I arrived in Queenstown late at night so I didn’t see the city until I woke up the next morning. When I exited my hostel and looked around, I immediately fell in love. Queenstown is set directly on Lake Wakatipu, and is absolutely surrounded by mountains. There are multiple ski hills within a short drive, mountain biking trails directly down to town, and every high-adrenaline sport you could ever want. Also the best night life in New Zealand: every night in Queenstown is a party (if you can keep up).
I was lucky to even find a bed in Queenstown as it turns out. I generally hate booking ahead as I like to keep my plans flexible, so I didn’t look for beds in Queenstown until the day before I arrived. However, I was in shock when HostelWorld returned zero beds available in the city! I started desperately searching different booking websites and looking at individual hostel websites until I finally found availability at the Haka Lodge, the hostel had great reviews so I booked it right away. When I checked in at the hostel I learned the full story: apparently I set the new record for someone to book a cancelled reservation, someone had cancelled that bed two minutes before I pulled up their website and found it! Currently it is the mid-winter holidays in New Zealand and Australia so it is absolutely peak season here, but apparently Queenstown is always this busy.
After returning my rent car I headed to the tourism office to ask about good (free) activities for the day. The woman mentioned a beautiful hike up to the saddle of Ben Lomond, or the peak if you were willing to work for it. I gathered my gear and headed up the mountain. The first section you could take the gondola, but I figured 45 minutes of work to save myself $35 of beer money was worth it! The views from the gondola were already lovely, but from there the trail turned to snow and ice so it was time for the microspikes and trekking poles.
I was pretty exhausted by the peak, but it was a perfect day and a fabulous view. I was only able to snap a few photos because my iPhone kept shutting off due to the cold temperatures up top.
I finished the hike down before dark, got cleaned up, and then treated myself to a Furgburger, the famous hamburger joint in Queenstown. The burger and onion rings were excellent after the hard day, and refueled it was time to check the bars. There is a great place that was recommended to me called Cowboys. It has a mechanical bull, 10 NZD liters, and a life-sized bust of Donald Trump in the urinal trough. I met an American woman at the bar who made them shut the bathroom down so she could take a turn at Donald.
I had the good luck to meet Emma and Brendan at Cowboys, two Kiwis from Christchurch visiting some friends in Queenstown for the weekend. I had a great evening out with them and made plans to meet up when I got back to Christchurch.
After the late night out there was no sleep in the morning, because there was 20 cm of fresh snow at the Remarkables, and more falling throughout the day. After hauling a pile of ski equipment around the south island, it was time to finally put it to use. The bus to the mountain costs 20 NZD, but it only took a few minutes on the side of the road to hitch a ride up to the resort.
When I reached the hill the conditions were near-whiteout, and the avalanche danger considerable, so my plans to ski the backcountry were quickly abandoned and I bought a lift pass. It was great to see snow again and the conditions were quite good. In the afternoon the chutes a 15 minute hike above the Shadow chair opened up and I had two great laps up there. On my second lap I ran into a group of instructors getting some laps after their lessons, and they were nice enough to show me a few good runs at the end of the day. After doing another hike with them I was thoroughly exhausted, and as it was closing time I hitched a ride back to town with a nice Australian family; my payment for the ride was showing them how to put chains on the car.
That night I was making dinner at the hostel and met Fred in the kitchen, an Australian here on a holiday. He was planning to head to Milford Sound the next day in his rent car. After a quick discussion about plans and confirming the forecast, we made plans to meet up early the next morning.