New Zealand- Chapter Eleven- Onward to Queenstown

After three amazing days in Fiordland, it was time to head inland to Queenstown. I had stayed the previous at the awesome YHA Hostel in Te Anau, and the friendly girl at the reception desk said it was an easy 170 km, 2 1/2 hour drive there.

Unlike many of the drives I did while in New Zealand, I hadn’t read a lot about this particular drive. There weren’t any glowing accolades in any of the guidebooks I had, and no one had said to me “You’re really going to love that drive from Te Anau to Queenstown.” That may be part of the reason I enjoyed it so much.

Most of the first hour of the drive was through rolling foothills and agricultural areas. The mountains in the distance provided a scenic backdrop.

“What? You’ve never seen sheep before?”
Just past the tiny town of Mossburn, I turned north and crossed over the Oreti River, and continued along as the road wound through through fields of grazing sheep. The images could have been anymore ‘classic New Zealand’.

I reached Kingston, on the southern shores of Lake Wakatipu, shortly before noon. I stopped to see The Kingston Flyer, a restored vintage steam locomotive, which, during the warmer months, offers daily rides. Being the beginning of winter, I wasn’t able to ride on the train, but I was able to look inside the train carriages. The original purpose of the rail line was to bring settlers and fortune seekers from Invercargill and Gore to the south to the goldfields of the Central Otago region during the brief Gold Rush in the mid-1860s and 1870s. The locomotive itself was not on display the day I visited, I was told it was in for service, the tourist season just having ended a few weeks before.

 From Kingston, the remaining part of the drive hugged the shores of scenic Lake Wakatipu. The day was perfectly clear and the waters of the lake were at their bluest.

It was on a bluff overlooking Lake Wakatipu that I took the picture of the “3 Mes”, which certainly did inspire quite a few comments on my Facebook page when I posted it later that evening. The drive I had been told would take 2-2.5 hours had turned into almost 6, mostly because of all the stops I made to take photos.

Arriving in Queenstown after spending the previous four days in the country’s sparsely populated southwest was quite a shock to the system. It was the first place in New Zealand where I saw rampant (American-style) commercialism. Anything and everything was on display in Queenstown. The three most prominent businesses tell you everything you need to know about the city (and the surrounding area)- outdoor clothing outfitters, tour companies, and equipment rental.

 I didn’t really need to rent a bike or camping equipment, or redo my wardrobe for a week of trekking in the mountains, so I was initially less than enthralled with Queenstown’s city center. I wandered around for a while, hoping I would stumble upon something that would make the stop worthwhile, but after an hour, I was ready to give up and retreat to my hostel. I needed to grab the few postcards I buy at each stop for my collection, but when I wandered into one of Queenstown’s many souvenir shops, I was pleasantly surprised with by far the cheapest prices for the cutesy little keepsakes I buy to bring back to friends and family. I loaded up on these, and this at least made the stop somewhat worthwhile.

Queenstown advertises itself as the adventure capital of New Zealand, and it is certainly hard to imagine any place in the country that presents the visitor with more options. As I walked from the parking structure to the downtown area, I was able to watch the tandem paragliders as the slowly floated down to their landing spots just a few blocks from where I was walking. Indeed, the tourist information office was packed with a bewildering array of possible excursions. I picked up a few of these and fled the city center.

Fortunately for my rattled nerves, I didn’t have to go back into the city center, as I was staying at the wonderful Queentown YHA Lakefront Hostel, which was not too far from downtown, but was far enough away to be peaceful. (A longer post on my great experiences in YHA Hostels in New Zealand is coming…)

The attraction I’d most looked forward to in Queenstown was the Skyline Gondola. I love elevated views and could tell from Skyline’s website that the views from up top would be pretty amazing, especially on a nice crisp, clear night.

A surreal looking HDR edit (It’s a bit overdone, I know, but I liked the effects here)

After an easy 10 minute ride up in the comfortable gondola, I strode out to the facility’s balcony, which afforded great views over the city, the Remarkables and Lake Wakapitu.

I brought my tripod with me, so I spent over an hour taking a bunch of 3 and 9 shot HDR pics (which, due to the fading daylight were met with limited success). Having the tripod did also allow me to get some pictures of myself with the backdrops I wanted, instead of having to ask someone to take a picture for me and hoping that it would end up looking the way I wanted.

Adventure options: Bungy and Sky Swing
The luge (with a gondola in the shot)

Skyline Queenstown has an impressive array of options available on top of the mountain as well, including bungy jumping and the Sky swing, paragliding, and the luge. I didn’t chose any of these options, although I did do the luge later in the trip at Skyline’s Rotorua location.

I did fork out the money for the Kiwi Haka presentation, which was very touristy, which I expected, but was also a must-do on any New Zealand itinerary. I enjoyed it, but also knew that if this was the most exposure to Maori culture, history and tradition I got, that would be a huge error. I made a promise to myself to delve further into the complicated history of the Maori in New Zealand.

It had been my intention to take a bunch of photos, watch the Kiwi Haka, then get some pictures of city during twilight and beyond, then to take the gondola down and walk into the city to get a bite to eat. When buying my ticket for the Haka, the woman at the desk told me of a great special they were running on the buffet dinner in their restaurant, and she told me to go have a look at what was offered before I made a decision on weather or not to buy the somewhat pricey ticket. After looking at the unbelievable selection the buffet offered, I gladly paid the NZ$50 for not only the food, but also the spectacular views over the city. I wasn’t at all disappointed, and while I doubt I ate a full fifty dollars worth of food, I did try quite a few things I would probably not have gotten to try if it hadn’t been in this setting. (A longer post about the food on the buffet is also coming…)

Comprehensively stuffed, I spent a half an hour after dinner using the tripod and experimenting with the camera’s settings to capture the lights of the city below. I returned to the hostel exhausted after another busy day, and as I feel asleep (while reading the many tourism brochures I had taken from the tourist information office earlier in the day), I wondered how many and which of these excursions I would be able to fit into the one day I had left in Queenstown.


NEXT: Chapter Twelve- In, Above & Around Queenstown
Day Eleven Photo Galleries-  Facebook   Flickr

Other links:
The Kingston Flyer
Queenstown Tourism Board
Skyline Queenstown

The New Zealand 2012 Series:
New Zealand 2012 by the Numbers
Chapter One: Christchurch in One Word: Broken
Photo Essay- Sunrise outside Christchurch
Chapter Two- The Banks Peninsula & Hector’s Dolphins
Chapter Three- Washed Out at Tekapo
Photo Essay- Moeraki Boulders Sunrise
Chapter Four- The Secret of Dunedin
Photo Essay- Speight’s Brewery Tour, Dunedin
Chapter Five- The Otago Peninsula
Photo Essay- Otago Peninsula Wildlife
Chapter Six- The Edge of the World in the Catlins
Chapter Seven- Southern Scenic Route
Chapter Eight- Cruising Doubtful Sound (Pt.1)
Photo Essay- Lake Manapouri Cruise
Chapter Eight- Cruising Doubtful Sound (Pt.2)
Chapter Eight- Cruising Doubtful Sound (Pt.3)
Photo Essay- The Two Faces of Doubtful Sound
Chapter Nine- The Milford Sound Road
Chapter Ten- Milford Sound and The Hollyford Road
Photo Essay- Milford Sound Cruise

2 Responses to “New Zealand- Chapter Eleven- Onward to Queenstown”

  1. Elle says:

    I’ve been living here for 6 months in Queenstown and I love hearing about other people’s experiences. I genuinely think I’d struggle to ever find somewhere as beautiful as this!

    • Erik says:

      What a great place to live! There is so much to do in and around Queenstown, not to mention the drop-dead gorgeous setting. I’m so jealous! I’ll be heading over to your blog to check it out 🙂


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