Let downtown Queenstown rock if it’s rubbish anyway


What is it with people visiting Queenstown and exclaiming how crap downtown is? 

I can’t understand why anyone cares for this at all. Yet it’s a refrain I hear quite often from tourists, and for the most part it’s the Kiwi ones. 

You know what I’m talking about – you’ll have heard it too. Queenstown’s ruining itself. It’s too commercial. 

Overloaded with bars. Too many multi-nationals just using our country’s tourism jewel as a branding opportunity. 

While some of the above is bang-on, it’s a ridiculous thing to whinge about. Queenstown isn’t about downtown. 

Downtown should be your after-thought if you’re visiting the Wakatipu. 

It’s like going to Thailand and complaining that Bangkok sucks because Khao San Road is full of fast-food outlets, westernised bars and cheap knockoffs of everything you could imagine. 

Seriously – you don’t hear people who’ve been to Las Vegas bitching about the fact that there’s not much to do in the surrounding desert and it’s a bit dry, hot and barren. 

The inverse is true here. It’s just as daft to come to Queenstown and complain afterwards about four square blocks of city action near the water being a bit rubbish. 

Of course it’s rubbish, compared to the rest of the place – it’s where commerce rules and you wave nature goodbye. 

Nobody should be coming to Queenstown just to hang out downtown. They should be coming to Queenstown to jump off bridges and tour wineries and walk tracks and ski in the mountains and snap photos of incredible vistas and ride the gondola and go horse trekking and jetboating and skydiving and canyon swinging and tandem paragliding … you get the point. 

Downtown is where you book all of the above and then kick back afterwards to tell a few stories. 

Believe me, if you’re leaving Queenstown and one of your occupying thoughts is that downtown is crap, well you’ve missed the point completely. 

With this in mind, perhaps it’s time we freed up downtown from regulatory shackles when it comes to licensing hours, noise limits, signage restrictions and touts. 

Just let it rock. 

Allow downtown Queenstown to run free and wild. 

Forget the bylaw restricting the size of signage. Just let businesses get as large, loud and gaudy with their promotional material as they want. Hell, what about a bit of neon? 

Bars closing at 4am? Let’s go 24/7, baby! 

Let guys and gals in tasteful but skimpy outfits on the streets to dish out drink specials and food samples while feeding the parking meters like they do on the GC (sorry, that’s Gold Coast for the uninitiated). And allow touts in doorways inviting you in and offering to throw in a half-price bottle of wine. Brilliant (actually, some of this stuff happens now). 

If lots of people think it’s rubbish downtown anyway, let’s just make it completely awful and it’ll possibly turn it into part of the attraction of the place. Let’s face it, if you compare it to 20 years ago, downtown Queenstown is on an inevitable grind in that direction. 

Mind you, it’s all relative. 

Recall the writer from the Irish Independent Hugh Farrelly, who noted during his visit for last year’s Rugby World Cup: “Queens­town is almost too perfect to be true and, as you stroll around the quaint, pedestrianised streets full of enticing cafes, restaurants, shops and bars, there is a distinct Truman Show feel to it all … as though the minute you turn a corner, the local ‘extras’ switch off and light up a cigarette waiting for the next scene to shoot.” 

Perhaps there’s a charm worth preserving there after all.