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Queenstown For The

Dorothy - 7/4/00

Queenstown is situated on the shores of beautiful Lake Wakatipu, in the Southern Alps of New Zealand's South Island, three hundred and ten metres (1020 ft) above sea level.

Most people think of Queenstown as the ideal destination for fit athletic people who want to spend their time jetboating, bungy jumping, whitewater rafting, skydiving, flying by wire, skiing, white water rafting, hang gliding, riding the luge from the top of the Skyline Gondola, parapenting, paraflying, jet skiing, mountain biking, taking on long tramps carrying a heavy pack.

All that is true, but though I'm not fit enough or young enough for those activities I've just had a wonderful holiday in Queenstown and I want to tell you about a few of the attractions there for the less active and energetic.

Enjoying the atmosphere of Queenstown
As soon as we arrived at Frankton the sight of Lake Wakatipu and the mountains gave us a lift in spirits. We drove the 7km (4.4 miles) from there to Queenstown and thought enviously of the view enjoyed by those who lived beside the lake.

Viewing beautiful scenery in all seasons
Whatever the season when you visit Queenstown you are surrounded by beautiful scenery. In the warmer months the waters sparkle in the sun and photographers are captivated by the shadows on the rugged outlines of the Remarkables, the mountains on the western side of the lake. The long summer twilights give extra hours to explore the area amd watch the changing light on the lake. The area is famous for the autumn colours, especially at Lake Hayes and Arrowtown. The snow on the mountains, and the crisp clear days in winter add a different beauty to the scene.

Enjoying the mix of people
Queenstown, Arrowtown, Glenorchy and the Wakatipu basin have a permanent population of approximately 14,285. At the height of the summer and winter season there are three times as many visitors as locals in the area. Each year there are some 500,000 international and 360,000 domestic visitors who stay two or three nights, on average. The busiest season is from December to mid-February so if you want to visit at that time you need to book early.

Finding accommodation
There is a wide choice of accommodation ranging from hotels and resorts, to motels, apartments and condominiums, bed and breakfast establishments, guest houses and backpackers - 8000 beds in all. 50% of the properties in the town are holiday homes, and these will accommodate another 6500 people. Add day trippers and you can imagine what a crowded and vital place Queenstown is.

Exploring the town of Queenstown
Queenstown is built in a valley surrounded by huge mountains. Every piece of available land is built on and houses cling to the steep sides of the valley. You can explore it all without walking far.

The streets in the town are narrow, with several offering only pedestrian access. The shops are packed into the business area, so you need to allow ample time to explore what looks like quite a small town. The buildings vary between those that are old and quaint and new shopping developments. Galleries and craft shops offer work from local artists and craftspeople, ranging from paintings of the magnificent local scenery, to abstract art, from jerseys hand knitted from local hand spun wool to souvenirs of the area. You can shop seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Eating and drinking
Restaurants seem to be everywhere, offering a wide range of menus to suit most palates, with Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Indian, Korean, Lebanese and Italian restaurants as well as those offering traditional New Zealand fare. Of course the cafe culture has reached Queenstown and there are many cafes. Wine is produced in the area and there are a number of wine bars offering a choice of wines including local vintages. The wine bars, nightclubs and taverns are open till late and feature a wide selection of music including live, dance, rock, and jazz music.

Business people undeterred by the 1999 floods
The business area is on the flat land near the waterfront. This meant that in the record floods in November 1999 many of the shops, restaurants and hotels were inundated and a mammoth effort was required in the cleanup operation and redecoration.

Queenstown and the land around it was settled and developed by hardy pioneers carving out a life for themselves amid almost unimaginable hardships, and the same spirit prevails in the town today. Team efforts and long hours of work meant that the town was soon functioning normally. Mike Kelly of Destination Queenstown said of the last summer " was big. Big movies, big floods, big events, and big conferences, we have experienced it all over the last few months. We are now in the next century and everything is looking promising for the resort."

Walking in the Queenstown Gardens
Luckily a large area on the adjacent peninsula of ancient moraine was set aside as the Queenstown Gardens. Colourful flowerbeds are set amid beautifully tended lawns and huge exotic trees planted here long ago. If you sit down to enjoy the view you may hear native bird songs from the bellbird or the tui intermingled with the sound of racquets hitting tennis balls or lawn bowls clicking against each other, from the tennis courts and bowling greens in the Domain.

We walked right around the walk along the shores of this peninsula - which gave us pleasant exercise and memorable views. Walking along the Queenstown side we saw views of the town and saw TSS Earnslaw steaming out on a sight seeing trip. From the far end of the peninsula were views down the lake and on the return down the far side views of Frankton.

Discovering the history
The Wakatipu area has a fascinating history. You can go back in time with a trip on the Earnslaw or the Kingston Flyer. Visit the museums or explore goldmining settlements now deserted. Picturesque Arrowtown, which was founded in 1862 when gold was discovered in the Arrow River, is only twenty minutes' drive from Queenstown. The Lakes District Museum in Arrowtown has excellent displays. You should not miss a visit to the small stone huts occupied by the Chinese miners in the area. The huts and illustrated plaques give a realistic idea of the privations these miners endured, especially in the middle of winter. The museum, the Chinese Settlement and the interesting shopping centre with many intact nineteenth century buildings are all within a few minutes's walk.

You can visit Arrowtown on a half day trip by Double Decker Bus.

A daytrip to Skippers Canyon
This is well worth while, and the visitor appreciates anew the isolation experienced by settlers and miners in this remote place. Driving to Skippers requires great care on the old and difficult road so if the driver is to get a full appreciation of the scenery it would be wise to choose a tour. Rental cars are not permitted to travel on this road. Allow four hours for a bus tour or go by helicopter which allows for a landing at the Canyon and takes only twenty five minutes.

"Family Adventures"
I've only just heard about this new trip which is also centred around Skippers Canyon. It is a rafting option with the whole family in mind. The trip starts with a four wheel drive trip up into Skipper's Canyon, stops to take in the activities at Skippers Grand Canyon Ltd and then continues up to McLeod's hut. From there you can enjoy a light rafting experience down a tame set of rapids. You do not even need to paddle if you choose. The rafts' qualified guides use oar frames which allow them to maintain total control at all times. The trip takes about seven hours and is suitable for those three years of age and older.

Riding in the Skyline Gondola
A trip in the Gondola provides superb views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the mountains.

Queenstown viewed from the gondola
Queenstown viewed from the gondola

Walking up the Skyline Vehicle Track
We decided that walking up the road to the Gondola building on Bob's Peak would be good exercise on a fine morning. Clearly other people also thought this would be pleasant as we saw a number of other walkers on the track. Many of the younger walkers passed us as we paused to look at the views, take photographs, and get our breath as the track is steep, but we completed the walk in an hour, only fifteen minutes more than the suggested time taken.

Lake Wakatipu, The Queenstown Gardens,  and Kelvin Heights with the
Remarkables in the background.
Lake Wakatipu, The Queenstown Gardens, and Kelvin Heights with the Remarkables in the background.

Eating at the Skyline Restaurant and watching those riding the Luge!
On arrival we headed straight to the Skyline Restaurant and had a delicious lunch at the coffee shop. The licensed restaurant serves a four course buffet lunch from noon to 3 p.m. and a six course buffet meal every evening from 6 p.m. until late.

A fifteen minute walk takes you to where the parapenters take off. We lingered for a time around the Gondola terminal enjoying the panoramic views and watching people riding down the luge before returning to Queenstown on the Skyline Gondola.

Visiting the Queenstown Kiwi & Birdlife Park
After our trip down on the Gondola we visited the Kiwi & Birdlife Park - a sanctuary of rare, endangered and common New Zealand birds. All the birds in the sanctuary are either on the National Breeding Programmes (which means that they are producing young for release into the wild), or are New Zealand birds rehabilitating from injury. If these birds recover completely they are released back into the wild, but if their injuries have been so serious that this is not possible they are kept in the sanctuary.

After waiting a little time in silence in the nocturnal house and adjusting to the darkness we were able to see the kiwis which are flightless nocturnal birds. As predators are rapidly reducing the numbers of kiwis in the wild the role of the sanctuaries is becoming increasingly important.

As we walked around the sanctuary we saw moreporks (ruru), keas, black stilts (kaki), red and yellow crowned parakeets (kakariki), tuis, brown teal ducks (pateke), New Zealand wood pigeons (kereru), and banded rails (moho-reru).

The rare black stilts (kaki)
The black stilts were of particular interest. These elegant, glossy, black birds are the rarest wading birds in the world. Once they were common throughout New Zealand, but their numbers have been drastically reduced by predators such as stoats and cats, by flooding, and by hydro development on the braided rivers.

Black stilts at the Queenstown Kiwi & Birdlife Park
Black stilts at the Queenstown Kiwi & Birdlife Park

By the early sixties they were found only in the Mackenzie country. By 1981 their numbers in the wild were reduced to between twenty and twenty five adult birds. Breeding programmes have been carried out and young birds released into the wild. By October 1999 there were thirty seven black stilts in the wild, but only nine females and only five breeding pairs.

An injured black stilt which broke its wing when it flew into a pylon is unable to mate, but is held at the sanctuary in an area next to a pair of black stilts which seemed reluctant to mate. The hope is that defending their territory against this neighbour would strengthen the bond between them.

Queenstown Underwater World
Don't miss visiting this underwater observatory designed by consulting engineers, Tyndall and Hanham, who later built the Milford Deep Underwater Observatory.

Queenstown Underwater World on the Maintown Pier
Queenstown Underwater World on the Maintown Pier

Go five metres down the stairs inside the building and through the glass you can view the fish swimming freely in Lake Wakatipu - Rainbow Trout in good numbers, some brown trout and Longfinned Eels. You may also see the Scaup Duck, or Black Teal, New Zealand's only true diving duck.
The fish in a feeding frenzy.
The fish in a feeding frenzy.

They can dive up to 8 metres (26 feet) and stay under water for up to 45 seconds. Frozen mincemeat is placed in containers in front of the windows to encourage the fish to visit. There is a very clear information pamphlet. It tells you that if you put 50 cents in the coinbox pellet feed is released on to the surface of the water and as it sinks "the fish go into a feeding frenzy". This makes for good photographic material.

Communicating your news around the world
Budget Communications, Level 2, O"Connells Mall, above McDonalds, offers eighteen fast speed computers with a language translation programme. It's open 9 a.m. - 11 p.m., and its prices are very reasonable for Email, Internet, telephone and Fax service.

What would we like to do on our next visit?
We want to allow extra time and join a wine trail, an art trail, more bush walking and a balloon ride.

How do other visitors view Queenstown?
It was voted friendliest foreign city by readers of the US travel publication, Conde Nast Traveler, 1998. In the same publication it was voted 14th overall best international destination.
Readers of US publication Travel & Leisure, 1999, voted Queenstown second equal best value destination.

Plan your Queenstown visit now!

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