Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | January 13, 2014

South Island – Part 1 – Queenstown and Arrowtown

New Zealand consists of two major islands – the North and the South. We live in the North Island and have in the past visited Christchurch in the South. Queenstown, in the South Island is arguably the most famous tourist destination in New Zealand. Nestled within the Southern Alps, the town is built around Lake Wakatipu formed by glacial processes. Queenstown offers spectacular views of mountains such as The Remarkables range of the Southern Alps. Oft referred as the Adventure Tourism Capital of the world, among many things Queenstown boasts of being the home of Bungy Jumping.


We were always encouraged by our friends in New Zealand, especially those from South Island to visit Queenstown. This time, we managed to make a trip down and covered Queenstown, Arrowtown and the spectacular Milford Sound. Those of you, who have watched the Lord of the Ring’s trilogy, must have seen glimpses of what we saw.

We flew Air New Zealand, from Auckland to reach Queenstown in about 1.5 hours. It is summer in this part of the world now, and though surrounded by mountains Queenstown becomes very hot. However, given that the weather in New Zealand is unpredictable, we carried clothes for all kind of weather.


We reached Queenstown in the morning and placed our luggage in Caples Court motel run by Robin and Kay. As with most of New Zealand motels, Robin and Kay do not have helpers and despite being exceedingly busy they have enough time to welcome us.

Queenstown was our base for the next 5 days and we experienced rain, wind, chill as well as scorching hot sun as well. However, every day was beautiful. We took walks in the town center and took numerous views of the lake and the mountains under different weather conditions.

One of the primary attractions on the lake is the 101 year old steamship called the TSS Earnslaw (“twin screw steamer”). Currently used as a tourist boat, it is the only remaining commercial passenger-carrying coal-fired steamship in the southern hemisphere. Once a vessel for the New Zealand Railways TSS Earnslaw was known as the “Lady of the Lake”, transported sheep, cattle and passengers to the surrounding high country stations. The last commercial trip of Earnslaw was in 1968 and as mentioned currently it is used to provide joy ride to tourists. We did not board the Earnslaw, but we did ride a boat on Lake Wakatipu. Our boat ride (though not on Earnslaw) was quite magnificent as well. It was a 90 minutes tour of the lake with Captain Max and was a much cheaper option.


Lake Wakatipu is New Zealand’s longest lake and it’s third largest. The lake is also very deep. We were told that the water of the lake is 99.9% pure. We did not taste it however to verify! The lake is surrounded by mountains and the views are splendid. We also took the Gondola up the mountains to take a spectacular view of the city from the top.

One of the days, we also travelled to the nearby Arrowtown from Queenstown. Located on the banks of the Arrow river, the half an hour journey from Queenstown to Arrowtown is quite picturesque. Arrowtown’s population rose significantly during the gold rush days (apparently to over 7,000). Once the fad went away, in 1960’s the population dropped to 200. These days Arrowtown attracts quite a few tourists who enjoy the vintage town square setting and the journey. Local authorities have ensured a lot of the old constructions are preserved which were used by European and Chinese immigrants dating from the gold mining days of the town. It was interesting to see these old shops and beautiful setting.

Arrowtown can be reached by public transport from Queenstown. Luckily, on our way to Arrowtown the bus took the Arthur’s pass route and while coming back we took a bus which took a longer but much more beautiful route with another lake known as Lake Hayes, by the side. 


Stories of gold rush from this region are quite interesting and gruesome at the same time. Queenstown has also retained some of its old buildings from the days of gold rush. In fact, explorer William Rees (co-credited with Nicholas von Tunzelmann as first European settlers of Queenstown), first established a high country farm in the current Queenstown town center. A statue of Rees with a sheep adorns the Queenstown town center. However, following the discovery gold in the Arrow River, Rees converted his wool shed into an inn. Apparently, the hotel did not carry a good reputation but was very popular (perhaps infested by criminals). Once the gold rush ended Rees sold this property to his friend Albert Eichardt who converted this to a more family type hotel. This building still exists (known as Eichardt’s) and is a small luxury hotel. In order to preserve the sanctity of the town center area, the New Zealand government did not permit converting this building into a massive five-star hotel.


We had very good food in Queenstown. Most interesting were the mussels at Aggy’s shack and burgers at Fergburger. I am sure people will have different opinions about these places, but I am generally not very adventurous when it comes to food. However, I could not resist the temptation of these two places. Thankfully, the experience was memorable. In fact, there are a lot of good eateries in Queenstown town center and they run quite a few lunch specials. Takeaways tend to be cheaper than sit-downs.

Overall, we had very good time in Queenstown and Arrowtown. Yes, we did not do the bungy jump and we did not do any other adventure sport (such as riding a speed boat through canyons), but there is always a next time for those.

Given its proximity to South Pole, most days the summer sun at Queenstown set at 10 pm. Unbelievable but true. 



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