When Bill Clinton became the first US president – former or sitting – to visit Queenstown in 1999, he described the stunning New Zealand hamlet as “breathtaking”, “beautiful” and with a landscape that left “everyone just gasping”.
Breathtaking and beautiful it most certainly still is, but two decades on the gasping for many is as much a product of the prices as the high mountain passes.
It starts before you even leave the east coast of Australia. A recent analysis by Kayak, a metasearch engine that trawls the web in search of flight ticket deals, listed the trip from Sydney to Queenstown as the least cost-effective international trip from Australia on a cost-per-mile basis.
Queenstown’s popularity can also make for an expensive stay – we got into a small and dated two bedroom apartment for a week during the offseason for $NZ1,500 ($A1,385) and considered ourselves lucky. It was during a nominally low period of late April too.
If you want to engage in any of the high-octane activities prepare to dig deep – particularly if you have a family.
And then there’s groceries: I thought the $NZ8.99 avocado was painful until my daughter wanted to pick up some face wipes at a 24-hour market for $NZ14.99. I priced them at $1.79 at Aldi when I returned to Australia.
Yet for all that Queenstown remains a magical place – year round. Saving a dollar is possible and here are five of the best tips from transport to food, fun and even phones:
1. Bravo, Otago Regional Council. The last thing Queenstown’s jam-packed roads needed was more cars. Instead it has got four new, cheap and convenient bus services around the region. Starting in November last year the key routes include from Fernhill and downtown Queenstown to the airport, the gorgeous Arrowtown to Arthurs Point and Lake Hayes to Jacks Point. After purchasing the card for $NZ5 (and you’ll only need one card per family) each individual trip costs just $NZ2. There are also free connections in the first 30 minutes. Buses are frequent, run late in the night, have wifi and can take plenty of luggage/ski gear. Perhaps all is needed now is a $NZ5 service to Coronet Peak and The Remarkables in winter.
2. Warehouse sim card
Not Queenstown specific but a must-have for cheap communication when here, and across NZ. For $NZ4 you can get a data-only sim with 500MB. Used judiciously in conjunction with wifi you could just about squeeze a week’s use out of it. Better still, grab one for each member of your group and you can all contact each other for free. Upgrades are cheap. While not available in downtown Queenstown there’s a Warehouse at the Five Mile Centre in Frankton, just a $NZ2 bus ride away.
3.Warehouse Five Mile
Speaking of which, if you need any other gear while away, this is the place to get it on the cheap. Kind of like a Big W, you can pick up that winter gear that you may not use again, sneakers, headphones, travel goods, fishing gear and a 1001 other things at prices you’re unlikely to ever see in Queenstown proper. It’s open from 7am until midnight too so you can comfortably work in a trip before or after your ski day.
4. Pedros House of Lamb
As noted with the world’s most expensive avocados, food can set you back quite a bit in the town of Queens if you’re not too careful. That said there are a number places to get your fill without breaking the bank. Top of the list would be Pedro’s House of Lamb, an easy 10-minute walk from the centre of town. The concept is fiendishly simple: cook a shoulder of the country’s favourite meat with some buttery potatoes. And that’s it. The only other food you can get there is a garden salad (one size) and some crusty rolls. We did just that and for $NZ59 ($NZ45 for the lamb and potatoes) it fed four people perfectly. When your menu is that basic it needs to deliver and it deliciously did.
5. Kawarau Jet Boat
The price of activities can quickly and very seriously add up in Queenstown so you’ll need to pick and choose what you want to do in order not to break the bank. Kawarau Jet Boat (KJet) offers great value right on the banks of Lake Wakatipu. We managed a one adult/child combo for the one-hour high speed ride for $NZ129. It’s an offer that is not always available but invariably they have some kind of special going that is usually cheaper than their competitors. A close second is the Skyline Gondola and five-ride luge combo at $NZ60 adults/$NZ50 children.
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