City Travels - Queenstown
From Dunedin, I ventured to Queenstown.
I was there from August 9th through the 14th..
All prices are given in New Zealand dollars.
I still rode with Intercity to Queenstown. There are several services that specialize in Dunedin-Queenstown-Wanaka transportation however, so if Intercity isn't your thing, you can look up one of these smaller, localized services.
I will say that the main Intercity bus stop in Dunedin is in a really weird location. It's at a bus storage yard, and a 20 minute walk away from anything remotely interesting, in the middle of a warehouse district. The building is labeled as part of Richies bus service but the bus is clearly an Intercity bus.
Also, instead of simply checking in with your driver, you'll also need to physically go into the building to check in before you board, which is different than any other Intercity bus service I've ever seen. They'll provide you with a label for your luggage and a purple coupon to hop on the bus. The driver will then collect your purple coupon right before the bus leaves. That's fine, I just don't understand why Dunedin works different than every other stop. Note that if you are simply transfering to the Queenstown route via Dunedin, you'll still need to go through this process, but they do tell you that on the bus.
A Place to Stay and Work
I stayed at Haka Lodge, as I am a fan of the chain. While I was happy to get to stay at the Haka Lodge, I almost didn't get to because you need to book Queenstown early, even in the middle of winter, even for a lower-quality bostel. It is a popular town year-round, and it is ski season. It also seems like there are big events almost every-other week. The only places I saw with No Vacancy signs were the super ritzy places I could never afford. So watch your schedule.
I stayed in a 4-bed mixed dorm for $175 for 5 nights. All four beds were against one wall, and the room was quite narrow. As normal with Haka Lodges, though, the beds are barely connected, so they don't shake too much unlike your typical hostel bunk beds. The walls in the hostel, however, are quite thin, so you may hear people walking upstairs or snoring in rooms ajacent to yours.
There is good, large, lockable under-the-bed storage, but the first group of people staying with me were all skiing, so there was a LOT of luggage to fit in a small open area. My suitcase was too big for the drawer, as were all of my dormmates ski equipment.
On that note, this Haka Lodge was a drawer, not just an open storage space. I think I perfer the open storage space as it's a lot more noisy to open a drawer and the drawer can be heavy to pull even when it's empty. Hardly a big deal, but I thought I'd make note of it.
The hostel has a maze-like layout. There are essentially three short 'towers' in the hostel. One has a few rooms. The one in the middle, where I was staying, has rooms and laundry downstairs, and a full-and-fancy hotel-like bathroom upstairs and the main kitchen and dining area. Then the third 'tower' has the main bathroom area, a handicap-accessible bathroom(!), a lounge, a big tv lounge, a smaller kitchen and a handful of rooms.
The kitchens are kept very clean and decently stocked. I really only used the main kitchen in my tower, which was like having two small kitchens. There is a fridge, a microwave, and then two alcoves both containing a stove and oven, a sink and some counterspace. There is a similarly equiped area in the same area at the tv lounge. The kitchen is kept clean. The dining area has nice log-looking tables, and a great view where you can watch the parasailer jump off the top of a mountain and do backflips on the way down. If it's warm enough, you can also eat on the deck right outside of the dining area.
The bathrooms are very...varied. The difference in quality is interesting. In the middle tower by the main kitchen, there is an extremely nice fully-equiped hotel-like bathroom. The walls are painted a nice shade of red, the glass-doored shower is kept clean, there is a wall-wide mirror and there's even a wide shelf with scented diffusers. This bathroom is usually occupied in the morning, but free in the evening. I only showered in there, because why wouldn't I?
The handicap-accessible bathroom is usually flooded, since there is nothing to keep the shower water from flowing everywhere. They've tried to put in a plastic rubber mat by the toilet so you don't end up with wet socks, but that just hurts to walk on and doesn't cover enough of the floor.
Nearby, there are two normal-looking hostel shower stalls. These stalls are behind closeable solid doors, and have a changing area separated from the actual shower. Around the corner from these showers is a toilet in it's only little room. There are also two sinks and a big mirror in an area outside of these individual doors.
The hostel provided free Kumara soup on Wednesday, and free chocolate fondue with a good selection of fruit and sweets to dip on Friday. They also provide free coloring pages and a good amount of reading material.
There is a ton to do in Queenstown, but it can also be extremely expensive. I stuck to hiking as usual, but you can go clubbing, skiing, boating, parasailing, bungee-jumping and way more. I am not an adrenaline junky, nor much for going to bars solo, but I can see the appeal of the town nonetheless.
You can walk on trails that follow the lake. No matter which direction you go, the views are absoluelty stunning. Any trail in Queenstown can get icy, so be cautious. Especially if you're climbing upwards. The trails around the lakes are flat and clear, however.
One upward trail is the Time Walk trail. This trail starts in the neighborhood behind the main shopping area, and can be climbed all the way to the summit of that mountain. However, there is a viewpoint about halfway up that makes for a good stopping point. Here you can see the [Basket of....I knew this once], and get a good overlook of the city.
There is also a trail that leads up to where the skyjumpers jump from. You can either walk the trail, or ride the gondola to the top. A gondola ticket cost $33 for a return trip, but was nescessary for me as I started my journey to the top too late in the day, and I didn't want to get caught walking in the dark. But I saw a goat, so there's that. At the top, there is a building with several overlooks, a fancy resturant, a gift shop and a jelly bean store. There's also a luge and a small walking trail (that connects to much larger and more intense walking trails). It is quite icy up there, so be cautious. I do recommend going up at sunset like I did, however, as you'll get some great photos.
Many people take a trip to Milford Sound from Queenstown. While the location looks close on a map, you need to take a BIG loop to get there -- it is not a straight shot at all. Others suggest leaving from Te Anu, a town a bit closer to the park, that you'll end up passing through on the way to the park. If you're looking at a map, you'll notice Queenstown and Te Anu are no where near each other. But you still need to go through Te Anu to get there. Big loop.
If you are driving yourself, I fully agree that you should stay in Te Anu. That is one heck of a drive. Our driver said it was 600km in one day, and the road conditions in the sounds are not easy. It is icy. There are avalanches. There are rockslides. There are curvy mountain roads. I would not want to drive that, especially being used to driving on the other side of the road in America. I think the tour is worth it. But, if you're taking the tour, I don't think it's worth transporting all your stuff to Te Anu, unless you really can't stand being on a bus that long. There was a couple on our bus who was getting dropped off in Te Anu at the end of the day, even though they started in Queenstown. That is also an option.
I booked a $119 tour through InterCity, which sends you on the tour through Great Sights. Great Sights, in turn, charges over $200, with the only extra of getting a meal. That is an expensive meal. Other tours start at about $178. However, it can be hard to get the InterCity tickets. I got lucky, probably because I was going solo. These tours all leave from Queenstown, or Te Anu (and are probably a little cheaper from Te Anu).
But who only wants to talk logistics! The Milford Sounds tour is a good way to see scenery. The tour via bus will take you through steep mountains, and explain along the way. You'll then be dropped off for a boat cruise throughout the sounds, and even a bit into the ocean. The tour is worth it, but does make for a long day. The bus driver will provide commentary throughout the journey, and stop several times so you can tour a few trails throughout the national park. On the way home, we also watched the film Whale Rider, which is a very New Zealand film.
I walked everywhere, which is not hard to do in this town: it's quite densely compact.
There is a Four Square right in the center of town. Do you enjoy a crowded store with minimum selection at twice the price you'll pay in any other city? Then that's the store for you!
If you walk up [that one road, in that one place] a few blocks, you'll find a Fresh Choice. They're not only reasonably priced, but it's a full grocery store with everything you'll need. Please, please, please go there instead.
If you're walking around town, you'll eventually see a large line of people standing outside queueing to get into Fergburger. I decided to join the line! I got a Fergburger with cheese and an order of fries for about ~$18. While expensive, what you'll get in an American-sized meal. But, I have to admit, while the burger was good, I'm not quite sure why it's hyped so much. It's a good burger, and fries, but it's not 'everyone line up all day' good. What should be hyped is eating fries with Sweet Chili Sauce. That was awesome. Get the Sweet Chili sauce.
There are a TON of places where you could eat in town, but my budget didn't allow for such things. I was going to check out a bar at least, but then I was too tired by the time the bars got interesting, you know, at 8:30PM. I am an old woman at age 27.
Probably should have gone to the bar. I did kinda want to go AN ice bar, and this was my last chance to. I just really hate going to eat/drink by myself, especially when it's expensive.