One of the items on the bears’ bucket list was to visit New Zealand and complete as many hikes as possible. With a love for the great outdoors, we wanted to explore as many places as we could before we settled down and started a family. For our year end trip in Dec 2015, we wanted to visit a place with unparalleled natural beauty, plenty of opportunities for hikes, and some adventure to boot. It wasn’t a surprise, then, that we settled on New Zealand – a place that, to this very day, sets our hearts aflutter whenever we think of the myriad of amazing experiences we had there.
First, a general introduction to New Zealand – New Zealand is made up of two main islands, North Island and South Island. North Island, though smaller in size than South Island, is more densely populated. It is home to New Zealand’s larger cities, such as Auckland and Wellington. South Island, on the other hand, is well-known for its awe-inspiring scenery and dramatic landscapes.
(Map from New Zealand Tourism Guide)
With only 18 days to play around with (yes, that’s all the leave we had!), we decided to focus on South Island for this trip. Because there are just so many things for us to share, we’ll be breaking down our entries into little snippets, so that you’ll get a real taste of the joys we experienced! In this entry, we bring you to Queenstown, which was our landing point and gateway city to the Southern Scenic Route, where we spent a good portion of our trip exploring. Here are some pictures of Queenstown to get us started:
Upon arrival at Queenstown airport, we proceeded to the JUCY counter to pick up our campervan, which we had booked online prior to our trip. There are many campervan operators in New Zealand, and you can easily browse through the available choices online to find the perfect van to meet your needs. However, if you are intending to go during the peak period (Oct – Dec), be sure to make your reservations early!
The vehicle that we rented was much the size of an SUV, with some modifications to the interior. This was one of the reasons we settled on the JUCY van – it was easy to drive due to its compact size, as compared to other larger campervans. During the day, this was our mobile home, with our luggages stored at the back seat. At night, we reconfigured the seats to make a double bed. There was also a fridge and a stove at the back of the van, so we could get some cooking done.
Unlike some other countries, New Zealand has pretty strict camping rules. For instance, you can’t stop your van at the side of the road as and when you wish, to camp for the night. Campers are required to register for a lot at designated holiday parks or camp sites. Some are free, while you have to pay for others. Those that charge a fee usually come with better facilities, such as a fully equipped kitchen, hot water showers and so on. You can visit the NZ tourism site to get more information.
Here’s a sneak of what a holiday park looks like – you can see the vans parked at their designated lots.
The bears were just stoked! Still, we were mighty tired from the long flight and so, after cooking ourselves a simple dinner, we turned in for the night. (This was the first and last time we cooked on the campervan stove – the heat was just too weak and a pot of water took 30 minutes to boil – so we gave up and cooked in the kitchen instead) The campervan came with all the utensils we needed – pots, frying pans, cutlery and so on, so all we needed to do was to visit the supermarket to get ingredients. The food at NZ isn’t exactly cheap, but we recommend checking out New World Supermarket for your cooking essentials 😉
Here are some of the things we did during our time at Queenstown, which we’d recommend if you have the time.
Dinner with a View – Lombardi Dining Room
The bears love good food, but good food sometimes comes at a price. So imagine our excitement when we stumbled upon First Table Queenstown, where you can book the first table at Queenstown restaurants and get 50% off the food bill for a group of 2 to 4 people, if you arrive in time for the first table of the evening! In all honesty, this has got to be like striking lottery – it was one of the best dining deals we’ve had. We picked Lombardi Dining Room for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. We’d dare say we got the best view in the house since we were the first customers that night! The service was also praiseworthy, since we were the only customers around for a while. We’ll let the pictures do the talking!
The food was very delicious, the view divine – it was an uplifting experience in every sense of the word.
Lombardi Dining Room
Hotel St Moritz, Queenstown
10 – 18 Brunswick Street
P O Box 1116
Tel: +64 3 442 4990
Opens 6:00am to 11:00pm daily
Whitewater Rafting at the Kawarau River
New Zealand is best known for its scenery and adventure sports – so what’s a trip to Queenstown without some adventure, right? We tried our paws at Whitewater rafting, and since it was our first time, we decided to take the easier option at Kawarau River. It was pretty mild, to say the least, but the beautiful scenery and our jovial guide made up for it. We did ours with Queenstown Rafting, but there are so many adventure guides to choose from – just make your way down to the city centre and take your pick!
For the more adventurous, we’d actually also recommend trying out Skydiving, even though our dive was cancelled due to bad weather. 😦
Skyline Queenstown – Gondola, Stargazing, Dining
Another place you can consider exploring at Queenstown is Skyline Queenstown, where you can take a gondola up Bob’s Peak to enjoy Queenstown from a bird’s eye-view and also take part in a guided stargazing tour if the conditions allow.
Sadly for us, we didn’t get to go on the stargazing tour ‘cos the skies were cloudy on all three nights we were there. Skyline offers refunds or rescheduling in cases of inclement weather though, which we felt was a nice gesture. The ride on the gondola was quite enjoyable, nonetheless 🙂
Watch Sunset over Lake Wakatipu
Besides the attractions mentioned above, Queenstown is also a lovely place to explore by foot. It strikes us as more of a town than a city, especially if you are used to skyscrapers and tall buildings. Lake Wakatipu, which lies in the middle of Queenstown, is absolutely breathtaking. It lends a picturesque feel to the entire place, and you can just chill by the lake and have a picnic. The downside is that it can get pretty crowded in the evenings, as everyone gathers by the lake to catch the sunset.
Sunset over Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown
Need we say more? 🙂
Visit the Creative Queenstown Arts and Crafts Market
Every Saturday, creative artists set up stalls along the waterfront for the Creative Queenstown Arts and Crafts Market. It’s a good place to check out unique handcrafted gifts, and to show your support for local artists! There are also street performances to enjoy!
Creative Queenstown Arts & Crafts Market
Beach Street, Earnslaw Park, Queenstown
Grab a cookie at Cookie Time
If New Zealand is known for a particular snack, it would be the cookies from Cookie Time. There’s a variety of flavours to choose from, and the shop at Queenstown even has desserts and cookie shakes for you to indulge in!
Totally worth the calories 😉
Queenstown Cookie Bar
18 Camp Street
Contact: +64 3 442 4891
We didn’t get much time to explore Queenstown, given that we spent a lot of time trekking and travelling along the Southern Scenic Route. Still, we were glad to have discovered some lovely places there!
*This is a non-sponsored post.