We were in Queenstown at the end of November 2015, when it was the start of summer-time there. The exchange rate at the time was 1 USD to 1.5 NZD. We stayed at the Hilton Queenstown, which you should NOT do. Here’s what we did and where we ate. Please note that my wife and I are NOT adventure junkies. We were here mostly for the sights and wine tastings.
1 Day Tour to Milford Sound
This seemed to be the unanimous thing to see down here. Let me stop you there – DON’T DO THIS! First off, since we were frugal, we decided it was a good idea to take the 8 hour bus ride – 4 hrs there and 4 hrs back. While it was okay that we stopped every hour to rest and take pictures, by the end of the day, you are worn out! But that’s not the worst part – the worst part is that after the 4 hours and you are there, you basically take like a 1 hr boat cruise around the ford (yes, it’s not a sound) and hop back on the bus. You could take a private plane there, but that would have cost something like $300 per person or so.
Here’s why you SHOULDN’T DO THIS. Did you enjoy those pictures above? Well, let me tell you that those pictures are from ALASKA! Yes! Right here in your backyard! My friends and I went there in 2008 and took a cruise around there and you have glaciers to look at. Here’s what you see at the Milford Sound (this was the highlight.) Granted it doesn’t look that bad, but this was 2 minutes out of the 60 minute boat ride. The other 58 minutes were so boring I didn’t even take any more photos.
To prove my point even further, when we went wine tasting, one of our hostesses said she had been to Alaska too. I asked her if she went on a cruise and she said yes. I then asked her if it was prettier than the Milford Sound. She said YES. ’nuff said.
Now the ride to the Milford Sound was pretty though, but not pretty enough to endure 8 hours on a bus.
Because we had rented a car, we didn’t need to book a wine tasting tour. I was afraid of getting drunk, but I chose to not drink that much. It’s a good thing because the wineries are only about 20 minutes out of town and renting a car is much cheaper than paying $125 NZD per person for a tour. Plus, you can choose the wineries and not go to just the big names. That’s one of the benefits of having a car. I don’t remember which wineries, but there are 2 main areas. We chose to hit up 5 wineries closest to Queenstown. There is another subset of wineries 20 minutes further out; we didn’t go to them.
If you are a fan of “The Big Bang Theory,” stop by Brennaman winneries since that’s what Penny drinks on the show a couple of times. You can’t buy it here in the US since they don’t produce enough. The reason it’s on the show is that the winery’s owner’s brother works on the show. I did manage to take a bottle of their gewurztraminer home.
I also recommend the tasting menu for lunch at Airfield Estates. The wine is so-so, but the food was delicious!
Drive to Glenorchy
Since we had a car, we took the scenic 1 hour drive up to Glenorchy. The roads were windy and the mountains and water were beautiful. I wish I had my Audi there taking on all the curves in the road. There’s not much to do in Glenorchy though; you can take a nature walk/hike for an hour, but we decided to just head back to Queenstown since it was getting a bit dark and windy.
My wife doing her best Miles Professor impersonnation.
You MUST eat here. There seems to always be a 15-20 minute wait, but it’s worth it. In a town with like 4 major streets, this is the ONLY place that is always packed with people. It doesn’t matter what you get; it’s all delicious. Thank me later.
This was recommended by the Hilton as well as our tour guide. This is on the waterfront; try to get here early to get a seat on the deck. Get you a bottle of riesling and the seafood platter and go to town. By the way, you MUST try the NZ mussels if you are a fan of mussels. For some reason, NZ mussels are twice as big as the ones you get here in the US. Just HUGE.
Like I said, we didn’t do any bungee jumping, hang gliding, sky diving, etc. I know, I know. This would be like going to Disneyland and not riding any of the rides. Anyway, it was still very beautiful (definitely more so than Auckland,) Just don’t waste your time going to the Milford Sound and fly up to Alaska instead.