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krisek Queenstown - A travel report by Krys
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Queenstown,  New Zealand - flag New Zealand
8980 readers

krisek's travel reports

The gateway to the Southern Alps and Fjords.

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Queenstown was a perfect gateway to see New Zealand\'s fjords and snow-capped peaks, glaciers, valleys and lakes of the Southern Alps. It was a lovely little town, pretty, clean and exceptionally well located amongst the mountains and at the lake.

The Milford Sound
The Milford Sound
I did not have specific plans for Queenstown, other than a day trip to the Milford Sound. I had a flight in a light aircraft, a cruise around the fjord and then a coach ride back to the town in mind. But, none of the options were guaranteed. The flights depended on weather, and the only road that led to the fjord was also often closed for the same reason. So, I booked the flight both ways with the Glenorchy Airlines. They had two flights operating. One at 8am and the other at noon.

My plane from Auckland landed in Queenstown at 12:05pm. After ejecting myself from the aircraft, I proceeded to the Glenorchy Airlines to see about my Milford Sound trip. The flight was cancelled due to bad weather and people were being re-booked for the next day. I said that this would only work for me if it was 8am departure returning to the city in time for my departure to Sydney at 13:55... The lady said that she would try to get in touch with the rest of the passengers and convince them to change the noon departure to the morning, as they were planning only a single flight that day. I left my contact details, and the lady instructed me to give them a call at 7am the next day to check if weather was good enough for the flight to operate. She did say that the weather forecast for Sunday looked a lot more promising.

So, I took a taxi to my Hilton hotel and had 2 hour long lunch tucking into grilled steak and sipping wonderful red wine. The views of the lake from Hotel's signature restaurant were almost as good as the wine.

Then, I relaxed and went to see Queenstown. It was raining. But I loved the town. It was well organised, clean, safe, friendly and the surroundings were fantastically stunning. The town was in fact, amongst the most dramatically located towns I have seen, at a large, long lake surrounded by snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps. I did not expect that at all! And I thought it would be warmer there.

Favourite spots:
The Steamer Wharf in the rain
The Steamer Wharf in the rain
I liked the waterfront of Queenstown called the Steamer Wharf or Earnslaw Park the most. It was clean. Spotless! It had restaurants, bars, a pub and a large statue of Kiwi. It even looked nice in the rain. It was clean and accessible. The location right by the boat and water taxi landing in the harbour was very convenient. Sitting at one of the pavement tables of one of the bars or restaurants with a view of the lake and the mountains, observing the little boat ballet in the harbour, watching people. It was a great fun. Since it was just a middle of spring and it was still a bit chilly in the evenings, the venues had heaters outside by the tables.

I liked the overall ambiance of Queenstown. Everyone seemed relaxed, good humoured. Granted, it was Saturday evening, and many of the people on the streets might have been visitors, but I was still under an impression these were just locals, socialising. They appeared too comfortable with the surroundings and the personnel at bars and cafes.

What's really great:
Getting close to the peaks
Getting close to the peaks
The crisp freshness of the air, the walking trails and the water taxis made Queenstown special, I thought. Although it was raining (in fact, it was definitely snowing in the mountains!) and the greyness of the sky might have not appealed, the clarity of the air was phenomenal. This provided for exceptional visibility. All objects; the mountains' snow-capped peaks, the other shore of the lake, appeared closer than they actually were.

Now, the flight to Milford Sound, operated by very small aircraft meant that the pilot could fly really near the mountains making the journey extremely exciting, exhilarating and thrilling - without a smallest bit of exaggeration! I am not sure how much clearance there was between the wheels of the aircraft and the glaciers of the Southern Alps, but they most definitely appeared very near. And since there was plenty of fresh snow on the peaks, the distance might have been even smaller than on any other summer day. The thrill was immense.

One of the permanent waterfalls at the Milford Sound
One of the permanent waterfalls at the Milford Sound
Queenstown was small and did not have sights for travellers in a traditional sense. But the cable car that went up directly from the centre to a nearby peak offered magnificent views of the surrounding area. When I visited, however, the low hanging clouds prevented any good views.

At the Milford Sounds, there were a number of waterfalls to admire. After the rains, the fjords were dripping with an extra number of waterfalls. I think there were only two permanent waterfalls otherwise. Almost half way into the fjord, there was also a small exhibition centre that concentrated on the fauna and flora of the area. And that included the mysterious appearance of a small group of little crested penguins, which were positively adorable. On some visits to the fjord, people report sightings of dolphins. I was not that lucky.

My room at the Hilton
My room at the Hilton
I stayed at the Hilton Queenstown located at the Lake Wakatipu in the Kawarau Village. The entire village was managed by Hilton, which meant that one could charge all bills to their room wherever spent in the village's stores, restaurants and bars. I got upgraded to an executive suite, which meant I had a two room apartment at my disposal with large bathroom, large bedroom and a living room complete with a fireplace. And I used that fireplace! It was raining one evening and temperature dropped to 5C, so the fireplace came very handy. It was great to sit by the fire and enjoy the complimentary bottle of rather good red wine.

The amenities, including the fluffiness of the towels, were consistent with a five star venue. The hotel facilities were, as expected, great. I loved the open-air lounge at the lake side with an open fire surrounded by comfy sofas. One could just sit there by the fire, enjoy a glass of brandy or two, and enjoy the views of the lake and the mountains.

The bar at the Pub at the Wharf
The bar at the Pub at the Wharf
The Pub at the Wharf put some live music on, although the acts were just doing covers and they were a bit average. But the venue had an excellent selection of brews, including wheat white beer. It had a large fireplace and ... it was packed! It was Saturday after all, yet I noticed that the bartenders, very attractive girl and very fit guy, knew a lot of customers, so there must be many regulars at the pub. They were nice to everyone, though. The ambiance was perfect. Everyone had a great time. People were tucking into their pub grub, enjoyed those lagers and beers, laughed, sang a long a little. I wish I had more time to stay longer and see how situation developed as the evening ran into the smaller hours of the morning.

The rare crested penguins at the Milford Sound
The rare crested penguins at the Milford Sound
It is difficult to talk about hangouts around Queenstown without mentioning the mountains and the lake. Trails surrounded the lake, and it was easy just to step outside and hike for a short while to find yourself at a relatively secluded spot with a perfect view of the Southern Alps. There were a few trekkers and hikers around, actually. So maybe not entirely secluded, but the views were all the same. Without the people or with a few people that may appear from time to time.

Then, there were also all of the cafes in Queenstown and the Kawaru Village. In Queenstown, one could sit down at the tables and watch people go by. At the village, the views of the Lake Wakapitu were superb.

The Tatler Restaurant & Bar at the Mall
The Tatler Restaurant & Bar at the Mall
I liked three restaurants in Queenstown, two for their location at the pier and their menu choices, and one for the decor. The first two were the Ivy & Lola's Kitchen & Bar and the Pier 19 Restaurant. They looked very civilised and both had small terraces with a few tables outside. Nearby, there were also other eateries, actually - next door, or a floor down or a floor up of the same building. There was plenty of choice there!

The other venue that appealed to me was the Tatler Restaurant & Bar. It was located at the Mall pedestrian avenue, which boasted many restaurants, bars and a number of galleries and shops. It had a nice lighting of its interior and a pleasant decor. The also had a few tables outside, under a small alcove and parasols, so one could dine there even when it rained.

Other recommendations:
The Southern Alps in the middle of spring
The Southern Alps in the middle of spring
The southern tip of New Zealand's South Island can get really cold, even in the summer. For the peaks of the Southern Alps boast some great number of glaciers. So, if you intend to do some hiking in the mountains, do not get fooled by the temperatures basking the North Island, through which the vast majority of visitors to New Zealand arrive in the country. I did not expect the difference to be that great. I arrived in Queenstown from Rarotonga, where the sun heated the air to temperatures of near 40C. It was a bit shocking to arrive at temperatures just hardly above 0C, whilst Auckland enjoyed about 25C. The flight between the two towns was just over an hour long.

Published on Sunday February 17th, 2013

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Thu, May 30 2013 - 03:59 PM rating by mistybleu

Krys, it's so nice to see your continued contribution. Nice report!

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