Driving on highway 6 to Queenstown is by far, the most stunning commute we have experienced up to this point. It took us a while to get through the fog and clouds that surrounded Franz Josef, but when we did…
There is an unbelievable stretch of the drive after Lake Wanaka as you turn to Lake Hawea that puts any other claims of “God’s country” to shame. Once you have passed both of those lakes, you make a winding decent down, overlooking all of Queenstown, its harbor on Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains.
We arrived late in the afternoon, checked into our air Bnb and recharged while doing some much needed laundry. Our hosts were a young couple with a six month old baby, that we came to adore seeing everyday. Their home was a five minute downhill walk to central Queenstown. (A link to the air Bnb listing can be found here.)
Note: If you want to stay right in the middle of town or on the lake, we can’t express the importance of booking in advance.
It was dinner time before we knew it, so we walked down to a pizza place that our hosts recommended called Winnies. Persuaded by one of the many happy hour signs along our still, we temporarily postponed dinner and enjoyed a liquid appetizer at Ballarat Bar. Winnies has a lively atmosphere right when you walk in and are extremely busy. They have a creative menu of pizza and we split an individual Montanara pizza and an order of the famed beer fries. O.M.G.
Behind Winnies is a string of bars on Searle Lane which also happens to be the name of the bar we stopped into because of their late night cheap drink specials. We drank our cocktail next to the wood burning fire to warm up from the cold lake winds but after one drink, our age and food coma begged us to call it a night.
Our Manhattan sensibilities kicked in as if we had stumbled out of B-Bar in the East Village, so we lazily took a cab home. We were reminded that we were in a much friendlier place than New York when our driver insisted that we pay only $5 for our $7.40 metered fare.
Queenstown is an active vacationers dream. It is an upscale location full of restaurants, shopping and endless outdoor activities. It can get expensive but if you are only on a two week vacation, we recommended taking advantage of all that Queenstown has to offer.
We are in a different category of traveling so the next morning we googled free things to do in Queenstown and discovered that the local botanical gardens is set up for frisbee golf and you can “hire a frisbee” at a nearby sports shop for $5NZD each.
I can’t rave about our Frolfing skills but I can rave about this park. I have never seen a more beautiful park. This peninsula of gardens perches up on a hill with a woody lower level full of tall trees all bordered by a walking path that offers endless views of Lake Wakatipu.
The course took us about two hours to complete and we had a blast! It turned into a workout for us amateurs as a result of the sprinting that happens every time your undirected frisbee rolls down the hill towards the water. By the time we finished, it was time for yet another meal so we walked the ten minutes completely across town to a food truck that sells tacos. Taco Medic is listed at #1 on Trip Advisor.
We split four different tacos and agreed the fish taco is the best we have ever had and the runner up was the brisket. The other two were good but average to us taco connoisseurs. We walked around town exploring all the shops and cafes and decided to take another chance on a “pie” at Ferg bakery.
The pie was not bad but we have come to the conclusion that pies are just not our thing.
After all that moving around, we stopped at a cafe for a coffee and free wifi and enjoyed some time catching up on things back home.
That evening, we followed the recommendation of our barista and drove to Glenorchy, which is a small town 45 mins from Queenstown. The destination isn’t the draw though, it’s the drive up and back along the lake. 100% a must do if you like endless breathtaking views.
We picked up a young hitchhiking couple who were so thankful for the ride. Mel and Fred are in their mid/late twenties from Argentina. They have been traveling for two years with no plans to go back (but don’t tell Fred’s mother that) until they are 30. Working Holiday Visas are available in many countries if you are under 30, which is why many twenty somethings travel because they can journey from country to country and work/live while they do it. This sweet couple had been in Queenstown for five months and were headed up to Glenorchy to camp for the night as a little mini vacation from their jobs in town.
We had decided earlier in the day that we finally wanted to try New Zealand lamb. We found an interesting establishment that only has one menu item and offers only take out. It is a slow roasted lamb shoulder and scalloped potatoes for two and you have to call in advance. We put in our order before our drive and collected our dinner after returning from Glenorchy. We took our food to the lake and opened one of our Blenheim purchased wines. The meal was delicious and the sunset that followed made for a splendid dessert.
It was sunny on Wednesday morning but the brisk air was a reminder that fall was approaching here in New Zealand. This was a signal that our time here is coming to an end and that our wardrobe will require us to quickly travel closer to the equator. There is something strange we’ve noticed with the daily temperatures in this part of the world. The day won’t reach its peak temperature until about 5PM. You could leave the house at noon with a hoodie on, and be sweating in shorts and a t-shirt by dinner time. Layering is key.
We waited until late morning for the weather to heat up to venture to the nearby school field for yoga. The yoga routine we downloaded on our iPad was pretty short and easy so we added in some other push-ups and sprints which then turned into dancing and hand stands. We found this 30 Day Yoga series on youtube that you can download for a small donation. This has been great to travel with since we don’t always have wifi.
No amount of exercise could make us feel good about the quantity of potatoes and lamb from the night before so we opted for a healthy lunch at Johnny Barr’s in town.
We strolled through town and stopped at Cup and Cake, just to scope it out for future dessert. We had a great conversation with the girl working behind the counter. She is on a long term trip originating out of Texas and is also blogging. You can check out her blog The Sweet Wanderlust about travel, food, and dessert.
Before we knew it, it was time to do the one thing we were most excited for on our trip to New Zealand, the Shotover Canyon jet boat ride. We saw a YouTube video on it years ago and when we realized we were heading that way, it became our top priority.
You ride on a 14 passenger boat with four rows of stadium seating through narrow canyons only inches from the walls, at about 50 mph. Throw in some high speed 360s and you have the world’s best rollercoaster in one of the most scenic places on earth.
This Video provides the best possible explanation.
The ride lasts about 30 minutes and costs $130NZD each, but we purchased the instant replay and did it twice. The second ride costs only 15% of what the first ride did. We enjoyed it just as much the second time and recommend doing it twice at that cost.
We got back to the air bnb and showered up before heading out for dinner. Despite Queenstown having tons of great restaurants, we couldn’t help ourselves and we went back to Winnies for pizza. It was that good. This time we got a large pizza, half was a vegetarian Italian style with tons of pesto, the other half had chicken, brie, and cranberry sauce. While it did not live up to the Montanara, it was still great.
In search of a better beer selection, we stopped by the Atlas Bar and really enjoyed the vibe and adult beverages. The combination of pizza and beer struck again because we headed back to our stay before 10 PM. Lame!
We woke up the following morning to a heavy rainstorm. We lazied around, waiting for the afternoon forecast of sunshine and rising temperatures that was promised.
When the rain subsided and the sun broke up the clouds, we put on our athletic gear and packed a backpack for a hike up the tiki trail. This takes you from the bottom of the gondola to the top.
It takes about an hour and is aggressively uphill. Not only did we save the $80 it would have cost to ride the gondola but we got our workout in and were able to hike past zip liners and downhill bikers whipping through the forest. As always, the hikers reward is the view at the top. We could see the entire city of Queensland and the accompanying natural beauty.
After our hike, we jumped in the car and headed to Amisfield Winery on the recommendation of Nate’s college friend Kenny. They have an excellent bistro that requires reservations days in advance. We stopped by between lunch and dinner for a tasting followed by a half bottle of Fume Sauvignon Blanc in their dining area overlooking the vineyard.
Oddly enough, we met another interior designer from New York and her French travel partner who gave us great tips for our upcoming trip to Sri Lanka. They were so enthusiastic about the country it got us even more excited.
Queenstown is the only city in New Zealand with a respectable nightlife, especially in this corner of the country. So despite being two days before Nate’s actual birthday, this was our opportunity to celebrate. With this in mind, we left the winery and went home to rest up and get ready for our big night out.
No man’s birthday celebration in Queenstown would be deemed complete without first stopping at the legendary Fergburger. You can expect a 30 to 60 minute wait in the massive line out front, unless you do what we did and call in your order.
Twenty minutes later we arrived just as our burger was coming off the grill.
We split one, not wanting to be too committed in case it didn’t live up to our expectations, but we were scheming up ways to return before our last bites were eaten.
We returned to Searle Lane for their drink specials between 9 and 10 PM. We loaded up on cheap drinks until we hit our limit of hanging amongst a bunch of very drunk 20 year olds.(No offense, that used to be us!)
Taking a locals advice, we walked over to a bar called Rhinos. It was tucked away and nearly empty but the extreme skiing videos and interesting shot specials invited us in for a shot and a drink. While there, we met some Americans from Philadelphia and New Orleans and decided to spend the rest of the night with them.
Note: one bar refused to let us in because we didn’t have our passports despite celebrating Nates 31st birthday. This is typical, so best to have it on you.
Our new crew ended the night at Bungalows and after a few birthday tequila shots we stumbled out and returned to Fergburger, which stays open until 5am. We sat there on the side of the road after 2 AM, well fed, drunk, and looking much like we might have in our college years. See that thirties!