After Invercargill, we headed back up to the tourist hotspot of Queenstown. We had already visited when we were with Clare and Tim, the night before and after the Routeburn. This was a nice opportunity to visit again for a little longer, and see why it gets all the hype it does. A stones thrown from Queenstown is Arrowtown, a quaint little town stuck in time, with a personality a world away from its rowdy neighbour. Then we went further north to Wanaka, a lovely lakeside town with a lot of the beauty of Queenstown, but without the brash, student vibe. The second time we visited the three towns, we had a lot more time, and the seasons had changed, so they looked completely different. A lot of people have actually told us that the best time to visit the South Island is in Autumn, and after seeing Queenstown, Arrowtown and Wanaka covered in gold and orange, I can absolutely see why.
It would be difficult to find a more picturesque place to build a town. Queenstown is on the edge of the huge lake Wakatipu, and is surrounded by mountains. In the autumn, the trees around the lake are bright orange and gold. In the winter the mountains are covered in snow and people flock in for the ski season. In spring and summer the colours are vivid blues and greens. All in all, it’s very beautiful. However, it is far from unspoiled and it’s difficult to find any New Zealanders in the town’s centre. It’s a town for tourists, run by long-term tourists. The people who sell tours and work in the shops and bars are usually British, which takes some of the shine off the place. It also has a very studenty feel, as Queenstown really appeals to the younger audience. It’s full of bars and adrenaline fuelled activities. It feels like a university town without the university, where all the people are a little bit stupid (I feel like I can say that as they’re mostly British!). It’s definitely not somewhere I would choose to stay for a long period of time. It would be fun at first, but I think it would become tiresome very quickly.
That’s not to say we didn’t have a good time, however. There’s a big hill on the edge of the town which has a gondola cable car which takes you to the top, and to some amazing views. Our friend recommended we walk up the path, as it’s enjoyable and you can avoid paying the extortionate ticket price. The walk was steep, but not unbearably so, and was about 45 minutes long. A strenuous walk is always worth it if there’s a good view at the end, and this one was spectacular. You got a great view of Queenstown, and it put the town into perspective as you could see lots of the surrounding lake and mountains. It was slightly ruined by the Skyline building, a snazzy restaurant at the top, which is very ugly (looking like an oversized shed), and blocks part of the view.
Once we walked back down to the town, we were hungry for lunch and thought we would go to the famous (in Queenstown) Fergburger and Fergbakery. Fergburger frequently has queues out the door and down the street, and Fergbakery has some incredible looking cakes and tasty baked goods. Grace, Davey and Toby had Bombay chicken, bacon and avocado and venison burgers respectively, and I went to Fergbakery for a smoked salmon baguette. A treat for completing our walk (as if we needed encouragement).
Another nice stroll in Queenstown is through the botanical gardens. When Clare and Tim were with us we went for a walk through the gardens which are also on the lakes edge. It’s a nice way to get out of the bustle of the town and enjoy the beautiful scenery. I thought the views over the lake from the gardens looked a lot like the Scottish lochs. I managed to fall into the lake up to my ankles when I stood on a slippery rock to take a photo (which in the end wasn’t even that good). I had very very soggy feet, but the others had a good laugh.
All in all I think Queenstown is a cool place to visit for a couple of nights, but I think Wanaka is a much nicer lakeside destination, with just as much beauty and much fewer annoying drunk tourists.
Just 20 minutes from Queenstown is a small little town called Arrowtown, which is famous for sitting on a river that was once full of gold. In the decades after the Otago Gold Rush in 1861, many Chinese immigrants arrived in Arrowtown and settled there to become gold miners. The most interesting thing to do in Arrowtown is go to the site of the Chinese settlers village, where a few of the little houses still stand. The old village is also surrounded by tall trees, which in autumn turn bright gold. Arrowtown is well known for its autumnal beauty, and many people flock there when the leaves start to change and the weather is still fine. When we visited with Clare and Tim we visited a little pie shop on the main high street, which looks straight out of a western, and then had a picnic between the settlers village and the river. Arrowtown is very small, but a lovely place to stop for a few hours for lunch, or to get some peace and quiet if you’re staying in Queenstown.
Wanaka quickly became one of our favourite places in New Zealand. It has all the natural beauty of Queenstown, mountains, lakes and all, but it is much more chic. It isn’t full of 18 year old Brits abroad, and it feels as though Kiwis actually live there.
One of the main things to go and see in Wanaka is the Wanaka Tree. I had seen photos of this particular tree while we were in the North Island, and it was branded as New Zealand’s most photographed tree (like Dunedin and the most photographed building, I’m not sure how much competition there is). The Wanaka Tree is growing out of the lake. It was once a fence post, and a willow tree grew out of it. The water around the tree isn’t very deep, but in photos it looks like it is growing out of the middle of the lake. It’s not hard to take a spectacular photo of this unusual spot. Both times we visited Wanaka we walked along the beach to look at the tree. With Clare and Tim it still looked fairly summery, but by the time we went for the second time with Matt, the beach was covered in golden leaves. Wanaka, like Arrowtown, looks beautiful in Autumn.
We had another wonderfully sunny day in Wanaka, so walked up Mount Irons, a nearby mount with apparently spectacular views of the town and lake. The walk was fairly long, as we started from our hostel by the lake, but it wasn’t too strenuous and it was shady for the steepest part. When we got to the top we had great views on several sides, including the bright blue lake. I’d definitely recommend this walk, as it’s not too difficult, it has great views, and it’s free!
We then returned to the town, and as we often do, we reward our exercise with eating some thing tasty. We went to the Dough Bin Bakery on the lakefront and treated ourselves to some tasty pies and one of the best custard tarts I’ve ever had.
Both visits to Wanaka were very enjoyable and when people ask us our favourite places in the South Island, Wanaka always makes the list.
Ps., I almost published this post without mentioning that Grace was brave and jumped out of a plane in Wanaka! She picked a perfect day, the skies were clear and she could see all the way to Mount Cook. She thought she’d be really scared, but once she’d done it, all she wanted to do was jump out again!