It was a crisp and clear winter’s day. The snow-capped Remarkables reflected their mountainous brilliance off Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown. Thousands of beanie clad spectators gathered along the rocky shoreline. I too wore a beanie, but little else. Instead I lay face down on this pebbly beach wearing only a pair of underwear awaiting the starters whistle to sound. In a sudden burst of energy, we were off running along the waters edge. The icy water bit into my ankles like a rabid dog and the sharp pebbles embedded into the tender skin of my feet. For the moment I was in the lead but I knew the much younger and much fitter competitors would be on me at the first hurdle.
I was running the Jucy Undy 500 as part of the annual Queenstown Winter Festival. Having been held for 43 years the festival is the official start to the ski season in this world renown adventure capital. We had travelled across the ditch from Australia to cover, participate and immerse ourselves in the long list of varied events over the 4 day schedule. Erin and I were unofficial roving reporters on our first official assignment for Sling Adventures. We were intent on going through the motions of what it took to cover and report on an event, even though the audience to this point was only our loyal friends and family. It was our mission to test and learn our future ambitions to see if we had what it took to do this again. Along the way making note of any lesson’s learnt.
Monteith’s Dog Barking
Lesson learnt: Always double check the schedule.
The Monteith’s Dog barking event was what actually lured us to this trip in the first place. Coincidentally it was our first event, although not by design. A misreading of the official schedule meant we missed the precursor event of the Dog Slalom run down the slopes of Coronet Peak. Put down to jet lag we now awaited the dog barking event at the Festival HQ in Earnslaw Park. Dog Barking requires each owner with their dog to stand on a stage of hay bails and encourage their hound to bark on command. The quality and enthusiasm of the dog’s performance is judged, from which a winner is determined. Should the dog not produce a bark, the owner is then required to bark on their companions behalf. This bark however is is not judged but purely for humiliation.
Having warmed up their vocal chords and sniffed their adversaries, it was showtime. One by one they appeared, tails wagging in enthusiasm as they were led to the stage. Each introduced their champion canine before signalling for their dog to ‘speak’. Surprisingly, most barked on command. It seemed once they got a taste for it, and a cheer from the crowd, the dogs took to the barking with more purpose. Often addressing every corner of the large crowd emphasising their point with each successive bark.
A final was held and Gus (pictured below) performed well, but was outdone by a slobbering mastiff. Although you could say it was barking that was the real winner on the day.
My dogs are barking!!#QTWinterFest #WinterStartsHere
Real Journeys Friday Night Party & Fireworks
Lesson learnt: Don’t let personal ambition distract from the mission
As an avid skier and snowboarder, the chance to hit the slopes tempted us away from Queenstown to nearby Cardrona on the second day of the festival. A decent half day’s skiing was had although being the start of the season there was only a thin base of snow and the inevitable patchy and icy conditions had limited the runs somewhat. We also visited stunning Lake Wanaka to hang in a hammock for a while. We then returned to Queenstown via the Historic Cardrona Hotel for a nice meal and enjoyed a cleansing ale warmed by a roaring fire. By now it was just getting dark and we were planning to make the Friday night fireworks party back in Queenstown.
Traffic into Queenstown came to a standstill near the airport and we crawled slowly into town. We arrived only minutes before the fireworks were due to start. Parking back by our accommodation we ran the 1.5km into town as the first of the fireworks exploded in the darkened sky. Puffing and panting we joined the crowds around Lake Wakatipu as the fireworks display came to a climax. Streamers of coloured fire fell to the ground in the classic formations amid the synchronised “ooh’s and ahh’s” of the swelling crowd.
Just as the last of the fireworks died away Nomad, a local band to Christchurch, began their set on centre stage. A solid outfit with a good sound and a strong following of girls indicated by the screaming up in front. Nomad kept the gathered crowd on their feet while the surrounding bar and food trucks were busy serving the festival goers into the evening.
Jucy Undy 500
Lesson learnt: You do not need to be in an event to cover it.
Having watched the Mitre 10 MEGA Raft Race to begin day 3 it was now our turn to take centre stage in the Jucy Undy 500. We were joined by a few other individuals whose sanity was also in question. We disrobed on the beach. A small tent provided some modesty and warmth prior to the starting whistle. While the only offical requiremnt was that you wore a pair of Jucy underwear, some optional fancy dress items were being adopted in the form of wigs, feather boas and bow ties to add a quirky flavour. A brave female competitor bringing her own costume, simply two furry stickers to cover her from the waist up!
So we were off! After the dash down the beach in ankle deep water we turned to return back up the beach through the maze of obstacles. I came unstuck on the first hurdle. You might say the mind was willing but the body was weak. Leaping to clear the first stack of hay bails, I clipped the top and fell face first on the beach, trampled by half my combatants in the process. Not to be beaten, I was back up entering the inflatable obstacle course. I hauled myself over an inflatable pyramid but tumbled head over heels down the other side. The rest of the field now took the opportunity to trample me on their way past to the finish.
Battered and bruised, I limped over the line. Blood oozing from my frozen feet, scrapes down my back and my dignity firmly destroyed. The women were up next. Erin competitive in an equally challenging race. The commentators were I’m sure thankful that the furry stickers on the before-mentioned female entrant held firm over the obstacle course!
Olympus Bobsled Championships
Lesson learnt: Focus on the guys in fancy dress.
Battered and bruised we both went directly from the shores of Lake Wakatipu up to the ski resort of Coronet Peak. Spectacular views were had in a clear afternoon looking towards the Remarkables. We both registered for the Olympus Bobsled race. From experience, one of the most dangerous crafts on a ski slope is a bobsled. Mainly because they have a mind of their own! Thankfully the organisers had a decent amount of safety barriers set up to catch wayward bobsledders.
A decent Olympus camera package was up for grabs as well as a fancy dress prize. There was a shark, a tiger, two minions, a samurai (with sword) and a Donald Trump protester. After a quick briefing we were off. The enthusiasm was just as high as the Undy 500. Each competitor hurtling down the hill on a small disc of plastic and boy did they move! On crossing the finish line I dug my heels in as makeshift brakes and immediately got a face full of snow. Blinded, I was unsure if I were going to hit anything, so for safety dug my heels in harder resulting in more snow shooting into my unprotected face. As I wiped the snow from my frozen face I realised I had won my heat! A trek back up to the starting line was my immediate reward.
Alas, I was not as successful in the second heat, beaten by an inflatable shark. So I propped myself on the finish line to capture the final. A blue and yellow minion flashed past in a flurry of snow to take out the final and the substantial winner’s prize.
Back in Queenstown, an event which was not on the official agenda but arguably the main event in the entire country that evening was the rugby. The visiting British and Irish Lions took on the might of the All Blacks at Eden Park in Auckland. With both local support and expat support from the influx of seasonal workers, it was hard to tell who was the crowd favourite as we gathered in the crowded Pub on Wharf. After a close game, and an All Blacks win, we decided to have a nightcap at the Havana Bar located in the maze of lane ways in central Queenstown. A great atmosphere with cocktails flying thick and fast. We propped up our worn and tired bodies at the bar and consumed perhaps one too many cocktails to numb the pain.
MacPac Skin to Summit & Frisbee Golf
Lesson learnt: Don’t peak too soon.
A late and slow start to the final day of the festival. After our slight over indulgence the night before, we actually missed the 7am MacPac Skin to Summit back up at Coronet Peak where skiers skate up the main slope. Instead, we enjoyed a tasty breakfast at Vudu Cafe & Larder then strolled along the iconic waterfront to the delightful Queenstown Gardens. A rattle of a chain in between the tall pine forest caught our attention. The Frisbee golf competition had begun. A mainstay of Queenstown Gardens year round there are marked posts to enable frisbee golfers or ‘Frolfers’ to land a frisbee in the chain mail netting in as least throws as possible. Our attempts to join the Frolfers was thwarted as the competition started a day earlier, likely while we were running semi-naked across the beach!
As we were somewhat delicate from the previous day’s exertions we eventually took refuge in the lounge in front of the fire in our accommodation for the afternoon. Dusk settled in and pinky hues streamed between the mountains.
That’s a wrap! Thanks for hosting us Queenstown. Thanks for letting us hone our craft across the festival and we hope to be back next year to see more barking, bobsledding and will be more prepared to take on the hustle in the Undy 500. Enjoy the season ahead!