Traveller spreads wings across the world


As a world record world traveller, American Lee Abbamonte is well qualified to rate holiday resorts. He gives Philip Chandler his opinion of Queenstown – and what he thinks of Fergburger

When a New Yorker called Lee Abbamonte rates Queenstown “right at the top, if not number one” of his favourite destinations, it pays to take heed. The reason?

The 37-year-old, who made his second visit to the resort last week, has been to more countries - a whopping 318 - at a younger age than anyone in history.

Described as the 21st century’s Marco Polo, the multi-media travel personality started by knocking off the world’s 193 sovereign countries or United Nations member states.

The Travelers’ Century Club, however, lists another 131 so-called countries which are not sovereign states.

Abbamonte elaborates: “If you go to French Polynesia or French Guiana or Martinique, that would technically count as going to France if you just use the sovereign nation [category] but they’re clearly different.”

Adding those extra countries, the list swells to 324. At 318, Abbamonte still has six to go - they’re South Atlantic countries Tristan de Cunha, Ascension Island and St Helena, British Indian Ocean Territory, Wake Island and a small enclave of Equatorial Guinea called Bata.

As he wryly puts it, “all the romantic destinations in the world that everybody wants to go to”.

Abbamonte, however, is in no hurry to visit these fairly inaccessible places - he explains that when the previous record was set for the youngest person to go to every country, the list stood at 315, and he’s three past that already.

A former investment banker and financial advisor, he says his travel exploits have been the launchpad for his career as a luxury travel consultant, because it lends “instant credibility”.

Queenstown last week was a stepping stone to jumping on a luxury cruise liner in Dunedin for its voyage to Auckland - the ship’s owner is a client.

Abbamonte was keen to revisit Queenstown because on his first visit in 2003 “I had the best time of my life”.

“I spent two weeks here, I was backpacking, and I just met some great people.

“I did all the bungy jumps, the skydives, the luge, Shotover Jet.”

He says Queenstown is a mix of Whistler, in Canada, and Norway.

“Like Whistler it’s a little village with a lot of bars and restaurants and it’s really communal, and it’s like Norway for the mountains - it’s kind of fiord-like and absolutely stunning.”

Compared with 2003, Abbamonte says Queenstown struck him as more high-end this time.

“I notice the prices are a lot higher than they used to be, but that’s normal - I mean, it’s a great place, people come here.”

He stayed one night at The Spire - “it’s a beautiful kind of boutique luxury hotel which is how a lot of hotels in cities all over the world are going”.

He was impressed with his first Canyon Swing, but less so with his first taste of a Fergburger.

“When I announced on my Facebook page that I was coming to Queenstown, everybody was like, ‘oh my god,
you’ve got to go to Fergburger’.

“I was like, ‘OK, I’m from New York, we do hamburgers pretty well’, so I had a little trepidation.”

And his verdict, after waiting 20 minutes in the line?

“It tasted like one of those burgers you get at an English football match.

“It just didn’t do it for me, the bun didn’t have any taste - but that’s just my American perspective.”

That aside, Queenstown remains one of his favourite places on the planet.

“I’m telling you, this is as good as it gets,” he says, after reeling off other favourite destinations like Interlaken in Switzerland, Bariloche in Argentina and Whistler, Banff and Jasper, in Canada.

“I want to buy a place here.”