An epic and beautiful safari adventure, even if you’re not a Lord of the Rings fan.
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Year visited: 2017
Time of year: March
The Best Thing To Do
THIS WAS MY ABSOLUTE MOST FAVORITE THING WE DID IN ALL OF NEW ZEALAND!
So, now that we’ve got that out of the way, you know that this is definitely something you should do if you’re planning on going to New Zealand. But first, let’s cover a bit about Queenstown.
About Queenstown, New Zealand
Of all the places I’ve been, and all the bajillion places my sister and brother-in-law have been, Queenstown, New Zealand is one of our favorite places to visit. To me, it felt like the epitome of everything I expected from New Zealand.
It is an adorable tourist town that’s easily walkable, has gorgeous views all around (without even trying), and no end of epic (and some more tame) activities to do.
An ice bar, escape rooms, scenic safaris, bungee jumping, animal sanctuaries, hiking, biking, parasailing. It’s all here. Or you can just sit on the deck of your hotel room and enjoy the view (like I said, gorgeous views without even trying—but they get even better if you take a few steps out of Queenstown).
That being said, I ran into some people who did not like Queenstown at all. They said it was too Americanized. Which…it is. Americanized and touristy. And too expensive for the locals to live there anymore.
So if you want to get away from tourists, you don’t want to go to Queenstown. But if you want to do anything adventure-sporty/adrenaline-rushy, this is the place to be. Or if you want to be an American tourist in New Zealand.
Walking Around Queenstown
It was easy to walk from our hotel to anywhere in the town. We walked down the street to a grocery store and bought food to make for lunch and dinner.
We were also easily able to walk to the bus stop where we got picked up for our Milford Sound tour, and to Nomad Safaris’ downtown shop, where we started our tour with them. We walked down to find them the day we arrived, to make sure we knew where to go, but it was very easy to find, so you won’t have any trouble.
Weather in Queenstown
We were here at the end of March, which in New Zealand weather is the beginning of fall. Because of the mountains surrounding Queenstown, it takes a long time for the sun to get up high enough to be seen in the mornings, and they can be chilly. But after the sun came up, it warmed up to perfectly comfortable temperatures.
How to get to Queenstown
We flew to Queenstown on Air New Zealand from Auckland, after staying in Auckland for a few days. The airport is so tiny and chill, we actually got right off the plane on the tarmac, just like I did in my very first plane ride back in the 90’s! It was a super nostalgic moment for me.
The view from the plane was gorgeous (I’m going to use that word a lot while describing Queenstown). I remember my sister saying as we looked out the window, coming from the north island, “Now that’s the New Zealand I was expecting.”
Where to Stay in Queenstown
From the airport we got a green cab to our hotel. Like in Auckland, the cab was booked online ahead of time, but you can also just meet them at the airport.
We stayed at the Cherry Apartments, which was a perfect fit for the 6 people we had in our group. It had a full kitchen, and a large deck with a view of the mountains (and parasailers!).
Our hotel was at the top of the hill, with all of Queenstown stretched out below us. We had a bit of a hill to walk up, but it wasn’t too bad.
Full and 1/2 Day Safari Adventures from Queenstown, New Zealand
Nomad Safaris is based in Queenstown. Your tour will start and end at their shop in downtown, and it’s very easy to walk to from anywhere in the town.
Our tour took up half a day, but they also have full day tours. We met at their shop at 1 pm, and got back around 5 pm. When we were there at the end of March, the sun was just starting to get lower as we finished our tour, making for some magical pictures (but still plenty of daylight).
Our “Lord of the Rings” Themed Tour
Our tour was “Lord of the Rings” themed, which means they pointed out locations where the movies were filmed. If you’re not a LOTR fan, they have lots of other options. Plus, even if you’ve never seen the movies, you will still enjoy the sights on this tour.
Our tour had 6 people and 1 driver, and our jeep was full. I had the best seat because I got to ride up front! We drove down regular paved roads, through a “highway” that went in and out of a river, and down several roads that were marked with warning signs.
Scenic Stops and Panning for Gold
We also stopped at a tiny little town called “Arrow Town.” We were here only briefly, mostly to use the public restrooms they had at the park, but we also got a quick drive around this adorable town.
Arrow Town is one of the gold rush towns that got built up by people searching for gold in the mountains (like dwarves…?). At one point as we were driving through the river, we stopped and tried our luck at panning for gold.
We weren’t lucky… Maybe next time.
We also took a snack break and had cookies, tea and cocoa, provided by Nomad Safaris.
"Lord of the Rings" Filming Sites on the Tour
Like I said before, even if you’ve never seen the Lord of the Rings movies, you will enjoy this tour. Most of our time was not focused on LOTR at all, but just seeing the epic sights, cute towns, and panning for gold.
When we did come to a LOTR filming site, our driver would hold up a picture of the scene from the movie against the real life backdrop and explain how they filmed there. The main spots we saw were:
Lands of the Rohirrim, where they passed on their trek from Edoras to Helm’s Deep
The Ford of Bruinen, where Arwen faced the Black Riders
The great Anduin River, where the giant statues of old kings are, that the fellowship passes at the end of the first film.
One of our friends was disappointed in how little “Lord of the Rings” scenes we actually saw, but I had so much fun driving through bumpy rivers, along cliff edges (it’s perfectly safe, I swear!), and seeing the beautiful scenery, I was 100% content.
Is This Tour Scary?
If you are afraid of heights or have trouble with motion sickness, be warned. The ride gets very bumpy, and you do drive along some narrow roads.
One of our friends was afraid of heights, and refused to come out of the jeep at the overlook pictured above. But other than that one overlook, she was fine the whole rest of the ride. If you do suffer from motion sickness, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take some dramamine. But none of our group was bothered by the bumpy ride (it was AWESOME!)
And now, without any more boring words, enjoy the scenery!
Does the safari sound fun to you?
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