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Sunday, April 28, 2019

All About Queenstown

Seriously?  It has been three years since my last post.   It doesn't mean I have not been up and about, it only means that I've been travelling often I can no longer keep up writing about it.  Social media like IG stories has been a convenient outlet to share my journey.  But nothing like a well thought good old traditional blog post to preserve your memories right?

Even before we could end this trip, quite a number of people has been asking us about New Zealand. Not so much information can be found online other than package tours or paid blog posts.

Visa Requirement for Filipinos.

First and foremost, the visa.  Filipino citizens are required to apply for visa.  You may apply through the VFS Global  or submit all documents online.  We opted to apply online by creating a Real Me accounts I will leave it to sponsored bloggers to post about how to apply for visa such as these and; it can get tricky.

Documents submitted online for visa application:

  • birth certificate
  • proof of income (income tax return)
  • approved leave from employer
  • in the absence of confirmed ticket, proof of financial capacity to buy a ticket (bank statement)
  • proof of financial capacity to finance your stay in NZ (bank statement or support letter from a 3rd party)
  • copy of passport
  • copy of passport stamps on previous travel and visa (especially from US, Japan, Canada, Europe)
  • recent photo in prescribed format

Inspite of having a US Visa, it took about two weeks before our visa was granted.    With the recent bombings in Christchurch, it may have caused the delay in the visa processing.  The embassy requires 25 working days of leadtime.

Here was our timeline for the visa application:
  • March 19 - submitted online (their electronic response says Visa will be processed by April 22)
  • March 20 - application dispatched from Immigration New Zealand Manila to the Visa Application Center
  • March 21 - passport submitted at VFS Global, Keppel Building Cebu Business Park
  • March 25 - processed passport available for pickup at New Zealand Visa Application Cebu Business Park.
  • April 2     - E-Visa approved and emailed.  I got a three year multiple visa!
How to get to Queenstown

We arrive in Auckland via Philippine Airlines, it was a nine hour long flight but it's the fastest way to get here.  We planned to explore Auckland first before flying out to Queenstown, however, the local flights were crazy expensive during the upcoming holiday weekend.  So we swapped the itinerary and here it goes.

Day 0 We arrived in Auckland past ten in the evening two hours past our scheduled arrival.  Good thing we didn't book a connecting flight.  We opted to stay near the airport for our next day's mid morning flight to Queenstown.  We stayed overnight at Ibis Budget Airport Hotel.  A 5 minute bus ride from the airport with the yellow bus (6 NZD).  (You need coins or credit card to purchase bus tickets.) Ibis is a no frills hotel, the name speaks for itself, a budget hotel.  It served its purpose just for an overnighter,

Day 1 Next morning, we finally landed in Queenstown at noon via Air New Zealand.  Other airline that flies between Auckland and Queenstown would be JetStar.  The airport is small, we breezed through baggage claim thereafter.  Our pre booked shared shuttle with Super Shuttle met us just outside the exit.  We arrived in town center in less than ten minutes.

First thing we did was had a good lunch then book tours then stroll along the lakeside.  We randomly chanced upon Nomads Backpackers Hostel on Church Street and booked tours with them.  The agent was very accommodating, explained different options for different budgets (luxury or otherwise) and itinerary, we skipped canvassing and comparing tour and immediately book with them.  There are several booking agencies around town, I cannot specifically recommend one.  For the tours that we booked through Nomads, they don't offer hotel pickup, we met the group near the roundabout at The Station Information Centre.

Where to stay in Queenstown.

We have stayed in two hotels during our stay.  There being four holidays during our stay, most accommodation were fully booked, thus we have to move to another hotel.

When choosing a hotel, our primary consideration is location and price.  Queenstown is small, almost all seems walkable.  However, it is sitted on a hill or should I say a part on a hill, a part on a steep slope of a hill.   Hence, walking can be tiring on those very steep slope.

If you don't have a car, I would suggest that you stay within the flatter (pink line) part of town.  This is also the center of town where most restaurants and tour pick-up locations are located.

Mi-Pad Smart Hotel ($120/night) located along Henry's Street, offers modest sized hotel room.  It looked very new, very modern, smart.  Smart in a sense where some lights are motion sensor activated.  Hot drinks (coffee, hot chocolate, soup, water), cold drinks and water is complimentary, free flowing from a vending machine.  Best of all is the location,  it is located at the very heart of town, just two streets away from the center, yet still quiet.  This is highly recommended.  Any hotel beyond (above) Henry's Street is way too steep for a leisurely walk.

Novotel Lakeside Queenstown ($332/night) is located right infront of the lake.  It's a bit dated however the room was spacious.  We booked directly with their website  since it came out with better deals in comparison to online platforms like, or agoda.  We picked the cheapest available room category, facing the courtyard, it was cancellable with $1 NZD add on for buffet breakfast.

What to do in Queenstown.

Since it is off season during Autumn, we only pre-booked two tours prior to flying in.  These are the tours that were a priority for us and to get us going at least for the first two days.

Day 2 Wanaka.  Departs 8am, returns 5pm with

Wanaka is an hour away from Queenstown, known for its "tree", picturesque lake and hiking trails.  It is also the jump off point for hikes to Roy's Peak, I would loved to hike there but after knowing it will be a 7-hour climb, I had to search for plan B.  We wanted to do both activities sans the sweat and found this tour that included transfers from Queenstown, boat tour across Lake Wanaka, a 4x4 explorer in a private (farm) mountain and picnic at the peak.  They picked us up in Queenstown with their partner  It included a bonus sidetrip to Arrowtown and Cardona.  This was one of the best experiences we had during the trip.

Day 3 Heli-Hike to Tasman Glacier, Mt Cook. Departs 645am, returns 7pm with

We joined the Mt Cook Adventure tour by from Queenstown.  Helicopter tours gets cancelled often due to weather.  While checking the forecast, clear sunny days is expected in the next two days but rain is expected on our original tour date.

The Heli Hike at the glaciers was the highlight of our trip, we can't gamble for it to be cancelled.  At the last minute, we decided to reschedule to an earlier date.  The Heli-Hike tour was fully booked on our preferred date with their partner  Luckily we found one operator that fits the tour schedule, we had to take care of our own booking with  After several email exchanges, Dan of Cheeky Kiwi accommodated us to join the transfers from Queenstown otherwise we'd be constrained to hire a private van for twice the price.  Indeed, it was a good decision; we picked the best weather day to be at the glaciers.

The scenic helicopter ride over Mt. Cook is also a great alternative.  If you have time to spare, head to Franz Josef and do the heli-hike over there.

Day 4 Jet Boat at Skippers Canyon.  Departs 8am or 1pm with Skippers Canyon Jet

We were given several options to do the Jet Boat.  Shotover River is one of the popular ones however, we opted for Skippers Canyon Jet since we were told it is more thrilling to jet through narrow canyons and it included a 3-hour scenic tour.  It did not disappoint.  The narrow path through Skippers Road, tagged as one of the world's most dangerous road was picturesque but not for the faint of hearts (fear of heights).  Our bus driver-guide was entertaining.  The skipper of the Jet Boat was highly skilled, precision driving at that.  The rest of the day was free time to explore Queenstown.

Day 5 Coach + Cruise at Milford Sound.  Duration 12 hours with Jucy

This is perhaps the most popular tour from Queenstown.  There are several options like the choice of bus (glass top or not), boat (small luxury with capacity of 30-50 pax or cheaper bigger boats with capacity of 150-300 pax) and meals (meal coupons or buffet).  We are not early risers so we picked the tour that leaves at a later time (945am) with an glass roofed bus with Jucy.  The glass top bus was unnecessary on a rainy day and perhaps it can get hot when the sun is out.  Good thing we didn't prebooked this online, otherwise I would have booked with Great Sights.

  • $240 Great Sights coach + Mitre Peak Luxury Cruise + lunch (720am)
  • $189 Mitre Peak coach + Mitre Peak Luxury Cruise (630am)
  • $149 Go Orange coach + Cruise (640am or 9am)
  • $125 Jucy Coach + Classic Cruise (910am)
  • $169 Jucy Coach + Premium Cruise + 15$ food voucher (945am)
  • $199 Cheeky Kiwi Small Group Van + Go Orange Cruise
It was raining all day during our tour to Milford Sound, but we were in for a surprise.  The roadtrip was especially viewtiful as thousands of waterfalls fell on the mountains along the road, that was hours of endless view of waterfalls.  During the cruise, we had enough waterfalls, many got soaked, the dolphins playfully appeared along side our boat, resident seals by the rock.  It's still a beautiful rainy day.

Day 6 Jet Boat + Funyaks at Glenorchy with Dart River Tours.  The operator provided gear from head to toe to keep you dry and warm.  After the thrilling jet boat experience at Skippers Canyon, the Jet Boat at Dart River is more of a leisurely ride.  Half way up the river, we stopped to transfer to our funyaks (they use inflatable rafts that can seat 2-3 people, it's more stable than the kayak).  Paddling was a struggle on relatively gentle rapids; we were going around in circles, we didn't know how to paddle!  The guide tied us to her funyak in the end.  Twas tiring, it was tempting to jump into the ice cold water to ease the muscle pain.  This activity is safe for adventurous kids.  Alternatively, you can go on a half day leisurely tour of Paradise and Glenorchy on 4x4 Lord of the Rings Tour with Nomads Safaris.

Day 7 Free time in Queenstown.  We heard mass at St. Joseph Parish on Easter Monday morning.  It was a short painful on the butt hike up the steep Beetham and Melbourne Street to get to this church.  After which we proceeded to Frankton Road to get to the Queenstown Trail by the lakeside.  The view of the lake, the gold club, the Remarkables was stunning!  I am continually in awe of God's masterpiece.

As we head back to town center, we shopped around Beach Street, Queenstown Mall, did some grocery at Four Square Alpine.  The town center is small and walkable.

We went to the opposite side where Skyline Queenstown to ride the Gondola up on Bob's peak.  There are several activities you can do up there like the luge, paraglide, bungee jump etc.

What to eat in Queenstown

New Zealand is known for their lamb, venison and beef.  This is one country where there are more sheeps than people.  Grass-fed as the menu states, it's pretty obvious when you go around town.  Grass-fed doesn't necessarily mean organic, the animals are vaccinated, the grass they feed may contain pesticide.

Fish and chips is a staple food from their British influence.  We had enough of it, but I realized that there is that tangy fishy taste not fit for my palate.

Ferburger is a hit among tourist where there is queue all day long.

Kiwi Cuisine.  Not necessarily a local way of cooking but what it means is that all the ingredients is grown and sourced locally.

Where to eat in Queenstown

Yonder at 14 Church Street, Queenstown.  They offer healthy delicious brunch menu.  We loved everything we ordered: braised pork benny ($17), asian salmon salad ($24) and vegan mexican scramble ($18).

Public Kitchen & Bar.  located right by the lakeside, offers Kiwi Cuisine.  We particularly liked the whole baked riverton flounder ($32), quinoa grilled zucchini ($9.5) and braised leg of lamb ($28).

Madam WooA Malaysian-Singaporean hawker food street inspired menu is highly recommended.  We didn't fly down under to have some Asian food, but this didn't disappoint.  It was one of our favorite meals.  We particularly liked the pulled sticky pork hawker roll ($14), roast duck & hoisin hawker roll ($16) and fish curry ($32).

The Wrinkly Rams.  If you're driving to Mt. Cook from Queenstown, this is a good breakfast stop for some freshly baked chicken pie; it was so good we saved another serving for lunch.

Bespoke Kitchen.  On the way up to the Skyline Gondola, we chanced upon this restaurant.  Their all day healthy brunch menu was a hit - salad and sandwich.  We came back twice for their carrot cake with yogurt sauce on the side.

Fishbone Bar & Grill.  It was Good Friday, we're in for some seafood today.  We had freshly shucked oysters ($33), Hoki beer battered fish & chips ($26) and lemon sole w/ brussel sprouts ($40).  The neighbors feasted on seafood platter and crayfish.  It was a quite an expensive meal,  when it's a regular holiday, there is a 15% surcharge on food and drinks on most restaurants.

Muskets and Moonshine at Brecon Street.  A popular place for some music, food and drinks.  They liked the Jambalaya.  It was Easter, the place wasn't packed since alcohol isn't allowed unless you order a full meal on regular holidays.

Devil's Burger at 5/11 Church Street; the irony of these names serves extra huge burgers for extra huge appetite.  They have beef, chicken, venison, vegetarian patties to choose from ($15-20).  This was recommended by our guide, he said the locals prefer to eat here over Ferburger.  We didn't have the time and patience to line up for the latter.

Brazz Steakhouse & Bar.  We had 300 grams of grass-fed hereford rib-eye prime beef with pepper corn ($38), crispy skinned pork belly ($32) and green lip mussel in thai coconut curry sauce ($18).  It was Easter monday hence it's time to feast.

If you're a big fan of lamb, a visit to Pedro's House of Lamb should be on your list.

This should be more than enough to kickstart your stay in Queenstown.  We opted to make Queenstown as our hub instead of living in a suitcase, transferring hotel every two nights from Christchurch to Franz Josef before heading to Queenstown.  It was all good, a good balance of activity and free time, we didn't have to take a vacation after this vacation.  It's now back to reality, back to work to save for the next trip.

Post Trip Accounting for 1 personal; all in New Zealand Dollar unless otherwise specified.
(1NZ$: 35.5 Philippine Peso; 1US$: 52.17 PhP)
U$1381 Roundtrip economy airfare Cebu-Manila-Auckland on exit row with Philippine Airlines
U$327   Roundtrip Auckland-Queenstown with New Zealand Air
N$120   2 nights at Mi-Pad Smart Hotel ($240/2pax)
N$830   5 nights at Novotel Lakeside Hotel ($1661/2pax)
N$26     Roundtrip shared Super Shuttle to/from Queenstown airport
N$395   Wanaka Scenic, 4WD & Boat Trip ComboN$180   Mt. Cook Adventure Tour with Cheeky Kiwi TravelN$585   Tasman Glacier Heli HikeN$195   Skipper Canyon JetN$125   Milford Sound with Jucy CruiseN$379   Dart River Jet + FunyakN$39     Skyline Gondola QueenstownN$20-35 per meal

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