Blessed with unreal natural wonders in practically every direction you look, New Zealand really is the otherworldly wonderland presented to moviegoers in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.
To fly into New Zealand’s South Island from Australia is to experience humankind at our most predictable. At the first sighting of the twisty, mountainous, and lambspeckled landscape, everyone looks out of the plane’s windows in a simultaneous craning and angling of necks, and a rapid fire snapping of smartphone photos. In short, calling New Zealand pretty is like calling Liberace a modest dresser. New Zealand is a jaw-dropper.
Even better, the country is tailor-made for hassle-free tourism. Its roadways are elegantly paved, its people attentive and well mannered, even its ubiquitous grazing sheep (which outnumber humans nearly 18 to one) bare the uniform appearance of having all been recently shorn. What it lacks in dazzling cities and gay life, it makes up for in scenery so sublime even America’s most divided citizenry can agree it’s just beautiful all over the place.
There are few “queens” in Queenstown, where my friend Ryan and I enjoy an early evening arrival in balmy March. A city that would disappoint gay travelers in search of finger-snapping drag queens, a randy leather bar, or the appearance of an occasional rainbow flag, it nevertheless fires up the imagination of even the most armchair adventure seeker.
Hardly a major city (pop. 14,300), Queenstown is more like a chic base camp. If you’ve ever idled in Cairns en route to the Great Barrier Reef, overnighted in Arusha before hiking Kilimanjaro, or shacked up in a chalet before skiing the slopes of Whistler Mountain, then Queenstown will be instantly familiar. It’s a razzle-dazzle lakeside city where nobody is a true local and everyone rises and shines at the crack of dawn in search of nearby adventure—and there are plenty of them.