Returning home is difficult after a week off. At times, I have been known to struggle after a weekend away. Imagine the debilitating travelling blues that have overcome me after a year living and working in what has to be the most beautiful town on the planet.
Queenstown is nestled between Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables mountain range in the central Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island. I left the UK in January 2016 to travel the length of the country before finally settling there in February. There was no doubt in my mind that this was the place for me. There’s not really a doubt in my mind that it would be the place for most people…
That’s not to say, however, that Queenstown doesn’t have its pitfalls. Don’t even talk to me about avocado prices out of season… I’m talking half my hourly wage. Accommodation and average salary can be an issue too. For those of you just setting out on a kiwi trip, with the adventure capital of the world in mind as your final destination, I’ve compiled my most useful bits of advice.
YOUR QUEENSTOWN QUESTIONS ANSWERED
What time of year should I go?
Queenstown has an extremely transient population. I must have met about 4 locals during the year I spent there. Summer and winter are the busiest seasons – (summer is Dec-Feb, whilst the winter season spans June – September). The shoulder seasons (any other time) are your best bet to get yourself settled in accommodation and a job before the masses arrive. Having said that, there is more work during Winter and Summer due to the increase in tourists.
Where should I live?
Accommodation was one of the biggest challenges for me. Rental properties get snapped up the day they are advertised. You won’t find hardly anything on the internet as the landlords have no need to generate interest – they will always get filled. The best way to find somewhere to lay your head at night is through word of mouth (telling every human you encounter for more than a 30 second period at a time that you need a place to live). Failing that, get yourself a copy of The Lakes Weekly either online on a Monday afternoon or in print on a Tuesday. Its the local newspaper – it has absolutely no news in it but PLENTY of ads for houses, flat shares, spare rooms, cars, yoga mats. It is your friend. The other important thing is to be persistent, ring up the ad numbers on the day and ask for a viewing as soon as possible. Property moves at lightning speed in Queenstown, and so must you. Also, consider living somewhere a little out of town. I lived in Alpine Village, a small complex on Frankton Road, closer to Frankton than Queenstown. We bought ourselves a car to run us into town. You get a lot more for your money in places like Frankton, Fernhill, Sunshine Bay, Kelvin Heights etc.
New Zealand is famous for many things. High salaries are not among them. Particularly in Queenstown, do not expect to start off getting anything but minimum wage, which is around $15 dollars per hour. The vast majority of jobs in Queenstown are in hospitality – bars, hotels, restaurants – and these will rarely pay more than they have to. Most of Queenstown’s employers are pretty relaxed – I found a job in a bar within 3 days of looking for work. I’m pretty sure the manager never even read my CV, he just hauled me in for a trial shift and that was it. If bar work or waitressing isn’t for you, congratulations… welcome to my boat. No, I can’t carry three plates unless the customer has requested to eat their pasta dish directly from their lap….
I spent the majority of my year working at Skyline, the company that runs the gondola up to the top of Bob’s Peak. There’s a great restaurant and a set of gravity-fuelled go karts up there called The Luge. I worked in the photography department and absolutely loved the 10 months I spent there. Great social life, great people, great work perks and I was also able to add to my CV when I took up the opportunity of becoming a Photography Team Leader.
If telling you that EVERYTHING is worth doing isn’t particularly informative, I would say the things you absolutely must not leave Queenstown without doing are as follows: race your family mercilessly on Skyline’s luge tracks, climb Ben Lomond for glorious panoramic views of surrounding mountain ranges, swing into a canyon attached to a child’s tricycle , do a Cycle & Wine tour at Gibbston Valley , scare yourself stupid on the Shotover Jet and bury your face in a Fergburger.
I won’t sugar coat it for you: groceries on the South Island are expensive. Don’t just throw stuff into your basket, check the prices. They change drastically with the seasons. Avocados can be anything from $1 to $8 depending on the time of year. Bars serve Corona’s with lemon because sometimes limes are $45 per kg. Fresh stuff isn’t cheap and isn’t always easy to come by. My advice would be to shop around. If you have a car, or a mate with a car, DEFINITELY avoid the FourSquare Alpine supermarket or Nite N Day in the centre of town. Their prices are higher than the supermarkets out of town. Fresh Choice is really only a 1o minute walk along Gorge Road and is worth making the trip for. Other options with a vehicle include New World in The Remarkables Park or Countdown at 5 Mile. I’m pretty sure a Pak N Save was also opening up near Countdown as I left.
- Get yourself a car. They’re cheap to run compared to the UK, with low fuel prices and cheap insurance. By law, you don’t even need insurance. Lakes Weekly is the way forward. Queenstown isn’t really close to anything and it means you can travel outside the bubble once in a while. Wanaka is an hour’s drive away and is not to be missed. Lake Tekapo, Dunedin, Invercargill and Mount Cook can all be reached in a day by car. Get yourself out and about!
- Do free stuff. Avoid wasting your entire measly pay check in Queenstown’s record number of bars. Whilst those Jaegerbombs at Searle Lane might feel like a great idea at the time, they’re not really showcasing the best of what Queenstown has to offer. There are tonnes of walks to complete, mountains to climb and lakeside trails to run around. Natural beauty is surrounding you, so make sure you look.
- Get attached. Your year abroad isn’t a holiday – you have moved your life here for a year, so make sure you get yourself involved in something that makes you feel at home. I joined CrossFit Queenstown; this was one of the best things I did for myself as I made friends with a completely new set of people and was able to keep my fitness up instead of returning home gelatinous.
- Stop reading this blog and book a ticket.