In a beautiful lakeside setting, Queenstown has become known for bungee jumping and backpacking. However for us Queenstown was about exploring the nearby region of lakes, wineries, and glaciers.
Day 1 – Sunday, March 15, 2015
Although we had flown into Queenstown a week earlier, we hadn’t experienced it beyond noticing its beautiful setting along a mountain lake. This time we arrived in Queenstown driving from the south coast. As we neared Queenstown we went through Cromwell, an area rich with wineries. After Cromwell we reached Arrowtown. Several hikers along the Milford Track had mentioned Arrowtown, so we decided to stop and check it out.
Arrowtown is the sight of a once thriving gold rush community. The town itself is very quaint and lovely. There are two main roads of historic buildings, small shops, and cool cafes. We enjoyed walking through the town and window shopping. We shared a small bite to eat at the Arrowtown Bakery Cafe for lunch. Before leaving Arrowtown, we walked through the historic Chinese Village. The Chinese Village are the remains of houses and stores Chinese gold seekers lived in during the gold rush.
Queenstown snuck up on us during the drive in. We passed a few buildings, like any other town, then noticed more and more as the road continued. Finally we realized this wasn’t just another small town, but that we had reached our destination.
Queenstown sits on a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. Next to the lake is a green park and small beach where people were sitting and picnicking. The streets are clean and well maintained, and there is a pedestrian walking mall. Stores were nicer than in the surrounding towns; selling sports gear, designer merino wool, and custom t-shirts. Tons of restaurants and bars were on each street. Queenstown is known for being the birthplace of bungee jumping and is an adventure seekers dream, if you have the money for it. Adventure companies in Queensland offer bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, canyoning, skydiving, canyon swings, helicopter tours to glaciers, mountain biking and numerous other expensive activities.
We checked into our hostel, Absoloot. To compensate for the inconvenience of needing us to switch rooms during our stay, Absoloot gave us $20 at a local bar. The hostel was nice, modern, very clean, and has the best wifi connection we found in New Zealand. They also told us where we could find free street parking for the car. We moved our car, then took advantage of the internet to do some big planning for our next countries.
Finally we pulled ourselves away from the computers and went to explore the town. We started at The Find, which was a cool second story bar with outdoor seating. The Find is where we had a $20 gift certificate to from our hostel. We enjoyed our glasses of local wines (although they were out of one) and an order of nachos (they were out of jalapenos). To compensate for being out of jalapenos they took a few more dollars off the bill. We left with full bellies for only $8!
We enjoyed wandering around the town, which wasn’t as big as it had looked at first, but was our favorite city in New Zealand. Even through it was getting late, we weren’t hungry for dinner so we went to a The Pub on the Wharf where a band was playing 90’s alternative rock. The band was good, but we had more fun reading the quotes on decorations around the room. Finally for dinner we stopped at a little Mexican restaurant, Caribe.
Day 2 – Monday, March 16, 2015
A headache and cloudy weather kept us sleeping in later than planned. We went for breakfast in Queenstowns at Fergbaker where we split a venison and mushroom pie and a focaccia. The pie was good, but not as good as the ones we ate in Te Anau. It was still very chilly and cloudy, but we got in the car and headed towards the town of Wanaka. We drove there on the route that passes Crown Range and travels up over the mountains. Not far into the drive we passed an overlook, I think the view would have been great except for all of the fog. We didn’t even take a photograph.
The town of Wanaka was cute and like a smaller version of Queenstown. It was located on a lake and was mostly restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops. Some information boards posted by the lake listed local hikes. We were surprised to see that most of the hikes were several hours, which we didn’t want to do in the cold. Instead, we drove to Eely Point which was a small park on the lake. There wasn’t much hiking there.
On our way out of Wanaka we stumbled on Puzzling World. A guide we talked to at a tourist information stand had mentioned Puzzling World, but we didn’t know what she was talking about. Puzzling World turned out to be a museum of sorts that was dedicated to puzzles. The biggest stand out feature to us was the leaning tower optical illusion outside of the building. From the parking lot we could also see a large walk through maze. Inside the build they advertised three illusion rooms; one dedicated to holograms, one dedicated to sculptures, and one which played with perspective. We decided not to pay to enter the rooms, but we did play several of the free puzzle games set up in the lobby.
We took our time on the drive back to Queenstown by following the Central Otago Wine Trail. Many of the wineries along the way are by appointment only to visit, but we had found a nice map showing the ones with public tasting rooms. Our first stop was Aurum. The lady who gave us the tasting seemed to be the owner, her daughter-in-law the winemaker, and the wines named for her grandchildren. We really enjoyed the conversation with her as much as the wines. The second winery we stopped at was Wooing Tree. The wines were pinot nior and similar to the previous tasting. By this time we decided to look for food. We stopped in a few wineries that advertised food, but they had either stopped serving at 3pm or offered expensive tasting menus. We left those wineries without a wine tasting. We eventually found some reasonably priced sandwiches at the Gibbston Tavern. Jon had whitefish buttes, small white fish, which are apparently ‘real kiwi food’.
For our last winery of the day we stopped at Peregrine. Peregrine was the only winery we saw that was built to stand out architecturally. The cellar door (tasting room) was in a concrete bunker and had a glass wall showing the wine cellar. A few things that we learned were that New Zealand become known for wines because of the Marlboro Sauvignon Blanc. Most wineries seemed to have more whites than reds and the reds were limited to mostly Pinot Noirs.
Back in Queenstown we went to the hostel where our room was moved. For dinner we walked to the pedestrian mall and to Madam Woo’s. Madam Woo was recommended to us by the lady at Aurum winery. In particular she recommended the ‘hawker food’ rolls. Madam Woo served small, tapas like plates of Malaysian food. We ordered a hawker roll, dumplings, beef curry, and lentils. When the roll and dumplings arrived we were worried that we’d have to order more and that the prices seemed high for the serving size. However, after eating we were both stuffed and had enjoyed the meal and the price for 4 dishes didn’t seem as bad.
Day 3 – Tuesday, March 17, 2015 (St. Patrick’s Day)
We woke up relativity early because we didn’t want to waste the day. Our first stop was the Department of Conservation office in Queenstown to ask about hikes. We were disappointed to hear that poor weather was still forecast for Mt. Cook and it probably wouldn’t be worth risking a 3 hour drive. The DOC did recommend a hike in Mt. Aspiring National Park instead. Before heading to the park we got breakfast at Vudu. Jon had found Vudu the previous day in his daily quest for coffee but he hadn’t eaten there. The breakfasts we ordered, blueberry pancakes and muesli, were good but nothing that really stands out.
It was back in the car towards Wanaka again for us. We did the same scenic drive as the previous day, but with fewer clouds we stopped for pictures along the way.
Mt. Aspiring is 30 minutes north past Wanaka and it was another 45 minutes to get to the trailhead. The drive in itself was an adventure. After entering the park we were on gravel and dirt roads, driving past herds of sheep, cows, and deer and we had to ford half a dozen small streams.
Finally we reached Raspberry Creek and the start of the Rob Roy Glacier Trail. The trail is 5km long and follows the Rob Roy stream uphill through alpine forest to two overlooks of the Rob Roy Glacier. The hike was nice and not nearly as hard or long as I expected. The first kilometer of the hike was beautiful through pasture land, along a river, and across a bridge. Most of the hike was steadily uphill in forest. We met an older couple from Melbourne, Australia who we chatted with for most of the hike up. At 4km there is a lower overlook with a nice view of two glaciers.
We continued the last kilometer to the upper overlook. The upper overlook was amazing and worth the extra effort to hike to. The path opened because we were above the tree line and boulders perfect for picnicking were all around. The glaciers looked huge and close. We ate a bag of plums and some protein bars we had packed with us. We probably added extra time to the hike because we relaxed and enjoyed the upper overlook. The way back down wasn’t bad either and went quickly. Right before arriving at the car, we discovered a large number of sheep blocking the way, although they quickly dispersed off the path as we approached.
We didn’t stop on the drive back to Queenstown. Hungry from our hike we went straight to dinner at Fergburger. We had been hearing about Fergburger ever since the Milford Track and most backpackers in the area seem to talk about it. Several people even have named Fergburger the best burger in the country. There is a perpetual line in front of the small burger shop. We were able to order quickly and waited about 20 minutes for our food. We noticed that on the menu there are a dozen burgers, but only a few of them were beef. Besides beef burgers they offered lamb, pork, fish, and several chicken options. Our burgers were huge and delicious looking, but didn’t live up to the hype (after all, what can beat Ray’s Hell Burger in Arlington, VA?). The large size seemed to be mostly condiments and bun. I thought my burger was slightly sweet tasting, which wasn’t necessarily good or bad to me. Fergburger won’t even be making my personal list of favorite burgers.
It was Saint Patrick’s day so we headed to one of the Irish bars in Queenstown, Morrison’s. It was around 9pm and Morrison’s was just starting to get crowded. We were a bit surprised to find the only Irish beers on tap were Guinness and Kilkenny (which is similar to Guinness). They didn’t offer any Irish reds or lagers. We each had a drink. The bar started to get more crowded while we were there, but we left after finishing our drinks. Next we went to Surreal bar, mostly pulled in by the sounds of a live guitarist. The music was good, and while we were there three people played guitar. Each was better than the last.
Day 4 – Tuesday March 18, 2015
Our flight out of New Zealand was mid-afternoon, so we had the morning free to spend in Queenstown. It was chilly but sunny. Instead of going out for breakfast, we ate the leftover snacks we had from our travels through the country. When we finally went out, we didn’t have much to do except wander through the streets. Surprisingly, we found several small arcades of restaurants and bars that we hadn’t seen the during the rest of our stay in Queenstown.
For lunch we checked the menu at several pizza restaurants. A few of our first choices didn’t open until later in the day so we ate at Winnie’s. We had the pescado (seafood) pizza. It was more filling than we expected and was piled high with seafood. I enjoyed the seafood and the pizza, but decided that I liked them seperately and picked the seafood off of my pizza.
Before leaving Queenstown we found one last activity; we strolled through the Queenstown Gardens. The gardens were nice with some huge trees and a Frisbee golf course. We walked back along the lake, returned our car, and went to the airport to wait for our flight.
During our flight to Australia, the pilot banked the plane left and right to give all passengers an amazing view of the Milford Sound and the surrounding mountainous region.
ALSO TRY :
- Taco Medic – This ambulance turned food truck was ranked high on the food websites we looked at, but wasn’t around when we were looking for it.
- Mt. Cook – Mt. Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand and seeing it was high on our priority list. Mt. Cook National Park is several hours from Queenstown so at least a day trip is needed, perhaps more if you want to hike. Unfortunately the poor weather during our visit prevented us from going. However, on a clear day the view of Mt. Cook is supposed to be stunning.
- Escape Quest – We have seen escape rooms becoming more popular in cities throughout our travels and have yet to try one. The escape room in Queenstown really peaked our interest because we were in need of rainy day activities.