NZ 2011. Queenstown.

You have only to make a cursory search into New Zealand’s highlights for Queenstown to come up in the results. It is known, not only for its stunning scenery but for its opportunities to be active in all kinds of ways. Jet skiing, jet boating, boating, kayaking, walking, mountain biking are just a few. But above all, Queenstown’s biggest draw for thrill-seekers is bungee jumping. And the most famous of all bungee jumps, the place where it all began is the Hackett Bungy at Jack’s Point.

The Queenstown campsite is elevated enough to provide spectacular snow-topped mountain views but was busy, accommodating all kinds of travel vehicles, from bells and whistles motorhomes to spartan, cleverly converted estate cars with cunning stoves that pulled out under the boot lid. The showers were beautiful but, unusually, needed a coin in the slot. In the bitter cold evening I walked across between the rows of campers to the block with my two coins clutched in my hand, intending to wash my hair. When ready, I inserted both coins into the meter, after which the shower ran tepid so I shampooed quickly, expecting the water to heat up. It didn’t. In fact it ran colder than any shower I’ve had before or since, the water feeding down from the snow clad slopes. With a head full of shampoo there was nothing for it but to continue and get finished as fast as possible! Invigorating but brutal and I was never more glad to be dry, dressed and back in a warm van.

Next day we were up for exploring Queenstown.

Now neither Husband nor I was ever likely to willingly throw ourselves off a spindly platform into the void attached to an insubstantial bit of elastic, but we were excited to see others take the plunge.

At Jack’s Point a footbridge spans a deep gorge with a rushing river below. A platform attached to the outside of the footbridge exists for those brave or foolish enough to want to experience the rush of adrenalin that accompanies hurling yourself into a chasm. There was no shortage of these, although most were young. One young boy was clearly terrified as he teetered on the platform, procrastinating until the operator helped him with a friendly shove. We watched him plunge towards the foamy water and bounce back up and down until the movement slowed and he was hauled into the waiting boat, an enormous grin on his face.

Our own modest venture into activity was a jet boat ride, during which we were given helmets and life vests, crammed into a fast boat and swooshed around on the lake.

Best of all, though was to be lifted up the mountain in a cable car and to step out for the most stunning mountain panorama I’ve seen; the bluest blues, the clearest air and a perfect circle of snow capped peaks. Some had travelled up with mountain bikes for a thrill-packed hurtle down, some were undertaking bungee jumps here at the top, but for me, to stand above Queenstown and gaze was breath-taking enough.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Dean. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

The Rock and the Hard Place

                Gibraltar is an absorbing place. If you are driving there, as we did, you must first negotiate one of the most unattractive parts of the Mediterranean coast of Spain, consisting mainly of a gigantic oil refinery at Algeciras, then deal with crossing the ‘border’-a matter of sitting in a vehicle queue for an extremely long time [even more so at present] and often in very high temperatures, followed by having to drive across an airport runway, which is at best an unnerving experience.

                Most people know Gibraltar to consist of one enormous great rock sitting on a peninsula which protrudes into the Mediterranean just before the rounded corner of Spanish coastline where the East meets the South. For some complicated, historic reason dating back to 1704 when it was captured by the Dutch and the British it actually belongs to the UK. Its area is only about two and a half square miles, but the population, which inhabits a crowded area at the foot of the rock, is 30,000.

                This population is remarkably mixed, for a UK territory, but consists of a vast number of Spanish, among others. Despite this Gibraltar retains a strong colonial flavour, sticking strongly to what used to be British traditions, cuisine and customs-more ‘British’ than the British. As you stroll along the shopping streets you could be forgiven for thinking you’d been teleported to Exeter High Street or Swindon town centre-with a few flourishes of Whitehall from the odd palace or mansion house flanked by plumed guards and a forest of flags, plus red telephone and post boxes.  All this is peppered with Ye Olde British pubs plugging pints, Sunday roast with all the trimmings and fish and chips whatever the weather.

                There is a cable car to get you up to the top of the rock, where you will have to dodge the marauding Barbary apes in order to catch what is a breathtaking view- the distant African shores and the sparkling Med dotted with myriad oil tankers. While you are taking it all in the bandit monkey gang will be mugging you for everything you have whilst spitting, baring their teeth and even biting in a most delinquent manner should you dare to remonstrate.

                All this renders Gibraltar a small gold mine in terms of tourism, but still more, it is the online gambling hub of the world and offers cheap fags, booze and petrol as well as being the gateway to Africa. So little wonder the Spanish would like it to belong to them.

                I fail to understand why countries should continue to own small bits of other countries far away, when the reasons for their ownership are so entrenched in the distant past. Spain itself owns Ceuta, a small bit of land sticking on the end of Morocco. The UK insists on hanging on to The Falklands. Yes, we all know it’s all about resources, and the inhabitants don’t want the change, but the handover can be over a period of time, as with Hong Kong, to give everyone a chance to adjust.

                Colonialism should be firmly set in the past. These days we ought to know better, oughtn’t we?