Why Queenstown (& Environs) for The Holiday
As promised, here is a little more on the holiday—and as Paul asked to know more about the memorial on Queenstown Hill I will definitely include a mention of that.:)
Shortly before I went on holiday, someone said to me: “Queenstown—why’re you going there? ” The subtext was that since Queenstown is a major tourist destination then I, as a local, should eschew it as a destination.
But of course, Queenstown is a major tourist destination for a reason: spectacular scenery, immediate access to New Zealand’s largest national park (Fiordland) and innumerable outdoor adventure opportunities: ski-ing (in winter), hiking, mountain and rock climbing, mountain biking, jet-boating, paraponting, and of course bungy jumping—in several locations now but originating on the suspension bridge at the Queenstown end of the Gibbston Valley. And Gibbston Valley, of course, is also famous for its wineries, the southernmost in the world where the pinot noir grape flourishes—and they occasionally get to make genuine ice wine, with pictures of grape picking in the snow flashed around the world.
Plus there’s nearby Arrowtown, famous for the historic mining cottages and commercial buildings that still form the main street.
Queenstown is also close to a lot of sites where The Lord of the Rings was shot: Orthanc was near Glenorchy, which lies just a half hour’s drive up the western arm of Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown; the Gates of Argonath were on the nearby Kawarau river: this link will give you more detail, here.
So as you can see, there’s a lot to draw just about anyone to Queenstown–and sure, the town itself is small and touristy, but the surrounding environment is so spectacular that the touristyness is lost by comparison.
But in fact I have loved the area for a long time, because of the juxtaposition of the high serrated peaks and the lakes, both Wakatipu (NZ’s third largest) and nearby Lakes Hayes (tiny–I walked around it in 2 hours), as well as the truly beautiful countryside between Queenstowen and Arrowtown and along the Gibbston Valley. I love the way thyme grows wild on the rocky hillsides and of course, being spring, the hawthorne was flowering while there so I got to see foaming cream blossom everywhere.
The Queenstown area is also “the land of the mountain and the flood” with rivers like the Shotover and the Kawarau (“Ka-wa-roe” in Maori—don’t forget to roll the “r”— or “K’warra” as it is now said locally) running strong and swift through deeply incised gorges. In the Gibbston Valley, tiny vineyards dot the plateau above the Kawarau river’s gorge and cling precipitously to the mountain slopes.
Quite simply, it’s wonderful country, and absolutely full of history, much of it tied to the gold rushes that led to major settlement of the area. The history is not just confined to Arrowtown either, although that has plenty, or Eichardt’s Hotel on the Queenstown lakefront—although again, that’s a story in itself—but can be found all along the rivers, with sites like Bullendale Reef on the Shotover where the use of electricity for industrial purposes (gold recovery) was pioneered. The region’s history is also that of tourism, from the earliest days through to the more recent advent of the bungy jumping phenomenon.
And that memorial? It’s the millenium memorial, erected to commemorate the year 2000, and is located just below the summit of Queenstown Hill, which lies immediately behind the town. And yes, it’s quite the climb to get there, but well worth it for the spectacular views “all around.” You also get to walk through this gate near the beginning of the track, with the nearby millenium plaque—on its own menhir too: cool!