There’s an infamous saying that I’m going to edit slightly for this blog – when you get tired of looking at the view on the flight into Queenstown, you’re tired of life.
That view is something else. You can have countless people describe it to you, you can see photos, you can watch videos – but until you’re in the window seat, seeing it for yourself, you’ll never quite understand it. And then you’ll become that person who describes it to the next person who has yet to see it!
We were in Queenstown to meet with several of our operators and guides, including, but not limited to, Ngāi Tahu Tourism, Blue Kanu, Kiwi Haka Experience, and Skippers Canyon.
The week we were due to arrive it had been seriously snowing – down to town level. All the locals were saying it was the earliest they’d seen snow. For these Wellingtonians, we weren’t sure our city slicker wardrobes were going to suffice in the snow, but we needn’t have worried – the day we arrived was a stunning autumn day.
Simon and I split up to experience Shotover Jet and Skippers Canyon. At ‘The Station’ I jumped on the big red bus to take me out to the Shotover River, while Simon boarded the blue bus out to the Skipper’s Canyon rendezvous point.
The bus trip went by in the blink of an eye and before we knew it, we were disembarking at the big red shed (no, not The Warehouse!) for our jet boating adventure. The entire operation is very professional – from the safety briefing that played on the bus to the friendly and well trained staff at every stage of the experience. I could only admire the photographer at Shotover Jet who had the patience of a saint when it came to wrangling the visitors to line up for their before photos in time to catch the next boat!
We had been told several times (and there were pictorials on the boat) that no cell-phones were allowed on the boat at any time. That didn’t stop some people though – I silently willed the driver to do a 360° spin while they had their phones out – that’d soon teach them! Thankfully for the phone owners, the driver also had the patience of a saint and waited until they’d put their phones away until we moved on.
While the scenery on the Shotover River is outstanding, it was the stories our driver told us that proved to be the cherry on top. It also helped that the questions he asked gave me an opportunity to exercise my love of quizzes – the only pity was that there were no prizes for the correct answers or else I would have cleaned up! His story telling wasn’t the only thing he was great at – his ability at getting us within centimetres of the rock walls before spinning us away was the work of someone very, very good at what he does.
Shotover Jet is a tourism experience that knows what it does and it does it extremely well. The whole operation runs like clockwork – and the many tourists who left the boats with windswept hair and giant grins on their faces is testament to that.
Over at Skippers Canyon, Simon reckons the super spectacular scenery on the track (and he means ‘track’) out to Skippers was the perfect entre for the adrenaline racing excitement on the river. The drive down Skippers Canyon road, built by had over 140 years ago is an experience in itself with some of the most spectacular scenery Simon has ever seen. While the driver maneuvered the tight corners with easy, he described (in detail) all the significant historical sites. Did you know that two Māori shepherds were the first to discover gold in Skippers. Their kuri (dog) was lost and upon finding him they discovered gold where he was standing, the rest is history. There is also a very rich Chinese history as well. They were fortunate enough, too, to stop at the Skippers’ lodge further up the river – a lovely spot with awesome views. Winky Hohneck is a fifth generation local who grew up in Skippers, making son Benje, (who is General Manager of Skipper’s Canyon), a sixth generation Skipperite – ka mau te wehi! Another wee gem of knowledge for you – Benje was at the time, the youngest person to ever hold a jet boat license.
That evening we took the gondola up to Skyline to experience Kiwi Haka. Māori experiences aren’t necessarily equated with the South Island, and in particular Queenstown, but Norm Ruru and his Kiwi Haka group are telling the Māori stories of Queenstown – with a bit of audience participation included!
On reaching the entrance there is a great story board explaining the Māori history of the area. We didn’t know that Lake Waka Tipu was originally called Whakatipua (oops, looks like another ‘h’ fell off along the way!) We won’t ruin the story for you, but suffice to say it captures the heart and the imagination. We were led into the Wharenui, and it was all on. Ned led the group in providing us with a great evening of storytelling and culture. The audience was a blend of European, NZ, Australian and Asian – and everyone was there to learn and immerse themselves in the experience, as you’ll see further on.
Ned’s roopu demonstrated waiata, poi and haka for the audience and included the significance of each. At one stage during the evening, the women in the audience were invited on to the stage to learn poi. Being a somewhat uncoordinated individual, this was going to be a challenge for me – made more so by the fact that photographs and video were allowed which meant this experience would be forever available for us to look back on.
Fortunately, I needn’t have worried. Our kaiako (tutors) were expert in their teachings and managed to keep their grins at our efforts to a minimum! The end result of all this is that I have a much bigger appreciation for the art of the poi – it’s nowhere near as easy as they made it look!
Then it was time for the men to take the stage for the haka – and also my chance to make sure the photography/video evidence was evenly split between Simon and I.
The six men and women who shared their talents and stories at Kiwi Haka were fantastic – they shared their stories, adding depth and breadth to the experience, as well as explaining the significance of the poi, haka, and other aspects of kapa haka.
To finish off the evening we stayed and experienced the buffet – amazing kai and so much of it! Then we had the amazing ride down the Gondola – the Remarkables were just majestic in the distance.
Meeting with our operators the following day, the conversation centred around the unique opportunities and challenges that Queenstown faces in tourism. Some of them were obvious – a small ratepayer base of about 20,000, and a million or so manuhiri visiting each year. It doesn’t take Einstein to work out that this will impact on existing infrastructure and so on. Then of course, the recruitment issues were highlighted in the media late last year. These are issues that central and local government, and locals, need to address, and there is no quick solution. Operators told us that a real issue for them was attracting qualified Māori staff. Those that have moved to Queenstown often suffer from the isolation with distance from whanau being a real challenge. To counter this, some of the Māori community have organised regular activites such as waka ama, which has been well received. How do we know this? Well, Simon went out and joined them on morning, (in shorts and polyprop no less, when the rest of the crew had wetsuits on!). A couple of hours later, very cold and wet, he re-emerged.
That evening saw us enjoy a kai at one of Queenstown’s newest dining ventures, Blue Kanu, which mixes both Pacifica and Asian cuisine, a style and feel they call “Polynasia”. Karen Hattaway is one of NZ Māori Tourism’s newest members, and the manaaki shown to us that evening was absolutely outstanding. What made it even better was that every other table in the (very full) restaurant was receiving exactly the same level of attentive service and superb kai.
We woke to another stunning Queenstown day. After the morning spent going over what we’d learnt in our meetings with Māori tourism operators, and the potential solutions, we headed down to the lake to meet Koro, Guide extraordinaire who has been around for years. He’d organised for us to go across to Walter Peak Station on the TSS Earnslaw Steamship. Yes, we know it’s not a Māori tourism experience, though it was an excellent experience nonetheless. Again, outstanding storytelling and their manaaki was right up there.
The stand outs on this experience included instructions and story telling in a range of languages, and they also included Māori history, which is great, and finally the scenery was awe inspiring.
Arriving at Walter Peak, the experience continued. We were interested to find out that the property is owned by a couple of Israeli whanau who have made a considerable sum by owning and investing in high tech companies. Interesting, because we wonder what else we could leverage from these relationships, including access to their tourism networks, IT, and so on. Anyway, enough of that!
The chefs at the carving station were doing what they do well – the selection of chicken, lamb, beef, pork, gourmet sausages and kaimoana were enough for all of us to head back for a second helping.
After we filled our bellies, we had the opportunity to do what we liked – we could stay at the homestead to admire the view and korero with friends, stroll through the gardens, head down for a swim at the lake (none of us were quite hardy enough for that!), or listen to one of the farm workers talk about the station and the work they do there. Quite a few from our boat opted for that option and I think we came out the winners!
We were treated to a demonstration by a couple of the working dogs and sheep, before being taken in to the shearing shed. As a New Zealander, there wasn’t much here that I hadn’t seen or heard at previous farm demonstrations around the country, but the stories and jokes that the shearer shared with us made it one of the best. He and the animals had the audience cracking up (whether they meant to or not)! and everyone left with a grin on their face. He told the stories of the station in an engaging way that had the audience leaving with a better understanding of high-country farm life – and shouldn’t that be the aim of tourism operators? To engage, entertain and educate our manuhiri?
Queenstown is a place that has many different tourism layers to it – adrenaline, snow, wine, great walks, rivers and lakes. Having been there half a dozen times or so over the last few years, it was a welcome change to experience the Māori stories, people and maanakitanga on this visit – now to ensure the rest of our manuhiri experience it too!
Our thanks and aroha to all involved in our visit.
NZ Māori Tourism spent time in Queenstown to meet with some of our operators there. New Zealand Māori Tourism pays for all our accommodation and experiences.
To contact the people/businesses above:
KiwiHaka, Skyline Gondola and Restaurant
Dining, Functions, Activities, Māori Culture
Brecon Street, Queenstown.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.skyline.co.nz/queenstown/kiwihaka/ or phone 03 441 0101
Blue Kanu Restaurant
16 Church Street, Queenstown.
http://www.bluekanu.co.nz or phone 03 442 6060
Walter Peak Station – Real Journeys
Real Journeys Visitor Centre, Steamer Wharf, Queenstown,
Email email@example.com or https://www.realjourneys.co.nz/en/experiences/dining/walter-peak-gourmet... or phone 03 442 7500
Closest Passenger Airport: Queenstown Airport
Driving distance from Christchurch: 6.5 hours/483km
Driving distance from Dunedin: 3.45 hours/283 km
Driving distance from Invercargill: 2.5 hours/186km