Monday, September 19, I left the dairy farm behind me and went away for three days visiting Queenstown, the so-called adventure capital and the largest ski resort in the Kiwis land. We left from Invercargill in the early afternoon with a beautiful weather. The bus zigzags through Southland meadows filled with cows, sheep and deers. After two hours we reach the border of the Otago region where Queenstown is and the landscape changes suddenly. Beautiful mountains with snowy peaks appear. The road plunges into a valley along the Remarkables, a mountain range (housing a large ski resort) and the shores of Lake Wakatipu, the third largest lake in New Zealand. The landscape is wonderful. Around 4pm, Queenstown finally appears, along the right bank of the lake. The bus drops us in the center with a summer weather. It is very hot and the place is filled with tourists. After two months in the quiet meadows of Southland, I have some troubles to adjusting myself to the crowd. Young people pass in shirt, carrying skis and snowboard. Although I craved for it, not ski for me during my stay in Queenstown. The price of equipment and pass is too expensive. No, it will be two days of trekking. Quick look inside to the i-site full of people to take maps (payable), I drop my bags to my hostel and then I go strolling in the city.
Queenstown being surrounding by mountains, the sun is already disappearing. I walk around the small peninsula adjacent to the center where the Queenstown Gardens is. It is full of young people playing with free frisbees and it’s a bit too noisy for me. The Remarkables mountains in the background magnifies the decor. The small center is filled with many shops and restaurants. There is a booking agency every eighty meters, for the various activities to do in the area: skydiving (parachuting), a lot of bungy jumps, tobogganing, skiing and snowboarding of course, paragliding, cruises, Shooter Jet sessions (a very fast boat powered at 85 km/h), helicopter overflights, tours to Milford Sound, in short there’s plenty to do. The sun had disappeared behind the mountains, it’s almost cold now. I return to my hostel enjoying the quieter ambience of the city which empties slowly of its visitors.
Climbing to the stars
Early awakening next day to go climb Ben Lomond Peak overlooking Queenstown. 1748 meters! I start my walk by climbing the Tiki Trail along the Gondola, the cable car to the Skyline Complex located atop a hill surrounding Queenstown. The walk is very friendly, in the forest, but it’s very steep. And the day is hot! After an hour’s climb, I reached the complex where a lot of people have fun with summer sleds, skydiving or bungy jumping. I spent some time watching people jump into the void from a platform right next to Gondola. The elastic cord that holds them seems very thin to me. Apparently it does not scare them because they don’t hesitate! Except a young woman who at the time of the jump will be blocked by fear. Despite ten minutes of encouragement from the team and the people watching, she will give up. Inside the complex there is several paintings made with jelly beans! Why not. It is very nice actually! The one with Frodo entitled Lord of the Beans is very funny. The caption say that it took 100 hours of work and over 20,000 jelly beans to create it. From the observation deck, the view of the city below is particularly impressive as it allows to see the different colors of Lake Wakatipu.I continue my path by following the Ben Lomond track. The trail climbs slowly through a valley behind the complex until a pass. Not a cloud in the sky, luckily I thought to put on sunscreen. I climb to my pace amazed by the beauty of the mountains and the whiteness of the snow remaining on the tops.Three hours of climbing later, I arrive at the pass, my first steps in the snow. 1326 meters. On my left is the Ben Lomond peak and on my right Bowen peak, 1631m. Straight ahead, the stunning mountain ranges of Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Park. Break of fifteen minutes to rest before the last hour of ascent. Many people descend the peak and evoke the fact that they could not climb to the top because of snow and mud. We’ll see. I’m starting with the desire to reach the summit. The sun beats down and the slope is very steep. Some areas are covered with snow or a little muddy. But except for that the rest is safe. Oddly I find the beginning of the climb most difficult that the end. As if after five hours of going up, my muscles were completely adapted to the difficulty. Or is it maybe just the prospect of reaching to the top? The last meters are extremely alpine. The view is astounding. I finally reached the top and it is with great satisfaction that I sit in the slope to have my lunch while enjoying the view.I spent a long time observing the absolute beauty of the landscape. 360° of vastness and nature. In front of me, the mountain ranges of Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Park spread their snowy peaks and impressive forms. Behind me, Lake Wakatipu unveils its immensity. Few words can express what I felt watching the landscape. A mixture of satisfaction, fullness, wonder and joy.
I could have spent an eternity to enjoy the scenery but the return taking some time, I must resolve to go back down. I leave the top behind me with regret and throws me for four hours down. Hard hard for the knees and thighs but it doesn’t matter. I take my time to enjoy one last time the landscape. Back to Queenstown in the evening.
The next day, my muscles will make me hear their discontent and is full of pain that I go to the beach to take my breakfast. Like yesterday the weather is beautiful. Some tourists begin to appear but the atmosphere remains calm. Pretty cherry blossoms put some beauty into the city center. Despite the pain, I decide to climb to the top of the Queenstown Hill, a hill of “only” 907 m of altitude just behind the center.
The climb is very friendly and although this is less alpine than yesterday, my appreciation of the landscape is the same. There’s nothing to say, the area is beautiful! I back down with some difficulties while enjoying the informative signs about the history of Queenstown. The region was of course discovered by Maoris looking for Pounamu (greenstone). The first crossing of Lake Wakatipu was made by Donald Hay, a Scottish in August 1859. And the transformation of Queenstown in a ski resort date of 1939. But it was after the Second World War, thanks to the free holiday offered by the government to returned soldiers (and their families) that the city was transformed into a major tourist destination.
I descend into the center, buy my lunch and I go for a walk this time along the banks of Lake Wakatipu. Lunch on a pebble beach and leisurely stroll along the shore. TSS Earnslaw, an old steamer regularly pass before my eyes. Used in the past to make the connection between Athol (south of the lake), Queenstown and Glenorchy (North Lake), it now serves as a cruise ship. Tui and Kereru (New Zealand birds that I have already mentioned), accompany me with their melodious songs. I come home for the sunset.
In the end, although short, this visit to Queenstown was busy and very nice. The weather was absolutely beautiful. I probably will come back in a few months during the summer to enjoy a bit more the area and why not, try some activities (paragliding?). The only things that spoil the beauty of the place is the fact that the city is filled with tourists always seeking to party and the constant noise of airplanes, helicopters, boats, jet skiing, etc. proposing thrills. Queenstown is not really a place with a tranquil atmosphere.
Thursday morning, I left Queenstown to go back to Invercargill where Julie picks me. My days in the Southland are almost finished. Indeed, I will leave the dairy farm in the weekend of the 25th of September. Direction Te Anau in Fiordland for a week of hiking before starting a new job in a Holiday Park in Te Anau for 3/4 months!
Note: all pictures published in this article are my creations. They are not royalty free. Thank you for not using them without permission.