Theres's absolutely no doubt that travelling with others really brings out the best in a destination. 10 girls flew to Queenstown from Sydney just recently to discover a tiny town that's hiding away on the south island of New Zealand. It's a short 2 hours and 40 minutes from Sydney - the wonderful Air New Zealand crew and service made that 'fly' by (pardon the pun!). Our four short days left us breathless, completely blown away by all we experienced, and really truly not wanting to go home. The stunning scenery made famous by the Lord of the Rings Trilogy is so awesome our group were reduced to just one short description...'wow'. The ever changing Remarkables (and yes they truly are!) provide an extraordinary backdrop for the town. They are one of only two mountain ranges in the world that run from north to south - the other is the Rocky Mountains in Canada. Lush green countryside, spectacular spring flowers in full bloom (rhododendrons, wattles and peonies on steroids!), and dazzling sunshine that hurt our eyes - ouch. It's a photographer's paradise. In this town of around 27,000 people, there's not a lot of traffic, pollution or city noise to get in the way of all that crisp, clean air. It's good for the soul.
Queenstown sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu framed by those mountain ranges - there was a sprinkling of snow still to be seen on some of the peaks. Its a tiny town and well contained around the shores of the lake. SHE found cafes, restaurants, bars (around 70 at last count!) lots of interesting shops and plenty of New Zealand fine merino products to be found. SHE stumbled on Patagonia - a fabulous chocolate shop that offers hot chocolate (the real thing - melted down with hot milk - oh yeah!), and a great tshirt shop that prints custom made tshirts in 20 mins. Excellent!
SHE ate really good pizza washed down with local cider at Winnies - this place is an institution featuring a roof that opens so you can dance the night away under the stars. Our attempt at a bar crawl was pretty tame by all reports, however we did find Cowboys - hidden down a laneway and themed to within an inch of its life - this place rocked! SHE drank more of that local cider to the soundtrack of the 80's - who doesn't love a sing along to Kenny Rogers' 'The Gambler'? Big fun. There's plenty of places to just sit and sip at a glass of fine NZ wine too - Bardeaux is a great option with a roaring fire to keep you nice and cosy, and the newly opened Ballarat Trading Company is very civilised! Perfect for our ladies!
Of course there's adventure...well...this is the adventure capital of the world. Whatever you want to do (and a heap you never thought you'd consider) - you'll find it all here. SHE flew almost upside down on the wildest helicopter ride of this girl's life, raced down the Shotover River on a jet boat, and took a 4 wheel drive safari across the river outside Arrowtown. There's gold in these mountains - and plenty of it according to the locals. Panning for gold is a weekend pastime and they're pretty serious about it too.
Our group didn't even touch the sides of this amazing destination. But don't let all this adrenaline get in the way of the tamer, more relaxed activities on offer - there's so much more available if you don't fancy being flung off a small platform to dip your toes in a river (SHE's happy to watch that one, and to cheer in sheer amazement!). It was spring in Queenstown when SHE visited (late November) - SHE has been here in winter and no matter what time of year, it is a spectacular part of the world. SHE doesn't ski but reckons it might be the place to learn. Doesn't matter though - there are so many things to do its more about what to leave out not 'how will I fill my days?'.
Queenstown turned on perfect weather - warm enough for tshirts during the day and rugged up for 2 degrees at night. And our ultimate finale... a short helicopter flight from the Skyline Restaurant perched high above Queenstown, to Cecil Peak Ledge across the lake. SHE really did feel like SHE was on top of the world complete with those amazing views and a glass of French champagne to share with new friends. This amazing experience has now joined the 'SHE travels' top 5 travel 'must do's' - we felt like rockstars!
So...here's the summary...The pro's:
- around 3 hours from Australia (a little longer from Melbourne but Air NZ have direct flights from major East Coast cities)
- Kiwis are a friendly lot with a generally wicked sense of humour. There's a wonderful trans-Tasman rivalry that never fails to raise its head - makes for lots of great jokes,mostly at our expense!
- They speak the same language - sort of, with a funny 'excent'!
- Money's pretty much the same except they got their gold coins the right way around ($2 is big one, $1 is small!)
- Exchange rate means its really great value on everything
- Food and wine - 5 stars. SHE loves the Pinot Gris and of course the Pinot. Lamb and beef tastes so much better here - really!
The con's: ah...hmmm...umm..NONE!
SHE can't wait to get back there - SHE's planning 5 days in October 2011, following the Rugby World Cup (that's a big deal in this part of the world!). If you'd like to join us, drop us a line. A detailed itinerary will be available real soon!