Fit for a Queen
Bounded by Lake Wakipitu on one side and the imposing wall of The Remarkables on the other, Queenstown is a big-budget resort town on the to-do list of nearly every New Zealand traveler. The center itself is a predictable collection of hotels, bars, cafes, and gift shops, but most people come here to play in the mountains and jump off of bridges or out of planes. Think Whistler Village on a Red Bull high. Alex had already gone for a skydive on the North Island and it was well out of our budget range so we opted to do what we do best— walk.
The summit of Ben Lomond, a peak just out of sight from town, is a full day hike. The lower reaches of the mountain are shrouded in a dark, dense forest, interlaced with a web of mountain biking trails. Emerging onto the upper slopes, the forest abruptly gave way to low bushes in muted greens and deep reds. Ben Lomond loomed in the distance, looking imposingly big, craggy, and further away than we expected.
The Remarkables are an incredibly aesthetic mountain range, especially in morning light, and the sawtoothed wall of peaks constantly attracted our gaze across the valley.
The trail gained a saddle and curved around to the snowless west ridge, and after several hours of huffing and puffing and commenting on our sad state of fitness, we reached the summit. The views were simply incredible. The many-armed Lake Wakatipu unfolded directly below us, bright blue in the afternoon sun. Queenstown was tucked into a corner between the lake and the hills, and parasailers drifted above the harbor, their brightly colored parachutes contrasting against the vibrant lake. Enormous snowy mountains circled us entirely, rising up from every side.
By the time we reached the trailhead in the late afternoon, we were famished and tired, but extremely pleased with our day. Driving straight to a locally famous burger joint, Fergburger, we ordered three massive and delicious burgers adorned with bacon, pineapple and avocado and slathered with aioli. Just what we needed!
New Zealand’s All Blacks played host to Australia in the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup on Sunday night, and we were hoping for mayhem in the event of an All Blacks victory. It’s a rivalry on par with the Yankees and Red Sox, with the added touch of national pride and a general dislike for each other that is rather amusing as outsiders.
The All Blacks won handily, but the revelry fizzled and it quickly became apparent that our problem was that no one in Queenstown is from Queenstown. Everyone we encountered was a fellow foreigner with a lukewarm sense of, well… caring. The boisterous scenes displayed in Auckland on the TV were unfortunately absent from Queenstown’s empty streets, so we abandoned them returned to our hostel to devour a biblical amount of pesto pasta.
Sitting lakeside in the morning sun, icing our pounding headaches with ice cream cones, everything came back into focus. Queenstown sits in a truly envious position in the world, and it really is— as the New Zealand government claimed in naming the town— fit for a queen. That is, assuming the Queen enjoys big mountains and big hangovers.