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