Queenstown, You Let Me Down


I wanted to like Queenstown. Everyone said I would like Queenstown. There didn’t seem to be a reason not to like Queenstown. That’s why I was confused as I sat in the Queenstown airport departing for home after a week in New Zealand. I was confused because after all the hype, I really didn’t like Queenstown after all.

I spent a week traipsing around the North and South Islands of New Zealand, thanks to New Zealand Tourism. It seemed the country could do no wrong, I loved every minute of my trip and was already planning a return visit. Maybe I was too lucky, maybe everything had gone too well and the Queenstown disaster was a cosmic necessity to balance out the truly outstanding trip.

Queenstown is a popular, very popular actually, tourist town that is best known for its winter sports. Kiwis and Aussies descend on this mountain town in droves to hit the slopes and experience the best that winter has to offer. That was part of the problem I suppose, even though it was winter the first snow had yet to fall and the town was nervous.

While Queenstown is a physically lovely town in any season, and there are plenty of activities in the summer, the lifeblood of the town is the winter. That’s why there was a undercurrent of apprehension, without the snow businesses were losing money every day. The visitors didn’t know what to do either. Walking around town were scores of twenty-something snowboarders, usually bored and usually drunk or high. It was a diaspora of annoying, intoxicated teens with nothing to do but buy more ridiculous hats in the shape of animals.

ZipTrek EcoToursI however had an itinerary, a schedule that would guarantee activity in the snow deficient village. Sort of. I was to partake in one of the great New Zealand pastimes, flinging oneself off of high structures. I don’t know why Kiwis like this so much, but they are particularly good at it. Not wanting to be left out, I ascended the Gondola Hill ski lift for the first flinging activity, forest zip lines.

My first zip lining experience had been just a month earlier, and I was nervous. At Grouse mountain in Vancouver, the flying fox was a harsh, violent activity. I soon learned at ZipTrek Ecotours though that zip lining could actually be fun.

What came next was two hours of fun as we flew through the trees on the slopes of Gondola Hill. Not only was it an adrenaline rush, but the views of Queenstown and the nearby lake and mountains were amazing. Of course the guide mentioned a few hundred times that it hadn’t snowed yet. Clearly it was a town obsessed.

After a successful morning of zip lining, I felt reinvigorated. Maybe Queenstown wasn’t so bad. Next on the itinerary was something I had been looking forward to all trip, an activity for which New Zealand is famous and that would test the limits of my fear of heights – bungy jumping.

I’m not sure what happened, but the staff at AJ Hackett didn’t have my reservation and weren’t able to accommodate me that morning. I probably could have pushed, but I think I was looking for an easy way out. I was really nervous about bungy jumping and the ledge jump at Queenstown didn’t look all that great. The jump is alongside a cliff face into the woods below. If I’m going to jump off an impossibly high ledge, I want some water to be involved. So it was with mixed feelings that I left the mountain and took the lift down back to the ski town.

It was noon, I had only done one thing and my flight was due to leave in a few hours. My agenda said that I was next supposed to visit a well known local eatery, Fergburger. I love good burgers and was looking forward to it, until I saw the line. All of those drugged up snowboarders apparently had the munchies, the line was out the restaurant and along the block. I was frustrated with the bungy and the lack of anything great to do in the town and decided to skip it. In a move of travel frustration, I instead found a seat at the nearest McDonald’s so I could use their free WiFi. Yeah, I know.

And so I left Queenstown feeling down for the first time since landing on the island nation. Reflecting back on the experience, I wasn’t prepared for Queenstown. I was disorganized and felt lost throughout the day. I wandered without knowing what I was looking for. My previous days exploring New Zealand had been extraordinary and I think I took it for granted that things would just be spectacular wherever I went. But they weren’t and that’s ok.

There are always going to be parts of any trip that just aren’t great, and that’s fine. We can’t love everything equally, there will always be highs and lows. I’m sure I’ll get plenty of comments extolling the greatness of Queenstown, which is fine. It’s just not for me.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

20 thoughts on “Queenstown, You Let Me Down”

  1. I expressed in a recent post my love of New Zealand, but more specifically my home of Queenstown. It pains me to read this and hear of your disappointing visit to QT, but I do ironically completely see where you are coming from. When I first arrived in Queenstown, I too was rubbed wrong – heaps of snowboarders, many here to work on the nearby ski hills, boozed around town with delight while I struggled to find work and had very little money. Queenstown’s adrenaline inducing delights were far out of my reach!

    Eighteen months later, I guess you can say Queenstown has grown on me! The longer you are here the more you see past the rush of visitors in this year round resort town. It’s a truly special place and much of my love for Queenstown is based out in the bush where you can get away from it all on a hike, a run or a bike ride – all only minutes away from town.

    Next time you visit get in touch and I’ll make sure you leave Queenie as madly in love as I am. :)

  2. Sorry to hear that Queenstown rubbed you the wrong way. I really love the town, but then again I’ve never visited during ski season when there wasn’t any snow! In fact, when I was there in May (basically the shoulder season), the town was dead. But I think that’s one of the best times to visit if you’re not into the party scene. Next time, spend a couple of days there. Take some day trips, and try some of the other activities around town. I’m sure Queenie will grow on you! And, if not, there are plenty of other amazing NZ towns. :)

  3. Such a shame! Funny how sometimes we just hit the place at the wrong time for us. I took my British husband to Queenstown in the summer and he loved it, particularly throwing himself down a mountain on his mountain bike!

  4. I’m sorry to hear about your experience. I suppose I’m happy that my trip to Queenstown will be in the spring. How about this: I’ll do an extra buggy jump in your honor.

  5. As someone who grew up in the South Island, I’m with you on the whole Queenstown thing. I’ve seen the place develop from a sleepy holiday resort for locals back in the 80s to the ‘adventure capital of the world’ that it is now, and can’t say that I’m enamored with it. It’s a great place to party (if you’ve got the money) and blessed with a stunning natural setting, but these days it feels like the entire town is set up purely to extract dollars from visitors at the fastest possible rate and it has lost its soul.

    It’s fun to visit for a few days, but for me there are several much better places elsewhere in the country.

    1. Thanks Dave for weighing in, I appreciate it. That was the impression I got after just a few hours honestly – it felt like it could be anywhere people ski and party, Vail, etc.

  6. James and I also really disliked Queenstown. I guess if you go there to party then it will be awesome, but we went there before and after doing some of the hikes in the region, and were just not into the whole getting drunk in the afternoon thing. Maybe Im just getting old….

  7. I’m confused by this, i don’t know how you could not like Queenstown but i guess every experience is different. (you missed out by going to McDonalds by the way – shame on you!)
    There is so much to do here, and the fact that people perceive it as just a ski town is rediculous. Yes, we get snow and with that comes the snow bums. But Queenstown is so much more than that.
    After living here for 3 and a half years i can say that I never been bored in Queenstown and no i don’t go bungy jumping or boozing at the pub everyday.
    Within 15 minutes of central town you can be hiking, mountain biking, fishing, boating, kayaking, playing golf, enjoying fantastic wineries and cafes & yes in the winter we have great skiing and snowboarding!
    You missed out on the real QT, i feel ripped off for you.
    Hope you get to come back and see it in it’s true light.

  8. Ah, too bad you didn’t get to do the bungy. I completely see where you’re coming from, I think I’d be annoyed by boozy teens as well. I love Queenstown, but I’ve only been there in spring, summer and autumn, so completely avoided the snowboarding crowds. I’d also follow Amanda’s suggestions to stay a little longer and take day trips, such as to Arrowtown, Glenorchy, etc. Or rent some bikes, visit the vineyards around, and also go frisbee golfing in the park. QT can grow on you. If not, there’s always Wanaka!!

  9. I am Australian and have visited Queenstown in both summer and winter. I agree with Kate’s comments. I think Tourism NZ let you down by organizing such a short visit with two activities you don’t appear to enjoy! Wandering aimlessly around town was a waste of time, obviously.

  10. So disappointed you did not like QT. this is one of my favourite places. Love the kiwi sense of adventure and the awesome scenery. Plus he shot over jet is awesome. Only yesterday I was looking through old photos and thinking how amazing this place is! I was there in summer and still loved it.

    1. I think under different circumstances I would have loved it too and I’m looking forward to giving it another shot one day!

  11. I recently had a friend who visited QT and she told me it was a great place. The adventurous rides and yes the famous bungy jumping. She showed me the snaps that their family shot there. The place was lovely. We plan to vacate out there next summer.

  12. I think you need a do-over! While you won’t catch me bungee jumping, I did get out for white water rafting and had a great time! Even more impressive is the fact that I had a great time because I am terribly afraid of white water rafting! It is one of those irrational fears things…have been cajoled into doing it a number of times and you will find me with a grim look on my face, tight and no question that I am unhappy! Queenstown Rafting took me on a great adventure and my great big giant guide gave me enough confidence to loosen up and enjoy! Loved the town too – I think you just need a do-over!

    1. I am the first to admit that I probably do need a do-over, and it happens. There have been other cities I haven’t enjoyed the first time due to one reason or another, but enjoyed the 2nd time around. I’ll get back to NZ one day and I promise I’ll try to visit QT again. :)

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