The Complete Wimp’s Guide to Queenstown
I realize this is a rather grand statement but…Queenstown, New Zealand, just might be the world’s most perfect vacation destination. Though it hangs its tourism hat on its reputation as the adventure capital of the world, Queenstown has a surplus of diverse attractions for every type of traveler—including those of us who would sooner give up an entire year’s worth of vacation days than jump off a bridge with only rubber bands to break our free fall.
Sure, bungy jumping is a huge draw for some. Skiing, too, and paragliding, skydiving, and white water rafting. But for everyone else—foodies and shoppers, wine connoisseurs and birders, historians and culture hounds—Queenstown boasts an equal embarrassment of riches.
There’s its compact but dramatic downtown, nestled in the Remarkables range on Lake Wakatipu and filled with restaurants and boutiques to rival any upscale ski town. The pedestrian-only Queenstown Mall and surrounding streets are wonderful for strolling day or night. Don’t miss Fergburger for the best—and biggest—burger or sandwich of your life, nor the Remarkable Sweet Shop for a high to rival the eponymous mountains.
I was just as enamored with the way nature is such an integral part of the city. I had to tear myself away from Queenstown Gardens (below) when it was time to go, and a visit to the Kiwi and Birdlife Park rewarded me with my only kiwi-bird sighting ever (it was in a dark room, and for about 8 seconds, but that only made the moment all the more thrilling).
The kiwis weren’t the end of my low-key Queenstown thrills; I couldn’t leave without trying something new, and a jet-boat ride sounded like just the thing. How scary could a boat ride be? Well, let’s just say that my hour with Kawarau Jet was absolutely terrifying—in the best possible way. While I was white-knuckling it in the back of the boat, our driver and guide was pointing out gorgeous landmarks on the Kawarau and Shotover rivers and delivering area commentary. It was the perfect mix of thrill, scenery, and tour. And bath—I got soaked. (Full disclosure: a four-year-old girl on the ride seemed perfectly relaxed the entire time—I guess I really am a wimp.)
A trip to Queenstown wouldn’t be complete without exploring its beautiful Central Otago surrounds, so I’ve saved my best experience for last: a half-day local area tour with RD Tours director Charles Fraser. The excursion included views of the Southern Alps from Coronet Peak; a stop in historic, adorable Arrowtown and a look at its Chinese settlement; Gibbston Valley Cheesery and wine country; overlooks of Lake Hayes and Queenstown; and…the Kawarau Bridge, home of AJ Hackett Bungy. Visitors can actually walk onto the bridge and right up to the jump point for a bird’s-eye view of falling tourists. It was fascinating to see how terrified travelers handled their jumps—and that was plenty adventurous for me.
My name: Michelle Doucette
How I earn my keep: I'm an editor at IgoUgo.com.
Favorite way to get around: Some of my favorite trips involved renting cars in foreign countries and driving through the countryside, stopping on whims. You get a feel for the culture away from the big cities and meet interesting people on the road, including, I must admit, an embarrassingly high number of local policemen. I suppose it would be prudent to learn all of the traffic laws ahead of time.
Best meal I've had while traveling: Since a succession of gelato cones probably doesn't count as a meal, my favorite must have been a fresh crabmeat lunch prepared by a St. John sailboat captain while we took a break from snorkeling in the Caribbean. Sharing baklava as the sun came up over Paros, Greece, (while, once again, not technically a meal) was also memorable.
Travel ambitions: Since climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, I've figured out that I'd like to keep trekking while traveling. I've got my eyes on epic hikes in Nepal, Bhutan, and Peru.