Queenstown, New Zealand
After 3 months of intense focus growing the Uprise business in Australia and advancing the data layer of our portable wind turbine, a decompression session was in order. Since we were in the neighborhood, we chose to pop over to New Zealand for a quick stint to experience a new part of the world.
Truth be told, our Visas only allowed us to be in Australia for 90 days and since we were still working on a few deals that were cultivated during the Startupbootcamp Energy Australia accelerator, we had to leave the country to reset the clock on our Visas. I could go into detail about the pending deals and new opportunities that resulted from Demo Day, but that’s not what this post is about; this is about the magical place that is New Zealand and the wonderful time we had experiencing a small slice of it.
Before getting into that part of the story, it’s worth mentioning that we went into the trip with little expectations. I know for myself, I knew very little about New Zealand other than they’re mad about boats with a high percentage of multi-hulls, a kick-ass America’s Cup team (I do come from a boating background), and a lot of lush greenery. Other than that, I’ve heard it’s a nice place and know of a couple standout athletes that come from the area but that’s about it. This coupled with the fact that I’d been so busy with work that I didn’t do any of the typical pre-trip research, I was basically going into this journey blind.
Boy, was I in for a pleasant surprise.
The trip got off to an early Sunday morning start; 6 am international flight meant we had to be at the Melbourne Airport at 4 am, which meant we had to leave the apartment by 3:30 am, which meant the alarm sounded at 3 am. This wouldn’t have been so bad had we hit the hay early but last-minute prep, combined with some pre-travel excitement prevented me from entering dreamland until after midnight. Oh well, nothing a dozen or so shots of espresso and some exploration fueled adrenaline couldn’t overcome.
The flight was smooth and even though Jet Star seems to have a questionable reputation, I had no complaints whatsoever. When we landed, it was straight to the rental car agency where we picked up our trusty Toyota Yaris and it was off to find some breakfast. Even though we’d been in Australia for 3 months, we’ve been completely relying on public transportation and Ubers to get around, so this was my first experience driving on the wrong (left) side of the road since being in Scotland 9 years ago. No biggie, the awkwardness wore off in a few minutes and it was smooth sailing from there on out.
We were fortunate to have Anika and David, a couple of Kiwis and cofounders of Sirius Energy, as a part of the Startupbootcamp Energy Australia cohort and they provided an excellent list of things to do that we followed religiously. (Thanks, guys!) In fact, Trello became an invaluable tool in our Bootcamp workflow, so I turned their email list of activities into a New Zealand Trello board which kept us organized as we hustled to cram in as much as we could during our short stay.
First on the list was a drive over the Crown Range. What started as a relaxing drive quickly became spirited when the road hit switchback after switchback as it wound up the side of the hill. At times, I felt like I could’ve gotten out and run faster than the feeble little rental car but that didn’t stop me from putting it through its paces and setting the unofficial record for best time up the hill in a Toyota Yaris. Joking aside, once we neared the summit, we were greeted by some of the most amazing scenic views of lush green valleys and a rainbow of seasonal changing colors as we peered down on the Queenstown township.
After cresting the summit, we headed for the tiny town of Cadrona, specifically to visit the legendary Cardona Hotel & Pub. I can remember David telling me that the place was legendary, in the middle of nowhere, and, well, you just had to go there to experience it.
These pics kind of tell the story of why this 154-year-old establishment is so special but I now know why David had a tough time explaining why we needed to visit. It’s just one of those places that you must experience to understand.
The drive getting to Cadrona was so enjoyable, we decided to continue in the same direction and see where the road would take us. A few K’s down the road, we arrived at “Bradrona” where, well, just look at the pics…
Again, we continued in the same direction on one of the most delightful roadways I’ve ever had the pleasure to travel but seeing we were just getting further and further away from where we were staying in Frankton, Queenstown, I made the decision to turn around before getting to the town of Wanaka. This U-turn was one of the few regrets of the trip, as we later learned Wanaka was a charming little village that sounded like a place we would’ve liked to have experienced. Oh well, can’t win ‘em all.
On our way back, we stopped at the highest point of the Crown Range where there was a bit of snow and the views were epic. While the kids engaged in an all-out snowball fight, I soaked in the sights and took a few pics.
Afterward, it was back into town where we checked into our Airbnb that was perched on the side of a hill in Queenstown overlooking the Frankton Arm of Lake Wakatipu.
For dinner, we decided to try the “best burger in the world” at the famous Fergburger. Over the last year, I’ve had a predominantly veg diet, but this was an exception I was willing to make, and yes, it was worth it.
The following morning, I was up before dawn, where I was able to get a good amount of work done and capture this sunrise time-lapse before the rest of the family woke up.
Once the emails were answered, calls were made, and breakfast was had, we made our way out to Shotover Canyon to experience the world famous Shotover Jet. I’ve seen this on TV in the past and thought about how cool it would be to experience but it also took place in such a faraway land that I never thought it would actually happen.
My daughter, Kalani, said it was the best day of her life. I don’t know if I would go that far but it was totally awesome and a real highlight of an excellent trip.
After Shotover, we headed out to the quaint village of Arrowtown that was nestled in the foothills just beyond Queenstown. This was one of those places where I’d love to return with mountain bikes and completely go offline for an extended period to just enjoy nature and family.
The following day, work kept us indoors until the early afternoon before we drove up to the aptly named “The Remarkables” ski resort. I‘ve been to a number of ski resorts in the States but never have I been up such a steep, windy road that would traverse from tarmac to gravel to mud to ice and back again, often with no guard rail to prevent certain demise if you got too far off course. I don’t scare easily when it comes to driving, but there was a definite pucker factor navigating the dainty Yaris with its bicycle sized tires on this challenging section. In the end, the views and snowball fight made it all worth it in spades!
On our final day, we checked out of our condo and were on our way back to Arrowtown for brunch and a hike when the epic views of the idyllic Lake Hayes caught my eye and forced a quick stop.
While admiring the views, we chatted with some locals who convinced us to change our plans and drive out to the quiet town of Glenorchy where they filmed the Hobbit movies and several other blockbusters.
The road to get to Glenorchy left Queenstown and wound around the water’s edge for about 100km with views that were straight from a postcard. We stopped once on the way there at a section of shoreline and skipped rocks for a good hour. Almost every rock was in the shape of a perfect flat disc, a little smaller than a hockey puck, and the lake was mirror smooth making for perfect rock skipping conditions.
We then continued on to Glenorchy where we took in more sights at the water’s edge and stared in amazement at the jagged mountain range that surrounded us. It was one of those moments where I was extra conscious of living in the moment and appreciating the surrounding natural beauty.
We stopped for an ice cream a local store where the delightful gals working there told us about Paradise. Paradise is just beyond Glenorchy and the main movie set for the Hobbit movies and others. You’d think a place like this would be a real tourist attraction, but we hardly saw another person while we explored this amazing slice of nature.
As the sun began to set, it was time for us to sprint back to Queenstown to catch our flight back to Melbourne but not without stopping to capture this magic hour pic-of-the-trip first.
This was an action packed trip where we experienced something new each day but we still only saw a tiny postage stamp of the country.
With the vast, rural nature of the areas we explored, I couldn’t help but obsess over how perfect Uprise portable wind turbines would be for this pristine slice of the globe.
New Zealand, you’re a magical place and I hope you’re listening because I would like nothing more than to return for an extended stay with a proper camera, some rugged hiking boots, a quiver of bicycles, family in tow and a fleet of Mobile Power Stations.