In the Corner of the World: Queenstown

Queenstown is a seemingly quaint town that resides in the shadow of the Southern Alps on New Zealand’s South Island. Walking its streets, one could easily mistake it for Boulder, Colorado. But like the American town that it resembles, Queenstown’s quiet appearance belies an adventurous spirit that pervades the people and activities that make this hamlet a popular tourist destination all year round. I spent roughly 36 hours in Queenstown and was consistently amazed by its natural beauty and friendly population.

How does a town of 10,000 people become a mecca for tourists? The proximity to some of New Zealand’s best ski fields certainly helps. But Queenstown is also the self-proclaimed “jet boat capital of the world” and the birthplace of commercial bungee jumping operations. For adrenaline junkies, Queenstown is a playground for the imagination.


Queenstown experienced its initial boom after a gold rush in the area during the 1800s. When the region had been picked clean of the precious metal, the population dipped below one thousand. The residents, in need of income to survive, capitalized on the local geography and turned Queenstown into a tourist hot spot. Now, Queenstown relies almost solely on tourism to survive and does so quite well.

So, how can you enjoy the the great outdoors and scare yourself silly while in Queenstown? Simply get out of bed and you can’t help but stumble upon any number of activities.

Million Dollar CruiseQueenstown borders Lake Wakatipu, which is a boater’s paradise. For an entertaining lesson on Queenstown’s history and stunning views of both the town and the mountains that dominate the horizon, Million Dollar Cruise offers 90-minute sightseeing tours that provide a wonderful introduction to Queenstown. Owned and operated by Wayne & Betty Perkins, the cruise feels more like a day spent with friends telling you about their hometown than a commercial tour. That, by the way, is a good thing. Bundle up, though. I was there in the Spring and it was blustery out on the deck where the best photo ops are found.

Shotover JetQueenstown’s winding rivers through steep canyons made it the perfect place to become the “jet boat capital of the world.” Jet boats have flat bottoms which allow them to spin 360 degrees and seemingly move laterally. Shotover Jet operates in the Shotover River and has an office right in town, making bookings quite convenient. At $109NZ for adults and $69NZ for children, it’s a tad overpriced. But they have to pay for the 40 liters of petrol they burn every 30 minutes somehow. If you need a good family friendly activity that will impress your kids, go for it. Otherwise, I wasn’t convinced that it’s worth the money.

A.J. Hackett BungyQueenstown’s most famous adventure activity is also the world’s first of its kind. A.J. Hackett opened the first commercial bungee jumping enterprise on Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown in 1988 and it still operates today. A.J. Hackett now has other jump locations and Kawarau Bridge is by no means the highest, but it’s the original and that’s a draw for tourists. While the boldest of visitors may opt to jump off A.J. Hackett’s gondola 439 feet above the Nevis River, first-time jumpers will want to start at Kawarau and it’s 141-foot jump. That’s what I did and their friendly staff helped me overcome my fears and take the plunge. Would I bungee again? I’m not sure. But I am glad that I did it at the birthplace of commercial bungee.

Skiiing – You can get from Queenstown to a ski field in under 20 minutes. Coronet Peak and the Remarkables are the two closest ski fields and require nothing more than a short drive. Cardrona is only 40 minutes out of town and Treble Cone is a mere 90 minute drive. All four ski fields offer an abundance of ski and snowboard trails that draw visitors in hordes from June through October.

Whether you want to walk Queenstown’s quiet streets and window shop or trick your brain into thinking that you’re plummeting to your death, Queenstown has something for everyone (assuming you like the outdoors). After a whirlwind tour of the town, I was a tad disoriented but no worse for wear. Queenstown may have traded its gold rush for head rushes, but it’s absolutely worth a visit. Just try to have better form than I did when you leap off Karawau Bridge.

Mike Barish traveled to New Zealand on a trip sponsored by Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand. No editorial content was guaranteed and Mike was free to report openly on his experiences. He never spit out the wine and managed not to cry during any of the death-defying activities that Kiwis love. At least not in public. Read more of Gadling’s In the Corner of the World series here.

In the Corner of the World: Fox Glacier

The thought of hiking a glacier evokes images of arctic expeditions involving months of travel and thousands of dollars worth of gear. You don’t expect anyone to ever describe a trip to a glacier as “convenient” or the hike as “leisurely.” But leave it to New Zealand to do everything differently, including seemingly arduous outdoor activities. New Zealand’s Fox Glacier is one of the world’s most accessible glaciers and provides an opportunity for adventurers of varying aptitudes to explore one of nature’s disappearing wonders.

Fox Glacier is a mere ten minute drive from the local township and a few hundred meters from the car park that has been built for visitors. And since it resides within Westland National Park, it’s free for anyone who wants to come and take a gander. But if you want to truly experience the glacier by hiking on its icy terrain, your best bet is to hire a guide, strap on some crampons and get out there with the proper gear and supervision.


While you are not required to have a guide to hike Fox Glacier, it is strongly recommended that only experienced hikers with proper gear attempt it on their own. For casual hikers or curious tourists, guides are necessary to keep you safe and to make the trip has fun and educational as possible. Fox Glacier Guiding provides just such a service and they led my group on a gray October afternoon.

Beyond providing a guide, Fox Glacier Guiding equips their guests with proper boots, socks and crampons. After a short shuttle bus ride to glacier site, we set off on the walk to the glacier. While the hike is by no means backbreaking, it does involve upwards of 700 steps that have been built into the hills of the neighboring rainforest that abuts the glacier, as well as a stepladder that sits at roughly a 45-degree angle. People of all ages and abilities can traverse the path, but be sure to bring water to stay hydrated and let your guide know about any health concerns you may have.

Lest you think I am exaggerating the need for a guide and to follow instructions posted along the paths, keep in mind that two Australian brothers who went outside the designated hiking area were killed at Fox Glacier in January 2009. Like any natural wonder, Fox Glacier must be respected and common sense should be used when enjoying it.

After a meandering walk through the rainforest and along some gorgeous and only mildly-harrowing cliffs, we finally arrived at the base of Fox Glacier. We spent about an hour or so on the glacier with our guide, Rodger, while learning about the its formation and recession. Fox Glacier Guiding maintains the glacier paths an ensures that tourism doesn’t damage the ecosystem.

After several hours we made our way back to town and were no worse for wear. It was hard to believe that we had left our hotel rooms, hiked a glacier and made it back in one relatively easy day. No charts or ice-breaking ships were needed and I did most of the walk in shorts, as my body temperature rose from walking uphill continuously. It definitely gets chilly on the glacier face, so be sure to pack layers so that you can manage your comfort level. And if you run out of water, there’s a constant supply running through the glacier and down nearby waterfalls that is cold and pure.

While New Zealand is known for activities like bungee jumping and Zorbing, its best attribute is the diverse landscape. Everyday in New Zealand should be spent outside, and there are few better places to do that than Fox Glacier.

Mike Barish traveled to New Zealand on a trip sponsored by Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand. No editorial content was guaranteed and Mike was free to report openly on his experiences. He never spit out the wine and managed not to cry during any of the death-defying activities that Kiwis love. At least not in public. Read more of Gadling’s In the Corner of the World series here.

In the Corner of the World: TranzAlpine Train

Railway travel just isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the fastidiously dressed conductors checking their pocket watches before yelling, “All aboard!” Gone, too, are the eager young porters loading trunks into the luxury cars of well-heeled travelers. It’s the era of air travel and checked baggage fees, and we may all be worse off because of it. Sure. you can still take trains domestically and abroad, but rail travel has become antiquated and overlooked. However, those with a sense of adventure and a desire to slow things down can still find railway trips that not only get you to your desired location, but do so while enhancing your trip. One such journey exists on the South Island of New Zealand. All aboard the TranzAlpine railway.


The TranzAlpine is part of the TranzScenic line of railways that operates on both islands of New Zealand. While their primary purpose is scenic travel for tourists, many Kiwis use the trains to traverse the countryside on holiday and to visit family. Its popularity can be credited to the fantastic views passengers enjoy as they depart Christchurch and meander through the Southern Alps on their way to Greymouth. The Canterbury Plains stretch out towards rolling hills until finally giving way to the snow-capped mountains that make the South Island a skier’s paradise.

The conductor routinely plays tour guide by announcing fun facts such as, “We’ll be going through 16 tunnels.” For tunnel enthusiasts, this is surely a real treat. For those looking to steal a nap in between Kiwi adventure activities, it can get a bit tiresome. However, if you’re going to enjoy some of the most breathtaking landscapes that New Zealand has to offer, you might as well know where you are.

The full ride from Christchurch to Greymouth is more than 200km and takes about four-and-a-half hours. That’s more than enough time to take advantage of the snack car and linger in the open-air observation area where you can take pictures without worrying about the glare created by windows. It can get pretty brisk in that open car, however, so bundle up and hold on to your camera tightly. It will all be worth it when the mountains begin to reveal themselves on the horizon.

One-way fares will run you about $166NZ and return trips will be double that. There are deals to be had if you do the return in the same day, but you’d have to really love trains to spend nine hours in a railway car only to end up in the same place you started. Especially since the one negative I detected on the TranzAlpine is how truly uncomfortable the seats are.

But many people do make the same-day return trip. That only allows for an hour in Greymouth, which is a shame since it’s actually a pretty adorable little town. I bought my copy of the Greymouth Evening Star at the newspaper’s office, found a bench on the main drag and enjoyed the slow pace of the West Coast’s largest city (population: 9,970). Whitebait fisherman strolled by with their over-sized nets while locals waved hello and stopped to gossip with each other.

Most travelers who don’t head right back to Christchurch will use Greymouth as a jumping-off point to other South Island destinations. Car rentals are available right next to the train station, making self-drive holidays outside of Greymouth quite simple. But do yourself a favor and spend a couple of hours there first.

Planes will always be faster, but trains can still play a role in modern travel. Scenic railways like the TranzAlpine help travelers slow down, relax and enjoy hidden gems that exists between larger hubs. Digital clocks may have replaced pocket watches and you’ll have to carry your own luggage to the baggage car, but the TranzAlpine is more than just a mode of transportation. Its journey is a worthy destination.

Mike Barish traveled to New Zealand on a trip sponsored by Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand. No editorial content was guaranteed and Mike was free to report openly on his experiences. He never spit out the wine and managed not to cry during any of the death-defying activities that Kiwis love. At least not in public. Read more of Gadling’s In the Corner of the World series here.

In the Corner of the World: In & Around Auckland

With a population of around 1.5 million people, Auckland is no bustling metropolis. Heck, it’s not even the capital of New Zealand (go ahead, look it up – I’ll wait). It is, however, the country’s largest city and the hub for most international flights coming into the country. For Americans flying from Los Angeles and San Francisco, it is their first taste of Kiwi culture (though not kiwi birds). While it’s a small city, there is plenty to do in and around Auckland if you know where to look. I recently made my second trip to City of Sails and was reminded of how quirky it can be and amazed at the natural beauty that exists just outside the the city limits.


If you’re staying in a hotel in Auckland, odds are you will be in the Central Business District (CBD). While this is convenient for catching buses to destinations far and wide, it’s not exactly an interesting part of town. You’ll want to venture out a bit to see many of city’s best offerings. Though, there is one downtown landmark that you won’t be able to miss.

SkyTower – Towering over the limited Auckland skyline is the SkyTower. It is part of the SkyCity complex of hotels, casinos and restaurants and will be your point of reference when navigating Auckland. While the tower is not exactly the apex of architectural design (it looks pretty much like Toronto’s CN Tower and Seattle’s Space Needle), it is the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere and its observation deck provides the best views of Auckland and the surrounding area. The SkyWalk and SkyJump will give you a boost of adrenaline as you dangle or jump off of the 192m high platform. Be forewarned, though, that these activities (as well as the simple trip up to the observation deck) are expensive and some – like me – may even call them overpriced.

K’ Road –
While Kiwis do a decent job of preserving Maori culture and language, when you name a street Karangahape Road, you have to assume it’s going to get abbreviated eventually. K’ Road is a bohemian boulevard 10 minutes from the CBD that is home to cafes, boutiques, restaurants and a thriving adult entertainment industry. While you’ll probably be solicited by a transvestite prostitute during your walk down K’ Road, you’ll also find some great thrift stores, cheap eats and fantastic people watching. And when a girlie boy tells me that I have a nice smile, I just accept the compliment.

Ponsonby – Thrift stores and trannies not your thing? Walk 20 minutes west of the CBD and you’ll find yourself in Ponsonby, an upper-middle class “suburb” within Auckland’s city limits. The boutiques, restaurants and nightlife in Ponsonby cater to a wealthier clientele than K’ Road but won’t break your budget. On Friday and Saturday nights, 20- and 30-somethings in their pointy shoes and tight jeans are out and about drinking and carousing. Many of them in outfits they purchased in the neighborhood earlier that day.

Waitakere Ranges & Piha – West of Auckland is a landscape that appears to be a world away from urban life. The Waitakere Ranges provide gorgeous hiking trails along streams, waterfalls and more tree species than I could ever hope to list. Meanwhile, Piha boasts black sand beaches and jagged coastlines cloaked ominously in ocean mists. Surfers flock here for some of the region’s best waves. If you’re without a car or eager to have an expert give you a lay of the land, Bush and Beach Tours takes small groups to the ranges and Piha for the same price as a SkyWalk. Definitely a better use of your money. And for you nerds, scenes from Xena: Warrior Princess were filmed there.

Waiheke Island – A mere 35 minute ferry ride from Auckland, Waiheke corners the market in quaint. It has no traffic lights. Only 8,000 people are permanent residents. And yet is has nearly 30 vineyards. While Waiheke is small, the vineyards are spread out (as is the nature of vineyards). Ananda Tours will gladly take you to several of the island’s wineries, art galleries or shops and set up tastings along the way. If you want to have a self-directed experience, I’d recommend renting a car and bringing it over on the ferry. But who wants to be the designated driver during a day of wine tasting?

Are you heading to New Zealand just to hang out in Auckland? Probably not. But odds are you will begin and end your trip to New Zealand in its largest city and it’s worth a 48 hour stay to explore, shop and get over jet lag. It has a wonderful mix of urban conveniences and natural beauty. Just don’t stick around long enough to become a Jafa.

Mike Barish traveled to New Zealand on a trip sponsored by Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand. No editorial content was guaranteed and Mike was free to report openly on his experiences. He never spit out the wine and managed not to cry during any of the death-defying activities that Kiwis love. At least not in public. Read more of Gadling’s In the Corner of the World series here.

In the corner of the world: So, you want to go to New Zealand

Inspired by Gadling’s recent dispatches from the South Pacific? It’s not as far away or as difficult a trip as you think. With a strong dollar, good competition on flights and a warm culture, there are plenty of reasons to grab the kids, skip church and head New Zealand right now. We’ll help you out with logistics right here:

When should I go? Since New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere, they’re just entering winter. Don’t let that stop you though, the currents in the South Pacific keep the island nation fairly warm, and even if you can’t swim with dolphins you can still enjoy 95% of what the islands have to offer. Most importantly, you should pick a time when the tickets are the cheapest.

Tell me about this ticket that you speak of. You don’t need a travel agent to book international airfares, your tools are right in front of you. Start by running a simple flexible fare search from your home airport to Auckland (AKL) and Christchurch (CHC) on Most connections will be made in Los Angeles (LAX) or New York (NYC), so if you want a cheaper alternative, try searching independently from those points of departure then connecting on your own. Also consider flying into Sydney (SYD) and moving onward from there. There’s a spectacular fare war among some of the top carriers on the LAX-SYD route right now, so you might be able to cash in and fly in V Australia’s sweet new service for a dirt cheap price.
Do I need a visa? No prearranged visa is required for visits to New Zealand, but you’ll have to prove that you’re leaving or will able to leave within the bounds of your visa, so don’t forget your return trip information when you go to check in for your flight. If you’re laying over in Sydney on a separately booked ticket, you’ll need to arrange an ETA prior to departure, which you can do online.

How do I get around? New Zealand has a comprehensive bus network called Intercity that fits the budget of any frugal traveler trying to get from hot spot to hot spot across the country. One can see almost everything that the country has to offer with these coaches, and they’re also a great way to meet people.

Alternatively, most standard vehicle rental companies have offices at the airports, where you’ll be able to rent a host of miniature, very miniature and absurdly miniature vehicles. You can drive all over with your US driver’s license, but be forewarned that Kiwis drive on the left, so you’ll have to reverse your brain. Fortunately, many rentals have automatic transmissions, so you don’t have to worry about shifting as well.

Finally, many travelers rent or purchase camper vans as a means to inexpensively sleep across the countryside. Parks and campgrounds cover rural areas, so it’s simple to pull over, set up camp and spend the night, and sites like make rental a snap.

Do I need to bring travelers checks and money? This isn’t 1986. You can withdraw money out of the ATM machine right inside of Auckland International Airport, and save the hassle of paying fees or carrying around large sums of cash.

I’m afraid/I don’t have the time off of work/That’s a long flight/I’ve never traveled alone! Put down your white wine, stop worrying about this season of Lost and book your ticket. This is a once in a lifetime experience and you’re not going to make it if you warble around. You’ll love it. We promise.

Thanks for reading In the Corner of the World.