Going Out in Queenstown

Our explorations in New Zealand took us up and down mountains, into the ocean, and down some of the most beautiful roads I’ve ever seen. It also took us to a lot of bars. Let’s be real, we’re exploring the world with the young, fun, and single and we’ve been living it up. Drinks are reasonably priced throughout New Zealand (or free, LADIES) and in general the atmosphere is always fun and accessible. We took full advantage. 

From whiskey slaps in the Coromandel to a beer pong competition in Wellington to bar hopping with two brothers dressed as Luigi in Wanaka, we’ve picked up a story or two. Many won’t be shared here (sorry, I bet you were really curious), but one thing we decided to share is our experience going out in Queenstown. 

Other than Wanaka, Queenstown is the place where we’ve spent the most amount of time in one place. We came here ready to party and that’s exactly what we did. Yes, yes, we hiked and explored and did many fun nature things as well. MJ’s got you covered on those posts. I’m going to take you through the messier side of the story. 

We spent our time in Queenstown at a hostel called Base Queenstown. Base and Nomads are hostels that operate under the same umbrella and you can find them all over New Zealand and Australia. They’re typically one of if not the cheapest option, tend to have awesome locations, and always have a bar underneath or next door. 

We stayed at Base in Auckland, Wanaka, and Queenstown. Auckland we didn’t love, but we had a blast at both Wanaka and Queenstown. 

These are hostels I’d recommend for people who are looking for somewhere easy to base (haha) themselves out of when they know they’re looking to meet people and party. The bar is loud and you can definitely hear every word until 3 a.m. on the first floor, but the easy solution is to go join in. If you’re looking to relax and enjoy the more natural side of Queenstown, this isn’t your place.

Without further wait, here is the list of all of the bars we went to while we were in Queenstown and what we thought of them:

Loco: this bar is right underneath Base Queenstown. It’s themed every night of the week and if you’re staying at Base you can get a free drink voucher for each night. They have live music in the evenings and switch it up to greatest hits style music later in the evenings. We typically started or ended our nights here, it tended to get kind of crowded in the middle. They seem to pull some bigger names music-wise too, so if you’re in town see who’s playing.

Rhinos: this smaller bar was one of MJ’s favorites (duh) because it’s a ski bar. All the TVs feature slope victories and fails and the walls are covered with decals from some of the greatest places too shred around the world. Drinks were reasonable and music was great. It wasn’t really crowded when we went so we left on the early side, but our two friends who were with us and went on another night said it could really pick up. A bit of this is always luck of the draw.

Cowboys: We really digged this place. It’s western themed (obviously) and may have one of the few, if not the only, mechanical bull in New Zealand. It was out of order when we went so, no, we did not get the chance to make America proud of something again. The bar is huge and each time we went it was packed. They have FREE table top shuffle board and FREE pool. Needless to say we were there for a while. Music is oldies but goodies. 

Bungalow: This was probably the most club-esque place we checked out. It’s open until 4 a.m. and features darker decor and a more deep housey playlist. It’s a fun place, but felt a little out of place in Queenstown, at least for us. 

Barmuda: This bar was definitely playing to a more upscale crowd than what we were looking for. The bar is beautiful, backlit and packed with every kind of liquor you could want, and they have an outdoor area as well as a lounge-type section. We didn’t stay long here because it was a little more low key than we were at the time, but it would be a nice place for a “let’s go get a drink” date or to start off the night.

Surreal: This three story bar is really cool. They play different music on each floor, the first two each have their own bar, and the upstairs is a rooftop, which I’ve sorely been missing since my Miami days area over (for now). Once the upstairs closes the downstairs gets pretty packed and it gets almost rave-like. This was the scene of my first margarita since leaving home and while I definitely got a weird look from the bartender it was a great drink.

1864: Similar to Barmuda, this is somewhere I’d definitely say is more date night/drinks after work than “the first three bars were great but now I’m ready to really turn up the night,” but maybe that was just the time of day/day of the week I went. They have a beautiful outdoor area that’s lit with string lights and the drink menu is great. 

Disclaimer: we obviously didn’t make it to every bar in Queenstown, we were rocking with a limited time frame and we did the best we could. 

Tip: if you’re looking to party in Queenstown, stay at Base or Nomads and then ask one of the lovely humans that works there for recommendations. They served us well.

CHEERS!

Doubtful Sound: The Most Remote Corner of New Zealand's Wilderness

An absolute must if you’re exploring the Southern Island of New Zealand is stopping for a cruise in the Fiordland National Park. This park is enormous, bigger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined, and most of its wilderness isn’t accessible by anything other than a helicopter. Cruises are the exception.

The most popular cruise is the famous Milford Sound, which can be done in a day or an overnight trip and is the most accessible of the fiords. Following Milford is Doubtful Sound, which is slightly more remote and nearly double the size. 

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This is the cruise we opted for after some gentle peer pressuring from the travel desk at Base Queenstown. Despite a substantial price difference, we figured doing a longer, more secluded cruise might give us a chance to both wind down and really experience the fiordlands in a more intimate way. MJ had already cruised through Milford and after a couple of nights out in Queenstown we decided the quiet overnight cruise sounded like exactly what we wanted. 

We booked our overnight through a company called Real Journeys. Fun fact about them is that they’re the first tourism company to begin operating in Fiordland National Park. Safe to say, we were in good hands for our journey. We debated Queenstown on a sunny Monday morning for the 2+ hour bus ride that would take us deep into the national park. 

Getting to Doubtful Sound is no piece of cake. After our length bus ride, we hopped on a smaller ferry to cruise across Lake Manapouri, which separates Doubtful Sound from the town of Manapouri. We then boarded a second bus that took us over the Wilmot Pass, an incredible stretch of rain forest that is so dense you can barely see through all the trees. 

What’s amazing about the Fiordland National Park is that there isn’t very strong or deep soil for trees and other vegetation to grow, but it’s absolutely covered in flora. The reason for this is because it rains in the National Park over two thirds of the days in the year. This makes for a seriously outstanding landscape covered in trees, moss, undergrowth, and waterfalls that can last all year or only for a few hours before it rains again. 

So after making our way through this intense forest, we finally arrived in Deep Cove and boarded our home for the night: an old school sailboat called The Navigator. After claiming our two bottom bunks in our otherwise empty room and raiding the brownie tray in the saloon (yeah, they call it a saloon), we set off.  

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Doubtful Sound is enormous. One of the reasons we decided to do the overnight, and why it’s the primary choice for those trying to see this particular area, is because you get to see all of it. 

During our first day, we cruised down Doubtful Sound, down into Crooked Arm, and out into the open sea. We managed to catch a glimpse of at least three Fiordland Crested Penguins and visit the New Zealand Fur Seal colony. Thanks to incredible weather, we were also able to take two of the boats 20+ kayaks out for a paddle on the sound to get up close and personal with the shoreline. It was absolutely fantastic. 

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Dinner was served buffet style in the Main Saloon and it was delicious. We’d been told by our friends over at the Queenstown hostel that it would be but even we were surprised and impressed with the quality. MJ even broke her vegetarian rule to sample some lamb (seconds, please and thank you). We even got our hands on a bottle of wine from Framingham’s, which was one of the wineries we had visited when we were staying in the Marlborough region. 

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After dinner we were treated to a nature presentation from the boat’s resident nature guide. New Zealand’s only native species are birds, and before the Maori arrived there were many more than there are today. Now, conservationists work year round to try and eradicate pests introduced to New Zealand, such as the possum and the rat, in an effort to preserve their amazing bird species, many of which can’t be found anywhere else in the world. 

To learn more about New Zealand’s native species and what’s being done to protect them, check out this link.

The boat anchored in Bradshaw Sound for the night, which is a little off to the right of Doubtful Sound, and we were woken up at 6:30 a.m. for breakfast at 7 in order to explore Hall Arm, the “jewel” of Doubtful Sound, before making it back to Deep Cove by 10 a.m. 

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Hall Arm is everything that it’s talked up to be. We had a fairly misty and rainy morning, which we ended up loving because it gave us a chance to see many of the temporary waterfalls the Fiordland is known for as well as see the park in its most natural state. 

We cruised as far into the arm as we could and finally came to a stop in the final bend. The crew silenced the boat and allowed us ten minutes of complete silence to enjoy the sounds of the waterfalls and the few birds we could hear throughout the surrounding mountains. It was breathtaking. 

After a quick break to go in to a waterfall (like actually in the waterfall) to capture some of that fresh mountain dew (all rights reserved), we headed back to Deep Cove to make our way home to Queenstown. 

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Despite our best efforts, it’s truly impossible to explain with words or pictures the beauty of the Fiordland National Park. It’s something that must be experienced. If you get the chance to visit this area of the world, taking a day or overnight cruise to see this park cannot be missed.