Six day rescue mission to Queenstown, NZ
Originally posted at Uproute.co -> uproute.co/trips/sam-nz
Getting a free upgrade on my hire car (thanks Europcar!). Driving around Lake Wakatipu with my mouth open (epic). Swimming in the lake under snow capped mountains (cold! No, let’s go for ‘invigorating’) Driving up to the Remarkables ski field at sunrise (epic). Finding my GoPro after losing it while skiing. Flying premium economy on the way home. Telling people who asked my sister how she broke her leg: “The parachute didn’t open!”
Losing my GoPro while skiing. But at least I found it again! Skiing on my own in general was not as fun as skiing with family, although this is hardly a big deal, as it was a still wonderful day #firstworldproblems. Finding out that the AUD and the NZD were more or less 1:1 — last time I was there it was more like 1.5:1.
Trip Dates and Comments on Timing
August — Perfect timing in the middle of the ski season, and crucially right after Aussie and Kiwi school holidays.
Flew from Perth to Invercargill via Auckland and Christchurch. It felt like a lot of running around airports. When I arrived in Invercargill I collected my hire car from Europcar and the lady very kindly upgraded me. I had booked a Holden Barina and was given a Captiva; it was a big, big upgrade! Thanks kind lady.
Then I collected my sister from the hospital in Invercargill and drove to Queenstown, which took about 2.5 hours.
General Overview of Itinerary
Mainly just chilling with my sister and working the phones & email to arrange her transport over to Perth with her leg in a cast. But I did manage to squeeze in a day skiing and a day trip up around the lake while I was ‘looking after her’.
Road trips, skiing, swimming, food, wine.
Food and Drink Highlights
The 6 days turned into a bit of an eatathon! First night we had a Fergburger, how could we not?! It had been 8 long, long years since I last had a Fergberger. Delicious! Fergburger might be the most famous burger place in the whole of NZ, and as such it had queues up the road literally the entire time it was open. Remarkable.
Also highly enjoyed a pizza from Fat Badgers — I have never, ever seen a pizza so large. We got one between three people and there was still enough left for a slice each for breakfast. Delicious, too.
Last but not least, Cookie Time in Queenstown was a good visit. I love cookies and have a rather acute sweet tooth. I got five cookies, again to share between three, but the other two were a bit late so I ate them all. Then I felt sick. But worth it!
On the drink front I enjoyed all the Pinot Noir’s I tasted (it is the choice of Otago, the local region). The best one was on the plane and TRAGICALLY I have forgotten the name. It began with a V and if anyone can tell me the name of a vineyard beginning with V in Otago that makes a lovely Pinot Noir I shall be most pleased.
Essential Packing for this Trip
Layers, layers and more layers. The temperature fluctuated quite a lot and going inside & outside multiple times per day required lots and lots of layers.
My younger sister moved to Queenstown, NZ earlier this year to work the ski season there. Unfortunately, she fell and broke her leg, and being in Perth I was the closest family member (we’re from the UK). She had been living in a hostel which was determined to be inadequate for her recovery so I jumped on a plane and went over there to ‘look after her’, ‘carry her bags’ and ‘bring her back to Perth for a more comfortable recovery’.
I put these things in inverted commas because really this was just a good excuse for me to go over there on a bit of a jolly. I knew it, she knew it, everyone knew it! Let’s just admit it and move on.
I arrived in Invercargill, picked her up from the hospital and we drove the 200km north up to Queenstown. It was an amazing drive; you start off in fields and lowlands, climb up and over a couple of (low) mountain passes… Ok let’s call a spade a spade: you drive over some nice hills, and then you arrive on the shores of the southern tip of Lake Wakatipu. The last half an hour or so is literally along the lakeside and the views across the lake and up to the (real) mountains are absolutely amazing. In fact I really really wished I wasn’t driving so I could have taken it in more.
We arrived in Queenstown and collected Lucy’s stuff from her hostel, before shipping up to Frankton to stay with her friend who had two spare rooms and a wood fire in the living room. Amazing. The hostel was by far and away the nicest hostel I have ever seen. In hindsight, she would probably have been fine staying there for 6 weeks! Only joking. But it was a very nice hostel: brand spanking new, clean, spacious etc etc.
From the friend’s place we spent lots of time on the phone with Air New Zealand and Lucy’s insurance trying to figure out how and when and why they would let her on a plane to fly back to Perth. This took a good two or three days to figure out and finalise, which in the end suited me just fine because there were a few little day trips I wanted to squeeze in.
Trip one was a drive up to Glenorchy, at the northern tip of the lake. My girlfriend had been there in November last year and the photos looked amazing, so I wanted to see for myself.
She was not wrong! Again, being the driver proved to be a poor choice as I spent very little time looking at the road, and lots of time looking at the beauty of the lake and the mountains. Absolutely stunning scenery. The drive took about 45 minutes and when I arrived I was rather underwhelmed! I was expecting a nice little chalet village and somewhere to drink a coffee on the waterfront but I was disappointed. There was nothing! I would highly recommend the drive but expect to turn around when you get there and drive back. Maybe take two people so one drives out and the other drives back.
The other source of my disappointment was that a very cold wind had whipped in which scuppered my plans of heading in for a swim! I wanted to one up Appin who had attempted a swim in Spring but only got as far as her ankles before retreating from the cold. Well, I had promised I would show her how it’s done, but that wind was whipping through me and there was no chance I would take my hat off, let alone the rest of my clothes.
As luck would have it I spotted a wee track on the way back that I thought might be fun to test out the Captiva. Note to self; never ever buy a used hire car! Just kidding, I took it easy down the little track and came out on an amazing little pebble beach that was perfectly sheltered from the wind. Right, this was it! Now or never!
Bloody hell. It was absolutely freezing; just thinking about it now makes my shins numb, but it was certainly refreshing and the photo got a lot of likes on Instagram. Worth it? Society says ‘YES’!
The second day trip was a drive up the Remarkables mountain range for a quick day skiing. I begged and borrowed everything I didn’t have and set off in the dark, hoping to score first tracks. Although it was very early and it took me a long, long time to scrape the ice off the windscreen with my credit card, I cannot emphasise how worth it it was. The sunrise over the mountains was an absolutely incredible sight and I finally, for the very first time, understood why someone would be a climber. It was epic.
I was lucky it was a clear day and the entire sky was orange, pink and blue. The mountains lit up and the whole thing seemed to last a lot longer than a sunset. Unfortunately no photos because a) I didn’t want to look away to get the camera, and b) first tracks wait for no man.
A quick queue to get a day pass later, I was pinching the last bits of kit I needed from my poor, poor sister’s locker and headed up the mountain. The Remarkables is a bit of a funny resort: it’s basically a bowl with a chairlift up either side and one more up the middle. It’s tiny but there is still some good fun to be had zipping around the pistes.
Most of the good skiing is accessed by hiking up from the top of the chairlifts but as I was flying solo I wasn’t too keen to explore: last time I had skied there (in 2008) my group climbed up a little chute to a lookout and the weather turned and I was definitely glad for the company coming back down. Safety in numbers!
But on the other hand… That view… So I did make one quick little climb just to take a look. Plenty of other people around in case of emergencies! I think if I was going to ski a day from Queenstown on my own again I would either find someone to guide me up the hikes at Remarkables or head to one of the other resorts. Coronet Peak and Cardrona are both a bit bigger and more varied for the solo skier.
I still had a great day playing around with the GoPro and getting some cool shots. At one point I lost the GoPro from the front of my ski but didn’t notice until I got to the bottom. Two desperate laps retracing my steps (ski tracks?) later I trudged into the last chance saloon: the ticket office. Low and behold, there she was! Some kind, kind soul had handed it in. Kiwis are great people! Back out for a few more laps of each lift and back down the mountain.
The next day we flew out in the morning and got the VIP treatment from the Air New Zealand staff. Seriously, if you want to make transiting through airports a breeze, break one of your sibling’s legs and push them around in a wheelchair. We had a great day! Lucy flew in business class and I wasn’t far behind in premium economy. The flight back was so much fun I wrote all about it!
- Queenstown is the most beautiful place I have ever been. I don’t say that lightly. Go there!
- Drive around the lake, even if you don’t like driving day trips. It was amazing. Next time I would like to take longer and do a hike somewhere along the way.
- You will get fat in Queenstown. There is lots of ‘gourmet’ fast food, and you should try it all.
- Only got one day to ski? Go to Coronet Peak (they even do night skiing there!).
- GoPro suction cup mounts are good for cars but not good for skiing.