Welcome to Queenstown
What a ride it’s been, those last 10 days in New Zealand. I’m writing this from my flight back to San Francisco, still buzzing from the crazy load of impressions and experiences I’ve been able to collect over the past few days. The pain in my upper right arm puts a smile on my face as it transports me right back to the feeling of sitting front row rafting down Shotover river. My jeans are dirty from spending the afternoon mountainbiking through rivers and forests. And my mind? Blown. I’m surprised I am still able to put 2 sentences together as right now ideas and feelings are rushing through my head like data streams. What I need now is rest, some time to look through some of the photos I took, think back to what I have lived each day, to the people I have come across, the landscapes that have left me speechless, the flavors that have caused parties in my mouth and activities that took my breath away.
Here’s what happened….
After a few days in Auckland, Bay of Islands and Wellington I flew into Queenstown, a perfect place to end my trip. Only about 10.000 people live here, a happy bunch and probably the most outdoorsy people in the world. While I layered up wool sweaters and fleece jackets, the local kids played by the river in T-shirts and shorts. If you live in Queenstown but especially when you come to visit there is no way around it – you have to get out there and grab nature by its horn. Wild rivers, stunning lakes and high mountains will have you kayaking, rafting, skiing, snowboarding, hiking and much, much more. Many people I have met will go bungee-jumping in the morning, ride the shotover jetboat at noon and go ziplining in the afternoon. It’s a miracle to me that most of them still have energy left to go drinking in the evening.
While 2 days were not nearly enough to test the full list of stuff on offer, here are some of the things I did do and can warmly recommend.
Rafting – excuse me, but rafting is awesome. As in AWESOOOOOOME!!!!!! I’ve rafted down probably about 10 rivers the world over, including the highest raftable waterfall in the world (which also happens to be located in New Zealand, Rotorua to be exact) but the Shotover river in Queenstown might just have been my favorite.
photo via Queenstown Rafting
The tour is pretty long (1,5 to 2 hours) and the boats go out at almost any weather, including the deepest of winter, but don’t worry, your guide will keep you warm with funny jokes and plenty of instruction. There are various tour operators and I’m sure they all do a great job. I went with Queenstown Rafting who were all very lovely. Best jokes are told by Jack, I recommend you put on a special request to be on his team for the extra giggles but all guides were super cool.
Mountainbiking – I love a good bike ride. Back home I ride my bike anywhere and when I travel it’s usually my preferred mode of transportation as no other vehicle is so easy to use, can get into so many places and allows you stop so easily at every single corner. With Queenstown set in some spectecularly beautiful bits of nature there are some truely fantastic bike rides to be had here.
The Queenstown trail is especially great as you can just hop on your bike and directly follow the signs to fun and challenging (or less challenging) bike tracks. Around the basin is a tour operator who offers fantastic cycle adventures, completely tailored to your needs. Love being independant? They’ll just drop you and your bike off and will let you go at your own pace and leisure. At certain stops they meet you to make sure you’re still good to go. If not, simply hop back on their van. Lisa, who runs the company, is ultra friendly and will gladly tell you about all the options. The tour I did ended at the Kawarau Bridge where you could opt for a spontaneous bungy jump. At 45m height and over a river, this is actually a nice entry level jump. Still far too crazy for me, of course.
Wine-tasting – the area around Queenstown is a mekka for wine-fans like myself. If you love learning about wine and wine-making, consider getting with a tour, like the ones offered by Queenstown Wine Trail. If you prefer being more independent, rent a bike and head over to a winery of your choosing. The most popular choice in the area is Amisfield, an absolutely stunning place for both architecture, wine and foodlovers.
They run a lovely restaurant with lots of in and outdoor seating. Go here for lunch and treat yourself to the Trust the chef menu where a minimum of 4 delectable courses are being served, including fish and meat options. To go for the whole experience opt to sample different wines with each course. If one glass is enough for you, have a go at the Fumé Blanc, I still think about that one from time to time. Other recommended wineries are Gibbston, Chard Farm and Peregrine.
Spa – as much as New Zealand is great for all things outdoorsy, it’s also got some of the most best natural spas in the world, with hot springs scattered throughout the country. Possibly better than natural mud baths are Onsen Hot Pools, an awesome spot just a short 15 minute drive from Queenstown where you can rent your own hot pool in a separated room and a glass door that actually opens up by one click of a button and suddenly you’re smack bam in the midst of the most stunning scenery. Th hot pools open from 11am to 10pm each day and are said to be even better in the evening. This is one of those super romantic things you can do with your lover (they offer a sunset special that comes with 2 glasses of bubbly) or simply a great way to destress with some friends (up to 4 people are allowed in one room). Make sure you book ahead of time as places do get snatched up pretty quickly at any time of year.
above photo via msn
If hot water and a nice view isn’t enough to make your relax, do not miss out on getting a massage from the luxurious LeSpa at the Sofitel Hotel. Their signature hot stone massage is a 60-minute dream and probably the best massage I’ve ever had, hands down. The spa opens from 9am to 10pm every day.
Food & Drink – All that kayaking and hiking will probably make you very, very hungry, good thing Queesntown has some of the finest restaurants in the country. Not exactly fine dining, but the one place on everybody’s mind and agenda is Fergburger. I know what you’re thinking – just a burger, what’s so special about that? This is coming from someone who never eats burgers: Fergburger. is. amazing. The bun is soft, the meat is juicy, it’s a fest for your taste buds. Only pitfall – it’s wayyyy too big for one person. Now you could go crazy and try to beat the record of 1 minute and 32 seconds – the fastest anyone has ever eaten an entire Fergburger, but to get the full experience, take it slow and share with a friend.
On the other end of the foodie experience in Queenstown is the restaurant with the best name ever given to a restaurant: the Botswana Butchery. I had been recommended to eat here and the name alone was enough to convince me that this was not something to be missed. We ordered the fish along with some healthy sides and everything tasted amazing. Upon ordering a simple glass of wine a wine specialist was sent over to our table who let me try a couple of wines based on the description of what I liked. Now that, my friends, that’s service! Botswana’s also have a location in Auckland, by the way.
When you’re done eating, Queenstown is by no means the town to send you home early. You’re spoilt for choice with bars, although, unless you’re a 19-year old backpacker you may want to consider your options. For some more classy ambiance, I’m talking brown leather armchairs and a fireplace, head to Bardeaux, a great place to unwind while enjoying an Old-Fashioned or a Vodka Martini. Run by the same owners and just a few steps away is Barmuda which attracts a slightly younger clientele. It’s less cozy but the bartenders are cool and there are some very fun experimental cocktails here. Don’t go home without having had a Money Shot!
This clearly is just a small list of things you can do when visiting Queenstown and you are bound to find something you’ll enjoy. For a broader list of places and activities head to the Queenstown Tourism website. A bunch of you have left comments and sent emails about the places you most enjoy in Queenstown. Feel free to add any good recommendation to this list in the comments below!