When we left off, we were off to catch a flight out of Auckland, making a bee-line for Queenstown – a quaint little town in the shadow of the Remarkables mountain range.
Spoiler: the Remarkables are remarkable.
We only had 3 days to cram in as much sight-seeing as possible, and had been promised there was a lot to see. Taxis are your best bet from the Airport, so we hopped in one to dump our bags at the hotel before we began exploring.
Price: $294 / £153 p/night inc. breakfast & gym
We took advantage of our Hilton Gold membership – a perk we get as American Express Platinum Card members (£400p/year). As a Gold member, you are guaranteed a room upgrade if they have availability, and breakfast is included.
With this in mind, we plumped for the Queenstown Hilton – even though it was more expensive p/night than some of the other hotels in the area. With breakfast included, we figured the difference in price would be negated by the fact we didn’t have to buy breakfast elsewhere.
We got the upgrade, and honestly this was one of the most beautiful spots we’ve ever stayed. You’d be hard-pressed to find a place without spectacular views in Queenstown – the whole place is a real-life postcard – but we think we nabbed one of the better views from our balcony.
Sights: Milford Sound
Price: Luxury Plane transfer w/ kayak trip for 2: £543 total with £200 saving through Amex Travel (originally £743)
Small Company Cruise: $95 / £50pp
We booked a pretty fancy package to the place to visit on the South Island, and we had every intention of doing it in style. Milford Sound is NZ’s answer to the Norwegian fjords, renowned for its lush rain forests, plentiful waterfalls and its fur seal, penguin and dolphin colonies.
The best views are supposedly from the sky, so the plan was to fly in. Once we touched down, we’d kayak through Milford, and round it all off with a picnic. This set us back £550 – not cheap, comrade. But worth it for the once-in-a-lifetime experience, we conceded.
You can imagine we were pretty excited when the Big Day arrived …
Cancelled. Our flight was grounded due to poor visibility.
We gazed up at the achingly clear skies at the pick-up point in Queenstown, totally nonplussed. How could the weather be *so* bad a couple of hours away?!
Turns out Milford Sound has rain approximately 185 days p/year, and impossible visibility most days.
Meaning there was no guarantee that it’s be safe to fly at any point during our 3-day stay.
So, we decided we’d better take matters into our own hands, else miss visiting Milford Sound entirely. We cancelled the luxury package (full refund), and sniffed out a Snap Rentals in Queenstown (the same car rental company we used during our stay in the North Island). We’d heard the 6-hr drive to Milford Sounds was an experience in itself, so we weren’t so gutted with driving ourselves as a second choice.
We booked a small tour with Cruise Milford rather than opting for a cheaper, packed cruise ship. We cannot stress enough how worth it this was.
We saw the droves of tourists queuing for a cheaper large-scale cruise, and there wasn’t room to swing a cat, much less take in one of the most beautiful spots on the planet.
Our little boat captained by a native Queenstowner who knew Milford like the back of his hand and gave us plenty of time at some of the more breathtaking secluded spots.
It’s pretty useless to put into words how spectacular Milford Sound is.
We tried to capture it on camera, but somehow that doesn’t do it justice, either.
Bars & Restaurants:
Queenstown isn’t brimming with high-end foodie spots, but you can pick up some decent grub whilst you’re in town.
Pedro’s House of Lamb:
Price: $40 / £20.91 for whole roasted shoulder of lamb with scalloped potatoes.
One doesn’t visit New Zealand without sampling a spot of lamb, so we happily skipped down the Pedro’s to give it a whirl. This is a takeaway joint, though they do have some benches outside if you want to eat it fresh from the oven.
It’s served with buttery soft rosemary & garlic scalloped potatoes and we ordered a side salad (#health) – but let’s be real, the lamb is indisputably the star of the show. Quite simply the best lamb either of us has had. No surprises there.
Little Blackwood bar:
Price: $18-20 / £9-10 cocktails, Happy Hour prosecco $7 / £3.50
A cool little joint with a limited happy hour, and some decent bar staff who make a mean custom cocktail if you ask them nicely. They also do snacks and light bites, but we stuck to liquid sustenance.
NOTE: Standard 18+ drinking laws in NZ, BUT you’ll need your passport, NOT your international driving license to be served booze.
Price: $75 / £39.20 gondola & lunch buffet
Remember we visited this place on the North Island which was fab, but this buffet was somehow not so good on the food-front – we’d give it a 7.5/10.
The views, however, blow Rororua out of the water. We’d recommend a ride up the cable cars even if you don’t fancy a meal, the view from the top is so worth it
Price: ~$15 / £7.84
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Fergburger. Supposedly the best burger on the planet. We took one for the team to ascertain whether or not it’d live up to the enormous hype.
We opted for the Tropical Swine – classic beef patty layered with bacon, cheese, aioli & grilled pineapple.
It’s a really good burger. Well-seasoned patty, a BIG bun, juicy but not watery – a beast, really.
But we’d be lying if we said it way surpassed offerings in London – Bleecker Burger, Patty & Bun – they’re in the same league, without the call-busting queue. Our favourite burger is still here, in Vegas.
All that said, if you’re a burger nut then you’ll probably not want to miss this place. Just be sure to order online / call ahead – don’t wait in that ludicrous line. You’ll be there for at least an hour (if you’re lucky!) Call ahead and have it ready to pick up in 15 minutes.
3 days in Queenstown flew by. We didn’t have as much time as we’ve liked to explore more of the South Island, but what we did see we enough to convince us of a return trip. Just as soon as some unmissable flight deals crop up…
Next up: Australia!
First stop: Melbourne!
Another Jetstar flight, $598 / £309 inc. exit seats, 20kg checked + 7kg hand baggage.
First stop: Melbourne!