In fall, Queenstown puts on its best show, as though dressed for the red carpet. I rediscovered the essence of life through an autumnal trip to the alpine city
“Never let go of your window seat on a flight to Queenstown” is a quick advice given to me by a Kiwi as I am all set to board the flight from Auckland to Queenstown, a city in New Zealand’s South Island. And thank heavens, I heed the tip!
The stunning view of imposing, snow-capped Southern Alps enhanced by alluring turquoise water bodies is enough to rouse me from sleep! And the changing landscapes make me want to stick my head against the perspex and gaze in wonder at the scenery below. Flying into Queenstown is an experience in itself!
Sitting on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, the city begins to seduce me from the very moment I get off the plane and begin driving towards the town centre! Rolling hills dotted with houses surrounded by pine, fir and oak trees and shimmering lakes framed by majestic Remarkables (aptly named so) mountain range; all this is set against a poetic sky that seems far too blue to be true.
While autumn is one of the most charming seasons of nature, it has Queenstown blazing with hues of plush gold, pumpkin, burgundy, rust and maple. With a nip in the air, the weather is perfect to immerse in the wonders of autumn!
Though I want to take it easy on the day of arrival, I cannot wait to indulge all senses in the colours and flavours of the mellow, fruitful season. With a camera around my neck, I step out for a stroll along the compact and cosmopolitan city centre.
Speedboats, sea breachers (dolphin-shaped power boat), and water taxis docked around the pier, willow trees hanging over the water, air filled with the aroma of coffee, popcorn and caramelised, roasted nuts and people from around the world lost in the beauty of the vistas lend many moods to the scenic Lake Wakatipu waterfront.
The simplest yet the most pleasurable things is to relax at the beach covered with a bed of seashells and admire the magical setting sun as it paints the sky in vivid orange-pink while ships gently glide towards the pier. Or you can also enjoy the views as you sip on hot Mt Rosa mulled wine at the regal-looking The Bathhouse Cafe and Restaurant which is a historical gem from 1911.
At the end of the beach along Marine Parade is a little bridge that takes you into Queenstown gardens. No visit to Queenstown is complete without a wander through this park which looks nothing short of paradise in autumn.
When here, I feed the affable ducks playing around the fountain, explore the rose gardens and walk amid centuries-old pine trees, picking up on the soothing sound of leaves crunching under my feet, before finding my tranquil spot and reading a book.
With 18 holes (metal baskets) laid out at the gardens, it is also a great place to enjoy a round of frisbee golf with the locals. For passionate photographers, the lakefront and gardens offer views worthy of a full memory card! With adjacent streets like Beach Street, Mall Street and Camp Street packed with beautiful, quaint buildings housing restaurants, cafes, pubs, boutiques and souvenir shops, the area effortlessly transforms into a pulsating party town by evening! I wonder how Queentown city centre is so lively and peaceful at the same time!
Tip: Every Saturday, the Earnslaw Park hosts the Queenstowns Arts and Crafts Market. You’re sure to stay entertained while you enjoy a scenic lunch downtown.
One of the best ways to get upclose with the autumn landscape is to cruise across Lake Wakatipu onboard SS Earnslaw, a 105-year-old coal-fired steam ship that is made from kauri timber and has carried famous personalities like Queen Elizabeth and Bill Clinton. During the 90-minute trip, you can explore the vessel and view the engine room as well as the ship’s historic displays apart from watching the sheep dogs at work at Walter Peak sheep farm. You can also go horse trekking or cycling to explore the farm at your own pace.
Situated at an easy, five-minute walk from central Queenstown, the gondola – steepest in the Southern Hemisphere – is fantastic way to end up as far as 450 metres above Queenstown, to the top of Bob’s Peak. Although slightly touristy, it offers the best panaronmic views of the town. With giant yellow-orange trees lining up the route, little lost sheep and goats peeping through the bushes and the view getting better with every passing minute, the gondola ride is a lot of fun. Once at the viewing platform, I get to enjoy the million-dollar view!
I can see the Coronet Peak to the North and the iconic Remarkables mountain range to the East; both transform into ski resorts during the winter season. Across the deep blue waters, to the Southwest, I see Cecil and Walter Peaks.
After a gondola ride to the top, you can zipline your way back. While there are ample day tours, the twilight zipline is an extremely thrilling experience! Once fitted with a zipping harness and helmet, all I do is step blindly into the night from treehouses 20 metres above the valley floor.
With just a headlamp to light my way, I let my imagination run wild as I zipline through the remote alpine forest post sunset. At every treehouse, my guide takes a quick break to tell me a bit about the native New Zealand forests as well as birds like kiwi, kereru, weka, long-tailed koel, bronze cuckoo and more.
Among other activities offered at the gondola station are stargazing, mountain biking, bungy jumping, paragliding and luge. The 800-metre purpose-built luge track, with its banked corners, tunnels and dippers, is a treat for the child in you!
With a resident population of less than 40,000, Queenstown is a great mix of gorgeous views, fine vineyards, cosmopolitan dining scene, adrenaline pumping activities, electrifying nightlife and more. A visit during Autumn lets you discover the city and the surrounding regions at your own pace, minus the madding tourist crowd. For a nature lover who prefers mindful pursuits, this is the perfect opportunity to tune into the simple pleasures and tune out all the negative emotions!
At the end of my trip to Queenstown, all I want to do is bottle all the picturesque fall sights of the marvelous town and take it back with me to my urban jungle. With its warm hues, gently-falling leaves, fading flowers and early, misty evenings, the mystery of autumn never ceases to amaze me!
Reflecting on the magic of autumn, I realise how beautifully it symbolises the cycle of life and its phases. While most of us lament the loss of youth, we fail to enjoy the ripened fruits of freedom and wisdom in adulthood. By putting up a radiant show during its last days, nature teaches us to age like fine wine and unleash our full potential before we are about to face death. By willingly and naturally shedding their leaves, trees give us a lesson in how we must happily let go; in order to pave way for new beginnings. No wonder, autumn has long been an inspiration for many authors, song writers, poets and artists!
How to get there:
There are no direct flights to Queenstown from India. However, it is well connected to cities Christchurch and Auckland that have international flights with a stopover in Singapore and other Asian countries.
Global influence on NZ cuisine:
When in Queenstown, delectable food and a great night out are always on the menu. Being a geographically-blessed location, the city’s culinary scene has a distinct character with global influences from various cuisines! Whether you want to taste the local flavours or simply grab a drink, head to the streets around Queenstown Mall that are packed with both cheap picks and classy venues. Sample big and tasty burgers at Fergburger, indulge in fresh-off-the-boats seafood like fish and chips, crayfish and oysters at Fishbone or enjoy a hearty New Zealand fare at Ivy and Lola’s Kitchen and Bar that lays emphasis on seasonal ingredients and locally-sourced produce. When at this lively joint, don’t miss the green-lipped mussels and Cecil Peak Station’s renowned lamb. For sweet somethings, try fresh, warm cookies at Cookie Muncher or pop in at Patagonia for an ice-cream or a cup of hot chocolate.