Queenstown, New Zealand is a small town nestled in a corner of Lake Wakatipu, up in the Southern Alps. It is better known as THE place to be for thrill seekers (think bungy jumps, water rafting and the likes), therefore many people were curious why I wanted to spend money to go to such a place.
The reason? They were wrong.
Queenstown as an adventure sports mecca is a stereotype; it is after all a tourist spot that offers a variety of options for all kinds of visitors.
When I first visited Queenstown more than 10 years ago, I was smitten by its beauty. I loved how the snow-covered peaks soared above the still waters that seemed to extend beyond the horizon. I liked how the peaks stood out against the starry night sky. I liked the weather…
I re-visited the place with the goal of reminiscing the beauty nature has to offer, but that does not mean I cannot enjoy the place the way in my own terms. Luckily, Queenstown as a tourist spot is up to speed when it comes to following trends around the world, and any leisure visitors looking for a chillaxing time will not be disappointed.
Queenstown in 48 hours involve a 3D2N itinerary, which is sufficient for those tight on schedule; this can be extended for 1 or 2 more nights for those who are looking for a more relaxing pace for their holiday. That being said, a 3D2N itinerary at a compact tourist spot also meant a lot of pre-trip preparation, including some advanced booking for the most popular activity.
Since Queenstown is mostly connected by domestic flights, it means most international travelers will most likely to check in to the hotel in the late afternoon (although the airport is a short distance from the town on the map, the traffic condition can extend a journey up to an hour during peak-of-peak). Therefore, the time spent after checking in can be allocated for a leisure walk around the town centre, collecting the Gondola tickets, before taking the Gondola up to Skyline Queenstown, where one can spend the first night with a feast for the tummy and the eyes.
Skyline Queenstown can be said to be the star highlight of Queenstown (right after bungy jumps); in other words, no one should miss it when they are in town. The place offers a few points of interest for visitors: a restaurant, luge, stargazing tours and an observatory deck.
Stratosfare, a restaurant at the top of the cliff overlooking Queenstown, offers buffet lunch and dinner; the dinner offers 2 seatings and require prior bookings since it is a very popular tourist destination.
The buffet offers a variety of food, ranging from surf to turf, with ambience that is befitting the place. Since the restaurant overlooks Queenstown, the seating within was also terraced to ensure every diner gets a view to dine for.
While I mentioned that the seafood and grilled meat were salivatingish great, remember to leave room for the desserts! They had shelves of pudding, cakes and ice creams! And if you could afford to part with more kiwis, get yourselves a glass of wine, curated from the region’s best vineyard, to top the experience off!
As mentioned, the buffet dinner offers 2 seatings, which are also timed to suit the schedules of the stargazing tours, so that one can choose to eat before they exercise (yes, you have to climb some slope before you reach a position free from the light pollution from Stratosfare), or vice versa.
Participants gather at the entrance of Stratosfare, where the guide gives briefings and issues down jackets (especially for cold nights). Though I mentioned there will be some climbing to do, it is still a leisurely walk up slope to where the telescopes were staged. Therefore, ladies should not worry about not being able to survive the walk, though high heels are not recommended (we had a girl who
snapped twisted her ankle on the way down, even though she was wearing sneakers).
We were fortunate enough to have Christian Cook as our stargazing guide, as he was also a graduate (was it a Masters? hmmm…) in Astronomy and filled us in with plenty of back stories of the planets and stars that were peppered with punny jokes (which sort of influenced my post here).
As stargazing depends on the weather, it is all the more prudent to plan for it on the first night of visit, so that if it gets cancelled, you can still arrange for a make-up session on the following night(s) (yes! they allow refunds due to bad weather too!).
That being said, combined with the highly popular Stratosfare, I highly recommend for one to make reservations via Skyline Queenstown’s website (link of price plans here). While it is possible to reserve a window seat if you are only reserving a seat in Stratosfare, this option is missing if you are booking it with the Stargazing tour. This is something that I found unbecoming.
Lastly, for those who are on a shoestring budget, you can still take the Gondola (it still costs NZD35, though) up to the observation deck above Stratosfare. The deck offers a view stretching across Queenstown and beyond, and it was still great to sea the town lights sparkle against the silhouette of the mountain ranges at night. The tickets for all activities at Skyline Queenstown can be collected in town centre at O’Connell’s Shopping Centre (basement level, in Singaporean terms).
Getting Warm and Fuzzy
Assuming all goes well on the first night, the second night can be spent in an Winnie’sset in the hills!
The hot pools are located in Arthurs Point, which is a 15-minute ride away from Queenstown. After making a booking, you will be asked if you want to take the free shuttle, which sort of limits the time you spend in and around the onsen, but has the added convenience of not having to find your way to and from the onsen.
The experience starts with the pick-up at Bus Stop D, corner of Camp St and Shotover St. (i.e. the place where everyone books and leaves for their day tours). After a dark and treacherous journey through the roads carved into the mountain side (to be frank, this is an exaggeration, because it was too dark to see anything outside the van, except the parts of the road lit up by the headights), we stopped at the entrance of the pools, which still required us to walk a fair bit down slope (this place is still handicap-friendly, so no worries).
At the reception, we were asked what snacks and drinks we would like to have (we chose potato chips, cos I like it, and Champagne), and after a short wait, we were brought down (yes, even more climbing) to our private pool.
Standing at the corridor, the place looked just like a normal spa, except all the rooms opened out to one side of the corridor. As we entered our Onsen by Lantern Light (yes, the interior was beautifully decorated with lanterns), the hot pool, which looked like a jacuzzi, greeted us from the other end of the room. At this point, the room still looked like a normal jacuzzi place, complete with a corner standing shower and benches for us to leave our stuff.
The excitement comes after we settled into the pool and found the controls. What controls? The controls that opened the wall and roof!
Like a garage, the side facing the valley opened up and continued until the part of the roof directly over the pool was exposed. We could hear gasps and screams of excitement coming from the other pools, as our fellow visitors found their own controls too 😀
It was a surreal experience, soaking in a hot pool, on a cold winter night, looking out into the black night that, as our eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, gradually unveiled the specks of starlight splattered across the night sky. And did I mention the Champagne? That tipsy feeling added a magical touch to the overall experience!
If the water turned cold, hot water can be delivered (yes, also at the press of the button) via a pipe from the ceiling, splashing into the pool like a waterfall. So, being the tipsy, playful boys we were, of course we also had fun with the faux pas waterfall XD
The onsen is not only opened at night, of course. In the day, one can totally take in the view of the valley from the pools, and perhaps find time to explore the neighbourhood after the dip (which explained why the free shuttle is optional). However for us, we were there for the stars (New Zealand is after all at the corner of the world, far from light pollution from big metropolis), and the place was not exploration-friendly after dark, so we followed the shuttle back to Queenstown after our dip.
Get In Touch With Nature
Since Queenstown (and rightfully New Zealand) is a gem when it comes to natural beauty, what is a trip to Queenstown without visiting Queenstown Gardens itself?
The Gardens is located on the peninsula that extends from the town centre which offers a convenient access to nature for visitors and locals alike. When we visited the Gardens in autumn, the trees were already offering varying shades of autumnal colours.
We took the perimeter path, partly because the central part was more hilly, but also because it allowed us to take in the waterfront of Queenstown across the waters!
If getting to Queenstown Gardens is a chore (one has to walk there after all), a simple alternative is to walk down the said waterfront promenade that lined the shore the town was built upon. Nearer to the town centre, the promenade is very much like boardwalk. As we proceed further away from the town centre, the path turns into pebble beach, lined with willowy trees (frankly speaking, I don’t know what trees those were!), which is both a superb Instagram-spot as well as a great way to experience the tranquility of the lake!
Get In Touch With Your Spiritual Self
Other than nature, the town, though relatively young compared to the ancient medieval towns of Europe, was teeming with old-ish charm. One such example is the St Peter’s Anglican Church off the fringe of Queenstown.
The church was closed when N and I were there, but there was no doubt the church was up and running and would have been swarming with people on church days. The garden was well-manicured, populated with either a tree that had a huge, low canopy, or trees that were in the process of turning their crowns into fiery red.
As mentioned, the church was closed so we could not enter the internal grounds, but the garden was already nurturing enough for the heart and soul!
Accommodation at Queenstown ranges from exorbitant during peak winter months to expensive in the lull period (Yes, there is no such thing as affordable stay in Queenstown). If you can accept staying in a hostel, that will also set you back more than that of staying in, say, Sydney. A similar priced hotel tend to be situated outside of Queenstown.
My choice of accommodation was an attempt to balance between price, nice scenery, comfort and convenience.
Scenery comes top if you search for reviews for Mercure Queenstown Resort. Yes, they do have “Garden Views” rooms, but they are upfront about that, and all rooms with “Lake View” are guaranteed with direct, unfettered views of Lake Wakatipu.
I had earlier blogged about this hotel in detail, so check that post out to understand why this is The Place to stay while in Queenstown!
For a 3D2N stay in a small town like Queenstown, there is a lot to do and explore! I shall leave the itinerary for cafe-hopping and the airport for the next post.
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Stratosfare Restaurant & Bar + Stargazing + Gondola + Luge + Observation Deck
9348, Brecon St, Queenstown 9300, New Zealand
+64 3-441 0085
Onsen Hot Pools
160 Arthurs Point Rd, Arthurs Point 9371, New Zealand
+64 3-442 5707
Mercure Queenstown Resort
Sainsbury Road, Fernhill, Queenstown 9300, New Zealand
+64 3-442 6600