Queenstown Story 1 – Ben Alcock

New Zealand’s Queenstown is quirky, drop-dead gorgeous and always on the go. Picturesque, yes. Idyllic, not exactly. If you were hoping to catch your breath on a flop-and-drop (unless you’re dropping from a bridge attached to a giant rubber band) holiday here, you’ve come to the wrong place.

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect ski town. Wander about and it’s hard not wonder if the entire place was designed from the ground up by Disney’s Imagineers to be the most charming town on the planet, carefully crafted to extract gasps at every turn. Even the 100-year-old steamer, the Earnslaw, that plies the glacial waters of Lake Wakatipu seems too perfect to be true.

Venture into any Queenstown beer garden, cafe or pub—and there are plenty of them—on any given afternoon and the place will be buzzing. It’s a Saturday night vibe that inhabits Queenstown every day of the week. Eavesdrop on the conversations around you, and you’ll hear tales of things-jumped-off, activities undertaken at seemingly unnecessary speed, heart-stopping adrenaline rushes, and plans for more tomorrow which, in the Queenstown bubble, is somehow still Saturday. And whilst adrenaline rushes feed Queenstown’s contemporary economy, the place was founded on the back of an entirely different rush: gold.

In 1860, Welshman William Rees was one of the first Europeans to settle the area, establishing a high country farm beside Lake Wakatipu—right where Queenstown’s town centre now sits. But the discovery of gold in the nearby Arrow River just a couple of years later changed everything. The inevitable ‘rush’ encouraged Rees to convert his wool shed into a hotel to make the most of the opportunity presented by thousands of prospectors heading his way in search of a gleaming golden fortune. That hotel still stands on Queenstown’s postcard perfect waterfront, only now it’s known as Eichardt’s—perhaps the town’s most famous luxury digs.

One thing Queenstown has in spades is great accommodation. The town centre, waterfront and immediate surrounds brim with it. On Snowscene’s recommendation, we stayed at the Blue Peaks Apartments just a few minutes from, well, everything—something our kids loved as they could skip into town unescorted to grab some ‘essentials’ from Cookie Time, Patagonia Chocolates and the suitably-named Remarkable Sweet Shop.

That short walk brings you to Queenstown’s waterfront where you’ll find beautifully-repurposed heritage buildings now home to lovely restaurants, bars and pubs. You’ll wander past a mixed bag of buskers and tiny food carts selling warm chestnuts, crepes and wintery treats. The carts do such a roaring trade their operators seem oddly comfortable asking customers to come back in 10-minutes because, well, “I’m on a break”—a questionable strategy given the endless grazing options around town.

Just metres from the carts, tucked unexpectedly in a hole in the wall beside the public toilets, for example, is a stall selling delicious empanadas for just a few dollars. You can, however, spend as much as you’d like on your F&B in Queenstown. As with accommodation, there’s plenty of posh, but with everything from great local bakeries, and just about any international cuisine and price-point you can imagine, there’s no need to go broke or hungry here.

We had some fab, inexpensive meals in Queenstown: excellent soup with thick crunchy toast by the waterfront at Vudu Cafe & Larder; aromatic everything from Hawker and Roll (Malaysian) on Ballarat Street; Pizza at Winnies on The Mall with a peculiar roof that opens and closes as you dine; and, of course, at the legendary Fergburger which everyone—including the Snowscene team—had recommended.

If you’ve been to Queenstown, you’ll know about the perma-queue at Fergburger. Pass by at any time of day and they’ll be there, patiently waiting, soaking up the Fergburger vibe, posting on their ‘socials’, checking their watches. If ever there was a burger joint worthy of worldwide domination, Fergburger is it. Ferg, whoever he is, must have been approached a million times about ‘taking it global’. And yet, here on Shotover Street, this single outpost is all there is to the Fergburger empire.

Fergburger’s customers can spend up to an hour in a line that runs some way up Shotover Street. They shuffle forward to place orders, wait for their numbers to be called and then collect warm, weighty, brown baggies of cherished Fergaliciousness.

After a week of shaking my head at the line-up of the Ferg faithful and thinking to myself, “Surely no burger is worth THAT kind of commitment”, I relented and took my place at the end of the line. That line is a curious thing. Why ARE people prepared to wait so long for a Fergburger?

I have a theory: The Fergburger queue is just about the only thing in Queenstown that makes you stop. After a day of Shotover Jetting, luging, skiing, snowboarding, paragliding, jumping off things, zip-lining, Frisbee-golfing (yes, that’s a thing in Queenstown), giant-swinging, and Hydro Attack shark-boating, a contemplative 45-minutes or so in a slow line at Fergburger might just be the quiet-time your adrenal system needs to even out, find a bit of zen, and ready yourself for another day of Queenstown chaos.

So, was my Fergburger wait worth it? I think the question actually should be, “Is ANY burger really worth that kind of wait?” And, frankly, the answer to that question should be ‘no’. But in the Queenstown bubble, even after waiting nearly an hour for mine, I keep landing on ‘You bet it is!’

Long after leaving Queenstown, I still find myself drifting off into a Fergburger reverie, pondering its curious appeal and deliciousness.

Would I do it again?

You bet, any day of a Queenstown week.

Probably a Saturday.

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