Guest Post: What Really Happened On My New Zealand Contiki (and how Queenstown must be a lot like giving birth)

We always love first-hand adventures from our Contiki staff when they come back from a trip.  Graphic designer Andrea P. shares her tale of how Queenstown challenged her – read on for her adventures in the Adventure Capital of the World!

Guest blog post by Andrea P., Contiki’s own Graphic Designer

The glacier waters give Lake Ohau it's bright turquoise color

In retrospect, my second day in Queenstown was (I imagine) much like giving birth. It had the potential to be the most painful yet best day of my life. All in one day, I was going to experience two of the scariest things I had ever done in my life, but hopefully the most rewarding. Skydiving at 7:30am, followed by a Canyon Swing (the world’s highest cliff jump) at 1pm. Great. Awesome. What had I signed myself up for?!!
One week prior, I was enduring an 18-hour flight from LA to New Zealand. My 4th movie on the plane is starting up and I’m debating which “excursions” to sign up for while on my 11-day Contiki through the South Island. Bungee jumping? Hell no, too scared. My Contiki coworker Melissa had taken this exact same trip a few years back and made me promise to skydive. “You CAN’T leave New Zealand without doing it. When else are you going to do it? And what better place than Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world! You’re strapped to a professional and when it’s time to jump just close your eyes. They’ll tap you on the head when it’s safe to open your eyes,” is how she convinced me. With knots in my stomach, I wished I was on my way to some relaxing beach destination instead, but I knew that type of vacation wouldn’t be enough for me.

Group shot

Fast forward a few days and our Contiki coach is already en route to Queenstown. (Time flies when you’re swimming in a glacial blue lake, counting sheep on scenic drives, chatting up your tourmates, sampling chocolate from the Cadbury factory, and tasting beer from unlimited taps on a Speights Brewery tour.)

Beer tasting at Speights Brewery in Dunedin

The tour manager sends the Queenstown excursion sign-up sheet down the coach, my heart is racing. “Once you sign up you are LOCKED IN” he explains. “A hangover is not an excuse. The adventure offices won’t accept a cancellation unless you have a doctor’s note, and it costs $200 for non-residents to get an appointment.” I sign up for Skydiving at 9,000 feet. Now that I’ve signed my life away, I’m feeling brave. Why not add the Canyon Swing? Hey River Boarding sounds fun I’ll check that too! – despite our tour manager’s warning that it’s the most physical adventure on the menu. You only live once I tell myself.

Arrive Queenstown. It’s a big night out for us Contiki travelers, and the sun doesn’t set until 9:45pm in January (their summer). Flaming shots followed by teapots filled with delicious bartender concoctions flow steadily throughout the night. Like I said it was a big night. And my big day of Skydiving and the Canyon Swing aren’t for two more days… Tomorrow I river board, yikes!! Meetup time is 7:30am, ouch.

View of the lake from our hotel in Queenstown

Gondola rides up the mountain for dinner & drinks

Good news. Our River Guides explain on the drive up that boogie boarding down a river is one of the best hangover cures known to man, phew! The next 2 hours are definitely physical but absolutely amazing. Outfitted in helmets, full-body wetsuits, boogie boards, and fins, we line up like ducks in a row and make our way down the river towards the Level I and II rapids. Once we make it through the splashes and waves, we float on our backs, throw a nerf football to each other, and take turns getting jetskiied up and down the river. At the end we arrive at a boogie board waterslide and rope swing where we play a little while longer in this gorgeous scenery with mountains surrounding us on all sides. Now that I got my feet wet with river boarding, I’m ready to take on the scary stuff.

I wake up to my alarm the next morning and all fear has miraculously escaped me – maybe I left it all on the rapids. Almost 100% of my 50 tourmates signed up for skydiving and half of them did it the day before (and survived) with nothing but excitement in their eyes. I honestly can’t wait.

My skydive master’s name is Ralph, he’s tall, strong, and stoic. How many times have you jumped Ralph? “Thousands.” How many times do you jump a day? “Dozens.” I like Ralph, he’ll do. Within minutes we are ascending to 9,000 feet and we are out the door. Per coworker Melissa’s instructions, I close my eyes for the first 5 seconds as we tumble out. Zen-like and peaceful with a splash of adrenalin! – that’s the best way I can describe the ensuing minutes. You’ll have to see for yourself what it’s really like ;)

Ralph stretching

Me & Ralph, I trust him with my life

Geronimo! Yah, my eyes are closed

And now they're open, this is awesome!

My friends and family are all shocked, even I am. I never thought that in my life I would EVER skydive. EVER boogie board down a river into Level I & II rapids. EVER throw myself off a ledge into a canyon. It’s as if all 50 of us Contiki tourmates, from all parts of the globe, came together on this crazy trip and pushed each other to try things we never thought we’d do. As if we all held hands and jumped together…aw, now ain’t that sweet? “SWEET AS BRO!” as our Kiwi tour manager Josh would say.

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About the Author:  Andrea Peterson is a graphic designer for Contiki Vacations, travel-lover, and competitive beach volleyball player. Read her blog, Travel. Design. Play., to find out more of how she combines her love for all three things: travel, graphic design, and volleyball, and to see her video of the canyon swing!

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