{going solo in NZ} Part 5: the ultimate Queenstown family holiday + skiing

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going solo in NZ: Itinerary | Auckland | Wellington | Picton & Kaikoura | Christchurch | Queenstown | quirks & perks of solo travelling |

My solo trip had finally come to an end, when I flew out of Christchurch to meet my parents in Queenstown for part 1 of our family vacation Down Under (we spent the other half in Sydney)! 

The flight into Queenstown was a mere 40 minutes long, but was ridiculously scenic in the second half, when the pilot flew us into a patch of clear skies, affording us a view of the endless snowy mountain ranges around us. I thought to myself, ‘If the plane crashes here, at least we’ll all die with a beautiful view.’

We began the descent into this Switzerland-esque town, flying over lakes and between mountain ranges until the town came into view. Walking off the plane onto the tarmac, I was greeted by 360° views of mountains and the tiny airport. And so the Queenstown adventure began!

Queenstown Itinerary (6-11 Aug)
DayItinerary
Day 1 (Sat)CHC✈️ZQN
🏨 Check in @ Amity Queenstown Serviced Apartments
🍽️ Ferg Burger (American)
🍪 Cookie Time
Day 2 (Sun)🍽️ Fergbaker (American)
🚢 TSS Earnslaw Cruise and Walter Peak Farm Tour
🍽️ Tham Nak Thai (Thai)
🔭🌃 (cancelled) Skyline Gondola + Stargazing
Day 3 (Mon)🏛️ Lakes District Museum & Gallery
🥾 Exploring Arrowtown + gold panning by the river
🍽️ Arrow Thai Food @ Arrowtown
🍨 Patagonia Chocolates – Ice Creamery & Chocolaterie
🍽️ Devil Burger (American)
Day 4 (Tue)⛷️ Skiing on Coronet Peak + first-timer lesson
🍽️ Bombay Palace (Indian)
Day 5 (Wed)🌳 Kiwi Park Queenstown
🍽️ Tanoshi @ Cow Lane (Japanese)
🧊 Minus 5° ICE BAR
Day 6 (Thu)🛍️ Remarkables Park Town Centre
🍽️ Saigon Kingdom (Vietnamese)
ZQN✈️SYD
Day 1 – room review + exploring Queenstown + Fergburger

After welcoming my parents at the airport arrival hall, we hopped onto a public bus* into the city. It was a short trip and shorter walk to arrive at our accommodations, the Amity Queenstown Serviced Apartments.

*public buses here use a Bee Card, a stored value card that costs $5 but can be shared by the whole group – we only needed to buy one card for the three of us, and it was conveniently available for purchase from the bus driver

We chose this place for its spaciousness and liveability for 3 adults – a kitchen, living room, 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom, and it also happened to be more affordable than regular hotels. A DIY breakfast was included as well, with a doorstep delivery of a carton of breakfast foods (bread/muffins/yogurt/nut bars/juice) on our first morning here.

Location wise, we realised with mild horror that despite being a 400m walk to the city, it was a very steep downhill walk, with 30-40 degree slopes – which meant we would need to make our way up those same hills on the way back…but overall, it was still worth it.

We headed into town for an early dinner at the world-renowned Ferg Burger, a burger joint that everyone who visits Queenstown would likely have visited (even Ed Sheeran, whose autographed paper bag was framed on the store’s wall). Nestled between its sister stores Fergbaker & Ferg’s Bar, you’ll find a 15-30 minute queue leading out of the store at any given time. It’s really that popular.

I ordered the Cock Cajun, a cajun chicken tenderloin burger, with a side of Salt & Pepper Squid. The burger was flavourful, the meat sufficiently tender & not too dry, with an appropriate sauce:lettuce:meat ratio, earning it a solid 7/10. Verdict? Not life-changing nor living up to the hype, but definitely worth trying at least once.

Being a ski town, the city/shopping area of Queenstown spans just 4-5 short streets, comprising mainly sports shops, restaurants/cafes, and souvenir shops. But the array of dining or snacking options there were not to be underestimated, with our family trying different international cuisines at reasonable prices every day of our trip.

Here’s a quick glance of the places (within the central part of Queenstown) we dined at over our 5 day-trip:

  • Ferg Burger – worth trying and queuing for once, just for the hype
  • Tham Nak Thai – authentic Thai food, a perfectly punchy and hearty meal after a cold day
  • Bombay Palace – Indian food to die for, with generous portion sizes to boot
  • Tanoshi @ Cow Lane – extremely delicious Japanese teppan & tapas at affordable prices
  • Fergbaker – cheaper & shorter queues than Ferg Burger, pretty decent pastries & pies
  • Devil Burger – a solid burger spot that plays second fiddle to Ferg Burger
  • Cookie Time Cookiebar – you’ll smell the glorious cookies from a street away, and there’s always a queue
  • Patagonia Chocolates Ice Creamery & Chocolaterie – a cosy spot for a midday treat, with a stunning harbour view

We went to cookie time for a sweet finish to the day, where I ordered a bottle of milk, topped off with a milk chocolate rim and a hearty s’more. The glass bottle also made for a cute keepsake, featuring the Cookie Time mascot with various native birds!

Day 2 – TSS Earnslaw & farm visit + cancelled stargazing 😦

After eating breakfast in our apartment, we stopped by Fergbaker to try their famous pies and pastries. It’s adjacent to Ferg Burger, and both boasted sizeable queues by the late morning. Fortunately, the Fergbaker queue was fast-moving, and we got our hands on two lamb pies (Lamb Kumara & Horopito, Lamb Shank) and a famed cream donut, which one of my friends had raved about.

The pies were average, with generous warm fillings, but the cream donut was unfortunately mediocre…If anything, the bombolini I had in Christchurch’s Grizzly Baked Goods was streets ahead of this. :/ Given all the rave reviews I had read, and how excited I had been to try Ferg’s hallowed burgers/pastries, I was definitely left underwhelmed.

We then headed to the nearby dock to board the TSS Earnslaw, a classic steamship that first sailed in 1912 (the same year as the Titanic), that would take us on a 45-minute journey across Lake Wakatipu to the Walter Peak High Country Farm. The steamship was an attraction in itself: there was a saloon area selling refreshments and offering live piano entertainment, a viewing platform directly above the boiler/engine room (I watched the engineers heap coal into the furnaces), and a beautiful open deck to admire the mountain & lake views from.

source: Queenstown website – that’s how it’d look in summer

It was a relaxing journey, and we soon arrived at our destination. It was insanely chilly that day, but at least the weather was clear! The farm excursion package we bought included:

  • A 40-minute guided farm tour, replete with plenty of animal-feeding opportunities (which I took great joy in)
  • An afternoon tea buffet, with generic but satisfying scones/sliders/cakes and beverages to warm us up
  • A dog show, where a working border collie cutely demonstrated its sheep herding prowess
  • Some free and easy time to explore the souvenir shop and roam the farm

*I pre-booked my ticket on Klook [TSS Earnslaw Cruise to Walter Peak Station, TSS Cruise + Walter Peak Farm Excursion, SGD$81.22/pax], since it offered better prices than the official website; remember to use my referral link to sign up for a Klook account for $5 off your first purchase!

Overall, the tour/experience was well worth the price, and the farmland was expansive, reaching as far as the eye could see, extending up into snow-capped mountains with dramatic glacial runoffs. Our guide even mentioned that another nearby farm was larger than the entire island of Singapore!

Upon returning to town, we headed for dinner at an excellent home-style Thai restaurant (Tham Nak Thai), then walked to the nearby Skyline Gondola for our planned hour-long stargazing experience up on the peak.

Unfortunately, weather conditions were cloudy that day, so the stargazing was cancelled and we were refunded. I was bummed, but at least it saved us about $120 each, and we were still able to view the stars from outside our apartment on other nights!

Day 3 – exploring Arrowtown & attempted gold-panning

The next morning, we took a direct bus to Arrowtown, a neighbouring town about 30 minutes away by bus. The bus ride itself was scenic, taking us over the Shotover River and giving us a sneak peek at Coronet Peak (the ski mountain we were headed to the next day).

Arrowtown used to be a gold mining town established during the gold rush, but it’s now lined with historic buildings that have been converted into restaurants and souvenir shops. The bus dropped us off behind the Lakes District Museum & Gallery, so we headed in to learn a bit about the town’s history and how gold was mined from the rocks & riverbeds.

An hour later, we were done exploring the tiny museum and decided to try our hand at gold panning. We rented a pan and shovel for gold panning at the museum store (NZD$5), and it came with a quick instruction sheet on how to pan for gold in the nearby river.

Just a short walk behind the museum was a shallow & crystal clear river in which gold nuggets had been found, even as recently as 2021! Following the instructions, my dad and I shovelled sand & gravel into our pan and spent nearly an hour sifting through one stretch along the river in 3°C weather, until it got too chilly and I called it quits. Clearly, we didn’t find any gold nuggets…but it was a memorable experience nevertheless!

After a satisfying Thai lunch at Arrowtown Thai, we strolled around this one-street town and its historical settlements, including a historical Chinese village comprising dilapidated stone huts and learnt about the tragic story of anti-Chinese sentiment in the gold rush heyday.

We were done exploring in under two hours, and headed back to the central city for a lazy midday stroll. The queue at Patagonia’s Ice Creamery & Chocolaterie was unusually short, so we took the chance to sample their offerings, ordering two scoops of ice cream and a customisable popsicle. We were spoilt for choice with the flavours, eventually selecting two fruity scoops and one white chocolate-coated mint ice cream bar. On the second floor, we enjoyed our desserts facing the large window that overlooked the entire harbour and its distant mountains.

For dinner, my family ordered takeout from Devil Burger, a burger place that purportedly rivals Fergburger. I had a decent Satay Chicken burger, but it wasn’t good enough for me to want to eat there again (sorry, really not a burger person)…

Day 4 – skiing on Coronet Peak

This was easily one of the most memorable days of the trip. We woke up bright and early at 5.45am, only it wasn’t bright and it was far too early, and the stars were still clearly visible in the subzero night sky.

Why did we have to wake up so early, you might ask? Well, Queenstown has two ski mountains – Coronet Peak and The Remarkables. The latter is more popular with pro-skiers/snowboarders, since it has better terrain and thicker snow coverage (since it’s located in a valley), while Coronet Peak is nearer to town and more touristy/crowded.

We had pre-booked our lessons (which included equipment and clothing rental), and round-trip bus passes online, so all we had to do was show up to catch the first bus at 8am. For our 10am ski lesson, we had been (rightly) advised to go as early as possible, since the buses only departed every 30 minutes.

When we reached the bus stop at 6.40am, there were two long queues: the one for The Remarkables wrapped around the block, with easily 150+ skiers. Our queue was mercifully shorter, with around 30 people ahead of us. After a long chilly wait, during which we watched the sky turn bright, we narrowly made it onto the first bus (with 200+ people still queuing for Coronet Peak when we left).

this was maybe 20% of the full queue; everyone else was behind us

After a very scenic 30-minute bus ride, we were greeted by pillowy and blindingly white snow-capped hills. We had a seamless equipment and clothing rental process, but kitting up still took us over 30 minutes – thank goodness we got there early!

Our beginner’s class was instructed by Teddy, a Bulgarian coach who’s been skiing for 40 years. The class ran from 10am-12.30pm and 1.30pm-3.30pm, with a short lunch break in between. It was a well-paced class, but most of the class were clearly not natural skiers, myself included…after countless rounds of practising on a small slope (and plenty of falls) later, our lesson finally came to an end.

I had lots of fun learning the basics of skiing, and it was an interesting once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I reckon I’ll stick to building snowmen and going down hills in toboggans next time!

Day 5 – Kiwi Park Queenstown + Tanoshi + ice bar

Having seen so many adorable kiwis and keas at Christchurch’s Willowbank Wildlife Reserve (when I was travelling alone), I knew I couldn’t let my parents leave New Zealand without having met those iconic birds. So I dragged them to Kiwi Park Queenstown, a small family-owned reserve located near the foot of the Skyline gondola’s mountain.

We purchased the tickets online, since they were slightly cheaper than tickets at the door ($45 vs $49). But if you have spare cash or are looking to buy souvenirs, why not get them from the Kiwi Park, since all ticket sales and product sales go directly to conservation efforts and running the park!

The crowd level in the park was low, so it was rather peaceful when exploring the various aviaries, with the birds flying or hopping up to us in the walk-through aviaries. The park was not large, taking us a leisurely 3 hours, including attending both keeper sessions – first was a fun conservation show (featuring many feathered friends and the dinosaur-like tuatara/lizard) and the other was a kiwi feeding session in the pitch-black kiwi house. I’d definitely recommend this if you have some spare time in Queenstown.

After an absolutely refreshing and affordable lunch at Tanoshi @ Cow Lane, a Japanese restaurant, we headed to the Minus 5° ICE BAR. Entry tickets start from $20/child and $30/adult, but we got in for free, here’s our hack: we fortuitously walked past the City Express Convenience Store located near Devil Burger, and saw a massive signboard advertising free ice bar entry with the purchase of any two Coca-Cola products.

Always loving a good bargain, we bought the cola, obtaining a voucher that we could trade for an entry pass at the ice bar. The ice bar itself wasn’t quite worth its exorbitant entry fee, being a tiny -9°C room stuffed with ice sculptures and an ice bar serving drinks in ice cups for the sheer novelty, so it was a good thing we stumbled upon that offer (our offer didn’t include any drinks). After a solid 15 minutes, we tapped out and headed back to the comparatively warm 2°C weather outside…

Day 6 – The Remarkables Shops

We didn’t get up to much on our last half-day in Queenstown, since we had to check out and head to the airport for our mid-afternoon flight. We decided to kill the 2 hours of spare time we had by going to the Remarkables Shops, a shopping area located just one bus stop away from the airport (with a direct bus from the city). There were lots of megastores selling sporting or hunting gear, as well as household goods or groceries. We had a delicious final lunch at Saigon Kingdom Vietnamese Restaurant, before taking one bus stop back to the airport.

Verdict? The Remarkables Shops isn’t worth a special detour, but if you’ve landed in Queenstown too early for your check-in, or your flight is later in the day (like ours), it’s a convenient area to explore near the airport!

After one last scoop of Patagonia ice cream from their airport outlet – which we had bought to spend our last $7 – we flew over the Queenstown mountains once last time and bade farewell to NZ, my home for the past month.

It was off to Sydney, for part 2 of my family vacation!

Other cool things to try in Queenstown

For Queenstown, this is my list of must-try things in summer or any warmer time of the year:

  • Disc golf – it’s a cool family/team sport that can be played in the Queenstown Gardens, basically involving tossing a frisbee at a distant goalpost. Frisbee rentals are available within the park, so I reckon it’d be a fun summer activity!
  • Stargazing in summer might be a tad more comfortable than in subzero winter nights…Queenstown has no shortage of stargazing options for all price points: you could just take a stroll out into the park at night and be treated to a sky full of stars, or if you have cash to blow, why not go on a private stargazing tour led by an astrophysicist, complete with an astrophotography experience? For those with a budget of ~NZD$100, the stargazing experience offered by Skyline is a good compromise – the price is inclusive of a return gondola/cable car trip + a warm drink + a 1-hour stargazing session.
  • If stargazing isn’t your thing, but you still want to head up to the mountaintop to take in the views of the mountains, why not buy the Skyline Luge package, and whiz your way around the peak a few times?
  • Just outside Queenstown is the Onsen Hot Pools, a boutique day spa experience. It’s definitely pricey, but with stunning outdoor views and five-star service, you might just be willing to splash out on it.

Given the burgeoning list of things I have yet to try in New Zealand during summer, I’ll definitely have to make a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) trip in the near future. In this past month of solo travelling, I’ve had so many wonderful experiences and genuinely fallen in love with New Zealand’s nature, culture & the friendliness of its people. Who knows, maybe I’ll even settle there in future! 🙂

All the posts in this series

And that’s all for my NZ trip diary, and hopefully it’s been informative if you’re also planning a similar trip to these cities! Stay tuned for my upcoming Sydney blogpost, and be sure to follow me on Insta or like my Facebook page to stay up to date with my latest adventures, day-to-day doctoring and life updates! Until next time~

xoxo,
Faith

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