July 21, 2023
Our tendency as humans to under-appreciate the things right below our noses is one that’s well documented. I recently read Happy Money (and haven’t shut up about it, as it provides some particularly convenient justifications to spending money on travel). There’s something I love about self-improvement books – getting semi-obvious information delivered to you with statistics to back it up is a little bit affronting, particularly when you yourself are so guilty of these sins. The book included this statistic: after living in London for a whole year, residents typically report that they’ve visited fewer landmarks – from Big Ben to Kensington Palace – than visitors who have only been there for two weeks. And that was something that I could absolutely draw parallels to.
I digress, and I promise I’m getting somewhere. That place? Te Waipounamu – New Zealand’s South Island.
Being Australian, it’s so easy to discount New Zealand as an additional quasi-state. (Don’t hate me, Kiwis!) I admit that this categorisation likely seems bizarre to non-Aussies and that it is completely incorrect, but it’s just so easy to neglect our next-door neighbours for more seemingly exotic locales when choosing to take a decent chunk of annual leave.
However, while it’s almost as easy to jump on a flight to Queenstown as it is to Cairns, from the moment we landed I was blown away by the jaw-dropping landscapes. I’d booked flights to Queenstown in 2021 that were cancelled due to border closures, so I pounced on a $350 return deal with Jetstar and in May we set off for an extended weekend adventure.
The flight times were (miraculously) convenient, meaning we landed in Queenstown at 11am on a Friday morning and left in the evening on Monday. The weather forecast was the opposite, with pouring rain predicted for all four days.
And oh, how it rained on our way to Milford Sound. After the hire car collection and obligatory snack run to Countdown – Whittakers and Proper Crisps secured – we hit the road, hoping to reach our destination before sundown. With the risk of sounding like your mother, allow plenty of time for driving – the roads don’t play and on many occasions I was gripping the hail-mary handle in fear (going 40km/hr). The torrential rain poured down the mountains, at points running onto the road and convincing me that we’d be sleeping in the car below the ‘beware of rock fall’ signage. Alas, we survived, and we made it just after dark to Milford Sound Lodge.
I was pleasantly surprised that Brandon had sprung for the river-view cabin, until I realised the next morning that the ‘river’ was a creek created by the flooding from the mountains. I would highly recommend staying at the Lodge if you’re planning to visit Milford Sound, and definitely making plans for dinner at the restaurant. The food was phenomenal, and it’s totally worthwhile if you can fit it in your budget.
The next morning we woke to (more) rain, and set off for a boat tour of Milford Sound. The rain stopped, the clouds parted – mostly – and we soaked in the otherworldly views. If you can, I’d take the option to stay an extra night out here, because our trip to the Lodge, although fantastic, was fleeting, and we weren’t super keen to drive back to Queenstown juuust yet. However, drive we did, and stopped a multitude of times to take in the landscape (and take photos, of course).
Queenstown wasn’t what I expected, having never been to a snow town and not anticipating the level of commercialism. It’s undeniably beautiful, with the Remarkables providing a dramatic backdrop to the town (which we took in perched on the lakeside with a couple of craft beer tins from the bottle shop), just very touristy. In saying that, I really enjoyed it and would absolutely go back – just not with an expectation of a quaint country town. For breakfast we loved Odd Saint, which boasted not only a delish and slightly-different brekkie offering, but a killer list of brunch-appropriate cocktails in case you’re really leaning into the vacay vibe (spiked hot cocoa, anyone?). It’s actually illegal to mention Queenstown without recommending the Ferg empire, which we certainly indulged in, but I would also add Little Blackwood to your list for a tipple by the lakeside.
While we had the best intentions to hike the Rob Roy track, it was closed, and so we instead chose the far easier Queenstown Peak walk. Perched up on the hill behind town, the effort to view ratio is unbelievable. We saw everyone from older people to families with kids on the walk, and while it does have some steep parts (were people not sweaty in their knits and jeans?!), the path is well graded and the vistas at the top unbelievable.
Of course, we took a drive to Arrowtown, which everyone told me I’d love but I did find slightly eerie, as if we were in the middle of one of a country western movie set. On the final day before our late flight, a road trip was on the schedule: from Queenstown up past Wanaka, to visit the Blue Pools. It was another stunning drive that I’d definitely recommend, but the pools were closed (and very-not-blue due to the rain).
Well, South Island – my interest is absolutely piqued. I can’t decide whether the next on my list is a trip in summer to camp in the national park, or in winter to properly experience the snow. As the youth say: BRB!