Queenstown? It’s a Mystery!

We spent last weekend in Queenstown, which is in the south-western corner of the South Island. We needed some serious R&R. The last few months have been difficult for lots of reasons (which is in large part why I haven’t updated my blog in so long!).

We didn’t choose Queenstown; rather, it was chosen for us. Air New Zealand has a very cool product called the Mystery Trip. It makes a fabulous gift (which this was for us) and covers airfares for two, accommodation for two nights, and transfers to and from the airport. In return, you turn up at the airport on the chosen day and find out where you’re going for the weekend.

To me, the best part about Queenstown is that it is a gateway to some seriously cool places, like Fiordland National Park, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I’d longed to get to that part of New Zealand since moving here. To me, Fiordland represents what’s left of a vast, wild tangle of land that cannot be “conquered” by man, and is so breath-taking, that man couldn’t bear to do so anyway (though that sentiment may be changing). Whatever you’re looking for you can find at Fiordland: glaciers, woodlands, waterfalls, rivers, sounds, fjords, mountains, and plains. It is a riot of sounds, colors, and ecosystems.

The river leading to the "Chasm", Fiordland. You can barely see it, but the water is glacial blue. There's a good reason for that--it's glaical water.

In contrast, Queenstown is a riot of ski and tourist shops, bars, and leopard printed jeggings and ski pants.

From reading that, you might think I didn’t enjoy Queenstown. That’s not strictly true. I did enjoy many parts of it. We enjoyed the gondola, the botanical gardens, and two visits to the Onsen Hot Pools. We had lovely meals at reasonable prices and didn’t lack for entertainment. It’s a picturesque gem of a ski town situated on a beautiful lake.

But perhaps—in a way—that’s what I didn’t like about it. Queenstown caters to the international tourist. There’s an almost perfection to the wide, beautifully appointed walkways; the names of shops are clever and visually appealing; you get ice in your water glass without asking. And everywhere you turn, you hear an American accent.

It was discomfiting to hear. It was embarrassing to see how some of countrymen conducted themselves. It was bizarre that I stared at the ice in my water glass and wondered for half a second what it was and why it was there. (Generally speaking, you don’t get ice in drinks here—not unless you request it. Nor do you generally have your order taken tableside at a café.)

Looking down onto Queenstown, with The Remarkables in the background.

I like that much of New Zealand is imperfect and remote; that it hasn’t been “Disneyfied”; that it retains an essential Kiwi-ness that you can’t find anywhere else.

Perhaps that’s why I much preferred our journey to Fiordland and Milford Sound on Saturday. You felt the fragility of your humanity in the face of implacable stone and ice. It was amazing. Thrilling. Awesome (in both the literal and colloquial sense of the word). I could have spent weeks tramping the various walking tracks and just *being* there.

Bill Bryson wrote an engaging book on this issue, called, “A Walk in the Woods, which was about his tramp along the Appalachian Trail. He experienced many of the same things, including the discomfiting experience of the resort towns along the way.

There is nothing quite as humbling as feeling for a moment the contradiction of having a vast wilderness to yourself and knowing that your short stay is at the land’s leisure. It puts everything into perspective; it’s like a press of life’s reset button.

Below are some pictures from the trip. We can’t wait to go back and spend some serious time having our own little walk in the woods.

Sitting at the shore of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, New Zealand

A cairn in a valley in Fiordland.

Milford Sound. No words.

A close-up of Sterling Falls in Milford Sound. These falls are about 400 meters (1200 feet) high.

Me at the start of the Gertrude Saddle track. No, I didn't do it. It required alpine and navigation skills on an unmarked trail that takes 4-6 hours to complete. It's only 3.5 ks.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Clare
    Apr 04, 2012 @ 15:55:28

    Wow, those pics are gorgeous! So glad you guys had a fun “mystery” weekend.

    Reply

  2. LeeAnn
    Apr 05, 2012 @ 13:15:38

    Beautiful pictures Jenn – and how cool is the idea of a mystery trip!! You are having so many adventures. Hope you got in the R & R too!

    Reply

    • kiwijenn
      Apr 05, 2012 @ 21:55:47

      Isn’t that a great concept? I’m hoping to go on another one. The adventures have been great–more coming up on that front! We did actually get some R&R, which was good, too. (and thanks about the pictures!)

      Reply

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