New Zealand Travel: Walking Up Queenstown Hill

Before I arrived in Queenstown, New Zealand, I must admit I had mixed expectations from this haven of adrenaline highs and bungee jump lows. Not because I'm adverse to people getting their extreme activity on (quite the opposite I'm a keen snowboarder and newly hooked wakeboarder) but it's not the main reason I travel. I travel to see, breathe, live, experience and to fall in love with as many things, sights, sounds, feelings and people as possible. Very rarely does "I travel to risk my life" top my list of motives.

However, I soon found out that Queenstown is a pussy cat of a place, really. Kinda. I mean, there are still lots of things to do in Queenstown, but they don't all have to be as wild as you think.

All these bungee jumps and jet boat rides, it's all done hand in hand with oodles of health and safety and in fact much scarier things happen at night when all the young gap year and backpacking travellers come out in various forms of undress or fancy dress, which we may or may not have found out* during our stay. (*We did find out as I came within a plump, curvy inch of entering Queenstown's Best Booty competition, but that's another story.)

We got our biggest thrill by taking a nice, long walk up Queenstown Hill. True story.

Walking up Queenstown Hill

I feel the need at this point to admit that it wasn't exactly my idea to do the Queenstown Hill walk. My travelling companion is much more adventurous than I am so it was very much her suggestion, but I was quite happy to oblige, especially if this meant her energy could be used up walking and now bungee jumping or white water rafting which was perhaps a little beyond my own sensibilities. 

We followed directions in the Lonely Planet guidebook for New Zealand that we caught up with after leaving our campsite which was in a fairly central location. I believe from this post that there are now two different walking trails you can follow on Queenstown Hill but both start out from Belfast Terrace where there is a small car park and signs with more information about the Queenstown Hill Walkway.

And then the only way was up, which we happily embarked on armed with a couple of bottles of water and plenty of sunscreen as the weather was heating up. The total trail for Queenstown Hill is about 5km. Five lowly kilometres didn't scare me, however it's fair to say that the incline did it's best to slow me down. This was most definitely a New Zealand "hill" and definitely nothing like any kind of gradient (or lack thereof) that I am used to in Amsterdam. So you can expect some very steep parts of the walk.

Betty steamed ahead proving what I already knew, that she was and is considerably fitter than I. However, I found no shame in lagging behind. In fact it allowed me some beautiful moments for photography which I tried to do justice. There was plenty of shade thanks to tall coniferous trees and what sunlight that did break through created pretty patterns for my camera to play with. As we climbed we were criss-crossed by sadomasichist  impressively brave mountain bikers plunging down small dirt tracks which weaved in between the trees. It was halfway up this hike that I realised I was coming down with a cold. It was a beautifully warm day and the sun's stripes crossed our path, so naturally I was sniffling and sneezing. Unfortunately this cold went on to become laryngitis and an undeserved smokers' cough which stopped me doing anymore hikes, or "tramps" as the locals amusingly call them, so in many ways I am glad that I struggled up this hill.

The Reward at the Top of Queenstown Hill

The calm, peace and beauty at the top were a wonderful reward, even facing inland and away from Queenstown. The summit of Queenstown Hill hasn't just been enjoyed by gap year travellers and unfit, snotty female trampers, it's long been appreciated as a spiritual, peaceful place and indeed the Maori name for the summit, Te Tapui-nui, name means "place of intense sacredness". No matter how liberally you translate that there's no mention of a bungee jump or paragliding, so I'm glad I experienced this alternative side of Queenstown. Our time in Queenstown was still near the beginning of our New Zealand road trip, and yet already I had a great sense of how outwardly proud and present Maori meanings and messages are in Kiwi culture. Of course the views should have been enough but we also chose to celebrate with a go on the famous Queenstown Luge (NOT to be missed no matter how old, boring or sensible you are). I'm sure even if we'd caught the cable car up the whole way we still would have loved the Queenstown Luge because it was just hilarious and made us feel like children again, but the fact we'd got our bottoms (and the rest of our bodies) up to the summit of Queenstown Hill by ourselves only made it more rewarding and more hilarious.

The Reward at the Bottom of Queenstown Hill

We then caught the cable car to get down quickly, though I wouldn't have been adverse to going back down the way we came - however we were suddenly hungry and we'd promised ourselves a real reward once we were back in Queenstown; a Fergburger! These delicious and nearly world famous burgers were practically the size of our head and absolutely lived up to the big hype and the small wait.

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Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
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