The Tiki Trail. I’d pinned it in my brain. The tourist centre had highlighted it on the map. I had to go, fully aware that the other three in our party did not share the same desire. My chance came on the last day – I was given a two-and-a-half-hour window and headed out in haste, luckily finding a free 180-minute parking spot (a bit of a rarity in Queenstown itself).
I set out, noting that the local cemetery was across the road from an iFly centre – that’s where you float on a powerful blast of air, totally suspended over a hole. I opted for the cemetery side: it seemed a lot safer and the trail was just beyond the far wall of it, though no-one I spoke to had heard the name “Tiki Trail”.
Turning onto Tiki it was pretty much what I expected – steep, forested and unrelenting. Leaving the stone wall behind I soon came upon a seat carved out of a mature tree that had obviously been felled. I was a bit surprised that forestry works were carried out on this mountain, because the next thing I came across was a zipline – which turned out to be the first of at least six bases I encountered.
The uneven nature of the track was something I preferred, my legs having caused me untold pain the day before on the sealed flat surface of the Frankston-Queenstown Trail. Whether it was the constant flexing movement necessitated by unevenness or simply climbing, my legs were fine. Shame about my heart.
I was alone, moving upward, occasional shrill birdcalls breaching the silence of the forest as I glanced at the shale formations, adorned with moss and lichen wherever they could find a footing. The trees – well, that’s another story. ‘Wilding conifer’ is the New Zealand term for introduced conifers that are spreading across the landscape – self-sown and unwanted. Radiata pine and Douglas fir, two of the main culprits, are important commercial species but, along with Lodgepole (contorta pine), are the most invasive. Where they dominate they kill off native species and thus the native animals. It’s a huge problem here.
I climbed 70 steps that had been put in place on a particularly steep section and soon after turned right, past another zipline. I guessed I’d reached halfway and, 10 minutes later, passed a group of three women doing the descent. I queried if I was about two-thirds along and they agreed, adding that it got easier from our current spot. It didn’t. Upwards, ever-upwards, past one of the many mountain bike trails.
I’d imagined breaking out into a cleared area well before the chairlift, but no – when finally I was in the clear, the gondolas were right before me, along with half-a dozen manmade attractions, including the luge on wheels (more a ride for children, it’s unlikely to get a testosterone-charged male’s hormones racing). Overhead, however, the paragliders soared, their bright-orange fabric stark against the sky; that would do it.
I enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate before heading for the lift. I’d enquired of the waitress how much it would cost, and all she knew was that it was: “Forty dollars for a season pass”. When I eventually found the exit gate to the chairlift it was blocked and there was a lady shifting the moveable airport fencing around. When I went to ask where I could get a ticket, she wanted to know if I’d walked up (my dishevelled appearance being a bit of a dead giveaway), and immediately beckoned me through. Cool, a free gondola ride. Walking up the mountain the only price of admission.
It was good to relax, but I was only a quarter of the way down when I was gobsmacked to see a bungee jump right beside a sheer cliff in the forest. Not a lot of margin for error there!
Then I was at the bottom, and I couldn’t help but notice the queue of about 60 people waiting to go up and wondering just how different their experience would be to the one I’d just had… but I wasn’t about to pay to find out!