When I’d initially received word that I’d be going to New Zealand for a few weeks on a work-related assignment, I did my homework. Aside from the obvious location as the setting for much of the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit films, New Zealand seemed like a great place to get some fantastic landscape photos (racked up on my D800 which is fast approaching 20,000 shutter cycles). The highlight of this trip was supposed to be a trip down to Queenstown on the south island, recommended by many a Kiwi and foreigner alike.
I was pretty disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong, the scenery was everything it was supposed to be. Magnificent vistas, rolling hills, sparkling azure lakes, and a squeaky clean landscape. After having hiked through the hills with tripod and my magnificent Nikon 14-24mm f2.8/D800 combination on my aching back, I had thought to enjoy some of the local nightlife. There was something that I couldn’t put my finger on, and finally I clicked onto it after having been served by a Japanese and an American in a wine store. There weren’t any New Zealanders in Queenstown. None. Everyone was a tourist, be they someone met in a bar or working at the corner store. Late night liquor shop – South African. Steakhouse – Canadian (and a whiney Albertan girl at that, we were obviously interfering with her cultural experience). On the mountain hiking – Polish (to be fair, they were cool). Annoying hippy/Rastafarian wannabes at the bar – American. Loud and incredibly annoying drunks – English (to be fair, the Poms can’t hold their liquor or be sensible in any country in the world). Brutally annoying girl who lost her rag after a member of my crowd refused to Facebook her – Quebec, Canada (hey, extremely stupid Quebec girl – my friend is in a happy relationship with his girlfriend, what kind of message does it send to all of a sudden add a girl at 0300 in a bar far away from home?!). Guys inappropriately drugged out at bar – American/Australian. Girl who basically wanted to be taken back to a hotel room with four guys and gang banged – French. Vomiting in the corner of the bar – Swiss. Exceptionally noisy and drunk in the park – Korean. Buying everything in sight, no matter how crap – Chinese. Wandering around clueless and unable to speak a word of English – Japanese. In Queenstown, the only Kiwi we met was a policeman who pulled us over after we had braked suddenly (he promptly breathalysed our driver, who was cold sober) after discovering our hotel at 1am. I chatted to him for a few minutes, and he turned out to be the nicest guy we met during our stay there.
Frankly I had a lot more fun in Palmerston North, near Dairy Research Unit No. 1 on the North Island. It might not have been the most hip or upscale area, but at least people were having fun and were friendly and approachable.
I’d compare Queenstown to Banff here in Canada. Canadians can’t afford it because the real estate and hotel prices have been driven up by foreigners, and my sense is that Queenstown is no different. It reminded me of Cozumel in Mexico, a small town with a full service airport just for tourists, along with prices jacked up (prices for everything were 25% higher – eg. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2012 in Queenstown – $43-46 NZ, anywhere else in NZ, $29), There’s no question that the Queenstown scenery is fantastic, but it’s been absolutely ruined by tourists, particularly of the Anglo/American backpacker/newly Asian bourgeois variety. On sober second thought, we did absolutely the right thing. Drove in by car, joined the madness for the minimum amount of time necessary, and then got out while we still enjoyed it. I feel sorry for the Kiwis who have to put up with this crap and essentially have one of the nicest parts of their island chain taken away from them. Oh well.