Newest Review: ... as Mexican, Thai, European and Japanese. We managed to bag an unbooked seat at the excellent @Thai restaurant (8 Church Street), whose Tha... more
Probably the most over-rated place in the world
Queenstown (New Zealand)
Member Name: larsbaby
Queenstown (New Zealand)
Date: 19/02/10, updated on 19/02/10 (212 review reads)
Advantages: Amazing views, lots of adventure activities, good dining
Disadvantages: A total washout if it rains - and it does, often
In our original itinerary, myself and Ms Larsbaby hadn't planned to visit Queenstown, New Zealand's self proclaimed "Global Adventure Capital", located on the South Island and surrounded by mountains. But an émigré friend of mine insisted that we go there on a 2 day trip on my birthday with him joining us for the best nightlife he's seen in the country. This didn't seem unreasonable, so we let him book the short 40 minute flight from Christchurch. I just hoped it would live up to the hype.
DAY 1 : HERE COMES THE SUN
Arriving in the small Queenstown airport, the compact town centre can be easily reached with a shuttle bus in 20 minutes or so. As you reach the centre you are treated to the amazing sight of huge mountains in the background, and there is something a bit surreal about this improbably photogenic picture postcard view; almost worth the trip alone.
We arrived on a sunny Monday in the November early springtime, and enjoyed some sunshine in a park as well as a nice brunch after we'd settled into our accommodation, the impressive and recommended Highview Apartments which had its own view of the aforementioned mountains. The sunset we saw from there was very beautiful.
One thing worth noting is the many different offices that tout themselves as Tourist Information. Many seem little more than fronts for excursion companies; the one you should aim for is the official i-SITE on the corner of Shotover and Camp Streets.
Patagonia (50 Beach Road) provided a satisfying sunny view and lattes along with a well presented cheesecake and an array of chocolaty choices. The main shopping throughfare The Mall and surrounding streets provided a lot of opportunities for retail therapy and souvenir shopping and it certainly kept us amused for a while. That evening the bars seemed a bit quiet to reflect this off season of no snow for winter activities, not enough sun for true summer ones. The restaurants however were another matter, which seemed varied and offered cuisine such as Mexican, Thai, European and Japanese. We managed to bag an unbooked seat at the excellent @Thai restaurant (8 Church Street), whose Thai food proved flavoursome if a little mild.
DAY 2 : HERE COMES THE RAIN
So far so good then. Unfortunately, my friend had been unable to make the trip due to his little one getting ill, so it was just the two of us. And on the next day, my birthday, the wheels fell off spectacularly. Firstly, it hammered down with rain most of the day, and we had planned to get a flight to Milford Sound for apparently spectacular views. One thing to note is that such flights are utterly dependent on the weather, which can often be bad, so be prepared for any such plan to be dashed at short notice and consider the 12 hour bus trip as it is apparently worth it, though it didn't appeal for my birthday. We did manage to get an excellent burger brunch at Halo (Camp Street) but there is only so long you can linger with a latte, and it soon became clear that unless you're prepared to spend all day in a café or bar, there isn't a lot to do in Queenstown when it's too rainy to venture out.
Unfortunately my friend had neglected to tell me this in his sales pitch and thus we were left caught unawares; I hope this review helps you in this respect should you ever find yourself there. The free underwater observatory, which is quite easily missed at its on the Queenstown Bay Jetty, down some stairs, and which we visited at least 3 times, offers some respite from the rain. You can watch the eels and fish swim past as well as the native diving ducks come down for food. You can even feed them by putting money into a slot which activates a feeding mechanism, something which several people did and we all had the benefit of. We then moved on to Williams Cottage (Earl Street) which is the oldest home in town, built in 1864. As well as a small café and shop it houses on its walls he fascinating history of the building. Let's be honest though it isn't exactly the Victoria & Albert museum and wastes a maximum of half an hour, so we decided to decamp back to base to laze around until the rain stopped, which it did, briefly, in the evening, enough time to grab a fish and chip supper at Aggys Shack, a small hut near to the park with a couple of tables outside selling lots of fine looking seafood such as steamed green lipped mussels, squid rings, smoked eel and catch of the day. The fish and chips portion I had was huge. Unfortunately, Mr Larsbaby fell ill at this point and hardly even started her chips. So by the time we moved on to have a drink at Dux de Lux (14 Church Street) with its excellent microbrewery ales, it was pretty much over and my birthday was completed by watching Enemy Of The State back at the apartment while Ms Larsbaby slept her illness off. It's fair to say I didn't have this in mind when planning the trip, and the fact that there seemed to be an ad break every 5 minutes or so on TV NZ didn't help my mood; I think the film lasted about 4 hours.
Our trip ended the next day. We didn't linger in the town in the rain and got a relatively early bus to the airport, after having an admittedly very nice brunch. I couldn't wait to get on the plane and as far as I could get from the town.
Any dissatisfaction with Queenstown is hugely coloured by my birthday, but here goes. I found it to be the most over-rated holiday place I have ever been to. I've been to worse places but none so ridiculously hyped by guidebook and misguided friend alike. If I was in my mid 20s and liked extreme sports and drinking I would have been in my element but, picture postcard view aside, it was a car crash of a place as the rain hammered down unremittingly. The rain is a bigger factor that any of the information I have read about the place ever acknowledges.
Activities such as bungy jumping, jetboating, white water rafting, river surfing, canyoning, flying (including our abortive trip to Milford Sound), gliding, skydiving, mountain biking, horse trekking and winter skiing are readily available. There's even a luge going down from the gondola. Hiking is available in the surrounding mountainous areas.
As far as excursions go, these are dependant on time and transport. You can visit Arrowtown, which you can reach by bus, and visit the Chinese settlement that arose due to the gold rush in Arrow River in the 1860s, where they were subjected to quite significant racism. Wanaka, 100km to the north east, is also apparently a nice place to visit, with the New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum charting the history of New Zealand combat pilots, along with planes such as Hurricanes and Soviet fighters. This is best done by car (and we can't drive).
But I guess there were other things I could have done. The Gondola up a scarily steep cliff face didn't enthuse at all as I can't stand heights so we avoided it, but apparently there are great view of the town, lake and mountains, as well as a café, restaurant and Maori cultural shows. Myself and Ms Larsbaby aren't at all interested in bungee jumping, white water rafting or the like and so Queenstown was from the start not really our kind of destination. The TSS Earnslaw trip, a tour around the surrounding waters in an old steam ship, seemed too contrived. So that was that then. The highlight for me, by a mile, was the underwater observatory, which pretty much tells you al you need to know.
With a decent bit of sun and a good group of people I can imagine you'll have a great time here. When one companion (whose idea it was and who was supposed to provide the local knowledge) is a no show and the other is ill, and even the ducks can't take any more rain, you can have a better time in Milton Keynes in November.
The Lonely Planet states that "No one's ever visited Queenstown and said 'I'm bored' ".Well I'm saying it, I was utterly, incontrovertibly bored; I've been less bored waiting for coats of paint to dry whilst painting my kitchen. Don't believe the hype. I am in no hurry to go back.
If you still want to visit, here are some useful links:
Summary: Maybe the first dissenting view ever of this ridiculously over-rated spot