By Brian Harrington
Departing Queenstown for Christchurch, our bus stopped first at Kawarau Bridge, site of the world’s first bungee jump in 1988. Jumping had not yet commenced due to our early arrival time. The bridge (over the Kawarau River) was built in 1889 and closed to traffic in 1969. A portion of the jump fees were set aside to save the bridge from a state of disrepair. Situated 140 feet above the river, Kawarau Bridge remains the most popular bungee jump location in New Zealand.
At 10:40 am we stopped for coffee in the tiny community of Omarama (Maori for “place of light”). Due to its Southern Alps location and the presence of mountain air thermals, Omarama is known as a world-class gliding location. It gained fame among sailplane pilots after hosting the 1995 World Gliding Championships. Excellent gliding conditions in the area have attracted record seekers such as Steve Fossett and several world gliding records have been achieved there.
At 11:30 am we passed through Twizel, the closest town to Mt. Cook, tallest peak on the South Island. Twizel is also the home of the Central Hydroelectric Dam Control Center for both the North and South Islands of New Zealand. A few minutes later we stopped at the Lake Pukaki Visitor Centre to view the mountain and to celebrate Judith Nahill’s birthday with song and a fabulous chocolate “mud” cake.
At 12:45 pm we stopped at Tekapo Lake Village for lunch. Afterward we visited the nearby Church of the Good Shepherd, used for Sunday services by several Christian denominations. A spectacular view of Lake Tekapo and Mt. John is visible from the inside of the church through large windows. Due to its clear atmosphere and absence of light pollution, Mount John University Observatory is located nearby. This area is also home to a military camp that trains New Zealand soldiers in Antarctic survival skills and pre-deployment training of forces being sent to Afghanistan.
At 3:15 pm we stopped in South Canterbury for coffee and shopping at the Tin Shed. It was here that Brian and Joan discovered that they had left their Passports locked in their Queenstown hotel room safe. Southern World Tour Company somehow worked a miracle and the passports were retrieved and returned to the Christchurch Airport in time for our departure to Rotorua the following morning.