Where my heart now lies


  • Wanaka – Queenstown
  • Queenstown – Milford Sound – Queenstown
  • Shotover Canyon Swing

Following the ice cream stop out of Wanaka, we headed through the mountains and in to Queenstown. It was a cloudy, drizzly day and I was surprised by how small Queenstown actually was. In my head, it was a city on a similar scale to Brighton, or at least a town like Crawley, but no, Queenstown Central was no bigger than East Grinstead High Street!

Still, it became quickly evident why people love it here so much; with plenty of adventure/adrenaline activities, cute little cafes down side streets and a real travellers buzz.

Our family checked in, this time to a really lovely Nomads hostel, joined again by a lone male (“Michael Jackson”, as he became affectionately known to us) who had to put up with our female ways, and then went for a wonder around the town. The queue at Ferg Burger – known as the best burger in the world- was already down the street. We returned to nap and get ready for the night ahead, which was a pub crawl with our Kiwi Bus.

The first stop was Red Rock Cafe, where we had a BBQ and a few glasses of wine, and then on to Loco Bar, where Greg, Emily and Emma joined us after their day at Milford Sound. The night slowly got messier from here, taking us on to World Bar opposite our hostel. Dancing and drinking continued until we were very much worse for wear: Emily flat on the floor twice and passport-less, Hattie filled with confidence to approach all the boys in the club, myself refused entry to the club part of the bar and Monique and Puck dancing their little bums off on the dance floor. The night had a sad end when we had to wave off our favourites, knowing we wouldn’t get to see them again as they were flying elsewhere the next day.

The following morning consisted of sick, sore heads, sensitivity to bright lights, lots of food, and sunshine! Emily and I went out for breakfast and a wonder, finding a really cute little green area to sleep off our hangovers, whilst Puck was off bungy jumping and Hattie and Monique on a jet boat ride and hike (too active for me that day!). It was nice to discover Queenstown a bit more and get to see it in the sun before the rain forecast for the days ahead came in.
We decided the sunny weather called for shorts and went back to change before we went exploring further. Our “explore” took us as far as the end of the street, to the lake front, where we made the spontaneous decision to go kayaking. Doubling up, we jumped in a kayak and paddled off in to the distance, photographed by many an Asian tourist. Once back on dry land, we took a stroll around Queenstown Gardens before heading back to find out how Puck’s bungy had gone.

She was super excited to show us her video and on a real buzz from the jump. It looked awful to me! After hearing about everyone else’s bungy stories, we made the decision to eat out at ‘Ferg Burger’. I ordered the Chief Wiggum – pork belly with crackling and hash brown and other yummy, bad-for-you things. They teased me with my order, with the girls getting theirs whilst I watched them eat. But boy, was if worth the wait! Ferg Burger is a must for anyone in Queenstown.

Catching up back at the hostel, we made our plans for the evening – to join some others from our bus  with wine on the beach and then on to World Bar again to meet everyone else. The group down at the lake front was German Nick, Simon, Chief Dan, Susie, Morgan, Matt, Emily, Puck and myself and was an absolutely hilarious hour or so.

In World Bar, this time entering far less drunk than the night before, everyone was on top form. With Emily and Jane a little worse for wear come midnight, and some of the boys in a similar state and turned away from the club, we went on around the corner to a different bar to dance the night away. I think this was probably my turning point as I remember several tequila shots with German Nick, some form of Hitler impression and then a drunken Ferg Burger (well, I had chips and Nick had a burger). Eventually we made it back home, being joined by Puck in the lounge before finally heading to bed about 4am. And this was us saying we weren’t going to get drunk before our Milford Sound trip the next day!!

Puck woke me up at 7.30am to get the Milford bus. Oh my gosh did my head hurt. I scoffed down some toast and went to join the troops downstairs, to find out that my MSc results were finally in. This was the start to the best day of my life. Not only did I get a distinction (eeeeeee!) BUT, I also, somehow and for reasons beyond me, managed to get 87% in my thesis, which is absolutely mental! And this all happened before I had even got on the bus!

However, my head was still pounding and once on board, I fell straight asleep with Puck now using me as a pillow in payback from the Picton ferry crossing. About an hour in and after a stretch of road known as ‘The Devil’s Staircase’ (another one) I started feeling a little ropey. And then up came the vom, in to both my hands and a bag! It was hilarious and still funny that the best day of my life consisted of a hangover and vomiting on the bus. Luckily my travel family were angels and helped me out.

The Milford bus trip was long as there was just one road in and out, spanning over 150kms from Queenstown itself, through fjiordlands, mountains and valleys. We had a few photo stops along the way to break up the journey in these different locations:

  • Homer Tunnel and the valley just beyond (Homer Tunnel feels like you’re about to go on Space Mountain at Disneyland as the tunnel descends 1m in altitude every 10m in distance, taking you from the top of the mountain to the bottom)
  • The Chasm (a deep crevice that has been eroded in abstract, circular patterns by the river)
  • Various viewpoints and waterfalls (the mountains are all solid rock, so when it rains there are thousands of waterfalls, as there were that day, but they dry up within about 2 hours of the rain stopping).

Our boat set sail at 3pm, and having left Queenstown at 9am, it had taken that entire length of time to reach Milford Sound. The captain warned us that a storm had come in meaning gusts up to 100km/h, pelting rain and very choppy conditions. Although this sounded awful, he assured us this was absolutely the best way to experience the Sounds. Boy was he right! No photo will capture what we got to experience that day. Hundreds and hundreds of waterfalls, 3x the height of Niagara, waterfalls that didn’t fall but went up or were whipped away due to the wind. Jane and I stood out on the front deck to get the true experience, being flung from one side of the boat to the other by the wind and waters. The only way that I can describe Milford Sounds in these conditions is spectacular. Sure, it’s probably pretty in the sun, but it was breathtaking in a storm and you had to get out on deck to really experience that.

Obviously, we were soaked through stepping off the boat, so after drying off and getting back on the bus, we all fell asleep in preparation for the 5 hour journey back to Queenstown. Once back, we completely crashed; a combination of both the long day and the heavy night previously. But there we have it, the best day of my entire life: November 25th 2016.

The next day we had the Shotover Canyon Swing booked in. We checked in and got weighed (an extremely nervous experience for someone travelling, drinking alcohol most nights and eating lots of fast food!). Driving up to the canyon, I decided I wanted to ride a trike off the edge of the cliff. Once we harnessed up, Puck was up first and flipped off backwards sat on a chair (“See you later. Bye bye!”). It looked simultaneously terrifying and hilarious. Sadly, after Puck jumped the wind picked up to 30 knots and the rest of us had to reschedule our jumps. Luckily I was in town long enough to do so.

The rest of the day, we wondered around Queenstown, caught up with some of the others who also had their activities cancelled that day, and treated ourselves to yet another Ferg Burger. This time I went for the Cock Cajun; even more delicious than the previous pork belly one! Queenstown was a little dull, rainy and windy that day which made any kind of walk or outside activity troublesome and we therefore spent our afternoon chilling out and relaxing before we went out again that evening.

The evening took us back to World Bar for a third night in four days, although this time I played “Mum” to Puck and Em who were both states that night. Despite this, some fabulous dancing, Puck’s rising from the dead after her combined drunkness and “sickness down under” and Emily’s chip donation made for an excellent night. When we got back to our new room, my children of the evening joined me on the top bunk for the cutest heart-to-heart and cuddle before we all fell asleep spooning on my bed. At 6am I woke up sweating and had to leave the kids to it, but I think it was perhaps my favourite night out yet and just another reason why I’m going to be so sad when I leave these angels.

Unfortunately my skydive was also cancelled the next morning due to low cloud, and a fresh scattering of snow had fallen across all the mountains too. This gave us a lie in, which was gratefully received, before we went a few streets across to a cafe called ‘Ballard Trading Co.’ for incredible avocado smash on toast with bacon. Although the weather had disrupted our early morning plans and the temperature was below 10 degrees, the clouds were burning off making for a really beautiful day. Therefore, Emily, Puck, Morgan and I decided to hike Queenstown Hill – a continuous upwards track to 950m above sea level. It was tough but it felt great to be exercising and the views were breathtaking; well worth every second of uphill pain:

At the top, we just sat and watched the world go by below us. The airport and aeroplanes taking off made it look like a fully working model village. There was also the remnants of someone’s rock writing previously so I spent 20 minutes altering it to something more suitable for our own pictures :).

The walk back down was much quicker and after a small shop, shower and chat, we were soon at the local cinema to watch the new Harry Potter/Eddie Redmayne film, ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’. It was great to just chill out and do something quite homely, and the film was also a really enjoyable watch.

I then cooked a veggie curry dinner for my two kids, feeding them up on the vitamins they required and to help Puck through her illness. My healthy day was already starting to lift my energy levels from where the constant going out was catching up with me (“burning the candle at both ends” as my Daddy dearest would say).

We only wanted to chill out that night, so took a stroll to the harbour and found a bar playing some live music. With Nick and one of Monique’s roommates joining the family, we had a quick drink before deciding that Mrs Ferg’s hot chocolate and our beds were actually fantastic options for company for the rest of the evening! Yet again, I went to bed with a great big smile having had the loveliest day, fallen in love with Queenstown for the millionth time that week, and so thankful for the incredible people in the city with me.

The following morning, my last in Queenstown, I had some time to myself whilst the girls went canyoning as I couldn’t afford to. Monique had come in to say goodbye; the first of many sad goodbyes in the days to come, and after catching up on a bit more sleep, I took myself off for a run around Queenstown Gardens as the weather was so beautiful.

I still had a few hours to kill before the girls returned and wondered the streets for some coffee and free wifi to start planning my Australia trip. I ended up at a really sweet pub on the waters edge called ‘Pub on the Wharf’ and ordered a jerk chicken noodle salad whilst sorting out all the necessary bookings. The girls got back around 1pm so I went to meet them afterwards before Emily and I had our rearranged Canyon Swing at 3.30pm.

We went back through the formalities of being weighed, but this time it was good news for me! After my previous healthy day and run that morning, I’d lost weight from that first weigh-in. This time we had Cam take us up to the canyon and I preferred him to the last guy so all was good. Once we were harnessed up, Cam called me up first considering our initial jump had been cancelled. I chose to cycle off the ledge on a trike, free-falling 60m before being caught by a swing and swinging in the canyon for 200m. It’s safe to say my legs were trembling a little but, typically, they threw me off on the count of ‘2’ rather than ‘1’ so I didn’t really have the time to hesitate. And I loved it! So much so that I chose to do it all over again, this time jumping myself, facing backwards, which was far scarier than before. Em chose to be hung face down and released, at which point she yelped like someone stood on a dogs tail making for a hilarious 2 minutes for me.

Our photos and videos were highly amusing and gave us some great entertainment for the next half hour and then again when we showed Puck and Hattie back at the hostel. Not before a gelato date though, heading to Mrs Ferg with the family and tasting their famous gelato flavours. I went for salted caramel and raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake and it was scrumdiddleeumptious!

Again, I was on chef duty that night cooking chicken curry for the girls. Nick and other Emily, who had come back from Christchurch, joined us as we made last-family-night-out plans, promising ourselves that we would not go to World Bar for a fourth night.

To save some money, we pre-drunk in our room and luckily our other roommate, who had already endured the 3am chats a few nights previous, was chilled about this. Although I’m sure she was glad to see the back of us when we left the next morning. Classic games of ‘Ring of Fire’ and ‘I presumed you…’ ensued, with particular highlights being the rule that you can’t show your teeth when you speak and Em rhyming ‘laugh’ with ‘math’, justifying it as mathematics for posh people (I miss her already)!

Eventually we did head out, first trying ‘The London’, which had a good buzz even if it was a little quiet. And as soon as Mariah’s ‘All I Want For Christmas’ and Whitney’s ‘I Want To Dance With Somebody’ came on, we were definitely ready to go dance somewhere ourselves.

As has become customary and well known to my travel family, I love to dance! So the search was on for a club with good dancing. The search lasted all of 5 minutes before Nick, Emily and I ended up at guess where?! World Bar! Jesus Christ. It’s safe to say that I cannot report on the nightlife of Queenstown as a whole, but I can report that if you want a good night, head to World Bar.

After losing Emily and Nick falling asleep outside before taking himself home, I found the others and FINALLY made it downstairs to the club part of World Bar. They had a live band playing and although it wasn’t club music, it was still a good beat to dance to and that was all I cared about. We stayed dancing for a while before the bartenders refused to serve Em anymore and we went in search for food. Typically, I ended up at Ferg Burger again (I also can’t report on Queenstown’s drunk food too much!), this time actually trying a classic burger, although still preferring the chicken one I had a few days before. Here, we met Puck’s male doppelgänger which was a very strange experience for all involved. Especially since she has her own unique look, like this:

We got back about 4am. I don’t know how I was still standing on two feet after Queenstown but each night was really great fun. The 7.30am alarm to pack and check-out however, not so fun! Especially as we had to say goodbye to our family. Puck and I jumped on Emily, crying on the inside as the three of us were not particularly emotional people, and said the saddest goodbye of them all to her, having literally not left each other’s side for 4 solid weeks.

I grabbed some breakfast, bumping in to Tessa Martin from home, and then had to do the rest of the family goodbyes to Hattie, Susie, Morgan and Nick, who had all got up to wave us off. And then with sore heads, we jumped on board our Kiwi Bus, with the family dwindled down to just Puck, Matt and myself.

Queenstown, you truly were special. A stunningly beautiful landscape that let my geography mind run wild, the location of the best day of my life, the new home to my travel family, and the host of a lot of my favourite New Zealand memories. Queenstown now has a special place in my heart and head.

And so, 29 days in to ‘life from a bag’ and I’ve left some friends, achieved an MSc with distinction, had the best memories and am in desperate need of vegetables and a detox! But so far, so incredibly good.

Gabby x


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