Getting to Queenstown

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Since our early return from our USA trip last year long trips to faraway places have been off the agenda. Hence when Qantas had an offer with some incentive, which I now forget, a short trip to nearby New Zealand seemed a reasonable option. Deciding where to go and what to do required some thinking.

Two weeks seemed a reasonable time to be away but Majella was prepared to miss just one Monday night at Sing Australia so we would have to depart on a Tuesday and return on a Sunday. That set dates for our flights.

We have spent a total of about eight weeks in New Zealand since our first visit in 2007-08. In three trips to the South Island we have been to Milford Sound twice but have not made it to Doubtful Sound because it is more remote and more difficult to access. It can be done in a day trip from Queenstown so that was reason enough to plan to spend a few days based in Queenstown. Our previous visits to Queenstown have been in warmer months – December-January, February, December – so we thought and August visit would be (literally) cool.

Getting to the South Island of New Zealand at a civilised hour with Qantas can be challenging. Their flights seem to involve early departures from Australia or late arrivals at a destination. Taking Qantas flights was how this exercise began so we needed at least some flights with them. In the end the most civilised schedule I could manage was to fly with Qantas in and out of Auckland and use Air New Zealand for the flights to and from Queenstown. Arriving in Queenstown at 7:00 pm is not ideal but it is better than midnight.

Planned North Island routeFour nights in Queenstown will be enough to take the Doubtful Sound trip on Thursday (Day 3) and have a day either side to explore some local sights we have not seen or at least not in winter conditions with full snow on the mountains. Then we fly back to the North Island where we have booked a Britz campervan for the balance of our trip. We plan to use that to explore some areas of the North Island that we have missed on previous trips. The map shows our planned route but we are intending to treat that as a flexible guide and see where our noses lead us.

An 8:45 am international flight out of Brisbane requires being at the airport early and, with a 2 hour drive from Toowoomba, that would have required waking soon after 3:00 am. Even then, any incident on the Warrego Highway would be a problem. Instead we drove to Brisbane after Majella had finished with Sing Australia at 9:00 pm and stayed in a motel near the airport.

The Airport Hacienda Motel was convenient if not very salubrious. We were checked in and in bed by 11:00 pm but we both had difficulty getting to sleep though we must have managed some sleep. I’m told I snored, we both remember waking from strange dreams, and my Fitbit assures me I slept almost six hours.

Soon after 6:00 am we dropped our car at Andrew’s and headed for the airport. I had checked in online yesterday so we had boarding passes but needed baggage tags. That part was easy but the bag drop machine refused to cooperate and we needed assistance to get that done. Security had a new machine that needs nothing taken out of bags which simplifies the process but my security pocket upset the body scan and I had to be frisked. Immigration was all machines and quick. By 7:00 am we were enjoying breakfast in the Qantas Club.

Our flight to Auckland departed on time and arrived about 30 minutes early, around 1:25 pm. There must have been a decent tailwind across the Tasman. We cleared immigration easily by machine, waited for our bags, and then proceeded to show our boots to customs before catching the bus to the domestic terminal. There we found what the PA was calling the ‘chicken’ area, printed baggage tags, and dropped our bags. Then began the long wait for our 5:20 pm flight to Queenstown. The earlier one was about to depart as we arrived at the domestic terminal so there was no chance we could have made that connection.

My first task was to swap our Telstra SIMs for the 2Degrees SIMs I had bought online a couple of months ago. That will give us NZ numbers for calls or SMS and 10 GB of data for when we don’t have WiFi access. As usual the process did not go exactly as described in the documentation but it all seems to be working though we quickly switched to the free airport WiFi.

 At 3:00 pm we headed for security. I managed to set off the scanner, probably because my shirt has a protected pocket. Once that was sorted we went to our gate and waited for our flight to appear.

We boarded and departed on time, heading south and up through the clouds into clear air as the sun set. We were out to sea down the coast of the North Island with not much to see but occasional glimpses of coast far below. By the time we reached the South Island it was too dark to see much but a few lights until snowy mountain tops appeared as we neared Queenstown. The flight included cheese and crackers with a glass of wine served during the calm portion of the flight. There had been a little turbulence on takeoff but there was more swaying as we made our approach to Queenstown in the darkness. A safe landing brought spontaneous applause from the passengers.

Our rental car was arranged through and our provider, Ace, was outside and across the street. We braved the 6ºC cold, collected our car and headed for our accommodation at Lomond Lodge. Reception was closed but they had left a note with keys. There was no parking card in our room but we called as suggested and were given the OK to park out front.

We walked down the hill a little way to Jervois Steak House where we ate very enjoyable meals. Majella had lamb rump with a glass of mulled cider. I had wild venison with a side of roast beetroot, goats cheese and rocket accompanied by a glass of pinot noir. We picked up some things for a simple breakfast on our way back to our room.