A Queenstown tour driver and guide for awesomeNZ, GreatSights and InterCity, there's not much Paul (Paulie) McGinley doesn't know about Queenstown and its surrounds. Lucky for us, he's prepared to dish the dirt on the region's best bits.
I started driving tours from Queenstown to Milford Sound in October 2011. I'd visited Milford Sound once before, on a Contiki trip when I first arrived in NZ. I remember having a chat to the driver on the way – it turns out he's one of my best mates now! I came over from Dublin on a working holiday visa for a year, and here I am, 10 years later.
I've driven to Milford Sound close to 1000 times now. I love working as a driver and guide, meeting people from all over the world and showing them around. It helps that I'm driving to an amazing place as well. It's awesome being able to sit down and watch the scenery go past, I reckon I've got a pretty cool view from the office window.
Even though I travel the same route every time, every day is different – the people on board, the weather conditions and the constantly-changing landscape, it's impossible to get bored or tired of it. The driving conditions can be a challenge, especially driving through snow and ice. There have been a few days going to Te Anau when you're not sure if you'll make it because of snowy road conditions, but they are the best days to visit Fiordland, so it's very satisfying when we make it through. I love bringing people through when it's raining, because a rainy day in Milford Sound is just incredible. Thousands of waterfalls – in the space of 15 minutes it can transform from dry mountains to streaming waterfalls and becomes a completely different place.
I always tell people if you want to see Fiordland, you can look at someone's Instagram, but if you want to experience it, you've got to go there on a rainy day. Or if you've seen it when it's raining, come back on a blue-sky day. Experience both sides of the place.
I think the reason most people live in Queenstown is for the outdoors – biking, swimming, running, skiing. I was never really outdoorsy until I got here. Now I spend my days off biking, or training for triathlons. People are always off doing something, so you can always find someone who's keen to do the same thing as you.
You can't beat the views – I love that I can sit in my living room looking out at the Remarkables. And it's a lovely climate down here. My favourite time of year is probably springtime when the weather's milder and everything's a little greener, there's still a bit of snow as well, and the colours are awesome.
There's a good party scene down here as well of course. I think there are around 140 bars in Queenstown, so there's a really good social life.
My favourite place for breakfast is Provisions of Arrowtown. The service and food are really good, in particular their bacon and egg roll with jalapeno chutney. I'm a simple guy when it comes to breakfast. As soon as I walk in that's what they give me. The Boatshed in Frankton is great as well.
When you're hungry again, head for lunch at Public Kitchen and Bar, down by where the steamship departs from. For a casual bite, Ferg Baker has the best pies in Queenstown. My favourite is the pork belly and apple. Or if you're further afield, the Fork & Tap in Arrowtown is a cool old pub with a great outdoor area.
Slow Cuts in Arrowtown is where we bring everybody for dinner when they come to visit. The food is awesome, from steaks and rotisserie chicken to salads. We also like Bella Cucina because it's the best Italian in town.
For drinks, the World Bar is an institution! That's where my girlfriend Ange and I had our first date nearly two years ago. Then there's Little Blackwood – a good little cocktail bar, they've usually got live music. And you're spoilt for choice with all the vineyards around, but my favourite is Wooing Tree in Cromwell.
Everyone comes to Queenstown to get those famous Instagram shots, but I reckon the best views are from the Jack's Point to Kelvin Heights track. It doesn't get very high above the lake, but it's got a great view of the mountains around, great for walking and mountain biking. The network of bike trails that we have around Queenstown is incredible. There's over 120km of trails here and they offer something for everyone. We live about 5 minutes ride from the trail, and you can go anywhere you want.
Other must-do activities for visitors to Queenstown? Well, Milford Sound is a given, of course. I've done the Canyon Swing several times now, it's the best experience and the way they look after you is fantastic. The luge is so good as well. Or paragliding!
But you don't have to spend any money to experience the best of Queenstown. Head up the Tiki Trail next to the gondola. The view is best when you've earned it! When you're standing up the top of Ben Lomond, you can say you've hiked all the way from the lake to the top of a mountain. I think there's something really special about that.
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