John Travolta once said when visiting Queenstown, “This must be where God lives!” Upon arrival in this beautiful city on the southern island of New Zealand, I thought the same. My husband and I decided to spend three full days here before our Australian adventure during January of 2012, which is summer in this hemisphere. I should have learned by now not to trust the weather websites when planning my wardrobe for faraway countries.
When looking at photos of summertime tourists in Queenstown, I saw people in shorts, tank tops (they call them singlets), and hiking shoes. What I learned was that New Zealanders believe that 50 degrees Fahrenheit is very warm compared to their bitter winters, and shorts are quite appropriate. I, however, layered several tees and tank tops, long pants, and had to purchase a fleece jacket (from the winter sale rack, of course). We stayed at a B&B named Brown’s Boutique Hotel, which was very quaint, clean, and quiet. It sat just above the town overlooking the gorgeous Lake Wakatipu. After walking around the main shopping district, we agreed it reminded of us most skiing villages in America where there is a pub on every corner and souvenirs in between. It didn’t take long to realize that shopping wouldn’t be on our agenda here, but more adventurous activities would take up our time.
Our first full day in Queenstown began early since there are only six hours of darkness in the summer (it gets dark around 10:30 pm and light around 4:30 am). After a ten mile walk along the lake, we drove to the very quaint Arrowtown. It’s an old gold mining town 20 minutes from Queenstown. There were a few shops and restaurants, but the best find of all was a restaurant called Saffron. Not only did the chef have a gorgeous published cookbook with the most amazing photography I’ve ever seen in a cookbook, but the food was extraordinary. Surprisingly, saffron wasn’t a staple on the menu, but the menu included fusion food from around the world. It was so good, we booked dinner for two nights later. Driving on through the Gibbston Valley wine country was lovely, but the Kawarau Gorge was waiting for us because my husband was determined to bungie jump 150 off a bridge toward the river. You couldn’t pay me to make that dive (they bind your feet), and it was my duty to view it from the lens of my camera. Bravo, Phil!
Our second day was another adventurous experience since we chose to hire complete strangers to take us to the top of a cliff and run off with a parachute behind us. Yes, we went parasailing, and I must say it was quite a rush. The view from the cliff was breathtaking enough, but falling into the valley below and landing in a sheep field was something you just can’t forget.
The afternoon was spent in the car driving to the area where the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed. Sure, it may sound like the perfect tourist trap, but when you’ve seen the landscape and forests, it’s not like anything you could imagine. We actually hiked a while in the forest where you expected a hobbit to come bouncing out at any moment. Tourist trap or not, I loved it.
One of the industries in New Zealand is the possum fur trade. The possums are unlike the ones we have in U.S. The fur is more colorful, softer, and has tremendous thermal properties. The hides are used in clothing, hats, and blankets. The fur is also spun with Merino wool to make all kinds of knitted goods. I purchased a wool and possum sweater that was hand-knit by a local woman in a yarn shop. It is the softest and warmest sweater I’ve ever worn!
The morning of day 3 was spent walking again on the river to work off some of the fantastic food we’ve had in Queenstown. The weather was crazy....cold, warm, raining, cold. The afternoon, however, was the best part of our New Zealand experience! We hired the Over The Top helicopter company to take us on a tour of Milford Sound and the Fiords on the Tasman Sea. It was only a short jaunt over the mountains surrounding Queenstown to the rough granite mountains near the Tasman Sea. The waterfalls, lakes, rivers, and valleys were spectacular. Our pilot would drop down near a mountain lake for a close-up view of waterfalls three times the height of Niagra Falls. Our first landing was on Ruby Beach on the sea.
We walked on the beach and rocks along the river. It was an amazing experience to be where few have been since there is no other access to it except by a small boat. We launched on the cliff’s updrafts again up into the nearby mountains and landed on a glacier 5,000 feet high. We walked around on the snow and treacherous granite and marveled at how much the glacier has decreased in just a few short years. Back in Queenstown, I suffered some motion sickness from the helicopter ride, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world!
There is so much to see in New Zealand, and we experienced only a small part of it. The people we met were friendly, the food delicious, the scenery breathtaking, the weather........well, unpredictable. But in just three short days, I’d say I saw as much as one could possible see in Queenstown, and from many different perspectives. And it doesn’t take long to realize that yes, God lives here!