Siobhan Downes

Heads to Queen­stown to find out what all the fuss is about.

The Invercargill Eye - - COMMUNITY COOKBOOK -

If New Zealand was one big din­ner party, Queen­stown would be the fancy sil­ver­ware that gets trot­ted out for guests.

Like many born-and-bred South Is­lan­ders, I never quite got the hype. Our fam­ily hol­i­days were al­ways spent in more lowkey places – Ar­row­town, Cromwell, Naseby.

If we made the drive over to Queen­stown, it would only be to take refuge in McDon­ald’s on a rainy day.

Ten years ago we hosted a Ja­panese stu­dent. We asked her, what would you like to see in New Zealand?

Quick as a wink, she pro­duced a travel guide, and flipped to the glossy pages fea­tur­ing the pic­tureper­fect shores of Lake Wakatipu. ‘‘Queen­stown,’’ she said firmly. ‘‘And sheep.’’

So off we went, help­ing our vis­i­tor tick off the ac­tiv­i­ties in her guide book. She rode the Sho­tover Jet, went up the gon­dola, and took hun­dreds of pho­tos of the snow­capped Re­mark­ables.

We tried showing her some other spots we thought were pretty in­ter­est­ing and iconic – like the Big Fruit at Cromwell and the Naseby in­door curl­ing rink. But it was clear that, in her mind, Queen­stown was the epit­ome of the New Zealand ex­pe­ri­ence.

I didn’t see any rea­son to re­turn to Queen­stown un­til this year, hav­ing found my­self in pos­ses­sion of an Ir­ish boyfriend.

Like the per­fect Kiwi host, I set about plan­ning his first trip to the South Is­land. There was no ques­tion that Queen­stown would be the des­ti­na­tion.

My eyes wa­tered as I looked up places to stay, not­ing how each ho­tel charged an ex­tra $100 a the lake. Mean­while, my in­box started fill­ing up with Tri­pAd­vi­sor recommendations: Sky­div­ing! Bungy! Sho­tover Jet!

We landed in Queen­stown about the same time it was be­ing re­ported that the hous­ing short­age there had reached cri­sis point. One of our tour guides half a double bed ad­ver­tised on Face­book for $140 a week.

The town was packed with tourists scur­ry­ing from one adren­a­line ac­tiv­ity to the next. I could count the num­ber of times I heard an­other New Zealand ac­cent on one hand.

The line for Ferg­burger stretched out the door no mat­ter what time of day we walked past.

lo­cal let us in on the dirty lit­tle se­cret that Devil Burger around the cor­ner is pretty much ex­actly the same, with­out the fan­fare.

It’s a sur­real thing, be­ing in a town set up solely for the pur­pose of tourists. And yet, I can’t deny its ap­peal.

We ate the best meal of our lives at Botswana Butch­ery. Marvelled at the views on the drive to Glenorchy, and went roar­ing down the Dart River on a jet­boat.

We rode the gon­dola, had a blat on the luge, and came paraglid­ing down the moun­tain.

On our last day, Queen­stown had its first proper snow­fall of the year. We joined the throngs of pho­tog­ra­phers on the lake­front, cap­ti­vated by the beauty of Wakatipu and its ic­ing sug­ar­cov­ered peaks.

‘‘This is the New Zealand I needed to see,’’ my boyfriend said.

I’m not con­vinced Queen­stown is the ‘‘real’’ New Zealand. But I can see how it charms so many of our guests.

TRAVEL The beauty of Lake Wakatipu is un­de­ni­able.

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