The plane drops not once, but twice.
Passengers gasp, yelp and laugh, but I clutch the arm rest as my stomach flips like it does on a roller coaster. Never have I been on a plane this jumpy before, and the weather was just fine.
The pilot’s voice crackles into the cabin. Apparently the wind will get stronger as we approach the Queenstown airport. A little late for that announcement, eh?
I stare out the window as the plane dips lower into a narrow valley. It looks as if the wings could skim the hillside at any moment. Maybe the pilot shouldn’t have said anything at all. Que the turbulence again.
After 24 hours, three transfers, and the final flight from Auckland to Queenstown, we finally made it to the starting point of our great New Zealand adventure. Only, I didn’t know it was going to be a great adventure until three weeks later when the trip was over. Go figure.
But what matters is that we made it–to theadventure hub of Queenstown.
For the Canadians, it’s like taking the mountain town of Banff and moving it next to one of Okanagan’s lakes. The main difference is that Queenstown sits next to the mighty Lake Wakatipu (on the South Island) with the Southern Alps in the backdrop.
With decent food and lively nightlife, Queenstown is a bustling touristy town full of expats, travellers, and plenty of Asians on tours. Adventure tour companies and sporting stores line the main street and there’s no shortage of outdoor activities to do in town, or nearby.
From jet-boating, bungy jumping, paragliding, the skyline luge etc. you could easily spend a week here. The only downside though is that everything costs money.
A crap-ton of money.
Since the town capitalizes on tourism, everything else is expensive especially food and accommodation. To save some cash, I suggest spending time outside of Queenstown as there are towns and hiking trails you can explore for free.
The best option is to do this via car. In fact, I highly recommend a New Zealand roadtrip either by camper van or car as you’ll have the freedom to explore the corners of the country that just aren’t possible without your own transport.
For accommodation, the best money-saving options are hostels or Airbnbs. Since I was travelling with my PIC (partner-in-crime), we opted for an Airbnb in a local’s home just outside of town.
Our host was one of many Kiwis who showed us the utmost of kindness. To this day I have never felt more welcomed than I did while travelling and staying with the locals here. Cheers to everyone we came across!
Anywho, since Queenstown is located in the Central Otago region, there are also pinot noir or chardonnay vineyards, mountain biking trails, and skiing in the winter. So if you’re really looking for adventure, Queenstown is a great place to start.
The town is small enough that you’ll easily find your way around after a couple of days. If you haven’t driven much on the left-hand side of the road, you’ll also feel more comfortable learning and practicing here instead of say Auckland where you have to deal with 10 times the amount of traffic.
So because QT is exactly that, a cute/QT town (get it?), you don’t really need a guide because sometimes it’s better to wing it and go explore.
BUT here’s a quick guide to Queenstown anyways because I want to tell you my version of why this place is so awesome.
So without further ado, here are some highlights you don’t want to miss starting with the food and then spots you’ll very likely come across on your own.
6 Places to Eat:
Almost a tradition, a lot of people come here after their first bungy jump. Screw it though, it was mid-afternoon and I hadn’t eaten a real meal in 24 hours. This joint was my first real bite in NZ, and it seriously did not disappoint! The burger bun itself is one to rave about with the perfect of amount crispiness, and the patty and veggies were pretty fresh too according to my jetlagged standards.
The onion rings were more on the meh side, but you need to try one of the gourmet burgers. Watch out for the massive lineup at the lunch or dinner rush though (I can vouch for a shorter line at around 3 pm).
Don’t miss the adjoining Fergbakery either! The bagels are yummy and while I didn’t try a meat pie, they looked tasty too!
2. Queenie’s Dumplings
Now this was the place I went to after bungy jumping for the first time! The noodle soup is clear and on the healthier side with a heap of spinach and the dumplings were decent too. I’m sure I was still dazed from the jump because I forgot to order pan-fried dumplings, but they were pretty tasty as is (steamed).
3. Cookie Muncher Cookie Time
If you’re lucky, you’ll get a taste of these cookies on your in-flight snack on Air New Zealand. If not, no worries there’s a store here in QT. Happily wandering in search of somewhere to grab dinner, instead I came across this spot during its “happy hour” from 6 to 7 pm where you get two hot cookies, fresh out of the oven, for $3.
Since I couldn’t resist the smell wafting from this place, of course dinner had to wait. The good news is that you can pretty much buy these cookies in any convenience or grocery store all over the country, but you can’t beat the fresh ones!
There are a few of these chocolate shops and cafes in Queenstown, including the airport. Stop by for ice cream, energy-boosting smoothies, chocolates, plus other cakes and desserts.
5. Pog’s Mahone
A traditional Irish pub perfect for a pint or meal. If you’re hungry, definitely go for one of the hot stone grills where you cook the rest of the meat on a sizzling slab of stone. Not gonna lie, this was my first stone grill in NZ but definitely not the last.
6. Bob’s Weich Cafe
A nice, casual place for breakfast or a grab-and-go muffin and flat white. Let me tell you… the muffins in NZ are something else. So crispy on the outside, but fluffy and warm on the inside.
4 Things You Need to Do:
So there’s not really that much to do in Queenstown itself, but there’s plenty to do in the area. Easily explored in a day or two, here are the four main hotspots in town.
This area is basically the downtown with all the restaurants, shops, info centres and everything you need. In the summer, you can also find an outdoor arts and crafts market on the weekend.
2. Queenstown Gardens
A relaxing area on the other end of town, Queenstown Gardens is essentially a botanical garden featuring both exotic and native flora and fauna. Check out the rose garden and walk along the shore for views of the lake. You’ll also find a disc golf course, lawn bowling facilities, tennis courts, free parking (shhh) according to the locals, and plenty of lovely greenspaces.
3. Queenstown Gondola and Luge
Now this is something you gotta do if you aren’t into any of the extreme adventure sports. The luge is super fun, easy, great for all ages, and you can go multiple times (I went five times). You’ll have to take the gondola up first, but the views of the town and lake below are pretty iconic.
There’s also a fancy restaurant at the top with a buffet that’s recommended but you need to book a spot in advance.
4. Adventure Time!
Take your pick and book at least one adventure/thrill sport here. Be brave. You can do it! We signed our fears away for bungy jumping at Kawarau Bridge. A half hour away, this bridge is the site of the first bungy jump in the world.
It’s a classic bridge jump and great for first-time jumpers because it’s not as high as the others in the area. Plus, there’s a river flowing beneath you in case you need a “safety net.” I’ll be sure to write a more detailed post about this later!
What have you done in Queenstown, or what would you like to do? Let me know!