As you fly over Queenstown, you could be forgiven for thinking you are about to enter a toy village. A veritable rainbow of hues from gold to yellow, orange and red spots the landscape with maples. Each tree has been planted by some minute person in the past to make up for the stark landscape that assaults the senses when winter no longer hides the dark imposing mountainside throwing its icy white blanket over the landscape.
If you look closely you might smile at the cabbage tree standing defiantly amongst a patch of maples or the bromeliad hiding amongst the scrub. Each native plant has weathered another strong winter to assume it’s place in the cold southern climes and remind us that we still are in New Zealand, just a much more majestic and ethereal version.
To add to your pre-existing delusions of grandeur, whirly birds buzz around underneath like metal dragonflies; if you were imaginative, you might pretend that they are the paparazzi and they are waiting for you to exit the plane.
As soon as you step on to the tarmac you are assaulted with pure, unadulterated beauty! The scenery is quite simply, remarkable! The mountainside (aptly named ‘The Remarkables’) stoops over the airport like a giant surveying his empire. Deciduous trees spot along the bottom of the mountainside and around the airport.
Queenstown is the perfect backdrop for the New Zealand Tourism Board; in fact some marketing whiz from Auckland probably coined the phrase “GodZone” whilst visiting this natural box of jewels. Queenstown has everything you could want if you were indeed a god. It has the sweeping mountainside, the ice cold water as still as a mirror, and a bird life parallel to none.
As soon as we set down at the airport it was time to find our way to the hotel. We had decided to spoil ourselves just for the first night and managed to get a great deal for a “mystery hotel” which turned out to be the Kawarau Hotel “Managed by Hilton”.
Of course, we straight away jumped at the thought of staying in a hotel managed by Hilton and assumed the airs and graces of such a visitor, telling everyone we knew including perfect strangers that we would be staying at “The Hilton”. Once we arrived at the hotel, the taxi driver made a comment on our broken down backpacks and we stood and waited at The Hilton amongst some very swish-looking tourists.
After what seemed like an age we were finally attended to and promptly told that we were in the wrong place and the Kawarau Hotel “Managed by Hilton” was actually a hop, skip and a jump down the road. A staff member kindly offered to get the porter to take our bags but by then we were suitably ashamed by our attire and quickly slunk out to the glares of the walls, walls which had never seen such filth darken their doors before.
After a five-minute hike down to the more affable but much less ostentatious Kawarau Hotel “Managed by Hilton”, we realized that a hotel managed by Hilton didn’t actually make it the Hilton; it made it a beautiful hotel overlooking stunning Lake Karapiro.
Once we arrived in our room we found a deck which looked out to the stunning lake. We were told we could use the spa at the Hilton but it would cost $20 for the privilege Our airs and graces suitably dampened, we decided to go for a nice “free” stroll along the lake and a couple of quiet ones at the local pub where we felt a lot less, for want of a better word, Poor.
After a much-needed sleep in the king-sized bed and a glorious migraine suffered by yours truly, we set off at daybreak in another expensive taxi to the airport to pick up our campervan. It is truly the best way to travel if you want to use a campervan and can’t afford the hotels.
Our next trip, to beautiful Milford Sound took about three hours through amazing terrain under torrential rainfall. The trip was uneventful until we got the Sound where we were told that the boats had all been canceled thanks to stormy weather.
Undeterred, we decided to camp out at Lake Gunn, a truly picturesque camping spot, free and off the beaten track, or so we thought. By 8 p.m. there were three other campervans, two cars and a tent! A tent! We had the best campervan by far and we were freezing to the core of our being, whereas some smart alecks were showing us up erecting a tent, and sleeping in it.
When I awoke early in the morning and wiped the icicles from my hair, I walked up to the car and videoed it. We stood, jeered and laughed at the maniacs who would tent next to a lake, then we stood concerned for a minute, wondering if they had survived the ordeal, then ran back to the campervan like the ostentatious pricks that we were and drove back towards Milford Sound.
By now the rain had turned into snow, a constant source of amusement for those of us who don’t get to encounter snow very often, yet not so great if you don’t have chains on your wheels. By the time we had arrived at the base of the mountainside it was clear to us that we would not be going any further.
A van full of tourists was skidding up the hill, determined to get to Milford Sound. We might be ostentatious, but we weren’t stupid so we decided to take the long trip back towards Queenstown and try our luck elsewhere. Not before we got out, threw snow at each other, jumped about and got back to the heater.
After another long and uneventful trip back, we arrived in Arrowtown, a place which had been trumpeted in our tour guidebooks as an “Outback town” known for its gold mining days and general ancient housing. I was excited; nothing gets me more interested than “ye olde worlde” living. In fact, I had pictures in my head of sepia photos with myself and my beloved dressed in period attire.
We arrived at your stereotypical tourist town where outrageous prices assailed our sense of injustice and after a $ 20 cup of coffee (well maybe not that expensive), we decided to up and move, but not before gazing at the beautiful autumnal colors that continued to assail our senses, quickly and abruptly ruined by the throngs of tourists taking incessant photos of buildings which weren’t really that old.
Leaving Arrowtown, it was clear to us that we needed warmth, as we had had enough of being cold and wet; it had been raining and snowing for two days and no matter how long we kept the gas cooker on and the engine idling in order to maintain some warmth from the car heater, we still woke up sodden with dew and coughing up a lung.
On arrival we knew straight away that we had made the right decision as this romantic destination just screams lust and love. The town quietly ensconces a lake that is so faultless it makes you want to weep. Pine trees and those autumnal maples scatter themselves around the lake as it quietly laps against the rock bed.
Above the lake there is a rather large camping ground, which costs money to stay in. There was no way we were going to go without power for another night so we handed over the small fee to camp in a real-live campground and parked our car. We quickly made our way to the most beautiful spa resort imaginable.
Set against a backdrop of brilliant stars, the water goes from lukewarm to toasty hot in three different pools, allowing you to gradually make your way from frozen to thawed, to lukewarm, to body temperature.
A thermal pool under the stars in the freezing cold Fiordland is pure heaven and we lolled about on our backs looking up at the southern cross which was clearly defined in the centre of the sky next to the two pointer stars, alpha and beta centauri.
Of all my years on this earth I had never been able to locate the southern cross but standing these blatantly in front of me were those four fabled stars crying out to the quiet world beneath them.
While stargazing, we floated quietly amongst native plants such as poi poi which dotted the pretty rock gardens, quietly bobbing about unseen by the small number of tourists, owing to the freezing temperatures.
After what seemed like the most infinitesimal solitude, my migraine had dissipated and my partner and I were on cloud nine. We truly floated back down to earth and landed in the local pub. This time to feast on potato wedges and beer. Then we happily floated back to our campervan for another freezing night due to the fact that the heater didn’t work particularly well.
We woke ready to meet another day. For me, the day began with cleaning out the effluent tank; for my beloved the day began with a cold shower (he didn’t have $2 to enjoy a hot shower). The life of a traveler can be cold and tiresome but it can also be so rewarding. Already planning our next trip, we wonder: will it rival the beauty of New Zealand’s South Island?