So I left you with a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of the last post. Hopefully it’s worth the wait. If it’s not, I’ll happily refund your money.
Getting to Queenstown
So why did I pick Queenstown? One of the travel bloggers I follow pretty closely, Lucky from One Mile at a Time, rated this as one of his favorite places in the world, and quite frankly I didn’t really know what else to do, so I thought why not?
Liked I mentioned before, I booked a really pricey flight to Queenstown because I waited for the last minute and there weren’t really any cheap options in the first place. As I was quasi-planning this trip, I had to constantly remind myself that August is the height of winter down there, which is Queenstown’s busy season, so it made sense that there weren’t cheap flight options available.
We flew from Wellington in an Air New Zealand ATR72. I actually like turboprops, but this flight got a little cantankerous for me. The weather was pretty bad in Queenstown, so the closer we got the cantankerouser it got. I’m fine with bumps and turbulence that’s up and down, but this turbulence felt like the back end of the plane wasn’t going in the same direction as the front, so it was a little worrisome. The approach path into Queenstown is between two mountains, so there was a bit of a wind tunnel effect that I wasn’t expecting. Whenever there’s turbulence like that, my rule is to take a look at the flight attendants and if they’re calm, I’ll calm down a bit. This paragraph ends anticlimactically, as the attendant was calm, I calmed down, and we touched down smoothly.
After retrieving my baggage from the myriad skis and snowboards, I walked to the Ace Rentals office to see what joy of a vehicle they’d have for me. I booked the Super Saver vehicle class, and they’re very upfront about what you’re booking: a car that’s probably close to 10 years old with 150,000+ kilometers and not much in the way of creature comforts, but they promise it will run well and the heating and aircon will work (this all proved true). Makes the rental a heck of a lot cheaper, so I went with it. The below picture is the result.
When I glanced inside, I chuckled a little bit because surely enough: it had a manual transmission. I was half-excited and two-thirds terrified about driving a stick on the other side of the road, but I managed to make it to my hotel without causing the clutch to explode or crashing into other cars. Crazily enough, I found it easier to drive on the left side of the road with a manual gearbox than an auto. My theory (I was, after all, a psychology major for nearly an entire half of a semester at Texas A&M University) was that the shifting helped keep my mind occupied and distracted from the cognitive dissonance (read: screaming) of the left side of the road.
The Hilton Queenstown
What a great property. Although I find Hilton properties a bit inconsistent in the USA, they’re almost without exception great abroad. There were no good rates available for my dates, so I used the Points+Cash option to make it a little more reasonable (I still don’t feel like I got a great deal, as it was 20,000 points plus $75/night, but oh well) versus paying the full rate. The Hilton is actually not in Queenstown, rather in the Kelvin Heights area that I guess is technically in Frankton. As the crow flies it’s about a half mile from Queenstown proper, but there is a big lake in the way. To drive into Queenstown is about a 15-20 minute drive. If you don’t feel like driving, they have a water taxi that will take you across the lake for a charge, and there is apparently a bus service into town that requires a transfer at the bus station. I would strongly recommend renting a car if you want to stay at this property, the distance is not walkable and the two aforementioned options add fairly needless expenses to your trip.
It was, like I said before, very cloudy when I arrived, and I was suffering from jetlag like whoa, so I grabbed a lite dinner at one of the hotel restaurants and went to bed way too early.
The next morning I awoke at about 4am and caught up with reading and such before the sun started creeping up over the horizon. There was not a cloud in the sky, and I realized what a truly special place I had the privilege of visiting.
The view got better and better as the sun came up.
I decided to head out to the balcony to do some reading and basked in the view for a while. By the time I got ready for breakfast, ate in the restaurant, and made it back, Lake Wakatipu was in it’s full glory reflecting a beautiful mountainscape.
I then shot a little video tour of my suite for my Facebook friends, which I hope links up ok for everybody (let me know in the comments if it doesn’t and I can upload to youtube): Hilton Queenstown
I eventually forced myself away from the Hilton and journeyed into Queenstown to sample a world famous hamburger. Being from Texas, I have high standards for a burger, so it was time to see if Fergburger would live up to the hype.
But first I got this shot from the path by the lake on my way to the parking garage.
Once I got into Queenstown, I was able to find a parking place, although I had to pay, which wasn’t a big deal, but they would only let you buy 2 hours of parking during lunchtime hours. But oh well. Made my way over to Fergburger, which was pretty easy to find (“Look for all the people on the sidewalk,” said a lady I asked for directions).
So how was it? Very very good. I don’t know that I’d put it against some of the burgers I’ve had in Texas, but the ingredients were very fresh and I found the waiting time very reasonable. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I came back and visited a few more times during my stay. I wouldn’t head to Queenstown just to eat here, but I’d absolutely make a visit if you’re in the area.
I had some time left over before my parking expired, so I took a bit of a walking/photo tour of Queenstown until I had to head back to the hotel.
I got back to the hotel and noticed the path that led to the parking garage went the other way into the Kelvin Heights area, so I went for a photowalk.
Queenstown’s mild winter was leading to some early signs of Spring.
I had some big plans to go skiing the next morning, but realized I didn’t pack my ski pants. It wasn’t until later that I found out there are plenty of places that rent ski pants, but I ended up hanging out on my balcony and read a book (Ender’s Game, which I thought was fantastic) instead of heading to the ski fields.
I read online about a great road (I love driving on great roads) called the Crown Range Pass which is a path from Queenstown to Wanaka, which I had read was a nice town. So I bundled up and made my way for the pass.
Like I said in my last post, stop almost anywhere in New Zealand and you’ll end up with a great picture, so I made sure to stop often on my way to Wanaka.
I ended up on the shores of Lake Wanaka at a lakeside cafe and just sat and enjoyed the views and some people watching.
My eyes, camera, and heart full of these amazing views, I went back to Queenstown for a Fergburger dinner, then back to the hotel to get ready for my early wakeup call the next morning to visit Milford Sound, a visit I will never forget.