Phil and I left Las Vegas on a Tuesday afternoon and arrived at Christchurch airport at 11pm on a Thursday two days later! Mind and body were utterly confused and the three flight marathon was exhausting so we were looking forward to some time to relax and catch up on some sleep. Alas it wasn’t to be and after less than seven hours at the airport hotel we were on a the move again, this time not a plane but a bus to Wanaka.
Wanaka is a small town in central Otago centred around a lake. In my opinion it’s one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand (a country not short on beauty). The lake has crystal clear blue water with a stoney beach around the outskirts and bright green willow trees around the lake (I’m not an expert on trees but they looked like willow to me so we’ll go with that!). The town itself is small, made up of a short strip looking in to the lake front ( I use the word strip loosely, it’s definitely not be to confused with the Las Vegas strip!) and there’s restaurants, shops and accommodation further back. The town is charming and the locals (many of them Brits) are friendly. As the lady who checked us in at the yha said it’s about as different from Vegas as you can get!
We had one night there and a morning before we moved on. Watersports and quad biking were optional activities but we chose to relax, drink coffee sitting in the the sun and watch the world go by. The weather stays temperate and settled during the day most of the year round as it’s sheltered by the mountains but once the sun went down it was really chilly (especially since we’d come from 30 degree heat!)
As for food and drink there’s a few options, but the thing with New Zealand that we learnt pretty quickly was that places do not open late. On a Friday evening everyone would be out drinking at 5ish but most places (bars and restaurants) had closed by 9! For a Londoner this is unheard of! However we did find a cool gin bar which made bespoke gin cocktails with live music and a dj which stayed open late. It was the sort of bar that wouldn’t feel out of place in London except for the lake view on the roof terrace!
After the one night in Wanaka we moved in to Queenstown which was about an hour away. Queenstown is the typical traveller haunt on the South Island, definitely more commercial than Wanaka but with a lot more going on. I remember 7 years ago when I was on the Kiwi bus we congregated in Queenstown and spent a lot of time partying. For some it was a place to do bungee jumping, the luge, skiing and other adrenalin fuelled activities, however for me it was more about the party! This time it was a little more civilised although Phil and I did take a trip down memory lane with a night out in my old hostel bar (Base bar, now called Loco bar) which included men in drag and wigs running around the bar at 7pm on a Tuesday night, apparently it was ladies night but Phil wasn’t up for drag and free drinks unfortunately! Base bar had definitely been given a face lift but the drunken traveller antics were still the same. We also ventured on to World Bar afterwards, another traveller haunt with its infamous tea pots, although World Bar was not the old World Bar as apparently that burnt down in a fire a few years ago. While I slept Phil finished the night with a Fergburger, New Zealand’s most famous burger joint which is open 21 hours a day and has long queues outside it for most of that time. I think he had hyped it up so much that he was a little bit disappointed with the burger experience this time.
Aside from our ‘big night out’ most of our time in Queenstown we chose to relax and enjoy wandering around the town, which also has it’s own beautiful lake view (it’s New Zealand, most places come with mountain scenery and a lake!) New Zealand has a lot of shops selling ‘outerwear’ and wanting to blend in with the locals (and because it was cold) we both ended up buying matching jackets – as you’ll see from my photos it was not me at my most glamorous!
Aside from wandering around town we trekked up Queenstown hill to get some amazing views of the town below and we went on a day trip to Milford Sounds. This was a fantastic trip and I would recommend it to anyone visiting as we took a beautiful drive through the national park and then a boat trip to see waterfalls and seals. Our excursion was run by a chirpy driver called Martin who had a background in conservation and was an expert in all things nature. The reason we chose this company was because it included a bbq for lunch (the moment Phil saw the word bbq there was no other company in contention!). So on the boat while we were watching the fjords go by Martin was cooking up a storm on the barbie! He put on a great spread and I did quite enjoy it when other people on the boat who weren’t on our bus queued up for the bbq food and got turned away!! We agreed that must have sucked!
Our time in Queenstown flew by and we were soon on the road again. So far I’d say it’s a tie between the two places as to what I liked better, I thought Wanaka was so peaceful and I felt so happy being there but I think I would have got bored if we’d stayed for a long period of time whereas Queenstown has great scenery too and a plethora of eating and drinking options too (I’ll put some recommendations up of places we’ve really liked). So I’d say it was a draw!
More on NZ to come soon…