good vibes across the Tasman

This might seem like an unusual thing to really like about a town, but something that I really liked about Queenstown was that almost every restaurant, pub, bar, shop, etc played really good music. A lot of this music was from the ’90s and early 2000s. I reckon every day I came across a song that elicited that “wow, I haven’t heard this song in ages” reaction or the “wow, I used to really like this song” response.

At first, we hypothesised that maybe they were all tuned in to the same radio station that just played really awesome music, but then we realised that there were never any ads or announcements. The next theory was that, since Queenstown is essentially a tourist town, and a lot of their tourists are in their 20s, they all had the same bright idea to play music that would be most nostalgic to (and hence get the best reaction from) our generation. (A lot of places also seemed privvy to the benefits of advertising “free wifi” to foreigners who didn’t want to pay expensive roaming charges, but wanted to update social media statuses and upload happy snaps.)

But not all of the music was from 10+ years ago. We pretty much always had the radio on in the car when we drove to/from places, and the radio stations we listened to played a decent amount of new music. In fact, we noticed a few songs that were ridiculously overplayed that we seemed to catch them almost every time we got in the car. Among these, that I can remember, were ‘Black widow’ (Iggy Azalea), ‘Ugly heart’ (GRL), and my personal favourite, ‘Ghost’ (Ella Henderson). I think we also heard ‘Budapest’ (George Ezra) a fair few times – not that I’m complaining. These are the songs that have reminded me of NZ everytime I’ve heard them since coming back home (not because of any lyrical relevance, though).

To be fair, those songs are probably over-played on Australian radio, too, but I hardly ever listen to the radio here, so they retain their association with driving around in NZ.

In order to avoid dragging this out any longer, I’m going to make this my last NZ post. When I was thinking about what I wanted to write about from the holiday, I always knew music was going to be the primary topic of one of my posts because it really left an impression. What I want to finish on is something else that also made a big impression, and is probably the most commendable thing about Queenstown: hospitality and general friendliness.

I like going to cafes and shops and whatever where the staff are nice to you because they’re actually nice people, not because they’re forced to be nice. And a bit of small talk makes the whole experience just that bit more pleasant. It was like they all understood that a lot of their customers are tourists, and we’re just there to have a good time (locals probably go to restaurants, etc for a good time too, but you get what I mean) Yeah, sure, they benefit as much as we do from good service (do not underestimate the power of word-of-mouth advertising!) but there was something genuinely warm about Queenstown service that had nothing to do with the contrast to the cold weather outside.

This friendliness also extended outside of the commercial world, and was most notable on the slopes. I’m the sort of person who finds exercise to be generally quite therapeutic, but there just seems to be something about being on a snow-covered mountain that just makes people more amicable.

oh, the places you’ll go!

And so the series of posts about my NZ holiday continue… At first, I’d wanted to get all of these posts out quickly while the memories were still fresh and whatnot, but I’ve been busy, and also tired. Luckily, even after two weeks, the memories are still relatively fresh in my mind.

Something that really impressed me about Queenstown and the surrounding region was the breath-takingly beautiful scenery. Yes, I’ve seen pictures before and stuff on TV, and I’ve seen the LOTR movies, so I knew that, yes, the scenery is pretty special. But I hadn’t expected to be wowed to the extent that I was. It’s one thing to look at a photo, and another to be physically on a mountain, or by a lake, or on a mountain by a lake.

Having said that, I was going to include some photos with this post anyway, but it seems there’s some sort of issue with my laptop or my internet connection or both, so there’s been a bit of trouble uploading the photos. Consequently, there’ll be no photos in this post. Maybe I’ll upload them separately another time. This reminded me of a line from ‘The World According to Garp’ that goes something like “it is better to imagine than to remember”. Can’t remember the page/chapter/context it’s from, but I’m sure it’s in there somewhere.

My first glimpses of the glorious snow-capped mountains were from the plane. In a sense, we were kind of fortunate that there was a fair bit of ice on the runway, so our plane had to circle around a few times before getting the all-clear to land. This gave us and our fellow passengers a chance to take some photos, and admire the stunning view.

Already I knew that I’d be taking a lot of photos on this trip. I think I might have taken more photos in the first few days, though, because I wanted to get the photo-taking (mostly) over and done with, so that I could spend the rest of the time just soaking up the spectacular views and engraving everything into my long-term memory.

We stayed at Reavers Lodge, which had a lovely view of Queenstown (totally worth walking up that steep little road to the even steeper driveway every day, just to have that view from our verandah). They also had a resident goat (which was merrily eating the brochures and wicker furniture in the reception room when we were checking in), a fireplace in the commonroom, and daily “continental breakfast” (which was basically just cereal and toast, but they’re probably the two things I like most for breakfast anyway).

mountains!!

So I managed to get this one photo to load – I’m guessing it’s because it’s from my phone, and thus has the lowest file size…

On one of our rest days, we visited nearby Arrowtown. Everything about Arrowtown was quaint. I mean that in a good way; it was lovely. The place gives you a feeling like everything is peaceful and cheery there. They also have a gorgeous little river, along which we took a very pleasant stroll filled with more photo-taking. In fact, the photo in my blog header (at present) was taken at some stage along our stroll.

For one of our snowboarding days, we went to Treble Cone, which we drove to via Wanaka. It was probably later in the morning than we would have hoped, but we couldn’t resist stopping along the way to take more photos. We spent a decent amount of time by Lake Wanaka, which was unbelievably beautiful. And it looked amazing from the top of the mountain as well. If you go back to my post about snowboarding, you can kind of see the view from atop Treble Cone in the photo.

For anyone who likes taking landscape/scenery photos, Queenstown/Wanaka/etc would be paradise. They’re the sort of views that I could just sit and admire all day, contemplating life or just daydreaming…

Queenstown’s amazing eats

I’m not really into the whole “take a photo of every meal you eat” trend that’s been happening for a while now, so I don’t instinctively pull out my phone/camera every time someone puts a plate of food in front of me. As such, I didn’t really take any photos of food while in Queenstown. (Yes, I’m still getting around to posting about stuff from my holiday, earlier this month. I suppose it’s good I don’t go on holidays too often…) In fact, I only took one photo of food while I was there. Even then, I was maybe a third into the meal before I stopped and thought that it might be worthwhile to take a picture.

I would drag this little guessing game on a bit longer, but anyone who knows Queenstown, or anyone who’s cheated and just scrolled down to read the rest of the post and/or look at the photo – anyone would know I’m talking about Fergburger.

I’d heard some good things about Fergburger. It seems like it’s the number one, most recommended place to visit in Queenstown. Even so, I hadn’t built my hopes up. I was questioning how good a burger could really be.

Well, it sure showed me!

Fergburger

Fergburger!!

Either that or I just made a really good burger choice for my tastes: the “Chief Wiggum” burger. And, in case the photo isn’t clear enough (and it quite possibly might not be – I only used my phone camera), the burger features tender, slow-cooked pork belly with crackling, plus hash brown, mustard and other things that I can’t remember. Everything just worked so well together…

If I go back to Queenstown, I’d like to try their other burger choices, you know, just in case I totally fluked it. My friends didn’t seem quite as enamoured by their burgers as I was with mine. The pies and breads in the Ferg Bakery next door were pretty spectacular, though. Their blueberry pie and apple pie were of proportions I’d never seen before – and generously filled too! Service was lovely, too, which is commendable of a place open 22 hours a day.

I think the best service, however, was at the Ballarat Trading Co.. We went there on a Thursday night, and they were obviously busy (everywhere is busy every night because it’s such a tourist town, filled with people who don’t have work the next day, any day) but we were seated quickly, orders taken promptly, food and drinks brought out in a timely manner. Not to mention the waitress who looked after us – pleasant, cheerful and ever-helpful. She even came back to our table after the bill (and tip!) had been taken care of, and asked if we wanted a container to take the left-overs away in!

I just think it’s a shame that I didn’t have much appetite that day. It was good, hearty food, but I just got full really quickly, and couldn’t do it justice…

But I was really glad that I somehow managed to regain my appetite the following day when we ordered a pizza and some Moroccan chicken wings from Winnies for dinner. Winnies is part of the same company/ownership (?) as the Ballarat Trading Co., so we kind of figured that one good turn deserves another. We chose the “Montonara” pizza, which featured chicken, sun-dried tomato, sweet chili sauce, sour cream and other good things. It was seriously amazing.

The place that I really, really want to go back to, however, (apart from Fergburger) is Public. We ate here for our last dinner in Queenstown, and the food was beyond my expectations (granted, I didn’t really know what to expect walking in there, but everything on the menu sounded incredible – I wanted to order everything). I loved the salmon (the most perfectly cooked salmon I’ve ever had), loved the venison osso bucco, loved the pork belly… Need I go on? Service was great too – our waiter was charming and friendly – and it was a nice kind of environment.

As I’m finishing up this post, I keep thinking of the other places that I should give mentions to…

Pub on Wharf: We went here for lunch on our first day. Without referring to my notes, I distinctly remember that I had the liver pate and a warm vegetable salad. Both were scrumptious (and not just because I was quite hungry at the time). It felt closer to a “bistro” than a “pub”, but I don’t think it was over-priced or anything. They did well. I’d definitely come back here on a future visit.

My Thai: I’m not sure if this place is at all related to the “My Thai” restaurant in Brisbane but, either way, their food was very satisfying. However, from my experience with Thai food, anything with duck or soft-shell crab is always a winner, so I guess the odds were kind of in their favour.

PJ’s FIsh & Chips: Best fish burger ever. That is all.

Patagonia Chocolates: They have a store in nearby Arrowtown as well as one in Queenstown Airport. Their lavendar hot chocolate is quite beautiful, but my favourite of their selection is definitely their “Higos”, which are essentially dried figs, stuffed with walnuts, and covered in dark chocolate. They are potentially the most perfect singular, bite-size thing I have ever eaten.

let it snow!

The primary purpose of my Queenstown holiday was to go snowboarding, so I think it’s only fitting that my first post about the holiday is about snowboarding. Here we go!

We flew in to Auckland on the evening of August 8 (Friday), and took the first flight to Queenstown the next morning. We knew we weren’t going to get to the slopes that day, but that was alright because we needed to check-in and collect lift passes and snowboards.

Our first day snowboarding was Sunday (Aug 10 – almost two weeks ago! Seems like just yesterday…) which we spent at Coronet Peak. I have to stop here and say that this was actually my first time snowboarding. In fact, it was my first time seeing snow at all. I still remember that car ride up the mountain: amazing views of the town and surrounding landscape, but I was busy looking out the windows on the other side at all the snow on the side of the road.

Coronet Peak

Coronet Peak

So the first morning, we got there pretty early because we were all fresh and full of energy. The two friends I was travelling with had been snowboarding a few times before, so they generously spent the morning teaching me the basics of snowboarding: how to get moving, how to stop, “falling leaf”, J-turns, S-turns, heel-side, toe-side, and, most importantly, how to fall without injuring yourself. And, wow, I could not believe how much my legs were aching already!

After lunch, they graduated me onto the chairlift, which I was pretty stoked about. It was only the Meadows chairlift (which I’d later realise is quite short compared to other chairlifts) and I was still on a beginners’ slope (“Big Easy”) but it was exciting all the same. I spent a lot of time falling down (safely, might I add!) and getting back up again. Apparently it’s the getting back up part that really makes the muscles ache the next day. Well, that and braking.

And, yes, I was sore the next morning; every muscle ached, but nothing could kill my enthusiasm! For Day 2 on the slopes, we headed to The Remarkables. This was potentially my most favourite day on the slopes – either this or Day 3, which was also at The Remarkables. The snow was amazingly powdery and soft, and the beginner slopes (“Curvey Basin” and “Alta”) were long and wide. The only potential problem was that it was snowing almost the entire time we were there – I’m hesitant to say that it was a problem at all because I was just excited to experience snowfall for the first time, but the main issue was that the constant snow plus wind made visibility pretty poor.

The Remarkables

The Remarkables

Our first run on Tuesday morning (“Curvey Basin”) was perfect, though – all the powdery snow on the ground and good visibility. At one stage, I stopped at the side of the run, about halfway down, to take a break; I must’ve sank almost half a metre into the snow (may or may not be an exaggeration) and practically had to dig myself out again because it was not actually possible to push myself up from the ground. There was a bit of mucking around in the car park afterwards on these two days at The Remarkables, too; couldn’t help ourselves – the snow was so amazingly soft!

We’d originally planned on having six days on the mountains, but on what would have been our fourth day, it was really windy, so The Remarkables was closed, and only one lift was kind of operational at Coronet, so we gave it a miss. Bit of a shame, but it happens…

Our penultimate snowboarding day was spent out at Treble Cone. It was a really clear day with good visibility, but the lifts were only running on and off for some reason (can’t remember why). After a bit of a wait, we finally got on the “Volkswagen Express” chairlift. I think the views coming down that mountain were more memorable than the actual run down the mountain. I don’t know how many times I can acceptably use the word “amazing” in one post, but it was seriously amazing.

Treble Cone

Treble Cone

We went back to Coronet for our final snowboarding day (Saturday 16 Aug – just last week! Fancy that!) mostly because it’s closest and easiest to get to from our lodge. It was a beautiful day with clear blue skies. At one point during the day, I started to feel quite warm, like I was back in Brisbane winter or something. It was a pretty good day to finish on. I had considered going on an intermediate run, but the snow was actually a bit icey, so I stuck with the beginners’ slopes instead.

I’ve had people tell me that snowboarding is “hard to learn, but easy to master”. For me, I feel like it was relatively easy to learn (the basics, anyway) but I had a bit of trouble actually mastering or advancing my skill. Part of it, I know, is my innate fear of injury, but it also just gives me a reason to want to keep practising. Can’t wait until my next snowboarding holiday!