Queenstown is a very interesting town: it is located in Otago, along Wanaka and Dunedin and although is not the most populated town in the region it is a world capital of extreme sports. It was fascinating for me when I drove into the city center and for the first time since I rented a campervan I had troubled with finding a parking space. Needless to say I paid a fine for parking in a space that was labeled as 2 hours limit but more fascinating than a parking ticket was the difference between these two towns: Wanaka and Queenstown.
Similar in size, having a large lake and yet so different! Queenstown is buzzing with excitement, full of crowds, laugh, noise and colors. Wanaka – on the contrary – peaceful, quiet and picturesque. I didn’t go into details why these two closely located towns are so different but I suspect it is related to this whole ‘extreme’ stuff. Twenty years ago – I would imagine – Queenstown was also a sleepy and boring place, with breathtaking panorama – that’s true! – but with no tourism whatsoever. Perhaps someday I’ll find an expert to find out the answer but before I do let me tell you a little bit about Queenstown today.
Leaving high adrenaline sports aside, as it was previously discussed in details, I found Queenstown fascinating. It is relatively small, which is the reason I use word ‘town’ instead of ‘city’ in this case. Everything is in walking distance and so I left camper and walked to Kiwi Birdlife Park first. This park is a private venture and was created few years ago on a urban landfill site. To be honest watching birds in a park closed in cages is not my favorite thing but I was very happy to do 2 things here: kiwi feeding and Conservation Show.
Kiwi birds – a national symbol of New Zealand – are nocturnal animals which makes almost impossible to watch them in nature. I was told that the majority of New Zealanders have never seen a kiwi bird in their life! So the staff of this wildlife park switched day and night cycle (like in a different time zone), and in specially constructed nocturnal houses you can actually see the kiwi birds. It was really cool: the birds were actually much bigger than I expected. Amazing creatures! No surprise the Department of Conservation do its best to keep them alive.
The conservation show was the second thing that the park was worth to pay a visit. Local experts explain the most fascinating things in details. I got known few surprising things, like there were no mammals on New Zealand island before white people came. Rats and dogs came along and started to threat the birds population. As previously there was no need to protect themselves from natural predators many native birds can’t fly (the majority of birds’ species are endemic, which means they live only in NZ and nowhere else). If the birds can’t fly they cannot escape if a dog chase them. Their nests are on the ground which make it really easy for rats and opossums to eat their eggs. It looks like kiwi birds are struggling for survival from the moment white people arrived.
After a short visit in Kiwi Birdlife Park I went back to the center. Vudu Cafe was called ‘Excellent’ on FourSquare so I wanted to check this out. Just before I jumped off the cliff at Canyon Swing I ate a delicious muffin with vanilla ice cream. When this snack was brought to me the muffin was still warm! And the ice creams were covered with fresh raspberries. It really made my day!
The place is awesome because you can enter from two different sides of the building. One door is located just next to the lake and another in the main street. Interior is narrow and long but ingeniously decorated. This place is SO busy it’s hard to get a table. But I love it! It guarantees that food is fresh and tasty. And it was.
I didn’t want to stay in Queenstown for the night as I thought it is quite busy and noise until late. So I went a bit further – towards Arrowtown – to stay at Willowbrook. At first I had huge problems with finding it: I passed by at least 3 times before I found it but eventually arrived safely to this charming place.
For me the best thing about it was surrounding and the view on the mountains. The house was of wooden construction and it reminded me a classic British cottages, which was really nice. The silence, lovely views and New Zealand sheep next to my bedroom made my stay very pleasant. If you are in Queenstown I would highly recommend a short visit in Arrowtown – a small village of gold rush heritage. Old post, wooden houses and a creek nearby makes it very nice place for a walk.
All in all, you visit Wanaka and Queenstown for completely different things. If you’re tired with crowd and noise of Queenstown you simple drive north and relax in quiet village on a lake. Which is great! I was really happy to discover both towns and enjoy such a variety!
Disclosure: Kiwi Birdlife Park and Willowbrook B&B offered a generous discount for their services which I am grateful for.