Sunday, November 25, 2012

New Zealand 2012 - Part 8: Exploring Queenstown

Part 1:  Asiana Airlines First Class – Los Angeles to Seoul
Part 2:  Asiana Airlines Business Class – Seoul to Sydney
Part 3:  Air New Zealand Economy Class – Sydney to Auckland to Christchurch
Part 4:  Winetasting in Waipara
Part 5:  Exploring Christchurch
Part 6:  Air New Zealand Economy Class – Christchurch to Queenstown
Part 7:  Winetasting in Otago
Part 8:  Exploring Queenstown
Part 9:  Hilton Queenstown
Part 10:  Overnight in Sydney
Part 11:  Singapore AirlinesFirst Class – Sydney to Singapore
Part 12:  Singapore Airlines First Class – Singapore to San Francisco

My excitement about Queenstown was piqued just from the views upon landing.  Although a bit overcast, the tall hills and blue lake stood out.  Plus, the view I had from my hotel was outstanding.  The Hilton Queenstown is located outside of the city proper in Kawaru Village.  Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand and there are many opportunities to explore the surrounding environment or push your boundaries.  I was only able to scratch the surface while I was in town, although even when I come back I will still not go bungee jumping. 

The first morning in town I headed out along a path outside the hotel along the lake and around Kelvin Peninsula and Jack’s Point.  The path meandered along the million dollars homes of Kelvin Heights and along the shoreline of Lake Wakatipu providing great views of the mountains and communities.  The walk took about two and a half hours to do at a decent pace.  Once you reached the other side of the peninsula, the wind picked up and you could feel how much of a windbreak that outcropping provides for that part of the lake.  The far point of the trail goes through a golf course with signs posted “enter at your own risk” and they are needed.  I was almost hit by a golf ball due to a wild golfers shot.  Plus, I came away with a bit of a sunburn.


After the walk I wanted to head into Queenstown so I took the water taxi over from the hotel right into the harbor.  The city is nestled between the bay and surrounding hills with buildings no taller than four stories.  A gondola can take you up from the city to the top of one of the hills to a variety of trails, mountain bike paths, and other activities.  Round trip was $26 dollars but I think the views alone are worth it. 


At the top you can look out across the local part of the lake and see all of Queenstown below.  Breathtaking views.  One staff member noted that most of Queenstown does not get sun for at least a month in the winter because mountains block the low sun. 


You can do a variety of activities off the top of the mountain including bungee jumping / swinging, hang gliding, or the only one I would likely do, a luge track.  Another lift takes you to the top of the track where you get in little cars and gravity pulls you down the twisting course. 


Walking through the streets of the city you can get a feel of how quirky it is with shops catering to the youth hostels, high end clients, tourists, adventurists, foodies, and winos.  Plenty of opportunities to window-shop for local or mass produced items.  Architecturally Queenstown is a hodgepodge of styles with no clear cohesive design elements. 


On Saturday morning there was a craft fair in the park nest to the bay and the old dock buildings.  I walked around looking at the necklaces, yarn, pictures, carvings that were on sale but nothing interested me.  I did enjoy a nice cup of hot chocolate while people watching.  I did purchase a few items at the tourist shops though.


The docks also serve as a boarding point for the Earnslaw, an old steamship that cruises up and down the lake. 


There are a series of good restaurants in that same area and I went to an Italian place called LaVoglia Ristorante.  I enjoyed a glass of the Eradus Pinot Gris (NZ) which had a strong fruit finish.  I started with the minestrone with winter vegetables and it was tasty, a tad salty, but the veggies were sliced thin and like squares which was different.  The main course was a slow roasted lamb shank over vegetables and mascarpone polenta with a red currant reduction - very tasty.  And, dessert was panne cotta with berry compote and biscotti and a glass of port. 

I definitely want to return to Queenstown.  There are so many more sights in the surrounding area that I would love to see including the other lakes, Millford Sound, Doubtfull Sound, etc.  The weather was perfect too so many I will be back here next Thanksgiving!

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