Queenstown: Tourism Capital

December 7, 2020
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QUEENSTOWN is nearly two hours southof Auckland by jet, two hours that make a difference. Auckland has palm treesand looks like Fiji. Queenstown looks more like Norway.

Queenstown is on a long lake called Lake Wakatipu, whichstretches 80 km or 50 miles from Kingston at one end to Glenorchy and Kinlochat the other. Queenstown is part-way between.


Lake Wakatipu, with key towns and localities along it and roadsleading away from its ends. Background is aNASA WorldWind false-colour Landsat-7 image via Wikimedia Commons, in publicdomain.

Queenstownlies at the heart of the most touristy part of New Zealand, surrounded byskifields, tramping tracks and amazing mountain scenery. In spite of itsremoteness, the town boasts an international airport, receiving planes from Australiaas well as other parts of New Zealand.

Sincepeople arrived in New Zealand, the area has always been something of a gatewayto an important hinterland. For old-time Māori, Lake Wakatipu was an accesswaybetween the West Coast, with its waters of pounamu, and communities furthereast, There were also permanent pā, or villages, in what’s now the Queenstownarea. The main ones were Tāhuna at Queenstown and Te Kirikiri on what is nowthe site of the Queenstown Gardens, the great park on a finger of land thatextends into the lake from the centre of the town and forms a sort ofbreakwater on the Queenstown’s lakeshore harbour.

Māorilegend has it that the lake is the impression in which the body of a giant wasburned. A rhythmic rising and falling of the lake’s level over several minutes,which is actually a very slow swell triggered by the wind, was attributed tothe slow beating of the giant’s heart.

Tāhunameans shallow bay or cove. That is also the origin of the name Queenstown, moreindirectly.

Theoriginal Queenstown was a seaport in Ireland with a sheltered cove, which wasformerly called Cove and then renamed in the mid-1800s in honour of QueenVictoria, the whole of Ireland being a part of the United Kingdom at that time.Following this precedent, several colonial Queenstowns were founded soon afterincluding the New Zealand one.

Since the 1860s, four significant steam-powered vessels haveplied the lake: the Antrim (in service from 1868 until 1905), the BenLomond (1872-1951, known as the Jane Williams until 1886), the Mountaineer(1879-1932) and the Earnslaw (1912 to the present).

Wind, steam and speed: a photograph of theEarnslaw under weigh in 1975, from the New Zealand Maritime Record

In the 1969 the Earnslaw was acquired fromthe Railways Department by a company called Fiordland Travel. These days, FiordlandTravel is called Real Journeys, and it’s huge.

As for downtown Queenstown, it provides the heritageexperience, too. The section of street now known as the Queenstown Mall has notchanged very much since the days when people held long poses for Victorian-eraphotos, though it’s not so muddy these days.

Lower Ballarat Street, now the Queenstown Mall, 1878, with the BenLomond, known at that time as the Jane Williams, in the background. Te PapaTongarewa (the Museum of New Zealand), photographby William Hart, Hart, Campbell & Co. Purchased 1943. Registration numberC.014174. At the time of writing, you can download a 21 MB version of thisstriking image for free from

Visible in the photograph above, Eichardt’s Private Hotel is still there atthe waterfront end of the left side of the street, and so is the building onthe far left of the photo, although most of its façade is now hidden by moderncafe clutter. But you can still see the ‘1872’ date at the top.

According to the hotel’s website, Eichardt’swas the first building to have electricity in Queenstown, a system installedunder the tenure of Julia Eichardt, who managed it as a sole female proprietorbetween the death of her husband Albert in 1882 and her own death ten yearslater.

Not too far away from Queenstown is the even more historicgold-mining settlement of Arrowtown where the Lakes District Museum and ArtGallery is located, along with many old cottages and an old-timey streetscape.

Before the area became dependent on tourism, sheep and goldwere the mainstays of the colonial economy. Even in those days there was acertain amount of tourism. The townships of Glenorchy and Kinloch, and theaptly-named Paradise Valley, were all popular destinations.

The Paradise Valley

I’ll be talking about a number of places that you might goto from Queenstown in the following blog posts. But just in the town itself orits immediate surroundings, you can do the following things.

Changing Times

In the present age of massinternational tourism, which has been crimped by Covid but will surely bounceback, Queenstown is a far cry from the way it was in earlier times of gold,scheelite and sheep. Indeed, the town has experienced growing pains since 1972,if not longer.

Blog posts, with more information and images

Queenstown: Ten things to do in town and around: xxxxxxxxxxx

Christmas in New Zealand, including a late snowstorm that verynearly made it white:

Travelling Back in time on the Earnslaw:

Paradise: The Real Top of the Lake:

Lockdown in Queenstown:

A blog post that describes the Arawata Track in its secondhalf:

A blog post about Otago history:

Bobs Cove: An amazing bay on Lake Wakatipu, close toQueenstown:

Amazing Arrowtown: A colonial time capsule:

The history of the Coronet Peak skifield from the 1950s tonow:

A misty day out in the Remarkables mountain range:

Cross-country skiing at Snow Farm, Part One:

Cross-country Skiing at Snow Farm, Part Two:


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