MY LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH QUEENSTOWN
Many visitors to New Zealand eventually make their way to Queenstown, the tourist hub of the South Island. It is a ridiculously beautiful town that sits at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. On a calm day the lake reflects a perfect image of the surrounding trees and mountains. Queenstown boasts a profusion of outdoor adventure activities. For the less enthusiastically active, there are bars, restaurants, resorts, and spas. It is marketed to the world as one of the must see places to visit in New Zealand.
And yet, despite all these things, I’m not sure if I like it.
Before I begin, allow me to preface this by stating I have not lived in Queenstown, only visited several times, for a total of several weeks, during winter months. I am also a massive travelling hypocrite who doesn’t like tourists, even though I know I am one.
LET ME START WITH THE POSITIVES
When I say Queenstown is beautiful, I mean it, especially during winter when the mountains are capped with glossy white snow and Lake Wakatipu looks deep, dark and mysterious. I can’t help but be reminded of Loch Ness when I see it, which is probably what all the British thought when they arrived over 150 years ago. Now you can spend time sipping hot coffee and eating lunch in the winter sun on the lakefront. Take some time to walk up the nearby hills and be rewarded with stunning vistas, all of which are only partially ruined by the Hydro Attack shark boats buzzing around.
If you want to go skiing or snowboarding Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, Treble Cone and Cardrona are all within easy driving distance. Of course if cross country skiing is more your speed you can check out Waiorau Snowfarm. If you somehow manage to get bored with this selection, you can drive five hours up to Mt Hutt for a weekend. That should take care of most of your snow needs.
Queenstown is relatively central to most of Otago and Canterbury. It is a great place to base yourself while exploring the lower half of New Zealand. The bottom point of the South Island is only a three hour drive away if you stop for lunch, coffee, petrol, photos and 12 toilet breaks. Milford Sound, the Catlins, Wanaka. All are easy to visit from Queenstown.
If you want to jump off a really high bridge without hitting the ground, jump out of a plane, raft down river rapids, mountain bike, climb, or any number of other things, then Queenstown has a lot of adventure for the would-be adrenaline junkie, so long as said person has a wallet full of cash.
Which brings me to the first part of what I dislike about Queenstown.
QUEENSTOWN IS EXPENSIVE
Everything seems expensive. Stupidly expensive. Living cheaply in Queenstown only seems to be cheap by Queenstown’s standards. Accommodation costs are high, as is the cost of food. For a town that thrives on seasonal workers, it doesn’t seem to like accommodating them. The backpackers and vagrant workers I know who are travelling on 12 month working holiday visas are desperately working 13 days a fortnight babysitting someone’s shitty kids so they can get one day a week on the snow assuming the weather allows it. To save on living costs, long term visitors should consider staying away of the main centre, although then you will definitely need a car to get around and you’ll be away from pretty much everything.
Skiing and snowboarding have never been cheap sports, at least not compared to something like football where all one needs is an object that is approximately globe-shaped and kickable. However, generally once you have your own gear and a season pass, these costs drop significantly…until you need to get to the mountain. The shuttle to the Remarkables will set you back $20 a ride, or the cost of a season pass for an annual pass.
It comes as no surprise that a large number of people choose to hitchhike from the carpark at the bottom of the mountain road.
WHERE ARE THE LOCALS?
Queenstown, like most other tourist traps, also seems to be lacking in locals. This is actually an unfair statement as several of my friends live in Queenstown and the surrounding area and they’re all awesome kiwis who love the place. However, other than those few, I didn’t meet many other New Zealanders in Queenstown. I did meet some cool travellers though and a few drunk Australians.
I am the first to admit a bit of an elitist, backpacking asshole and the thing with elitist assholes is we rarely like other assholes, unless we’re the same brand of elitist. We spend all our time figuring out who is out-eliting whom. No one wins this game. I shudder at the thought of luxury resort holidays and they shudder at the thought of a holiday spent being mildly uncomfortable. Thus, I find myself judging people who probably do not deserve to be judged.
OTHER SMALL THINGS THAT PROBABLY DONT MATTER…
That single lane bridge on the way out to The Remarkables. They’re fixing it, so I shouldn’t complain, but at peak hour I had to wait about 10 minutes to get over it. (this is sarcasm…in part).
The Fergburger hype. Possibly the most overrated burger in the world. I have had better burgers for less money in Indonesia where literally every ingredient has to be imported, probably from New Zealand.
My last complaint, because that is essentially what this is, is the nightlife was a bit on the boring side. I have heard better things than I have seen so I am most likely missing the best parts, or everyone I’ve talked to is a liar. Either is possible.
Now that my whining has come to a conclusion, I feel much better having gotten that off my chest.
I would never tell you to stay away from Queenstown. Too many people love it for me to do so. I also am certain everyone can find something that will suit them. However, I would recommend doing some planning and research, especially if you are hoping to spend a long time there.
The fact is, you can’t like every place you travel to. Eventually you’re going to find places you don’t really like. All you can do is smile, shrug it off, and keep travelling!!