is a city which needs no introduction in the international circuit and when we arrived it was just as beautiful as I had been told, like a parade had been thrown just for us. Well we didn’t get the parade but we did receive a Saint Patrick’s day welcome where the streets were awash with green faces and shamrock-laden hats. We had been warned there would be rain, and it would be cold and yes it did chill down in the evening but the days greeted us with warm blue skies and what can I say, Queenstown really delivered.
We chose to stay just outside of Queenstown at the Hilton Resort and Spa positioned directly on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. It is quiet and showcases unspoilt landscape and panoramic mountain views. The hotel itself is beautiful and has all the services I expect when paying for the privilege. My two gripes with this hotel are paying NZ$10 per day for parking and NZ$15 per day for Wi-Fi. Come on Hilton, it’s not a $40 a night backpackers (which actually offered free Wi-Fi) and it’s also not 2005. As a hotel it comes down to economics or customer service and when paying NZ$240 you made the wrong decision. Anyway I digress.
Bursting with colour and surrounded by a landscape that can only be described as indescribable, Queenstown is not to be missed. Situated in the South West of the South Island in New Zealand, Queenstown is a major destination for winter ski purists, but hiking and adventure sports in the summer. It has all the enticements to suck the tourist dollars from your wallet; I accepted this and booked a flight into the Milford Sound and cruise before arriving. Set inside a valley and surrounded by Lake Wakatipu and mountains, when the shops cease to attract your gaze you can grab yourself a Fergburger, take a seat by the lake and just stare in awe.
Our first day was spent wandering the shopping lanes and searching through shops of Kiwiana crafts. They are a maze of paua shell (bright blue, green and turquoise in colour), tiki’s (large wooden or small greenstone images) and framed scenes to hang and prompt the traveller’s blues after returning home. A few great eateries are Fergburger where backpackers queue for their number to be called – they are huge and hold about as much as two burger buns can. For a coffee and a cake don’t bypass Vudu café who serve up the best French toast and coffee I’ve tried to date! In the evening I met a friend I was leading adventure tours with in Egypt for ciders and a few laughs on the Wharf-side.
The thing I like about Queenstown is that it is relaxed and welcoming. It feels like a ski town and it is; you know what I mean, when a ski town is so geared towards winter activities and chilled in the summer as it patiently waits for the snow to fall. Except Queenstown doesn’t wait, it offers a full, and I mean full range of activities to assist you in spending all your hard-earned dollars. Jet boating, heli-flights, bike rental, white-water rafting, wine tasting in the Otago valley vineyards and hiking trails if you just want to get even closer to nature. Yes Queenstown is beautiful and it’s obvious why almost every shop you wander into, a foreign accent can be heard – they just get stuck!
We took the Skyline Gondola up to the peak for panoramic views of the lakes and Queenstown proper. At NZ$30 per person a bare-bones backpacker may think it’s not worth it and we were tempted to miss it altogether but what can I say, I’m a sucker for a view. With a restaurant on top and the option to luge or bike down, or bungee with A. J. Hackett (the World’s first for the record) there are options beyond just a stunning view and a photo opportunity. This is the perfect way to break up your day and obtain an all-encompassing view of the town you’re most likely to spend longer in than you originally planned.
The highlight for me and many others when they travel to Queenstown is the Milford Sound located in Fiordland National Park and the setting for many of the Lord of the Rings scenes. Ideally I would love to have walked the four day trail but I just didn’t have time, so we opted for a small craft airplane with Milford Sound Scenic Flights. It’s an amazing alternative for travellers with time restrictions and they offer a door to door hotel pick up. At NZ$470 per person it isn’t cheap but sometimes you just need to forget the cost in favour of real and unforgettable experiences. After all why travel half way around the world to begrudge enjoying yourself? I’ve seen travellers miss out on some wonderful experiences because their budget just didn’t allow; stay at home and save more, then you can really see everything the country has to offer!
With five people in our small aircraft we left the ground with the Milford Sound as our destination. The flight takes 40 minutes and just cannot be out into words. It made me want to cry, seeing my own country in its most pure form, glacier-covered mountainscapes and turquoise glacial lakes, roaming forest so dense you couldn’t penetrate even if you dived right into it, and lakes bordering it all keeping everything in place. It is spectacular and as I am struggling to put it into words (not great for a travel blogger), I have included a load of images to do it for me.
Upon arriving we boarded our boat which held roughly 50 people meaning everyone could get a good view. We followed the contoured coastline, craning our necks to reach the top of the mountains and watched as albatross darted in and out of view. Gushing waterfalls cascaded down the mountains, seals basking on heated rocks and vivid colours stood contrast to one another. It is truly magical and was perhaps one of the best weather days; I mean who goes to the Milford Sound for a tan? Not me, but I came back with rosy cheeks and a cheeky grin to match.
Following the cruise our pilot Grant ascended into the sky and flew us back over the Sound pointing out scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy and various points of interest. I’ve taken scenic flights before and I love them, but his enthusiasm and knowledge was incredible, a service I haven’t had on some flights.
How do you finish up a day so perfect? How could I attempt to keep the momentum going on my Queenstown high? We drove out of the city at dark for 30 minutes up to Coronet Peak, a popular ski area in winter and spent the next two hours staring up into the Milky Way, constellations such as Orion’s Belt and shooting stars blasting across the sky. I swear there were more stars than black sky and it was the perfect end to a perfect day and sealed my fate to one day return to Queenstown.
All photos taken with a Leica V-Lux camera.
Happy travelling folks!