Kia ora! This past weekend, I traveled to Queenstown, a small city on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand known as the Adventure Capital of the World. I haven’t met anyone here who doesn’t love Queenstown, and many Kiwis have described the city to me as “the essence of New Zealand,” so I had high expectations for the trip.
Starting with the seven hour drive to Queenstown on the Atomic Shuttle, one of many bus and shuttle companies operating around the country, the weekend didn’t disappoint. Our driver serenaded us with the sweet sounds of the 80’s from his homemade CD collection as we cruised through the New Zealand landscape across the South Island. The weekend was organized by Arcadia as part of my external program, so it was also nice to not have to worry as much about logistics. Once in Queenstown, we met up with students studying at the University of Otago, further south in Dunedin. I definitely plan to visit Dunedin while in NZ, so now I have couches to crash on! (As long as they’re not burned–couch-burning is a huge tradition at Otago).
We spent Friday afternoon jet-boating, getting our bearings in our hostel, and exploring the city. Queenstown is very much a tourist town, and it’s easy to find people from all over the world. Adventure sport shops literally line the streets, advertising deals and thrills, and the city has a fun, vibrant nightlife. The city is also situated in a ring of mountains — every direction offers a gorgeous view.
After exploring Queenstown on Friday, we prepared to hike (or “tramp,” as the Kiwis would say), the Routeburn Track on Saturday. The Routeburn is one of New Zealand’s Nine Great Walks, so I was very excited to get out into the nature of NZ! It was a nice taste of what I hope to be doing for my mid-semester break later this month.
New Zealand has a wonderful “hut system” for hikers, and most trails feature huts to sleep in. Some are free, and some require a hut ticket, and the huts range anywhere from an empty shack to a lodge with mattresses. It’s a very effective system and enables travelers to stay safe while outdoors. On Saturday, we hiked all the way up to Falls Hut, the main hut of the Routeburn, took a lunch break, and headed back down the mountain. The Routeburn is usually a three day hike, but Arcadia gave us the abridged version. When I return to Queenstown, perhaps I’ll attempt the whole trail!
Saturday night, exhausted from hiking all day, we still mustered up the energy to explore Queenstown some more. There is a palpable energy in the city that is very inspiring for adventure! I also got a chance to try Fergburger, a famous burger shop in NZ, after they narrowly missed losing the entire restaurant to a kitchen fire (always an adventure in Queenstown)!
Sunday marked our departure, but not before first trying lugeing, a strange mix between go-carting and sledding, exploring Arrowtown, a quaint colonial town featuring a famous fudge shoppe and the river used in a scene from Lord of the Rings, and partaking in some adventure sports of our own (involving a bridge and rope…I’ll leave it at that).
Overall, I think the idea that Queenstown is the essence of New Zealand has a lot of truth to it. I’ve been here for about a month, and while hiking the Routeburn I had my first feeling of love for this country. Studying abroad is basically the equivalent of moving somewhere for half a year, and NZ is starting to feel like home. With a thirst for adventure, a wonderful sense of humor, and a genuine appreciation for the land and earth, New Zealand is a place where everything works out, and I’m just beginning to feel a part of that.
Stay tuned for future posts on Kiwi humor, NZ history, local slang, life in post-earthquake Christchurch, and more!