Opinion: If Kiwis want an overseas holiday, visit Queenstown

Queenstown. Photo credit: File

OPINION: If you're Kiwi who's had enough of the classic New Zealand beach holiday and you'd like an overseas experience but don't want to spend a lot of euros, Queenstown might be your answer.

In June I took a flight from Auckland to Queenstown and landed in what felt like another country.

It was my first time visiting. Plane landings in New Zealand have their fair share of the spectacular, with views of Auckland's harbours or the thrilling turbulence of Wellington's wind - but arriving in Queenstown is like something otherworldly. The plane drops through the cloud and suddenly you're gliding over a lake, looking out the window at mountains towering above and hillsides of houses at your side.

Once you're on the ground and sorting a rental vehicle or getting something to eat, people with British or German accents will help you. It's easy to pretend you're vacationing in the Swiss Alps.

It wasn't much different here 150 years ago when gold was found. Queenstown sprung up as a bustling hub for feverish goldminers from around the world.

The town still has a fairly transient population, with nearly 2 million visitors a year and a large proportion of international seasonal workers. It's a big part of the sense of cultural ambiguity you get as you walk through the town centre. Most of the people you see are also visiting, so you could be anywhere.

For New Zealand holidaymakers who are used to gravel roads, baches and green hills, the Queenstown centre could feel like a Swiss mountain village. The buildings are stone and glass, the footpath is made of tidy patterns of pavers, lined by old-fashioned street lamps. Everything looks ordered, and insulated. There's no rusty corrugated iron in sight.

Even the backdrop of mountains has a rugged order to it, with the angular peaks of the Remarkables patterned by snow.

Queenstown is a lot like its sister city of Aspen, Colorado, made iconic by the film Dumb and Dumber. Both towns have a history of mining and are now popular gateways to ski fields.

Queenstown's business leaders visited Aspen in mid-2016 and found similar problems to back home. Accommodation costs had been "gutting" the Aspen community, they said, with more and more local workers having to live out of town. That's now a common situation here. There's even a visitor accommodation shortage now in Queenstown, as local developers desperately try to get new hotels built.

But the catch-22 is that the town survives on tourism. And for Kiwis, especially North Islanders who who've never thrown a snowball, Queenstown can give you the feeling of being overseas for a fraction of the cost of a flight to Europe. You don't need a passport - just some very warm clothing.

Matthew Hutching is a Newshub digital reporter, and was a guest of the Queenstown Winter Festival and Air New Zealand.