Many New Zealanders (affectionately known as Kiwis) insisted we should visit Queenstown, way down south on the South Island. They all seemed to agree that Queenstown was the best that New Zealand had to offer.
Considering how much we had been enjoying the rest of New Zealand, we were fairly optimistic. We decided to give it a go.
Rather than attempting the long drive south, we took an Air New Zealand flight from Christchurch to Queenstown.
The view from the flight was spectacular. The central mountains of the South Island are called the Southern Alps, and we could see why.
We booked a room in Queenstown in a nice, quite house, not far from the town center. Our hosts were a pleasant young couple from Scotland.
The house was situated up a very steep hill.
Although the vistas from our house were amazing (you might say “breathtaking”), the walk up that hill was quite strenuous. In some places the incline was so steep they had installed steps instead of sidewalks.
Thus, “breathtaking” was our literal experience in Queenstown. On a few evenings we elected to take a taxi up the hill to home, in lieu of the steep climb on foot.
Outdoor Sports, Some Extreme, Some Less So
Queenstown is a hopping little tourist town which serves as a base for all sorts of adrenaline junkies. The activities include speedboats, mountain biking, parasailing, bungee jumping, etc.
of the extreme sport participants were in their 20s and early 30s. A number of the enthusiasts, the young men in particular, had casts on broken limbs and hobbled along on crutches.
In our over-60 age group, we tend to skip those sorts of extreme sports.
But at the top of a long gondola ride from town to the top of a nearby peak, we did find a fun luge ride down a curvy concrete track.
We felt pretty smug after a few downhill runs on the luge sleds. We hung out briefly with the mountain bikers up there at the mountaintop. Dude!
Another decidedly non-extreme sport we found in Queenstown was lawn bowling at a beautiful old club in a public park near the harbor. We had previously discovered British-style lawn bowling in Belfast last August, during our tour of Ireland.
Lawn Bowling in Belfast Last August
When we happened upon the lawn bowling club in Queenstown, we found that visitors were welcomed. Inside a store room in the old clubhouse where the boxes of balls are kept was a wooden box for depositing payment ($10.00 NZ each), and a notepad for signing in. It works on an honor system; there was no one there to monitor the cash box.
We paid, signed in, picked out our two sets of balls and started playing.
As in Belfast last year, the local club members in Queenstown were friendly and helpful in explaining the basics.
Unlike bocce, the balls in English lawn bowling are weighted on one side, so it is necessary to roll them on an arc to get them to end up at the desired location.
By the second day of practice, we were catching on pretty well.
Our conclusion from this happy experience, both in Queenstown and in Belfast, is that British style lawn bowling is indeed a relaxing — and refined — past time!
Lawn Bowling in Queenstown
Perky’s and Pedro’s
We also found in Queenstown harbor a delightful place called Perky’s Floating Bar.
Perky’s is a small, retired boat that is permanently docked on the wharf. The bartender was an exceptionally friendly guy. He distributed blankets to keep us warm, since the evenings on the lake at Queenstown are cool, even in summer.
At Perky’s, they serve only drinks — no food — but they allow patrons to bring aboard their own food.
Having learned the ground rules on our first visit to Perky’s, two nights later, on our way down the hill to the harbor, we stopped to purchase dinner at Pedro’s House of Lamb, a popular carry-out restaurant.
At Pedro’s, they prepare and sell literally only one dish: roasted leg of lamb with rosemary potatoes. It is delicious.
The friendly men at Pedro’s neatly packed our meal in an aluminum container, all nice and hot, which we then carried down the road to Perky’s.
Aboard the boat at Perky’s, we took our seat on the top deck. There we enjoyed a most delightful meal, watching the tourists around the harbor.
A nice Chinese guy who spoke no English took our photo, before he and his companion lit their cigarettes. Frank knew just enough Mandarin to exchange a few pleasantries with our new friends from China.
In fact, we saw quite a few Mainland Chinese visitors in Queenstown. We were sure they were duly impressed, coming as they had to this pristine region from the world’s most populous and one of its most industrialized countries.
Incomparable Milford Sound
Another big draw in the Queenstown region is the famous and beautiful Milford Sound. It is a long day’s journey, culminating in a scenic boat excursion on the Sound itself.
The mountains along the way are, in geological terms, among the youngest and most extraordinary in the world, rising up to great heights, virtually from sea level.
We also stopped and hiked in a truly primordial rain forest where the ground is dense with soft, almost furry moss.
Our tour guide explained that several of the scenic places we saw along the road to Milford Sound are featured in the “Lord of the Rings” series of movies, which were filmed in New Zealand. (However, as we have not seen any of those films ourselves, we can’t legitimately say much on the subject.)
The weather that day was sunny and pleasant, which is unusual because the area around Milford Sound typically is very rainy and wet. We were happy about the good weather, of course, but our tour guide explained that on a more typical rainy day the waterfalls pouring down from the high mountains are quite amazing.
We hope the pictures below are sufficient to tell the story of our memorable day trip out to Milford Sound and back.
St. Patrick’s Day
Our visit to Queenstown overlapped with St. Patrick’s Day. Given the youthful demographic of the tourists there, it was mostly a young person’s event.
But Frank, who holds Irish citizenship by descent and travels on an Irish passport, had as good a claim for recognition as pretty much anybody else in Queenstown on this international Irish holiday.
Frankie’s Irish Credentials – His Mother, Kathleen Mary Maguire, was born in the Town of Glenties, County Donegal, Ireland
In honor of St. Patrick, we visited a couple of pubs, where we enjoyed some decent Irish music and played a round of darts. (Brian, as usual, was the winner.)
We ended up standing on the fringe of a large crowd in a public park in Queenstown’s Town Centre.
We certainly enjoyed the festivities there amongst all the young people.
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Other than one last night in a hotel at Christchurch Airport before our flight to Australia, Queenstown was our final destination in New Zealand.
Our overall reaction to New Zealand is probably matched by virtually every first-time visitor to this remarkably beautiful and welcoming country:
We hope we have the chance to return!
What a splendid Queenstown adventure you guys had! I’ve visited twice and loved it each time. I know we chatted briefly about your time there when we were together last weekend, but would have loved to share more about our visits to New Zealand. It’s such a gorgeous country with truly lovely people. Travel safely and keep those vagabondyear installments coming! Oh, now that it’s going on two years, you might want to consider changing the name of your blog 🙂
When my son and I were in NZ, were were at a guest house owned by a Germain woman. She said that she was going to take up bowling so we told her all about the heavy ball with three holes, where to hit the pins, etc etc. Little did we know that she was going to learn lawn bowling. We really didn’t help her a bit..
Frank & Brian, thank you for sharing your adventures. Seeing New Zealand reminded me of my honeymoon. My late husband and I spent our honeymoon in New Zealand and had a wonderful time and met some wonderful people. We especially enjoyed the glow worm cave diving… Would that be considered an extreme sport? LOL I’m so glad you two enjoyed your visit.