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Queenstown June 1, 1988 - Boat, helicopter, gondola rides highlights of day

By Bob Van Leer

 (QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND, June 1, 1988) - Today Betty and I took a jet boat ride on the Kawarau River, the outlet for Lake Wakatipu. We wanted to compare it with the Rogue River jet boat rides to see if there were any lessons to be learned that might be useful at home. The answer is that there aren't.

  The boat ride was interesting, but did not compare with what is already being done on the Rogue. What they are selling here is a boat ride on the river, not a trip to anywhere. There is white water near here but we didn't get a chance to see it. Our boat ride was about six kilometers down the river and return. The boat was a 16.5 foot craft powered with a 300 h.p. engine.

  Nine of us and the pilot went on the trip, but six would have been better seating. There were several riffles; however the only one of consequence was over a shallow dam at the outlet of the lake. The pilot did a lot of hot-dogging, a lot of flat spins and demonstrations of how close he could go to rocks and other fixed objects without hitting them.

  The river itself was crystal clear. The bottom was clearly visible in 10 feet of water. We stopped to watch in one hole where there were numbers of brown trout, all about 18 inches in length, that the pilot said were spawning. The day was cold. There were patches of snow down to the water and all around are snow-capped mountains. A ski resort was operating on one of the mountains.

  We had signed up for a three-way ride. After returning from the jet boat trip we were taken by helicopter for a short tour and set down at the top of a gondola ride above Queenstown. There we were able to get hot coffee for a warm up at a restaurant-gift shop at the top of the mountain.

  Up there the snow covered the ground. The helicopter set us down on a landing pad covered with about a foot of snow. At the top of the gondola ride we were 1461 feet from the beginning of the ride, which is on a hill behind town. The lake level is 1100 feet.

  The gondola ride is interesting. It is completely automatic; the gondolas are on an endless cable. They hold four passengers for the four-minute ride. Passengers get on and off by themselves; there are no attendants. The 1461 foot drop is done in a horizontal distance of only 2400 feet. After coffee and sightseeing we completed our trip by the gondola ride to the bottom. So we started in a boat, continued by helicopter and wound up on a gondola.

  In the news today is a development showing the growing unrest in the South Pacific with global overtones. Australian customs had discovered two days ago a shipment of 16 tons of Soviet munitions destined for Fiji, where there was a coup last year. The shipment originated in North Yemen, a Russian-allied nation on the Arabian Peninsula.

  There is suspicion now the weaponry may have been destined for New Caledonia, a French colony between Australia and Fiji where there is the beginning of an insurrection by the native Kanaks. However, the Kanaks are a minority in New Caledonia. The Kanaks want independence but the majority, mostly Europeans, want to continue the ties with France.

  Here in New Zealand there are some problems between the majority Europeans and the native Maoris. The percentage of population of natives is substantially larger here than in Australia. Maoris number about 9 percent of the population and other Polynesians are about 3 percent.

  In Australia the Aborigines (not related to the Maoris) total only about 1.5 percent of the population. Maoris are more integrated into the society than the Aborigines. It probably helps that they are a light skinned, comely people. The Maoris are guaranteed four seats in parliament and also run and are elected as regular candidates in the one-house legislature.

  The Polynesians didn't arrive to New Zealand much before the Europeans, most of whom are British. The earliest evidence is on the order of a thousand years ago and the Maoris arrived probably some time between 952 and 1150 A.D.

  Tomorrow is to be our last full day in New Zealand. We leave early in the morning to return to Christchurch to begin our flight home.

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