New Zealand is a long way from Singapore — 10 hours if you fly direct. So I stopped over in Melbourne for a few days to eat my way around the hip city with Jules, who was so kind to host me. Then I hopped on another plane to Queenstown in New Zealand’s South Island.
After all the scuba diving and beautiful beaches last year, I started to miss the mountains terribly. And what better way to cure all that longing with 14 days of hiking and walking around some of the most scenic places in this part of the world. My urge to be high up in the hills overrode any inconveniences of having to do such a long trip alone. So after a couple days of light researching online, I booked all my flights, hostels, and connecting buses for Queenstown, Wanaka, Mount Cook, and Christchurch.
I flew budget all the way. Took the Singapore-Melbourne-Queenstown route there, and Christchurch-Melbourne-Singapore back. It cost me SGD927 in all.
I was enamoured by this country even before touchdown! A surge of happiness washed over me the moment I caught sight of the endless ranges of mountains, and I just couldn’t stop grinning like an idiot. I remember thinking as I alighted the plane at the foot of The Remarkables with paragliders swooping above, that this is where I truly belong. (At least while on vacation.)
Located on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is a lovely little tourist town filled with all sorts of adventure activities and day trip operators, mainly western restaurants, a couple of supermarkets, and lots of lovely walking trails that lead you away from the “crowds” and into the surrounding forests. I thought it had a good amount of tourists when I arrived. But as I discovered along the way, it’s considered pretty busy for NZ. I wasn’t annoyed at all with anyone invading my space, as there was enough to go around. And it was easy to find quiet spots to yourself all around the lake.
First time on the luge ride! Should’ve paid the few dollars more to go for another round as first timers were only allowed on the slower track. But still, it was a good thrill.
Then I was lured by a quiet path that led into the woods. I followed it a bit before checking with an old couple walking out if it’s worth the wander, and they said that the woods clear up after a while and the view is great. So I trudged on. And BAM — look where it took me.
This is exactly why I love travelling without an itinerary. You never know what you might stumble upon! I certainly did not expect to have such beautiful expanses of mountains all to myself within a stone’s throw of a main tourist spot. No pain but a lot to gain!
Day 2: Milford Sound
I’ve heard a lot about this spot. And it’s probably images of this place that made me bucket list New Zealand some years back. But I soon learn that expectations are a pain in the ass. Especially when the weather often has many surprises up its sleeves here.
The day trip from Queenstown had a full 12-hour itinerary, mostly taken up by the long to and fro journey — 600km to be exact. Sounds like a drag? Didn’t felt like it at all with the stunning landscapes we passed through! The chirpy driver also entertained us with interesting trivia about New Zealand, such as how most native plants are evergreen (those species that had foilage which changed colours according to seasons are introduced by settlers much later).
He also explained how because the country broke off from the main continent before the evolution of mammals, many native birds have evolved to live mostly on ground level due to the lack of predators. And when immigrants brought mammals like cats with them, the felines hunted many native birds to extinction as they were easy prey just hanging around on the ground, oblivious to the new dangers. People always ruin everything right?
The driver tried keeping our hopes up even as the rain continued to drench the jetty when we arrived. It was pretty miserable, thinking of all the sunny postcards of Milford Sound as the cruise rode out into the fog. There were no fjords reflected in perfectly still waters, but there were some pretty incredible waterfalls thanks to the incessant drizzle! Strong winds also meant that there was a blizzard up on the open upper deck of the boat. I only braved it once for that selfie.
Day 3: Queenstown Hill
Woke up to another cloudy day. Bought some time while waiting for the sun to emerge with a hearty breakfast at the famous Fergburger. There’s always a crazy queue from lunchtime onwards, so I thought I’d better have it early. It tasted real good, especially after days of cooking simple meals for myself at the hostel. Food, as with everything else in Queenstown, is pricey. And as most of the restaurants didn’t look very exciting to someone who has been spoilt by the flavours of the Asian cuisine, I’d rather spend it on other things. This beef burger, with its juicy patty done just right, together with the freshly-cooked salty crispy fries, added up to SGD17. Not bad!
Felt super good and fuelled up for the Queenstown Hill walkway! The start of the trail is clearly marked and easily accessible from town, and while I was kinda wary about stepping into a secluded area, I soon bumped into the occasional walker.
I took my time to get up to the summit, and was rewarded with this incredible sight when I finally got there.
The clouds soon closed in, and the temperatures plummeted. One moment I was panting and sweating from the uphill climb, and the next, I was zipping up my fleece and putting on a third layer.
I arrived back in town just before the sun set, and decided to take a slow stroll around the lake to explore more of Queenstown. This pretty little town continued to amaze me as every corner I stumbled upon was picture-perfect.
Day 4: Arrowtown
Took a public bus out to Arrowtown, which I thought was a waste of time… It has one little main street consisting of shops selling things I don’t need, one museum, and a few restaurants offering food I’m not willing to pay that much for. It’s known for its autumn colours, but I arrived about three weeks too early. Thankfully, it had a nice little path along the river which I was happy to investigate.
I found myself once again happily among nature, this time away from the “bustle” of Queenstown. And I surprised myself with how much joy I was deriving from this simple walk. I was absolutely content and at peace with myself, with only the trickles of gentle river rapids and the quiet rustling of tree canopies to accompany me. It’s moments like these that remind me of how good my life is.
I think 4 days is a good amount of time to really enjoy Queenstown, although most travellers I’ve met have been there for weeks and months. Next stop: Wanaka.