There are some towns that you immediately feel at home in upon your arrival. I first experienced the phenomenon when Fallon and I spent a day exploring Flagstaff in Arizona after our trip out to the Grand Canyon. There was something about its artsy, laid back culture that really grabbed me.
I felt that feeling again when we stepped out of our hostel (Deco Backpackers) and took in Queenstown for the first time. Sitting on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and rimmed by the tall and jagged peaks that only a glacier could carve – Queenstown is just too picturesque to exist outside of fiction.
Descending from Man Street and down into the city centre, we were immediately swept up by the sea of tourists and backpackers. But unlike bustling Sydney or even mild-mannered Christchurch, there didn’t seem to be the same urgency. People lolled by the side of the road on benches, dined in the countless cafes and bars we passed, or ducked between different travel agents organizing their next adrenaline seeking pursuit.
With our time in Queenstown allowing us three days of exploration, we decided to follow up our cruisy day in Christchurch with a similarly laid back one in Queenstown. Our first order of business was lunch, and we opted to sample the local Thai flavour. We dined at the cute Thai Nam Thak – which has the misfortune of having the worst Pad Thai I’ve ever had, but did redeem itself a little with a nice basil and cashew chicken.
With full bellies to work off, we headed out to explore the city. This originally took the form of window shopping, but we soon decided to finish our Christmas shopping for one another by separating and filling hastily purchased Christmas stockings. I’m not sure what Fallon found (although I’m sure she’ll be writing about it on Fallon’s Healthy Life) – but I took a quiet moment to explore the water front. The foreshore was alive with activity – although very little of it in the icy cold water. Mostly people were content to lie on the grass, sit on the pebble strewn beach, or just walk along the manicured gardens that must be a picnicers paradise.
Once our exploring and shopping was done, we headed over to the legendary Ferg Burger. I’d had four separate people text me to inform me I needed to eat there – and I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve heard it touted as having the best burgers in the world, and I can definitely see where people get it from. My Cock-a-doodle Oink burger was one of the best I’ve ever had, and Fallon was impressed enough with her choice to put Ferg Burger right into her top five.
From there we wandered over to Dux de Lux, a local brewery that does what might be one of my new favourite beers – the Ginger Tom. The entire place had a really good vibe to it, and we could have stayed longer had we not been so tired.
Our second day in Queenstown was dedicated to our trip out to Milford Sound, but we still found opportunities to have some fun in the city once we got back.
We took dinner at the imaginatively titled ‘Hell’ restaurant, which does a variety of sinfully good pizzas. Pun intended. We split two of their vegetarian options and an order of delicious sweet potato fries and couldn’t have been happier. We even followed it up with one of their dessert pizzas – which we enjoyed on the waterfront despite the attentions of the ducks and seagulls that frequent the area.
From there we took a leisurely stroll through the gardens before grabbing a few beers to take back to the hostel with us. There we played out a competitive game of Phase 10 with one of our fellow backpackers, who I’ll refer to as British Graham. I don’t think our paths are likely to gross again though, since he’s bound for Switzerland tomorrow morning.
Our final day in Queenstown afforded us a rare opportunity to sleep in. We grabbed it with both hands and weren’t out of bed until half ten. After showering and getting ourselves collected, we headed down to the town to grab breakfast at Bob’s Weigh. The place specializes in breakfast food, and while they offer a lunch menu, I don’t know why anybody would turn down the opportunity to have vanilla cinnamon French toast, berry laden pancakes, a three egg omelet, or the remarkably satisfying veggie brekky. I know I was thoroughly pleased with Fallon’s breakfast suggestion.
With breakfast still heavy in our bellies we walked up to the base of Ben Lomond. Soaring almost 2 kms above sea level, the Douglas fir clad mountain is the base of operations for the Queenstown Skyline Gondola, a bungie company, a pair of luge tracks, an epic looking downhill mountain biking course, and the Ziptrek Eco Tour we’d signed up for. It also happens to share a name with my hometown – which is pretty awesome.
The gondola ride up to the top of the mountain affords a spectacular view of the town and its surrounds, particularly the lake and Mount Cecil beyond. It’s a tad pricey at $25 for a return trip, but it’s better than hiking up the damned mountain.
The eco tour was a lot of fun. It’s also a tad pricey for the average backpacker ($119 for four lines, $189 for six) – but it’s worth the extra cash. The guys who run the tours are clearly quite passionate about the sustainable living mantra they preach, but they don’t let it detract from the purpose of your visit. The ziplines, of which Fallon and I did four, are a lot of fun. Whizzing through the canopy of the thick fir forest is pretty invigorating, and there’s some wonderful views of the surrounding land to be snatched as you fly between tree houses.
I had the mixed fortune of having their brakes miss me and leave me stranded in the middle of a particularly lengthy line – but the discomfort was worth the view it gave me. And I was rescued soon enough by one of our guides, so all was well.
All told the tour took about two hours and was not only fun, but gave me quite a bit to think about with regards to how I lead my life and the mark I leave on the planet. In fact, our entire experience in New Zealand so far has shown me how beautiful the natural world can be if it’s not too heavily tampered with – as well as highlighting for me just how destructive a force humanity is. It saddens me to know I’ll never see a majestic Moa in the wild, and saddens me even more to know that my children might feel the same way about the Kiwi, Koala, or Tiger someday.
I now sit in one of the many cheap internet cafes that seem to dot Queenstown waiting for my dinner date with Fallon. We’re going to forgo trying something new and give Ferg Burger one last shot. Who knows when we’ll be here next? I do know that when I do return, there’s no shortage of Queenstown tours I’ve still yet to explore.
Tomorrow we’ve got a nine hour bus ride to the tiny village of Franz Josef, where we’ll check out some hot springs before our big day long glacier hike on Thursday. Loving New Zealand more than I thought I would. Such a gorgeous country.