Ask any local in and around Queenstown and they’ll tell you about their love/hate relationship with the Queenstown airport. In commercial operation since the 50s, the airport has made constant changes to its operation to allow for more and more planes, larger planes, to traffic through. A few months after we leave this town they open their new international terminal. Today, it lands plane after plane of tourists from Australia and other NZ regional flights. This airport is the gateway to the world’s highest concentration of high adventure sports. It has been marked as the most picturesque landing in the world. It might be the biggest tourist hub in the country which brings together the commonplace of better-than-nothing food offerings and a thousand different ways to connect, spend money, and find the next thing to go and do.
Oh, and the Chinese. Chinese tourists are everywhere in Queenstown and for the next several day we would continue to trip over them as our paths continually cross in every highway, intersection, turnoff, gas station and more. And most of them are doing their grand New Zealand tour in oversized camper vans. Whole Chinese families- mom,dad, the kids and all the aunts and uncles packed into the back of a Volkswagen Bus. I brought his up to Sean, in Cardrona, and he said planning such a trip was a status of prestige in China – how many people can you take on an international vacation? How expensive of a camera can you bring? How many pictures of everyone can you take in front of all the landmarks? How much money can you spend or debt can you get yourself into?
Which is why we’ve made Queenstown a stopover and not a destination. A place to recharge batteries and slow down for just a moment. A place to not drive that has a handful of things to see (the Remarkables, Take Wakupitu). The airport made this area especially appealing to things like the filming of the Lord of the Rings. In our road atlas mountain ranges are marked with Rings – places you could wander out to or take guided tours to and see just where grand battles with orcs and elves were filmed before they were covered over with CGI.
It’s not for everyone.
We are here a quick night to say we’ve been. No bungee jumping has been booked, no jetboat tours or jumping out of airplanes or elf-guided tours to Mordor. We walk into town and jockey for a lake-side table at seemingly upscale-ish restaurant. It’s one of those places we wander until we find a menu plastered to the door. It’s the same mutton/seafood chowder/squash-everything menu that we’ve seen everywhere else. If there is serious cuisine somewhere in this country, we clearly aren’t looking hard enough to find it.
Wandering further after dinner there are Chinese tourists taking pictures of everything. Those not taking pictures are walking, head craned low, reviewing their day’s photos through the preview screen. Other tourists lug around bags and hang out tired in internet cafes or the lobby of hostels – looking for beds or places to charge their phones or a shower.
Us? Well, we find a self-serve wine and whisky lounge to recharge. The next few days stand to be big ones.
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