Sometimes random traveling memories will just pop into my head…
Do you ever get that? When a memory so vivid projects itself in front of your eyes. It’s like you can reach out and touch it, you can smell those familiar smells, feel the air around you, hear the voices like you’re transported back there once more living through it.
That is exactly what just happened to me. I was actually writing another post, all of a sudden my mind was randomly transported back to Queenstown, New Zealand. That magical little town also known to us backpackers as Neverland. I don’t even remember the other post I was about to write.
In this post we’re going to go on a little trip down memory lane, I’m not sure where this post will lead, there isn’t any structure to it. There’s just my thoughts of Queenstown, how to get there, why Queenstown New Zealand holds such a special place to any of us long term backpackers who have stayed there for more than a few days and yeah, let’s see where it leads us.
Where is New Zealand?
New Zealand is at the far reaches of the world, for many of us, the furthest country away from home, sitting in the shadow of it’s huge cousin Australia. But New Zealand, isn’t just a shy little cousin. New Zealand is voracious, exciting, and full of mystique. Hot lava runs through its veins and It’s body made up by the two main volcanic Islands that make this country.
The country itself is famous for it dairy, has a reputation for having the best lamb on earth, indigenous Maori people, volcanoes hot-springs, glaciers, mountains and the southern Alps. It’s home to the intimidating Haka and where middle earth (Lord of the rings) came to life.
And Queenstown takes its place within this country, with it’s own fames and uniqueness and is a favourite amongst many a backpacker in Queenstown.
However to get to Queenstown, or Neverland as we backpackers like to call it, we need to go on a journey…No, excuse me I mean an adventure through middle earth to reach it.
Neverland can be found in the South Island of New Zealand, so you will have to prize yourself away from the gorgeous Abel Tasman National park in the north tip of the south Island and cruise down the west coast.
Pass the western style old town of Greymouth and see the clouds descend and seemingly touch the ground when you reach the incredible but receding Glaciers of Franz Joseph and Fox.
You’re not there yet
Once you’ve tackled the glaciers, you’ll be treated to a series of lakes including Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. The lakes will soon be in your rearview mirror as you compromise through the narrow, twisty deep valley roads nestled within the Southern Alps.
You will feel like you’re getting nowhere, twist after twist of valley road, but then just like that out of nowhere, the road opens up and civilization greets you.
Feel the energy of Neverland
While heading down Frankton Road you will start to feel it, the energy will start to hit you, it’s mesmeric powers will feel like you’re getting sucked into a bubble. As you head down the hill and see the quaint town below, fumes of coffee and malt wine engulf your nose and the crisp air bites and encase every fiber of you.
You are now in the bubble, the rest of the world doesn’t exist, you have arrived in Neverland – More commonly known as Queenstown, New Zealand.
Queenstown, New Zealand: Are you local?
You know there are certain places in the world that are just horrible tourist traps, while I normally hate tourist towns, Queenstown isn’t one of them. There is this special atmosphere floating around the place, that just makes you fall in love with it.
I’ll be honest, hundreds if not thousands of tourists and backpackers pour in and flood the town every single day, no matter the weather or season because it caters for all weather conditions. We the floaters and roamers of the world arrive, feel the magic, and it becomes our sanctuary, our playground and that’s why backpackers call this place Neverland.
It’s hard to leave Queenstown, New Zealand
This magical atmosphere is generated from the melting pot of tourists, backpackers, thrill seekers, adrenaline junkies and sprinkled with locals. Once you’ve tasted from the pot, It’s hard for us to leave. There are people I know who arrived as backpackers but never left.
This mixture of people coming together creates such a unique atmosphere and high energy that I have never felt or experienced anywhere else in the world except for Portugal. When you’re in Queenstown New Zealand, you’re not just there; you become a part of it and become lost to the rest of the world.
Becoming a local in Neverland
It’s funny when I arrived I was just another face, another backpacker in Queenstown but just after a few weeks, I was seen by the locals as a local. With the town being so small everybody who lives there knows each other; it doesn’t matter if you’re a backpacker living there, a local family, or a business owner. Once your face becomes familiar, you’re seen as a local.
Originally, I was a backpacker in Queenstown, like many others, I was backpacking through the country. I spent a few days there, instantly I felt it’s energy, but I had to carry on my travels. I knew though I would be back, I had to go back, I needed to feel that energy once more. A few months later, I was back, this time to stay. Like I mentioned, within weeks I was seen and recognised as a local and even got myself a job.
I could walk into my local cafe, not even having to order and there would be a coffee ready for me. In fact on my route to work, I would walk into the local store without saying a word the clerk would pull out a pack of cigarettes for me, the cafe would have my coffee ready, and the sandwich shop would have a sandwich saved for me.
It wasn’t just me, it’s the same for anybody considered a local. Also, locals get certain things for cheaper. (Queenstown has tourist prices and local prices.)
Even the shit times were great
There was another side to living in Queenstown, being swept up in the vortex of the adrenaline bubble. With New Zealand being quite expensive, even though I had a job in the local call centre which was purely for backpackers the Queenstown lifestyle meant I was always broke.
We party hard in Neverland, practically every night. Money stretched as far as paying rent, some groceries and getting fucked up. There were times though when I was dirt broke. I mean not a single penny to my name, go days without a meal but I still loved it. I had been broke before in Australia, and it sucked at times, while of course it was a shitty situation here, but because of the energy, even the shit times felt good.
So fucking broke!
To give you an idea of just how broke I was at points, there was a period a friend and I didn’t have a penny to rub between us. We lived in a shitty little hut with no heating through a queenstown winter, days passed by when our only meal was some haribo sour worms, we lived off vouchers I received from work.
That period was undoubtedly one of the worse times I went through in my backpacking life, but somehow because of the energy of Queenstown, we were able to laugh through it, there were still some enjoyable moments and we got through it.
The good times
On the flip side, now there aren’t many times I was flush with money, but there were times we magical times. There were times it felt like an outer body experience, those days being up in the snowy mountains, venturing through the forests or the crazy adrenaline fuelled nights out. Never have I been in a place where I’ve been so cold but sat outside in a beer garden with a smile on my face, enchanted by energy around me.
I can feel the traveling memory
Right now, if I shut my eyes I’m at a lakeside cafe with the mesmeric mountains in front of me, lost in their tranquillity. The piping hot coffee mug thawing my frozen fingers as that crisp mountain air bites and nibbles at my cheeks. Tourists are all around me, I can hear then chatting away in Amazement, while trying to capture the perfect picture and moment they’re feeling.
All of them hidden under layers of warm clothing, scarfs, hats and big colorful coats. Some of them ready for a day up in the mountains to hike, ski, or snowboard. Joyous backpackers are walking by wondering what adrenaline jacking activity to chase next.
There were days I would sit there for hours, lost in nothing but feeling myself floating over the lake just soaking up everything around me. It’s feelings like that stay with us travelers and backpackers forever.
(My smile is as wide as a cheshire cat as my brain is projecting all this.)
The adventure capital of the southern hemisphere
New Zealand is widely known as the adventure capital of the world and that may be but the epicenter is in Queenstown. What extreme sports can you think of? Bungy jumps, canyon swings and drops, paragliding, skydiving, mountain climbing, abseiling, go karting down a mountain side, white water rafting, quad or mountain biking through the mountains, jet boat rides through canyons, and of course skiing and snowboarding. In whatever way you want your adrenaline kicked to the max, Queenstown has the collection.
Neverland was where I got my first taste of snowboarding and it was another thing I fell in love with.
If adventure sports are not your thing then don’t worry it caters for you too.
Take leisurely strolls around the town, there are countless hikes to go on, play Frisbee golf (yes that’s a thing) visit a spa or surrounding towns like Arrowtown. You can just relax by the lake with a coffee or malt wine, eat in one of the cozy restaurants and keep warm by an open log fire. Wow, I sound like I’m selling you a holiday here. (Not my intention)
As I mentioned above, this town is famous for being the epicenter for adrenaline junkies but that’s just through the day – It’s when the sun disappears behind the mountains and the moon takes its place in the night sky that the back streets and alleys light up. Coffee and malt wine is replaced with beers, wine, spirits, and jagabombs. And, the vibrancy and energy are turned up a few notches as Queenstown really comes alive.
Just one more!
Just one more! Is a term synonymous with Queenstown, and with me while I was there. Anybody who knows me from Queenstown knows just what I’m talking about.
You see in Queenstown you can go out in the evening with the intention of having one or two drinks, maybe a drink with your meal but that’s not how it works out.
With the nightlife buzzing every night of the week, people who work during the day want to wind down. The ones who had their adrenaline spiked off the charts are not ready to come down yet and this creates a vortex for partying hard. So when that time comes for when you planned to go home somebody will utter the immortal words ‘Just one more?‘ It’s like those words are spellbound because there is no saying no to it. You’re powerless (or have no willpower) and before you know it just one more has turned into going home at 4 am.
Any backpacker in Queenstown, passing through or living there will have drunk more than their body weight in alcohol on a regular basis in that town.
Adrenaline through the day, drinking and partying through the night in a magical and picturesque town with the most amazing atmosphere – Is how I spent most of my 8 months in that town. Even though it’s a small town and due to new faces coming and going every day no day or night was the same.
Oh yeah, how can I forget that other thing!
I’m sure you can see why I’m missing this bubble I used to live in but there is one other thing. It would be scandalous for me not to even mention it.
Before I even stepped into the bubble of Queenstown or even thought about going to New Zealand I was told about this from backpacker friends of mine. It actually has It’s place in lonely planet’s top ten things to do in Queenstown. Not a single soul that has visited Queenstown, New Zealand has left without trying it or taking a picture of it. Put it this way I have witnessed tourists lining the streets just to take a picture, just so they can go home and say they were there, they tried it, they experienced it.
What Am I talking about?
I am talking about the one and only…Fergburger…I’ve seen tourists come to Queenstown not caring about anything else, they came for a Fergburger, This is the only burger joint I know that’s on every Queenstown ‘must do’ list. No franchises, no huge bar, or mass production, just one shop in the whole world, making fresh burgers to order and can only be found in Queenstown.
Now I know there are some people who don’t actually rate a ‘Ferg’ but others will say it’s the best burger they have ever tasted. Well for me while I was in Queenstown I loved them, It’s the only time in my life I have waited nearly two hours for one (it was that busy).
The trip down memory lane is over
Well, that brings us to the end of this little trip down memory lane. Like I mentioned at the top of this post I had no idea of where this post was going to go. I know there wasn’t really a structure to this post and it wasn’t meant to serve as any type of guide. It was just whatever thoughts came out were put onto the page.
However, if you’re planning on being a backpacker in Queenstown, New Zealand, take it from me there is a very high chance of you getting stuck and becoming a local like the majority of us have in the past.
The lure of Queenstown for me was so big It’s one of very few places I’ve returned to on multiple occasions. Put it this way, I even went back to Neverland for a holiday for my birthday while I was living in another country, that’s how much I love this place. When the opportunity or the Universe decides, I’m sure I’ll be back to New Zealand and neverland once more.
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