Long Live the Queen…stown
In general, I hate window seats. The curvature of the plane fuselage robs you of valuble foot space, plus you have to climb over sleeping, drooling mouth-breathers to stretch your legs or to use the bathroom. For the flight into Queenstown though, you should make an exception, as it’s one of the most beautiful landing approaches I’ve ever seen. Craggy, snowy peaked mountains on all sides, gorgeous rivers and lakes, all competing for your attention. It’s truly stunning, and worth being held hostage in a window seat to really appreciate.
Being held hostage by beauty actually sums up Queenstown pretty well. The town itself is small, doubling in population during peak tourist season. Sitting on the edges of lake Wakatipu and surrounded by mountains (like the Remarkables, a range that was featured in the Lord of the Rings and looms over the town) it’s achingly pretty. Those beautiful mountains also work to isolate the town, creative a captive audience of travelers and tourist which the local economy takes full advantage of. Prices for everything are high, compared to the rest of New Zealand, so make sure you do you shopping prior to coming here. On the plus side, almost every imaginable outdoor ativity is available, from bungee jumping (this is where commercial bungee got it’s start) to mountain biking to paragliding. Queenstown is adventure and ecotourism distilled, packaged, and offered to you in a finely tuned and wrapped package. If you can get past the cost, Queenstown is more than worth a visit.
The weather. Not like, the weather in general, because Queenstown is truly a four season town, with tons to do year round. I mean the weather right now, specifically. It sucks. Spring here is fickle, and more than a bit weepy, only clearing up the last day and a half. There’s a lot to do in Queenstown, but the highlight of the south island, for me at least, was a booked trip out to Milford Sound, a fiord that’s like a cross between Yosemite and Niagra falls. There are a lot of ways to get there; bus, rental car, flight, hired yak. Choosing the best way depends on a variety of things like how much time you have (in total and time to spend there), money of course, and what you want to do. There are week long hikes and two hour walking trails, catamaran based nature trips and overnight yacht cruises. You get the idea. I picked the flight out and back, mainly because I didn’t want to sit on a bus for eight hours, even though the route was supposed to be really beautiful. Sadly, the weather turned poor just a few hours before the charted flight was supposed to take off and the trip was cancelled. It was an ametur move, really, booking a mission critical trip on the last full day, but in my defense it was supposed to be the only clear day that week to fly. Next time, I suppose.
This springtime taste of New Zealand has been a lovely, if damp, start to a long holiday. Once you get accustomed to looking the opposite way when crossing the street (a habit you pick up quickly the first time you almost get taken out by a speeding Toyota) you can start to enjoy the charms of the country. Everyone has been very friendly, the coffee is strong and you get to call people kiwis and that’s totally normal. There are quite a few things I didn’t get to cross of my list due to plane delays and bad weather (and me enjoying not having anything planned and being more than a little lazy and drinking maybe a touch too much wine), so another visit is in the cards.
How I got there: New Zealand Air, $150 from Auckland. Take the Connectbus for 12 dollars from the airport, drops you off in the center of town. The town is tiny and walkable, and parking is at a premium. If you get a car, use it only to explore outside of town.
Where I stayed: Scenic Suites. Nice hotel a 5 minute walk out the center of town.
What I did: A LOT of wine tasting. A Lot.
Shotover Jet!: The most thrilling, obnoxious way to appreciate nature. There are at least two venders offering this type of ride. The one in town at the wharf is fine, but spend the extra money and catch the free shuttle to the gorge. Blasting through canyons at high speed, 360 degree spins, all on as little as a few inches of water is a so much damn fun. The ride last about 25 minutes and is worth every penny, the they are the only company licensed for the gorge.
Skyline Gondola and Luge: Great views from the top of the Gondola, multiple Luge tracks around the top. Visit the Kiwi Nature park at the base of the gondola and make sure you time it around a feeding.
Ben Lemond trail hike: Weather stopped me part of the way in (I was totally not prepared for a it – don’t be like me) and forced me to turn back before reaching the saddle where some of the best view are.
Boat Lake Cruise – there are a lot to choose from, all pretty sedate, but pleasant.