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Queenstown in New Zealand is renowned as the adventure capital of the world, but after spending a week there researching for Lonely Planet, I've realised some of the resort's adrenaline fuelled activities don't necessarily give travellers the best opportunity to experience the stupendous landscapes that surround you like out-takes from a Lord of the Rings DVD box set.
In reality some of the more popular thrill rides like the Nevis Highwire Bungy (anyone for 8.5 seconds freefall?) or the Shotover Canyon Swing are really just too damn fast to take in the incredible scenery that overwhelms every vista. But tandem hang gliding? Now that's a different story...
I'd done skydiving before, but hang gliding is a whole new gig. Yes, it really did feel like flying as my Argentinean pilot Gerard surfed the glider on the slipping and sliding thermals rising around the ridges of Queenstown's Coronet Peak.
Still thrilling as hell, and I'll take fifteen minutes in the air surrounded by the dramatic peaks of the Remarkables mountain range over a sub ten-second injection of adrenaline any time.
Excuse my absence from Gadling for the last couple of months. but I've been discovering what's new and different in the South Island of New Zealand for the next edition of Lonely Planet's guide to my home country. Normally my LP ventures with laptop and notebook take me overseas, but it's been kind of cool to poke around off the beaten track in my own backyard.
Between being surprised by the increasing number of great Kiwi microbrews and dangling off a hang glider above Queenstown, the most bittersweet memory is an excursion by inflatable boat onto the waters of Lake Tasman. The lake's just three decades old, and its increasing size is being fuelled as global warming melts the Tasman Glacier, still New Zealand's largest river of alpine ice, but 5 km shorter than it was 30 years ago.
The lake's now a similar length and dotted with icebergs of all shapes and sizes that are continually rearranged by the mountain winds like giant floating chess pieces. The crystalline ice is up to 500 years old, and a lack of air bubbles trapped from earlier centuries produces an almost diamond hardness.
Out on the lake, a surprising late spring overnight snowfall had settled on the icy monoliths, and the gossamer sprinkling was enough to disturb the delicate balance of several icebergs that turned and rebalanced during the early morning.
Beautiful yes, but also a poignant and tangible reinforcement of the impact of climate change.
Well done to all that correctly identified the Czech Republic. This pic was taken in the town of Tabor in southern Bohemia, but I'm pretty sure the Lucky Planet chain relieves Czech gamblers around the country of their hard earned koruna. Tabor's a great place with a fascinating old town of winding lanes and tiny squares. The term "Bohemian" actually comes from the town's history as an egalitarian peasant commune of the Hussites in the 15th century.
Feeling lucky punk? I can only presume the correspondence from Tony Wheeler's legal team got lost in the mail. See if you're a big wiinner on Friday.
Well done to Beverly Blass for identifying these kids as coming from the Kuna people who inhabit the San Blas Islands off the northern coast of Panama. This shot was taken on Achutupu Island, just a short boat ride from a great eco-friendly place called Dolphin Lodge. The fabric is a mola, one of the finely appliqued textiles which the Kuna are renowned for.
The clue is the fabric. These kids' recent ancestors are among Central America's feistiest and most independent people. I'll let you know who I'm talking about on Friday.
Welcome to Russian Beach in Dubai. It's a pretty crazy scene actually as Russian couples flex their new passports - and their even newer matching tattoos - as conservative locals motor past just a few hundred metres off the shore.
A kinder, gentler manifestation of the so-called "Clash of Civilisations". This beach draws lots of Russin tourists with shiny new passports. Come back on Friday to find out where it is.
Gozo is the smaller island that makes up the tiny Mediterranean nation of Malta. This is a stunning natural arch called the "Azure Window" on Gozo's northern coast. The main island of Malta is fascinating but can feel crowded due to its concentrated population. Across on Gozo, it's a totally different story, especially if you're staying in one of the restored farmhouses.
Gozo deserves to be the new Tuscany. You heard it here first.
It looks isolated. It looks windswept. That's a yes on both counts. Let us know where you think it is. All will be revealed on Friday.
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