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New Zealand Trip Report

Day 24 of 24

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Sunday, March 24th
Queenstown Gardens, Skyline Gondola, fly home

Today's our last day in New Zealand! We started off by having breakfast in the hotel while reading the newspaper. You'll never guess what I found in the paper. The verdict of the dog mauling case from San Francisco. It's international news!

Jean went off shopping while I took a stroll over to the Queenstown Gardens. It's a small little park with jogging paths and a par course. There are Lombardy poplars on the shore, many of which were showing off their fall colors. There are conifers planted along the path. I watched kayakers and parasailers enjoying the sunny day. From the bench at the end I had a great view of the mountains on the northern side of Queenstown.

The steep climb up to the St. Moritz

More parasailers

Poplars dot the shore

I continued walking around to the other side of the peninsula, where I had great views of the Remarkables and of the Kelvin Heights golf course in front of it. I then walked through the center of the park and was greeted with a wonderful pine forest. The smell of the pine trees was intoxicating, instantly reminding me of home. Or rather, my second "home" in the Sierras. I thought of nice *dry* hikes in the Sierras.

Remarkables above a golf course

I walked past tennis courts, a lawn bowling club, and a duck pond. Then I came across two huge trees labeled Sequoiadendron giganteum, more commonly known as the giant sequoia tree as found in the Sierras. Apparently the trees were planted here over a century ago. They are quite tall now (sequoias can grow about a foot a year), but look completely different than the sequoias you'll find in Sequoia National Park. Their bark is a different color (not as rich) and they have branches almost all the way down to the ground (whereas sequoias in California shed their lower branches). Of course it's a completely different climate, but it would be interesting to see what they would look like a few hundred years from now.

Pond in Queenstown Gardens

We took a taxi to the Skyline Gondola, where there was a long line to go up. We just happened to go at the same time as a large group of teenagers. Eventually we made it to the top, where we were met with tremendous views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and the surrounding mountains. It's definitely worth the price of the gondola ride (which is an adventure in itself). From the viewing platform we could see the bungee-jumping platform below. I got sick just looking at it. Unfortunately, jumps wouldn't start until about 3pm and we had to leave before then. I say unfortunately not because I would have done it, but because I would have wanted to see the looks on the jumpers' faces. I heard a few people on this trip say that they would rather jump out of an airplane (with a parachute of course) than do bungee-jumping. There's something frightening about just taking a flying leap with nothing but your ankles to save you.

Queenstown as seen from Skyline

I get sick just looking at the bungee platform

We viewed the street luge course. There's a separate lift to go up and ride down little plastic trays on wheels. It looked like it might be fun, but unfortunately we didn't have time to do it. We had a flight to catch. We did have time to eat lunch at the buffet restaurant, enjoying the great views.

Luge at Skyline

Luge at Skyline

We noticed smoke coming from the mountains on the other side of the lake. I hope it was just a controlled burn. We took the gondola back down, checked out of the hotel, and took the shuttle back to the Queenstown airport. The shuttle driver mentioned to us that the fall colors would probably peak in about 2 weeks. We were just a little bit early.

We were surprised to run into Chris and Sally at the airport. They were on their way to Christchurch. We chatted with them a bit before checking in. The flight to Auckland took about an hour an a half. We had a short layover in Auckland which was completely taken up by walking to the international terminal, checking in, paying the departure fee, and going through yet more x-rays. There's another set of x-rays right before the gate for added security (shoes, too).

The gate was a zoo, as the flight was overbooked. The flight itself was about 12 hours, landing in Los Angeles ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, once we landed we taxied on the runway for about 20-30 minutes. We were stuck in a traffic jam at LAX! When we finally got into the gate we deplaned, went through immigration, picked up our bags, went through customs, and then put our bags onto a conveyor for our connecting flight. Now, I had called the day before to confirm our flight was at 2pm. The woman at Queenstown had checked us all the way through but hadn't mentioned any changes. So I assumed our flight was still at 2pm.

Well, it turned out they'd booked us on the 1:15pm flight after all (our original flight). Around 1:45pm I got very confused and ended up not being able to get on the 2pm flight, either, which was overbooked. When I finally got to the information desk, I found out that someone had in fact booked us on both the 1:15 and 2:00pm flights! But while our bags were probably already at SFO, we weren't. They booked us on the 5:30pm flight and we spent the next few hours hoping our bags were safe. After spending way too much time at LAX we arrived at SFO and successfully retrieved our bags, none the worse for wear. Our long trip was finally over, and we were glad to be back home.

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