook. “And because we know our suppliers so well, they work with us to deliver what we ask. Insurance and liability practices in New Zealand are not what they are in the States, so we work hard to ensure the standards of the suppliers and companies we use.”

A 7-day escorted Taste of New Zealand tour through AAT Kings, meanwhile, provides two days in Rotorua gaining insight into the story and tradition of the Maori culture, touring the region around Lake Rotorua and the Geothermal Reserve and leaving time for visitors to soak in the steaming mineral ponds and roiling mud pools for which this area is famous. The Christchurch to Auckland itinerary includes a trip to Franz Joseph Glacier, a ride on the TranzAlpine train, an exploration of the Glow Worm Grotto at Waitomo Caves and time for adventures in Queenstown for land-only rates starting at $1,915 pp dbl.

“When you think about the time you have to spend when you customize itineraries for your clients and the number of times you have to go back to that client, it’s much easier to work with a company such as ours. And with AAT Kings it is not just being on a coach,” says Jeff Adam, v.p. of sales and marketing for AAT Kings. “Your clients will get a lot of free time built in and our local guides are there to help them build in that extra adventure rush they may want. Although a lot of clients want to rent a car and do a self-drive tour, they spend a good deal of their vacation thumbing through Fodor’s and trying to figure out the maps. Taking a coach takes the edge off—it gives a break for the real vacation that your clients are after. They get to relax and make friends, and let someone else do all the driving. And these can be in smaller 21-seat vehicles that are roomy and spacious. They are built for more adventurous traveling and can maneuver around national parks much more easily.”