I arrived in Queenstown and immediately began the battle to find a parking space. It wasn’t long before I realised this was a futile exercise I was never going to win. Reluctantly, I opted for a parking building. This in itself was a curious adventure as mathematically it wasn’t possible for the people at Wilsons to fit so many parking spaces into such a small area, but somehow they managed it. To make the problem more complex, all the spaces seemed to be occupied by large 4 wheel drives, making it almost impossible to manoeuvre between them, an achievement I was quietly proud of.
I spent some time wandering the various streets that make up the town’s centre, I walked along the lakefront and took in the splendid scenery that surrounds the town. When I was younger, I remember Queenstown being a place with spectacular scenery, full of wonder and excitement. As you approached there was always an air of eagerness in the backseat of the vehicle my Dad was driving. Firstly you’d drive through Frankton, then the housing developments would become less frequent and almost non-existent until we passed the bottle house which was a marvel in itself. The famed Bottle House was always a clear sign that the magical place of Queenstown wasn’t too far away, until we rounded a bend and caught sight of the gondolas making their way up through the trees to the Skyline Restaurant. This was always the cue to look in amazement out the car window at the most mysterious of towns. Although it always did seem to be packed with people, rather expensive (so my parents told me) and full of construction everywhere we went.
Nowadays, while the scenery remains undoubtedly spectacular and completely breathtaking, the town has long since reached capacity. The Bottle House (which was actually a lodge) was demolished in 2005 and every conceivable space is now filled with shops, bars, restaurants, souvenir shops and places to book activities like skydiving and bungy jumping.
So, here’s the thing about Queenstown: it has long been looked at as the goose that laid the golden egg in the tourism industry. However thanks to Covid-19 and the country’s international borders being shut, the goose has stopped laying. It’s a perfect example of what happens to a tourist destination when you take away all the tourists, it just feels a little bit ho hum, like something is missing. The streets felt a wee bit unkempt and a general malaise hung in the air. It’s almost as if without a heaving mass of tourists to keep the party going, everyone suddenly noticed that the balloon had burst, and when that happens the only thing left to say is ‘oh poop!’.
I can’t say I wasn’t pleased to leave Queenstown because I was, but I knew I’d be back. I’m just not sure why.