We spend the first four nights of our trip in Queenstown. It should have been five but was almost three thanks to a pilots strike at Air Tahiti. “No worries” as the Kiwis say. We had a restful night at the Crown Plaza in LA and even managed to squeeze in lunch with Aunt Mary Beth before catching a 7:55pm flight directly to Auckland on Air New Zealand. One hour on the tarmac, twelve long hours in the air, another thirty minutes waiting for an available gate, followed by thirty minutes in customs and we are finally there! Well, sort of.
We stand broken and exhausted at the mercy of a cheery customer service agent trying to rebook our missed flight to Queenstown. A small silver Christmas tree blocks my view of her screen. Christmas music fills the silence as she toggles the mouse back and forth across the desk shaking her head disapprovingly with each click. The impatient couple behind us inches closer. The wife drops her bags with a grown. Her husband crosses his arms and clears his throat disapproving. I pretend not to notice. The line grows as four more unhappy travelers join the cause, dreams of happy holidays abroad crushed under over booked flights and lost baggage. I hate Christmas music. We’ve missed our connection by 40 minutes thanks to two guys with Visa issues who held up the plane in LA and never even boarded. With our only option to Queenstown being a 2pm departure the following day, we opt for a flight to Dunedin instead.
I could have sworn she said the flight left at 11:15am but over our 8:00am lunch we realize the departure time is actually 15:15; seven hours from now. Christmas music fills the silence once again. After exploring every inch of the Auckland airport, the adjoining hotel and consuming our second overpriced mediocre lunch of the day we finally board. When we arrive in Dunedin two hours later we’ve been awake for thirty-five hours straight. As we wait out front for our rental car Paul chuckles. We’re both glad he sprung for the extra car insurance. He turns on the windshield wipers signaling his intention to merge right as we pull out onto the left-hand side of the road and begin our three-and-a-half-hour journey to the hotel. Next time I hope he’ll use the turn signal.
The Doubletree Queenstown is just as expected clean, modern and free (we’re staying on points of course!). Gold and diamond members have access to all the amenities at the Hilton across the street including a great hot tub and a top notch breakfast. We have a nice view of lake Wakatipu from our third floor balcony. The hotel is about fifteen minutes from city central. The first two days we drive; on the third day we take the hotel shuttle. It’s also located less than two miles from the airport; convenient for those who actually get to fly to Queenstown.
In a city full of backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts where a clean pair of dark jeans represents the high mark of formality, traversing the Queenstown garden made me feel surprisingly underdressed. Magnificent piles of soft fluffy petals fanned perfectly atop well tamed stems in an explosion of regal femininity. Their airy velveteen edges rising gently toward the summer rays exposing the remnants of morning dew. This is truly one of the most beautiful rose gardens I’ve ever seen. Voluminous blooms in in blushing shades of red, pink, yellow and white. I love them all but the Patty Stephens is by far my favorite. Paul finds the perfect bloom and snaps a picture. I lay on the lawn and take in the sun. We enjoy the Queenstown Gardens so much that we actually come back for a second visit two days later.
Athletics aren’t really my thing, but I do consider myself relativity fit. However, a hundred steps into the Queenstown Hill hike I thought I was going to die. Two important notes about this trail. First, it begins at Belfast Terrace not the end of Malaghan Street as noted on the map. Second, I don’t care what the sign says this “hill” is really a mountain. If you’re looking for a leisurely hike, stick with the Queenstown Gardens. We make the drive up the winding road to the end of Malaghan and find a cul-de-sac in a residential neighborhood with exactly four parking places, three of which are available. How convenient! A small sign points to an opening in the overgrown bush blanketed with hard packed gravel. About thirty steps in we round the corner and are presented with about sixty stairs, each with at least a 12-inch rise. Paul bounds ahead as I lumber behind, the distance between us increasing with each step. About ten paces in exhausted and gasping for air I find myself bent over at the waist hands on hips, eyeballs to the ground trying to cough up a breath. Tottering side to side like a whisky fed hen foraging for food I waddle up. This position albeit a bit strange is the only way I can muster the steep incline and ensure gravity doesn’t play any unsuspecting tricks.
Paul stops at every overlook, climbs every rock and reads every sign. I trudge slowly behind promising to take in the views on the descent. We finally reach the top in what feels like record speed. Paul checks his phone. In total from the actual start of the trail it takes about 40 minutes. The sign at the bottom estimates one and a half to two and a half hours to the top and back. Sitting on a rock at the highest point of Queenstown Hill I take in the views for the very first time. Spectacular! During our decent I join Paul at each overlook for more views of the area and even climb into the Basket of Dreams for a quick photo.