CITY | QUEENSTOWN
unfolds, with some Kiwi wit and humour thrown in for good measure. Leaving Queenstown, the coach passes along the foot of a broad slab of mountains, The Remarkables, with uniform steep, symmetrical peaks, reaching 2,234 metres high. These were the backdrop for many of these scenes in the Lord of the Rings movies.
Further on, fields of pink and magenta lupins provide a curtain of bright colour against the green marshlands and grey mountains. After crossing through the 1,270-metre Homer Tunnel, carved through the hard granite of the Main Divide between 1934 and 1953, we reach Milford Sound.
A large pod of dolphins put on quite a show as they leap gracefully from the water i c h
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Excited tourists board the Milford Monarch, the three-storey boat for the cruise up the famous Sound. The view of Milford Sound from the top deck lives up to all of the tourist literature superlatives: it really is “stunning” and “one of the scenic wonders of the world.” To the delight of the passengers, a large pod of dolphins paces the boat for a couple of miles, and put on quite a show as they leap gracefully from the water.
Then we look up around us and can almost hear everyone’s collective gasp at the vista of sheer mountain face rising up from the sound. Steep sides are blanketed with native forest greenery; waterfalls cascade down the large rocky outcrops gouged out of the mountainside; and Mitre Peak – all 1,695 metres of her – dominates all like an ancient queen.
VIEW FROM ABOVE Back in Queenstown, I take a trip on the Skyline Gondola to the top of the 500-metre hill to get a good perspective of the town’s perfect setting.
The terminal building at the summit offers a restaurant, café, souvenir shop, and a phenomenal
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180-degree view encompassing Coronet Peak, Mount Nicholas Station, Lake Wakatipu, and The Remarkables. Immediately below, the one-square kilometre downtown shopping area is clearly visible, with neatly arranged suburbs radiating out around intriguing blue coves and finger-like peninsulas.
Squadrons of paragliders sail gently down from the hilltop to their landing field in the school grounds way below. Tourists of all ages and types enjoy the hiking, mountain biking, bungy jumping, luging, and helicopter rides at the Skyline Gondola Hill.
To further absorb the flavour of Queenstown, I opted for a dinner cruise across Lake Wakatipu aboard the vintage coal-fired steamship TSS Earnslaw.
The narrated cruise takes about an hour as she chugs past massive Cecil Peak, to drop you at the Walter Peak www.getmedownunder.com CITY | QUEENSTOWN
High Country Farm, for an excellent Kiwi meal of roast beef, lamb, and pork in the gorgeous farm mansion there. The pianist, who has been pounding the keys on the Earnslaw, continues his repertoire at the buffet. Afterwards, the station owner gives an entertaining demonstration of sheep shearing, and has his trusty sheepdog work the sheep for a while.
On the sunset return across the lake we sang along to honky-tonk songs like It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, Roll Out The Barrel, and Waltzing Matilda, taking us back to 1912 when the ship first set sail across the lake.
To describe all of Queenstown’s activities simply can’t be done in anything short of a guidebook. I counted a staggering total of 150 activities and tours, from skydiving to canyoning, and eco-touring to glacier walking, plus all winter sports, so it would be difficult to get bored here unless you so choose. As you might expect for a world-class resort destination such as this, the nightlife in Queenstown is formidable; with restaurants, cafés and coffee shops, wine bars, pubs, and nightclubs providing suitable entertainment for the young and the young at heart.
Flying out of the airport, looking out over Queenstown’s backdrop of towering, rocky mountains, I see the desolate mountain ridges give way to a long azure ribbon of glittering water that is Lake Wakatipu.
I shouldn’t have been so surprised at Queenstown’s conversion into a global destination hotspot. It’s always had the scenic currency for this transformation, and it was just a matter of time for the town to fully realize its own world-class destination status. And that time has arrived-in spades.
Top left Neat suburbs radiate out around blue coves and finger-like peninsulas
Bottom left A picture perfect mountain and lake setting atop the Skyline Gondola Hill
Top right The TSS Earnslaw takes passengers on a cruise across Lake Wakatipu
Above The steamship drops diners off at the Walter Peak High Country Farm www.getmedownunder.com
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