Arrowtown and Queenstown – Discover New Zealand

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

A surprising delight in a city with a touristy reputation…

(This is the fourth post in a series. Missed the first three? Click here to see them all.) I still find it striking when, in my travels, I need something, and someone just appears to help me. I am deeply grateful for this, and meeting Don and Dana from Arkansas was no exception. I think back to my train ride from Johannesburg to Cape Town and the guardian angels I met on that trip.  What I thought would be a quick hello to two fellow Americans at the dinner table next to mine ended up being a lovely discussion turned invitation to join them in their car for a drive to Arrowtown. Not only that, we were all exhausted so ended up being on the same late morning schedule! It’s now March 2nd. We talk about Covid-19 and they’re planning to go home in roughly a week, as they had originally planned. I’m still hoping I’ll get to see my friend in Sydney, but as I’m watching the case numbers tick up, I’m beginning to think it might not be a good idea. So far there are still no cases on some of the Pacific Islands I want to visit, so maybe I’ll detour over there before heading straight to South Africa.

Don drives us the roughly 20 minutes to Arrowtown along a lovely road and we end up in this delightful small town! I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it ends up being quite charming. The main street is very much what I’d expect a gold mining town to look like, all grown up. Indeed, the area was a gold mining area. There’s a general store, a few restaurants and souvenir shops. Don, Dana and I are all on the same page with rumbling stomachs and head right for the restaurants for lunch. We peruse a few menus and end up at The New Orleans Hotel. Don and Dana kindly treat me to lunch. We get some calamari (it’s perfectly cooked), pizza and a salad. We enjoy a wonderful table on their terrace and then meander the town.

On the main street in Arrowtown, New Zealand.

Photo by Heather Markel, copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.

In addition to a delightfully quaint row of town shops, there’s an old post office, and a local museum, The Lakes District Museum, which Dana and I visit for 10 NZD each. (Roughly $7 USD.) We get a taste of the local history and then I go in search of some beeswax. I’m told it’s in the Chinese village. I don’t quite understand what this means until I end up…in the Chinese village. Chinese settlers were important to the area and very good workers. There’s an actual settlement showing homes they used to live in, and a few shops. Dana and I wonder around and take in the area and then we jump in the car with Don and head back to Queenstown where we say a heartfelt goodbye. They drop me in the center of town so I can spend my afternoon exploring the sites.

One of the homes in the Chinese settlement in Arrowtown.

Photographs by Heather Markel. Copyright 2020

I had originally planned to skip Queenstown because it sounded overly touristy and expensive. I soon come to like it a great deal and am disappointed I don’t have more time here. The souvenir shops are priced better than in some smaller towns. There’s a lot of life, a boardwalk, sunshine, seagulls, and a plethora of things to do. I find it delightful to walk along the boardwalk and take in the town. Though there are many tourists, it has an overall happy and authentic feel. Dana suggested I do one of the boat tours, but I’ve done several of them and want to see Queenstown itself. After orienting myself, I walk up a very, very steep hill (did I mention how all the hills in New Zealand go UP and are steep??) to the cable car.

“I’m absolutely delighted with my time in Queenstown – a beautiful city with a happy vibe.”

Views of Queenstown from below, and from above with an airplane.

Photos by Heather Markel. Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.

If I thought Queenstown was beautiful from the town center, the view that awaits me from above takes my breath away. I’m agape at the color of the water and the perfect cloud cover and mountains. A lone plane flies along them and I wonder what the passengers think, treated to that spectacular vista. I can’t take enough photos and I can’t stare long enough. I try to capture every angle. I walk along and watch some people go-karting with extreme delight. It’s the perfect afternoon and the perfect day.

Mesmerizing views from atop Queenstown.

Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.

I return to the bottom of the cable car and as I begin walking down I pass a Kiwi Birdlife Park. I’m quite curious about this bird – I mean there’s a fruit called kiwi, there’s a bird called kiwi, and the people of New Zealand are called kiwis. I enter into the park and find out the price is, well, astronomical. However, because it’s about an hour before closing, they’re discounting the tickets by 50%. It’s still pricey, but since our money supports the park, I decide to do it. Here’s something I’ve learned in my time in New Zealand – over 80 animal species have been wiped out in New Zealand since humans appeared. It’s quite sad. A lot of species have been eradicated or endangered by mankind bringing in species not native to this country, Captain Cook among them. I’m super bummed natives killed the last Moa. This was a 6-foot bird that seemed like it would be friendly or, at least, let you take photos of it.  The kiwi is endangered because of non-native possums. On the encouraging side, New Zealand is making massive efforts to save and grow some of these waning animal populations, the kiwi being one of them. This bird park I’m visiting ends up being a story of a labor of love for nature, and I end up alone in a cage with a very funny and curious bird. 

Weka. Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.

Before heading out, I go to the kiwi area. It’s pitch black, very hard to see, but I’m treated to a young male and female. We learn they’ll stay till they’re about one, when they’re big enough to stand a fighting chance against possums in the wild. I’m a little sad that they’ve reversed night and day for the benefit of tourists. They sleep by day and forage by night. Their habitat is kept dark by day, and daylight is simulated while it’s really nighttime outside. Before being released into the wild, they’ll reverse the day and night so they’re acclimated upon departure. (Click here if you want to see what a kiwi bird looks like.)

I leave the bird park feeling I’ve had a magical day. On the way back down to the town center, I spot a medical clinic. That cough I picked up from my neighbor on the plane hasn’t gotten better despite all the drugstore remedies. I approach the desk outside and speak to the man there. It’s been 12 days since my arrival into New Zealand. He informs me that no doctor will want to see me unless I’ve been in the country for two weeks. He says I can go to the coronavirus clinic for a mere $200 NZD. But I have no fever, no sneezing, and I’m afraid to potentially be in contact with someone infected, not to mention I can’t afford the price. He suggests I go to the drugstore next door, which I do. They tell me I’m doing all the right stuff. Oh, well. I decide to treat myself to a hearty steak dinner. 

I end up at Prime, right by the water, and wait in front of the hostess station to be seated. There’s a table for two right by the water. Somehow, though I’m right in front of her, the hostess doesn’t see me and begins to help the couple that’s come in after me. I speak up, she apologizes, and seats me. Then I get antsy. I’m trying to trust that things happen for a reason and follow signs. I look up reviews of the restaurant and they are mediocre. I conclude I’m in a touristy restaurant where I’m paying for the view, and the food isn’t as good. I make an excuse to the waitress and leave. I end up a couple doors down at Boardwalk. I made the right choice – everyone bends over backwards with kindness and I feel well taken care of. The steak is amazing and I feel excellently nourished.

Queenstown boardwalk at night. Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved. 

Funny story – when I looked at this photo the day after, and zoomed in on the woman in the red jacket taking a photo, I learned I had snapped a photo of my friend Dana without realizing it!

The next morning, I have an early bus to Lake Tekapo. I head back to my hotel grateful for my quick visit to Queenstown, making a mental note that I want to come back here with a larger budget and one day see the west of the Southern Island. For now, I’m happy with my time here and looking forward to my next stop.

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