CITY | QUEENSTOWN
What a difference 33 years makes, I think, as I gaze along Queenstown’s bright bustling streets lined with trendy boutiques and upscale restaurants and art galleries, watching well-heeled people stroll the sidewalks, talking in French and German, or with Australian and British accents.
On my previous trip through Queenstown, in 1978, I was an unkempt student hitchhiker, and I’d blended right in with the locals. They were mainly New Zealanders on holiday in their private, sleepy little holiday haven, plus a few bearded, rough-and-ready hitchhikers from Europe who couldn’t afford a razor.
But today, even the backpackers in Queenstown are well coiffed and well scrubbed, resplendent in stylish, form-fitting North Face and Patagonia lycra jackets. I doubt that today I’d even be let in past the city limits looking as I was back in the day.
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ADVENTURE CAPITAL Few resort towns in the world can rival Queenstown’s outrageous natural setting – that perfect mix of a chic, glistening little town nestled in the crook of a lake, with sweeping panoramic water, valley, and mountain views that really do take your breath away.
In fact, this scenic crown jewel, in a country packed with beautiful spots, has proven such a hit that six out of every 10 people you will meet in Queenstown are from outside New Zealand. Around 1.25 million visitors come here each year to savour the area’s year-round plethora of activities.
Adventure tourists find nerve-jangling, heart pounding activities aplenty in Queenstown as creative Kiwis conjure up new ways to thrill their tourists. Yet this former gold town offers its fair share of relaxing activities for those who don’t want to drown in their own adrenaline while bungy jumping, or suffer a heart attack mid-way through a white water jet boat excursion as they narrowly miss rocky canyon overhangs at 50 kilometres per hour.
Less adventurous visitors will find plenty of verdant golf courses, easy hiking and scenic walking promenades, museums, bird parks, steamboat lake cruises, shopping and self-indulgent spas to fill their time, not to mention plenty of sophisticated wining and dining options to cap off a great day.
Charles Fraser is a personable 55-year old ex-farmer from Geraldine in Canterbury Province, and operates Rural Discovery Tours to show visitors the real New Zealand. “We love meeting visitors to New Zealand”, he tells me, “and being able to show the country life, character and incredible scenery we have here.”
And what better place to find quintessential New Zealand than the iconic Mount Earnslaw High Country Station, a 130-year-old working farm?
COUNTRY LIFE Set in Glenorchy’s spectacular alpine terrain, the Mount Earnslaw Station is legendary, even among Kiwis. As a city boy in Auckland I had heard about this massive sheep station, and how it was so large that the farmers had to drive half a day to cross it. For 45 minutes, our four-wheel drive Land Rover follows the
Top Whitewater rafting offers outdoor enthusiasts some fast thrills
Above left Hikers have some stunning walking trails to choose from
Centre Teeing off on a verdant golf course overlooking Lake Wakatipu
A u s t r a l i a & N Z | M a y 2 0 12
www.getmedownunder.com CITY | QUEENSTOWN
winding road that snakes along the northern shores of Lake Wakatipu to the lake head, stopping occasionally at high spots to appreciate and photograph the stunning lake and mountain views. It’s a beautiful day, a dazzling bright blue sky with nary a cloud, and visibility over 50 miles through the fresh, clean South Island air.
Approaching the small town of Glenorchy, Charles points out various forest and hill locations where scenes from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy of films were filmed: the mystical Lothlorien, Orthanc, and Isengard. Later, I would count no less than four tour operators specializing in Lord of the Rings excursions – Tolkien would be pleased.
Crossing the bridge over the wide, rock strewn Rees River we enter the Mount Aspiring National Park, with views fanning out up deeply carved river valleys; the Dart, Routeburn, Greenstone and Rees Valleys – all renowned for their scenic and challenging hiking tracks. Then we cut across the station’s farmland, stirring skittish woolly sheep, braying indignantly, and russet coloured cattle, from their grazing on the green pastures. We stop at the woolshed, where the heart
Top Stopping for a tea break on Mount Alfred at Mount Earnslaw Station
Above left You can take a leap of faith at one of the many bungy jumping sites
Above Russet coloured cattle graze on the beautiful pastures www.getmedownunder.com
A u s t r a l i a & N Z | M a y 2 0 12