This article is written for a friend of mine, who is studying tourism, or something. It’s basically about how and why Queenstown became a home to me for so long, and why that was such a great thing.
Queenstown is a highlight on everyones trip to New Zealand, it’s a town cram packed full of awesome adventure activities, luxury hotels, fancy restaurants and burger bars, some of the best bars in the country and some epic landscapes as well. It’s got a little of something for everyone, and a lot for a lot of people. In winter it’s a haven for snow lovers from around the world, while summer is just as popular with those enjoying the longer days and warmer nights. It’s (allegedly) got more bars per person than any other town in the world, which is believable when you consider how focused on tourism this town is.
And it’s this that makes Queenstown such fun to live in, the constant ebb and flow of backpackers, holiday makers and tour buses through the town mean each night is totally different, and always a party. With so many coming through, and so many wanting to stay the lucky ones that find work are truly grateful and it means everyone is happy to be there. The atmosphere in the streets is one of positivity and enjoyment as even a short stroll through the streets offers magnificent views of either the gorgeous lake or the stunning mountains (including the mountains of Mordor)
I was fortunate to be offered a job working for Peterpans, the company I had worked for in Australia, while I was still traveling in South East Asia. A couple of flights after cutting my trip just a little shorter and I was coming into Queenstown to work a job I already knew I loved. But the attitude of the other residents be they British, German, Canadian or actual Kiwis was so welcoming and friendly I soon met people who I now consider some of my best friends. Working and living in a town as small as Queenstown (and it is a lot smaller than you’d think) mean you soon get to know the barstaff and waiters, receptionists, managers, and all the rest of pretty much any business you go into regularly. Within only a couple months it was possible to walk into almost any bar in town, get a cheeky discount drink and a decent chat with the staff. Or if it was busy, just the cheeky drink, making you look like a big shot in front of todays load of fresh backpackers.
There was a carefree attitude towards what people were up to, and gossip was less prevalent than other places, mostly because folk weren’t bored enough to spread rumours or anything like that, we were all too busy enjoying ourselves. Thinking on my time there now, I really wish I could go back. Back to days where walking down the street might take half an hour, because you’d bump into so many others you’d know, and no one worried if you were late, so you’d catch up quickly, sharing the latest adventure either on or off the mountains. It rare to feel so welcome in a foreign country, but in Queenstown I felt more at home than I ever did in the UK, and cold bleak place by comparison, filled with moaning people who don’t even know enough to wish they could live like those in NZ.
Not to mention I got a crazy amount of freebies through work that it was rarely more than a couple weeks between bungys, swings, biking, snowboarding or something equally exciting.
So this might not be the most comprehensive list, as I’ve not been everywhere, but I’ve seen a few spots, and here’s my favourites
1. Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown is probably the most tourist orientated town in the world, it’s also surprisingly small. Considering it’s fame it really is tiny, but that is because the only thing it does is tourism, it doesn’t need lots of lawyers, marketing consultant agencies, technical support officials, or any of that kind of thing. It sure has lots of bar tenders though! The density of bars is apparently the greatest in the world, but that’s not why we love it.
You cannot go anywhere without bumping into people you know – While it may be full of tourists, you will know a lot of locals, and will bump into them every time you leave the house.
Everybody wants to be there – It’s such a competitive town to get work in, and it’s not cheap either, so everyone is grateful to be there, and this comes across and a wonderful positive attitude throughout the town.
There’s an unbelievable amount of things to do – not just the extreme/adventure activities that most locals can’t really afford, but there loads of other bits as well. Frisbee golf, the ice rink, cinema, trampoline park, skate park, hills to hike, the ‘beach’, cliff jumps, it’s hard to get bored here.
Knowing people gets you free stuff – The longer you stay, the more people you know, and there’s a constant cycle of favours between the staff, which works out to cheeky discounts, ‘local prices’, free shots, free chips, and well, anything anyone can get away with giving you.
Burgers – The famous Ferg Burger (and bakery) which leads the competition Devil burger, both of which have an amazing selection of rad burgers. I love burgers. My favourite was the Yankee Devil, with pineapple and egg on top. Ask for a large in a small bun to increase your meat to bread ratio.
The views – look in any direction and you’ll see the beautiful southern Alps all around, the mountains of Mordor, Ben Lomond peak, Cecil and Walter across the lake. Breathtaking, everyday.
2. Cape Town, South Africa
It may not be the capital of SA, but it definitely the cultural centre, and a much nicer place to be. Cape Town has a vibrant and lively atmosphere at any time of day, especially down on Long Street which transforms from suave hipster cafes and skate shops to party stops and clubs over the course of the evening. It offers some of the nicest and trendiest places to eat and drink we’ve ever seen. The city seems to be driven by the young energisers that make up it’s population, with design at it’s absolute core.
Table Mountain, Lions Head and Signal Hill – The city centre is surrounded by hills on one side, and water on the other, it means you’re never out of sight of the hugely impressive Table Mountain, and a decent walk is never far away. While the locals will always drive, if you’re in the city, just walk to the base, it makes you feel that bit better afterwards
Taking a drive around the Cape Peninsula – Ok, you’ll need to drive this one, or do one of the many tours available, but with a lot of cool stops around the peninsula you’ll need a full day at least to see it all. It’s well worth it, seeing penguins, mind blowing cliffs, and the view over the Atlantic Oceans.
The attitude of the locals – South Africans are not lazy people, and those that are working away in Cape Town seem to be the most driven and motivated people we’ve ever met. With a free afternoon they won’t just bum out on the sofa watching TV (if they even have a TV) they’ll be playing music, organising a party, writing their blog or just heading somewhere cool to do something cool. I crashed on a friends sofa for a while, and asked about the Playstation, to which they replied “We have a playstation?”
The feeling of hopefulness and endless possibility – There’s a general feeling that in South Africa, you can try things, it’s not as brutal and cut-throat as other countries and trying something new will be much more likely to be accepted (perhaps not successful) it’s a very liberating feeling.
3. Sihnoukville, Cambodia
Sihnoukville is an interesting little place in Cambodia, stretching along the coast it ranges from the town, purely functional, to ‘Sin-ville’ the party beach down along to Otres 1 and 2, the chilled out beaches of dreams. Get yourself a bike, head down to Otres and hit up the super mellow vibe of beach life. There’s plenty of bars to try, so wander along the golden sand until you meet some nice people then just enjoy your surroundings with a drink or two, then when it comes to the night, mellow some more, or head to Sin-ville and get messy.
Otres beach – great sand, great views, great people, great food, cheap drinks!
Live music – both Otres and Sihnoukville have plenty to offer as far as music goes, usually hosting some traveling musicians, which can include yourself if you want. Talent just pops out of nowhere to do a little set of songs or poems
Surprise mini festivals – I went to three in about two weeks, and all were awesome. The regular hippy fest/market was a chance to chill out and hear more of the local (expat) talent, the indie rock party put on by one of the bars was a nice break from the usual commercial dance and pop, and a great way to bring everyone together. Finally the Full Moon Party over on Koh Rong Sanloem brought back flashbacks of Thailand without the overwhelming crowds
Easy links to the nearby islands – Nearly all the islands you can see from the beach are reachable from Sihnoukville, a couple hours on the boat (get the fast one). Just be aware that these islands are generator run, or not powered at all, which means the party ends when the lights go out! Everything is done ad hoc, so just get there, find a place to sleep and forget everything else.
Don’t Worry Be Happy – It’s impossible to stress here, so don’t.
4. London, UK
Pure stress, constantly being aware of everyone around you so you don’t collide with a Chinese tourist, sweating on the tube, freezing outside, rain, smoke, smog, rain. London is an incredible city, the definition of infinity – everything that could happen probably already has somewhere in London, and you’ll be sure to find a barman who has a friend who knew a guy who saw it happen. There’s so much here it’s impossible to contain it all.
Camden on a sunday night – Once the weekend crowds have gone, Camden looks inwards and celebrates itself. The bar-staff swap sides and start drinking, along with all the local residents who themselves work the busy nights. This seems to be a surprising amount of strippers, up for a giggle and to meet some people who aren’t drooling all over them. The Good Mixer and the Camden Head seem to be the good spots.
Shoreditch hipsters – just hanging out anywhere in this area you’ll see the hipsters, usually on a bike with a moustache, desperately trying to get noticed for their uniquely styled floral patterned messenger bag, hand made in Cambodia by some hippy chick on holiday. The upside is there’s usually some decent eateries around.
The sights – Yeah, London has a few of these, but our favourite stroll goes south from Piccadilly, across the bridge and along south bank, then north again through Covent Garden and Seven Dials. Get out of the tube and start walking, and you’ll find some gems around every corner.
The parks – There’s quite a few of these and they’re all fantastic. Get away from the noise, and well, there’s more noise, finding a quiet bit can be tricky in the smaller ones, but head out to St James, Hyde park or Regent park and you might find a quiet tree to lean against for some ‘me time’.
Everything, all the time – It never sleeps, so if you need a burger, or some cat food, there’s always somewhere.
5. Melbourne, Australia
Split into three section as far as I’m concerned, St. Kilda, the CBD and Fitzroy, each has it’s own characteristics and personality, all united by Melbournes cultural edge. St. Kildas beach and party style nightlife, leading up to chapel street had a more casual bohemian style, while the CBD was suits and coffee, and when night falls the smarter dressed went to the super clubs, and finally Fitzroy was for the misfits that like their clothing unique and their music live.
Trams – Easy to catch, easy to get off, and they go everywhere. And possible the easiest transport to get away with not paying. If you ever do get caught, play the tourist card and they’ll just boot you off, no fine. Not great if you’re late for work, but cheaper than anywhere else in the world!
Penguins – You can go check out penguins down in St Kilda, and they are adorable.
Manabar– Unfortunately closed now, but a bar with video games is always cool
Fitzroy music culture – Every night, in every venue, a different kind of music is play. Swing to indie, hip-hop, jazz and funk to punk rock, nerdcore, spoken word and avant-garde world music fusion. It’ll be in there somewhere.
Rooftop bars – despite Melbourne being the most southerly and therefor coldest Australian city, it has an abundance of rooftop bars, some of which offer incredible views over the city, others which offer incredible views of the building next door. Come rain, shine or freezing night wind, these rooftops are open.
A little longer than planned, but there’s our five favourite places in the world (so far)