One of the newest things to arrive in Queenstown, and definitely something to try this winter festival week, is zip lining from the top of the gondola with Ziptrek Ecotours Queenstown.
Founded in Whistler, Canada in 2001, Ziptrek Ecotours is a unique experience for people combining nature-based learning with a rush of adrenaline. The Queenstown branch opened in December 2009, and now has 6 zip lines and 3 different tours (the 4 line Moa & 6 line Kea & in July & August a Twilight Tour complete with headlamps!) running down Bobs Peak from the top to the base of the gondola. The great thing about the tour, and what sets it apart from a lot of other adventure companies, is that they talk about the sustainable and environmental systems that they have put in place to make sure that they are protecting the natural environment on Bobs Peak, rather than destroying it. They work closely with local charities and community groups, as well as using solar technology to run everything for the heaters in the tree house to the wireless for their check in computer systems. They have also started an extensive native tree planting program to introduce beech trees back to Bobs Peak, and rebuilt and now help maintain walking and mountain biking tracks that were damaged during the building of the zip line trails. It’s nice to see a company being so passionate about what they do and about helping the environment and the staff mirrored that enthusiasm on the tour. They talked about global changes but brought it down to local level, and explained to us how we all could help to make a difference, if only something small, like recycling or keeping an eye on water usage at home.
Now I have to state at this point that the information given was in no terms a lecture. I do not do well being lectured on environmental issues and what I should and should not be doing with my life. I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about how the ‘eco’ side of the tour was going to be presented, but I need not have worried at all. Our 2 Ziptrek Ecotour guides were really knowledgeable without lecturing. They showed a real passion for working for the company and for what the company stood for and this was a pleasure to see them enjoying their work. The information they gave us was both interesting and fun, and presented in a way that wasn’t forcing it down our throats, but mentioned simple things we could do to help the environment both in Queenstown and back at home. One such thing was helping to pull out pine tree saplings on the walk through the forest. Pine trees are not native to Bobs Peak, yet have taken over and killed off most other species of tree and plant life. Ziptrek Ecotours’ tree planting programme is introducing the native trees like beech trees back into the environment, so pulling out the pine tree saplings, gives these native trees a chance to grow and survive.
Although the eco part of the tour was interesting, the main reason that we were there was of course for the zip lining. I have never been before so was really excited about soaring through the trees. There were 8 of us on the tour and 2 guides. Before we left the tree house base camp, we were all strapped into specially made harnesses (similar to those used rock climbing) and given a quick safety briefing. The harnesses were surprisingly light, which was good as we were going to be carrying them around for a while. I was just glad that after putting on the ‘quake weight’ my butt actually fitted into one so that was a huge relief. Once we were all set we walked down the tree platforms to the first zip line where one of our guides zipped across to the first platform to catch us at the other end.
Rory opted to go first so he headed down the steps to our second guide to be strapped on to the line. He’d been zip lining before a few years ago in Canada. He pushed off and went soaring off into the forest and even on his first run was already showing off hanging upside down – it looked rather like a dead turtle pose though.
Next up it was me and down I walked to the waiting guide. My adrenaline levels were through the roof. I was so excited I could barely keep still as our guide attached me to the zip line. Once attached the safety gates were opened and we were told to walk down the stairs till the line took our weight and then jump off from the stairs and off we went zipping. Sounds easy right? Ummmmmmm – it was at the point where I had to walk down the stairs and jump that I suddenly wasn’t so sure anymore. We were a LONG WAY UP and right then my mind starts racing with a thousand things that I imagined could go wrong. What if the line snapped? What if my harness broke? What if I was too heavy? What if, what if, what if. The word nervous doesn’t quite cover it. I was quietly crapping myself and quite frankly terrified!
I very careful took a few steps down so that the line started to hold me. And it held strong! I tentatively bounced a little to check and then the impulsive side of me took over and I thought screw it – just don’t look and jump. So I did. Next thing I know I’m soaring through the trees and what felt like 1000 miles an hour. What a rush. It was such an amazing feeling and I have no idea why the hell I freaked myself out (they have a 100% safety record I might add). It was exhilarating and such an amazing experience that I was disappointed when I saw the other platform and started to slow down. By the time I reached the platform I was giggling like a school girl and couldn’t wait to get onto the next zip line.
With each go the group’s confidence grew – yes there were others like me who were a little nervous at first – and by a few in we were all hanging upside down and spinning ourselves around on the lines like pros. The videos and photos say otherwise as we look like upside down dying turtles or injured birds trying to fly but we thought we were great. If anyone could hear us they must have wondering what the hell were we all up to as just about everyone was laughing or shouting as they zipped from one side to the other.
We did the Kea 6 line tour which takes you all the way down to the bottom of Bobs Peak and brings you out at the base of the gondola. It takes approximately 3-4 hours and includes a 20 minute scenic walk down through the native bush to the last zip line. Each zip line is longer in length than the previous, and the longest is the last which is a staggering 300 metres long (the length of 3 rugby pitches), reaches speeds up to 70kph and it is 30 storeys high (100m)! In total the Kea tour has a flying distance of 940 metres – all of which was totally amazing and exhilarating and one of the best experiences I’ve had in a long time. I not only had a fantastic time, but I learnt a lot about the local area, saw some amazing scenic views of Lake Wakitipu and Queenstown through the trees and even got some exercise. I definitely felt it in my legs the next day from the downhill walk but it wasn’t anything most of us couldn’t handle.
You are allowed to take your camera with you on the tour but it is advised that it has a strap so it can be secured to you when you are on the zip lines. I would also recommend taking a jacket or lots of warm layers to wear as it can get cool under the canopy of the trees – and in winter definitely a hat, gloves and scarf too. You’re not allowed to take bags on tour with you – so either leave them in the car or put them in a locker at the gondola or at your hostel/motel/hotel. You can take your wallet or vital things as the guides carry a backpack which everything is put into, if there is something you need to take. Whilst on tour they do take a few photos of you which you can purchase from the main office in town after. I would definitely recommend doing this as ours came out really well and it was great to have a memento of our trip.
Check out some of the videos we took on our tour on our You Tube channel
The important info:
Tours operate every day, all eyar round, in all weather.
Reservations are essential as the tours can only have a maximum of 10 people.
All tours include stair climbing – or descending – and trail-walking.
Maximum weight for people on the tour is 125kg (275lbs)
Children can go on the tour but they must be at least 6 years old and weigh at least 30kg (65lbs) to go alone. If under 30kg they can go tandem with a guide but only on the 4 line Moa Tour. Children under 15 must be accompanied by an adult.
The gondola ticket up the hill is an additional cost – although that is a lot of fun and there are plenty of things to do up there like the luge.
Make sure you wear closed toe shoes and wear plenty of layers as it’s cooler up the mountain than in town.
For more information and prices or to book a tour with Ziptrek Ecotours head down to their office at 45 Camp Street, Queenstown, phone 0800-ziptrek (from NZ) or +64 (0)3 441 2102 or go to http://www.ziptrek.com/queenstown-new-zealand/home