Is Queenstown, New Zealand As Beautiful As I Remember?

In the past I’ve written about my four favorite places on earth, and among them was Queenstown, New Zealand. The funny thing is that I’ve only been to Queenstown once, and it was almost nine years ago, right after I graduated high school. It was an amazing, memorable trip I took with my mom; we both had so much fun.

The story of how we ended up in Queenstown is sort of funny, though. When I was planning our trip to New Zealand, no one said “oh, you have to go to Queenstown.” Instead I was an IHG loyalist at the time, and they had four properties in New Zealand, including in Queenstown, Christchurch, Wellington, and Auckland. To me at the time, those seemed like logical enough places to visit. So I might be the first person in history to visit a city because it has a Crowne Plaza, but hey, that’s what 17 year old me was like.

But I’m so happy we did, because I loved Queenstown. We were there in the late fall, so the days were quite short, but the sunrises and sunsets were spectacular. The other cool thing was that there were virtually no tourists. I don’t think Queenstown was quite as popular with international tourists at the time, and it was also off season.

Crowne-Plaza-Queenstown

Queenstown

So when I finally made it back to New Zealand, Queenstown was the place I was most keen to visit again. And I was curious if I’d feel the same about it this time as last time. Over my years of travel I’ve realized that some of the places I originally liked most don’t quite have the same “charm” for me when I return.

I’ve realized that a lot of my fond feelings towards places are perhaps more tangential than I thought. In other words, while they were great places, the reason I really liked them was because of the memories I had with people there. And in the case of Queenstown it was such a fun trip with my mom, possibly the most fun trip we ever had.

So, what did I think of Queenstown this time around?

It was every bit as beautiful as I remember. The scenery is stunning, from the moment you land at the airport.

Queenstown-1

The harbor is every bit as cute as I remember.

Queenstown-2

Queenstown-3

And the views from the top of the gondola remained unchanged from nine years ago, except there weren’t quite as many snow covered peaks.

Queenstown

I’d be lying if I didn’t say a bit of the charm was lost by the number of tourists, though. That’s not a complaint (given that I’m also a tourist, so am hardly entitled to travel to tourist-free places!), but rather just an observation. Admittedly it was absolute peak season, but just seeing bus-loads of tourists everywhere and long waits at restaurants was certainly a contrast to the last time I was there.

Queenstown-4

For example, the only restaurant I remember from my last trip was The Cow, where we always got a table when we wanted, and were often among the only ones there. This time they were doing shared tables to try and squeeze in as many people as possible. Maybe it’s just me, but sharing a four person table with two tourists who don’t speak English and are taking flash photos the whole meal does take away somewhat from the otherwise lovely ambiance of the restaurant. 😉

In a separate post I’ll cover our day trip to Milford Sound, which has jaw-dropping (and iPad-dropping) scenery!

Milford-Sound

Bottom line

I’m happy to see Queenstown was every bit as beautiful as I remember. A bit of the charm last time I visited was just how quaint and non-touristy the town was, which admittedly wasn’t the case this time around. Next time I’d probably be inclined to visit in the off season (or at least slightly off season), though overall I loved Queenstown, and can’t wait to return. I can’t believe it took me almost nine years to get back there.

Have you been to Queenstown? If so, did you enjoy it as much as I did?

Comments

  1. Only did an overnight stop in Queenstown and didn’t liked it aswell, it had such a “backpacker” town feeling during late November. But I loved the road trip along the lake, and would have loved to stay longer at Lake Wanake (again via the old road to queenstown with a lunch stop at amiesfield winery). No try of the famous burger?

  2. Well, there isn’t a LOT to do in QT. It’s the jump point though for jet boat rides, heli-tour or buses off to Milford Sound trek or Ramm-a something trek, etc. It’s an absolutely beautiful area and loved my time there about a decade ago. The people (locals) were amazingly nice and the town calm, though a bit nippy at the time of year. At night there were a few bars which got lively as well.

    Back then there were building up some nicer places on the hill, and felt it might get to big for its britches….but with only so much to do…not sure it’d turn a “resort town” the style of some U.S. based ski destination.

    So many other places to visit, but when I go back, I’ll probably take a motorcycle around the islands or at the very least a car. Beautiful just about anywhere you look. NZ is one of the very very few places I miss and is on my “place to revisit” list.

  3. March and April (just avoid Easter) or October are probably the best times to go. The weather is mild, it is shoulder season, and most of the crushing numbers of tourists are gone. I was there in May and loved it, but it did rain quite a bit. It is a really great time, but I wouldn’t want to be there in Jan-Feb when it is quite insane.

    Glad you went to The Cow, it is awesome! It is tiny, so I can see how they would ask to have you share tables. I can’t wait to go back and might be there this year, but next year for sure!

  4. i went to nz in 2009 and the last city i visited was queenstown. it was the middle of winter so the whole town was nothing but young aussies there on snowboarding vacations. worthy of a new circle of hell if dante were alive to see it.

    overall i loved nz so much, though — and that trip was such an incredible time of my life so far. i don’t subscribe to the whole theory that you can’t/shouldn’t ever go back to a place… but i’m hesitant to go back to new zealand because i just don’t want to diminish or erase the vivid memories i have from that visit.

    i’d also love to see the country in summer but from all i’ve heard, it’s simply overrun with tourists.

  5. My family and I were there for Christmas just a few weeks ago and we thought it wasn’t too bad even for tourist season. We didn’t have much trouble finding seating anywhere. I guess it gets worse as the summer goes on. We rented a car and drove everywhere. And what surprised me the most was that there was absolutely no one on the road while we drove to and from Glenorchy or Milford Sound. I can see Queenstown getting crowded sometimes, but everywhere else it was just us and maybe one occasional car every 20 miles.

  6. Wow, so you, as a tourist are slagging off the fact that there were too many tourists around.

    Also, I thought most people went on post high school holidays with their friends rather than their mums?

  7. I was in Queenstown a couple of weeks ago, and I loved it. Beautiful scenery. I agree though that there were tons of tourists, so I’d love to go back someday during the spring or fall when it’s quieter, & there’s more snow on the mountains.

  8. We’re going in a few weeks after a stop in Bora Bora and Auckland. Staying at the IC Thalasso on BB and Crowne Plaza’s in AKL and ZQN all on points (including biz flights). We can’t wait! Your pictures are amazing and only help to build our excitement. We are also doing a Milford Sound cruise and an overnight cruise of Doubtful Sound.

  9. I actually went to Queenstown because you said to go. I thought it was gross. A bit like Waikiki in the mountains. Casinos, a cookie shop that seemed more like a strip club. The Crowne Plaza was weak but the Doubletree was awesome. Christchurch on the other hand was fascinating disaster porn

  10. Interesting comments. I’m planning on doing 2 cities in New Zealand and trying to figure out which one. Since Lucky is a Nice guy and I am a Cannes lover perhaps other opinions are in order. Thanks Stvr…….and Lucky I am truly saddened you didn’t figure out the Fifth Freedom routes out of NZ on Emirates.

  11. Great reading and nice to know that you didn’t think Queenstown had been spoiled yet. We fell in love with NZ after having one of our best vacations ever there about twenty years ago. The highlights were many but driving from Christchurch to Queenstown via the west coast glaciers was at the top of the list. NZ remains on our short list of “want to returns.”

  12. Just spent two weeks in NZ in late December, including 3 days for Christmas in Queenstown. We absolutely loved it. We actually did the Milford Sound tour on Christmas Day, as we felt that would help to maximize our time since it’s basically an all-day tour, and a lot of the other options would presumably be closed on Christmas Day. I would have loved to do the coach-cruise-return flight option, but the price for 2 was more than I could justify right now, so we just returned on the coach. NZ is a photographer’s dream.

  13. You should try driving to Wanaka next time you are in the region … a quieter version of Queenstown with a beautiful lake. It is great during ski season in particular.

  14. Ben,

    We were there for 6 days last February and it was lovely – just stunning – reminded me of Whistler but more organized and less developed!
    We stayed at the Hilton and it is a nice spot – only problem was you needed a car – didn’t get to do the Milford Sound (have 2 toddlers) but next time.

  15. Yes, and yes. Went there in April, 2009, and it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to. I love the airport and the approach (single runway between two mountains on a NZ 737 or A320. It even has a Koru lounge!

    Really enjoyed the trip to Milford Sound, bungee jumping where it was invented (my only time I’ve done that), the famous burger and fish and chip places, and staying at the dairy, a small local hotel with a lot of charm. And the sunrises and sunsets were indeed gorgeous.

    I’m looking for an excuse to go back!

  16. 2.7 Million miles on American Airlines and to this day…..Queenstown and Seminyak are my two favorite places on earth. A great read is Italo Calvino Invisible Cities……ALL of us experience each city differently. Great read.

  17. I think because I went to school in Auckland for over a year, I had a totally different feel about NZ than most tourists. I though Queenstown is more of a tourist trap when compared to other part New Zealand (as is Rotorua). When living there, I constantly felt buried in an overabundant of peace and quiet (or boringness as in my own words), in need of excitement and constantly looking for cheap flight to Sydney or Melbourne for getaway. I never quite understand people’s fascination about the place. I guess we all want what we do not have, that’s just part of human nature…

  18. “Maybe it’s just me, but sharing a four person table with two tourists who don’t speak English and are taking flash photos the whole meal does take away somewhat from the otherwise lovely ambiance of the restaurant.”

    LOL. These people probably also felt that sharing a four-person table with two tourists who didn’t speak their language “did take away somewhat from the otherwise lovely ambiance of the restaurant.”

  19. I included a stop in Queenstown on my way to Sydney for NYE two weeks ago. Based on your previous reviews, I was expecting a bit more idyllic ambiance, but instead found it crowded with backpackers. The scenery is spectacular, so I will be back, but the next time, I think I’ll wait until late summer or early autumn, rent a car, and do some B&Bs and farm stays, for a more authentic NZ experience.

  20. I lived in Queenstown for a year or so about 8 years ago. Absolutely love the place. I havnt been back since, although it is on my list, so I can’t comment on the increase in tourists. One thing I’m disappointed by in your review is that you didn’t mention Fergburger…the BEST burger place in the world! I worked at the St Moritz and used to send all our American guests there for a burger and every single person would come back looking like they’d been in heaven. If you didn’t go there, you really have missed out!

  21. Went there on my honeymoon 21 years ago. It was in Oct. We absolutely loved it, from the gondola ride, to rafting the shotover river and everything in between. We are planning on going back.

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