If you had the window seat you could easily be forgiven for not wanting the plane to land. On the clearest of days flying into Queenstown on New Zealand’s south island is nothing short of stunning. On the horizon line between Australia and New Zealand the sky touches the sea, but seems to continue forever. After you leave Australia behind, land is not visible again until the clouds give way to the snow-capped mountains of the south island. Is this why we call it the ditch; the in between space of two neighbouring countries?
At lower altitudes the mountain tops change to sweeping valleys and townships that are a mix of ski resorts, holiday cabins and modern suburban architecture. The terrain is a diverse mix rocky mountains, miles of pine trees with cutaways giving way to narrow, winding roads and lakes flowing rapidly downhill. In the warmer seasons the snow melts away to form waterfalls and streams. Fresh water meets salt water as the landscape and ecosystem at large adapts.
The sudden unpredictability of the weather means your plane could be prepared for landing and suddenly starts climbing again. In these conditions the pilot pulls a figure-eight and you land from the other end of the runway. His apology seems unnecessary when you consider the extra time spent admiring the view.
From the ground the view is just as stunning. To take a standard photo would not do it justice. Unless you are in panorama mode, forget your camera and take mental images. In front of you fields of blossoms emerge and streams with powering currents crusade through the forest, carving over the rocks with great force. From the end of the wharf, in the middle of a lake, the breeze picks up, smearing untied hair across the face.
Queenstown is the place to be if adventure sports are your thing, but be mindful that the weather can change unexpectedly. You may prepare for rain and chilly winds only to be treated with glorious sunshine and a refreshing breeze like we were. In which case, the weather is perfect for scouting the local markets for handmade gems, walks down trails and (of course) some hula hooping.
I found myself in Queenstown to celebrate a loved one’s milestone and to return to myself. For the mind that needs a break from the exhaustion of start-up life and demanding energy required for advocacy, Queenstown is a good place to be for a long weekend.
Must do in Queenstown:
- Milford Sounds: due to unpredictable weather conditions it is more likely for your flight to be cancelled than to go ahead. Alas if the budget allows, spoil yourself with an exploration of Queenstown and surrounds from the air. Whether in a smaller plane or a helicopter, get closer than any passenger plane will allow. Landing in Milford Sounds seems stripped from a scene in Jurassic Park, only you are in New Zealand…not Hawaii.
- Arrowtown: A short drive north-east from Queenstown (past Michael Hill’s golf resort) and you are at the foot of mountains in the tranquil township of Arrowtown. Take the trails through the bush land or along the river bed for a peaceful stroll or visit the shops for local produce along the main drag. I may have missed the blankets of snow that dumped in October, but to hear the crunch of earth underfoot, roll in soft grass and observe the rhythm of nature from the veranda of a quiet café in Arrowtown was what this soul needed.
- Patagonia Chocolates: Even if you are diabetic, good luck avoiding this one. Glass displays present rows upon rows of delicious chocolate creations and gelato for all taste buds. You can even make your own Popsicle.
- Ferg Burger: Only the most popular burger joint in Queenstown. The line snakes around the block from about 10am, so you are going to want to get in early if you want to enjoy these burgers. It is a surprise that their revenue has not enabled them to open a second store to cope with demand.
- Queenstown Markets: Saturday mornings head down to the water front for a stroll for handmade goods. Stall holders come from around the south island bringing artworks, soaps, jewellery and other goods.