For a wordsmith, I found myself lost for words many, many times over my two days in Queenstown. In Sydney, I found myself deliriously happy at times; in Queenstown, it was non-stop, go go go, with barely a moment to pause, and it wasn’t until afterwards that all the surreality set in. Nonetheless, it was definitely a case of being so content, so happy, that you could cry (ala Erika).
Where do I start? I can’t wait to get to the South Island next month … it’ll probably take me until then to figure out how to express what this first visit – short, yet absolutely unforgettable – was truly like. Expect a couple more posts to trickle through as I work my way through conveying the adrenaline-soaked experiences (I keep replaying them over and over in my head at night), but in the meantime, I’ll cover the easy things…
We were put up in some primo accommodation by Destination Queenstown, the local tourism organisation that organised much of our media itinerary. Queenstown Park Boutique Hotel was close to everything in town without being right in the noisy midst. I can’t say I spent much time in my room, which was a shame, because the facilities were fantastic – all sleek black and white decor, a gleaming tub I made use of on the last night, super high-tech light and blind controls.
I don’t know about anyone else, but hotel luxury brings out my decadent side. I’m almost sinfully carefree about using copious amounts of shampoo or liberally dispensing with the shower gel (uber bubble bath? Why not?).
My room faced the streetfront and while there were some odd creaks and noise from pedestrians on the footpath, I slept like a dream. Even the food was impressive – drinks and canapes at 6pm, and a superb cooked breakfast menu.
Unfortunately I had to subsist on just a couple of croissants the first day, being in a rush (cancelling the order of pancakes with berry compote and mascarpone I’d been looking forward to) but the pastries cannot be faulted – fresh, hot, buttery and flaky. I made up for that on the second morning, tucking into the farmer’s breakfast with ciabatta, sausage, potatoes and other goodies. The bacon, perfectly crispy and salty. The eggs, fluffy and not overly heavy. The grilled tomato, just firm enough to hold its shape.
The last activity on the agenda, thankfully, was an easy one. It required nothing short of lying very still and closing my eyes. I’ve said before and I’ve said it again: I enjoy massages, but I also find them somewhat stressful. I’m ticklish to the nth degree and very sensitive, so even the lightest pressure often has me stiffening up. As usual, there were moment of discomfort, but the Hilton spa massage was probably the gentlest I’ve ever had. Beauty therapists on the whole never cease to fascinate me with their consummate professionalism – the artful rolling and unrolling of towels, the covering and uncovering of limbs, the rearranging of arms and legs, never faltering. And it was quite a boon to be told what lovely skin I had (body, not face) and asked what I use on it (nothing – I try to keep it as simple as possible).
Oh, the food. There was lunch at Vudu, which was just as packed as anywhere in Auckland CBD at lunchtime. I went with the kumara and coconut soup with blue cod dumplings, though I’m not sure fish is the wisest choice in a dumpling, as it was very much overpowered. At Josh Emett’s Rata, I enjoyed crispy pan fried snapper with leeks and wasabi (which I normally refuse to touch, but was so subtle I ate every bit) and a bunch of tapas, including garlic salami, honeyed goat cheese profiteroles with an intriguing mix of sweet and salty, and wafer thin Wagyu beef.
Head and shoulders above all, though, was Saffron over in Arrowtown. I started out with duck leg confit with potatoes and carrots. The star of the show was the day’s special: salmon with scallops and battered prawns, generously sprinkled with coriander and mint, scattered with pieces of fresh mango and light salad. Just sublime, and so gorgeous I could have cried. And that was rounded off with a hazelnut creme brulee, accompanied by two giant sticks of biscotti.
I’ve been to the snow exactly twice before, both times to Whakapapa on Mt Ruapehu. Think crowded ski fields, on the weekends, with queues out the wazoo.
Snow Park was a different story, tagged for the Burton High Fives global comp, and on a weekday. With music pumping out across the mountain (apparently it’s like that all the time) and fluoro snowboards scattered all over the place, it was a breath of crystal clear alpine air…
Landing at the airport, the first thing I set eyes upon stepping out of the plane was the mountains. Dusted with snow, they looked exactly like cones of cookies and cream ice cream, rising up on all sides. Queenstown is nestled between ranges, which I suppose could be almost claustrophic after awhile, but to these eyes, it was a charming novelty.
While I can’t say much about the architecture – it’s very bland, with plenty of grey, brown, beige and stone, with building covenants regulating design very strongly, to the point that even McDonald’s and Burger King outlets are of similarly neutral hues – the weather put its best foot forward for us. The amazing surroundings can easily be dimmed by poor weather, but the skies remained flawlessly, purely blue for the whole time. It had us all wistfully voicing desire to move down here, caught up in the rush of it all. Of course, industries are limited here, and the housing market is probably not much less expensive than ours.
Tourism often gets a bit of a bashing as New Zealand struggles to amp up value-add and weightless exporting. But all the tourism operators we met were such genuine, earthy types that are the backbone of these areas. New Zealand is not a cheap place to visit, and the southern areas are no exception. I can’t imagine how much money flows through Queenstown; these are stunning areas, but beauty ceases to be so impressive after a little while. The real money is to be made in the adventure activities – and those don’t come cheap.
I can’t say that the people at DQ have a hard gig – as we quickly concluded, they have a plum job promoting one of the most beautiful destinations in the world. Who wouldn’t want to do that? While they host some serious 1 percenters, from royalty through to business moguls, I definitely felt pretty VIP. T and I will have a very different experience next month campervanning around the south on a budget, but it will still be magical.
Have you been to Queenstown? What’s your favourite snow destination?