When my parents gave me the UK-NZ air ticket, I was overjoyed. I was a poor and long-term student just finished writing up my dissertation waiting for apt and gainful employment but needing a bit of a change of scene first. My big sis asked me to join to join the family in Queenstown, New Zealand to help in their restaurant as she had just had a baby and was indisposed for a few weeks. My parents had just flown out there for a 6 month grand tour. It was a perfect opportunity to help out using my cheffing skills and have an opportunity of going to the adventure capital at someone else's expense!
With my parents' email account of sipping champagne in business class burned into my mind's eye, I was somewhat disappointed to find I was in cattle class on with a non-stop flight with two touchdowns to refuel and stretch my legs, but, hey-ho, it was a gift after all. I was seated with a large family, mum, dad, elderly parent and 6 children. This is where my profound deafness came at an advantage for a change as two of them cried often and, judging by the looks on fellow passengers' faces, loudly throughout most of the journey. At least I slept well as the neighbouring places were occupied by two of these small people so sharp elbows were not an issue and while awake I happily played electronic games with them , our comunication having the common visual language of Sonic!
I arrived in Christchurch on the other side of the world tired but excited and whisked away to join the family by my mum and dad in their hired camper van. I can sleep for England and did so straight away and woke up once we had arrived in Queenstown, 7 hours and a stop later apparently.
I was speechless when I saw the beautiful blue Lake Wakatipu with snowy topped mountains surrounding it and blue sky above, immediately inspired and invigorated.
Queenstown is an adrenaline-pumping, adventure-seekers paradise. Activities of every variety and at many levels of competency are found there and I was raring to go but first I had a nephew to meet, a sister to catch up with and an explanation of how I would be expected to assist.
The clientele of the restaurant were mainly locals and young people on holiday animatedly discussing their latest adventures and escapades. They had an easy going-air about them and seemed polite and helpful to everyone they met.They were not much different to those I saw out and about the streets. How refreshing it was from the usual young people I happened to see around my studenty area back home - eyes down texting with earbuds on no doubt blaring music out loud enough for others to hear the tinny beat or with trousers so low I could see their underpants or, worse, butt cheeks! There was none of that here. Not in the parks nor the streets nor the shopping centres.
By evenings, I worked silently and busily in the kitchens. By the time the last customer had gone and I cleared away it was eerily still outside, watch faces 'smiling' at me from the gift shop window on my way to my sister's home. In a few hours time I would be sampling that days' new activity and crossing it off my 'to do' list by my next shift.
First trip out was a gentle cable car ride up Bob's Peak - the Skyline Gondola - which gave the most stunning views of Queenstown, the mountains and the lake. I had a great view of The Remarkables, various Peaks and over Queenstown. I also saw the belching funnels of the historic SS Earnslaw - a mere dot in the distance -plying its touristy trade along the lake, another gentle must-do. Cost for the ride up and down was about £13. Next day I returned with my new found friends and a spare mountain bike, hooked the bikes on the gondola to go up and then we took on the legendary challenges of the Queenstown Bike Park! A half day pass was about £25. Another day I was up there again for the luge advance track.I must have done it 3 or 4 times and took the chairlift to the top of the startzone. It was quite thrilling and fast paced with banked corners and tunnels. Cost was about £24.
A few days later and maxing out my card (luckily pre-paid) I had to go on the iconic NZ invention, the jet boat, at Shotover Rapids. It cost about £60 and, boy, was it worth it. Talk about white-knuckle. I got thrilled, I got wet and I got spun (and then went for an instant replay at just £10 more).
The following week my adrenal glands were in overdrive and I was having serious withdrawal symptoms so the family took me on a thrilling helicopter ride to Milford Sound. I was not prepared for their beauty and majesty and I got a very big lump in my throat and actually came close to crying. I would certainly have cried when I found out the £320 cost per person it would have been if my uncle-in-law , a helicopter pilot who does these trips in the tourist season hadn't taken us. A fuel contribution and the promise of many restaurant dinners was his fee! I will NEVER see anything as beautiful again.I was back cooking that evening high on what I saw earlier.
There was still one more activity I had to do. I knew my heart was strong enough but I wasn't sure if my bladder would be but I decided to risk it for the thrill. Just a hop, skip and another gondola ride up Bob's Peak was the ledge bungy jump. I half thought of duct-taping the camera to my hand to video record it all (as others did, so it must work) but that could be embarrassing and, anyway, it would probably knock me out on the way down if I flailed my arms as my folks' camera is a heavy DSLR. The long and short of it was that I jumped, or was I pushed, opting for the harness so feet are free. Judging by others' tales, I sort of screeched, crowed and roared on the way down and up and down and up and laughed hysterically for minutes after! A certificate and a T-shirt proved my mettle to those at home. It cost around £80.
Alas, my stay was much too short but with my sister finding a good nanny meant I was no longer needed. Anyway, my savings were running out! My friends took me for a drive over the Cadrona crown range, having vertiginous U bends but with amazing views (life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away - quote attributed to various authors). A quick film in a very cosy and intimate cinema bar in Wanaka rounded off my stay. The following day I flew back to the UK. I slept all the way with a smile on my face!
From GCSE to A level, it's all changing