The long awaited LUMA Southern Light Project rolled into town two weeks ago and I was first in line to see what all the hype was about. Only in its second year, LUMA is relatively new to the QT festival scene but the promise of glowing artwork transforming the humble Queenstown Gardens certainly brought in the masses.
After a suitable feed at Bombay Palace to warm me up, I braved the cold and followed the crowds towards the gardens. Despite the chilly temperature, the atmosphere was buzzing and the festival was full of young and old alike. The featured pieces of art were contributed by local artists from Otago and around New Zealand. 26 bright sculptures made up the walk which winded its way through the gardens. There was also live music and food carts on offer, as well as a few lit-up fairies along the way. The different colours and patterns the lights created on the water and in the sky was really something special and the night of culture provided a welcome break from the adrenaline-based activities for which Queenstown is renowned.
I have to say that I have never been to anything like LUMA festival before and I really enjoyed not only the amazing light shows on offer but also the community atmosphere. It’s a place you can go with your friends, with your family or even by yourself and with mulled wine on offer I certainly was a fan! It was also a pleasant reminder that art is cool! Far removed from boring art classes spent failing at sketching an apple, I really enjoyed reading about each of the sculptures and the inspiration behind them. I also noticed that one of the pieces was contributed by a class at Wakatipu High School. It was great to see how young people were getting involved in LUMA and from the number of kids I saw enjoying the lights, the night was definitely a hit with all the family!
It’s fair to say that the three-day festival of lights was a roaring success and a night enjoyed by many! So thanks LUMA, we can’t wait for next year!
I like to think of myself as an adrenaline junkie, a risk-taker, a go-getter and a yes-sayer (if that’s a thing?). However, as time goes on I’ve accepted that this is a sham. Whilst I am a thrill seeker, I’m also a massive scaredy-cat. I am literally scared of everything so I find myself stuck in this strange limbo of wanting to jump off insanely high cliffs but not wanting the rope to snap. The epitome of this personal crisis can be highlighted by a recent experience in the Philippines. I wanted to do a buggy ride so badly, and I did it .. but I spent the whole time crying and hated almost every second. I was so scared that the buggy was going to tip, or the engine was going to explode or the earth itself was going to self-combust… you see where I’m going! So, I decided that New Zealand would be the perfect place to conquer my fear of fear and do as many crazy, stupid and fun things that I could, provided they were safety certified of course…
My first challenge had to be a bungy jump, go hard or go home as they say! The closest thing I had done to bungy jumping was probably jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool, so the thought of hurling myself off a 43m bridge over the Kawarau River was daunting to say the least. The spectacular bridge bungy has been set up by the adrenaline experts over at AJ Hackett. The self-proclaimed leaders of adrenaline-fuelled fun have 8 activities in New Zealand and after a brief google search I was convinced they were the ones who could make me bungy!
The drive to the bungy site was an emotional rollercoaster and the temptation to turn the car around became a near-reality. When we arrived, we headed into the welcome building which has a futuristic vibe and features a spiral walk-way down to the front desk. We checked in at the reception and were given our ticket to bungy. After an obligatory toilet break we headed out to the bridge. Outside there is a viewing deck so all your near and dear can get a good view of you hurtling towards the riverbank. The bridge is a tourist attraction in its own right and busloads of tourists stop to catch a glimpse of the crazies jumping off the ledge! This creates a really positive, encouraging atmosphere which I would later appreciate when it was my turn to go.
As I stepped into my harness I was genuinely petrified however the staff up there know what they’re doing and this certainly helped instil a small bit of calm into my panicked brain. The queue to go moved far too quickly and before I knew it I was up. I’ve said this before, but I am a highly dramatic person by nature. However, I can honestly say that looking over the ledge to the drop below was the one of the scariest things I have ever done, second only to jumping itself. The crew gave me a count down.. 3, 2, 1 … and I thought nope this is not for me. Every single fibre of your body is saying get down from this ledge immediately and somehow you have to hot wire logic and take a leap of faith!
So as you can see, I managed to swallow my fear and jump off the bridge! I always imagined that the impact of the rope unravelling would be really sore and whilst there was definitely a shock when the rope reached the end, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. To be honest the hardest thing was trying to climb out of the dingy boat at the bottom!
I have to give props to the AJ Hackett team. They are obviously seriously experienced and clued in on what to do. They certainly put my nerves at ease … as much as was possible! The moral of the story is that whilst I was so scared to do it, taking this leap of faith was worth it! So now the adrenaline diaries have begun, keep an eye out to see what’s coming next!
New Zealand is known for its outstanding scenery and out of this world landscapes. All of you have to do is step out of your front door and you will find yourself mesmerised by the beauty to be found at every turn! And we get to call this place home – lucky us! Situated in the Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound is one of two glacier-carved fiords and since arriving in Queenstown, it has been at the top of my bucket list. Finally last weekend I got the chance to go there, and boy did I arrive in style!
There are many ways to access Milford Sound and over half a million people make the journey every year. Most people choose to either self-drive or take a coach but with only one road in and one road out the journey can be long and slow. The quickest, and arguably the best, way to get to Milford Sound is by using one of the flight companies. Most will offer a package deal of flight and cruise with the choice of flying either one-way or return. If you’re strapped for cash the coach is definitely worth it as you still get to see all the beautiful things the National Park has to offer. But the view from above is hard to top!
I arrived at the Air Milford base around 9.30am one Saturday morning after calling beforehand to make sure the flight was going ahead. I had previously been booked onto other flights which had been cancelled due to poor weather conditions and the risk of cancellation is always high. If there is too much wind or poor visibility the planes will not be authorised to fly. Whilst it’s annoying to be cancelled last minute, it’s better to be safe than sorry! After meeting our pilot and being given a quick briefing of what the day would entail we headed off to our plane. Now, I would consider myself a ‘frequent flyer’, however I wasn’t quite prepared for the size of the plane we were about to board. With only 7 other people plus the pilot I literally felt like I was in a glorified taxi and admittedly, I was nervous. Of course I had nothing to be worried about as Air Milford has a 100% safety record! The nerves faded into insignificance as soon as we took off though as I was able to see Queenstown as I had never seen it before. Seated at the back of the plane, not only did we have plenty of legroom (score!), we also had uninterrupted views of the landscape below. Throughout the flight our pilot kept us informed about where we were and what we were looking at but to be honest I was too busy taking in the scenery to pay much attention – sorry!
The flight lasted for around 35 minutes and the highlight for me was flying over the snow-capped mountains. I was overwhelmingly humbled at the chance to see such a pure, untouched part of the world and the sight of the bright sun reflecting off the white snow was something I will never forget. After we landed, some obligatory plane selfies were snapped and then we headed to the dock to wait for the cruise section of our trip. Air Milford works with Southern Discoveries and therefore it was their boat which we would be boarding. However if you want a smaller, boutique cruise, you also have the Cruise Milford option which is rated as the #1 activity in Milford according to Trip Advisor! For anyone not flying with Air Milford, you will have the choice of many other cruise companies. I can’t comment on the others but they all take the same route and vary in terms of price so there is something for every budget! At the dock we had twenty minutes to kill before the next departure so we took the opportunity to try and sneak a glance at the beautiful Milford Sound.
Southern Discoveries cruises have the option for a buffet lunch which was included in our Air Milford ticket. As a vegan, the word buffet doesn’t always fill me with optimism but before I got on the boat I checked with the ticket office staff who assured me there were some options available. The food was as you would expect from a boat catering for 150+ guests but the fresh fruit was a nice touch and I was also informed that the noodles were vegan. I would suggest either bringing your own lunch or skipping food altogether though as it only takes up time which could be better spent outside making the most of the scenery! We headed up to the top deck as soon as possible to take photos and even the bitterly cold wind couldn’t dampen our spirits! The cruise takes around 45 minutes in total and the highlight for me was seeing the fur seals taking a nap on some rocks beside a waterfall! Apparently on good days you can also see dolphins and penguins so I will be back for that! Insider tip – the waterfall is magnificent and they steer the boat really close which makes it a great photo opportunity but you will be up against stiff competition to get the perfect shot so head out to the lower front deck early and claim your selfie spot!
Once the cruise was over we headed back to the plane for our return trip. The pilot took a different route which gave us the opportunity to see some different terrain. On the way back we were in different seats, a few rows further up. Whilst the views are still amazing, it’s harder to get a good shot due to the position of the wing so if you want to get those outstanding pics try to request a back row seat!
Whatever way you look at it, the flight option to Milford Sound is expensive, but for this experience I would urge everyone to consider splashing out – at least for a one-way flight. It was truly one of the best things I have ever done. The views were next to none and I couldn’t help but feel I was getting a sneak peek of the true beauty of nature in an untouched pocket of the world. And, if the flying isn’t for you, rest assured that the views from the cruise will not disappoint! Happy flying!