WRAL-TV anchor Bill Leslie recounts his recent journey to New Zealand. Hear from Bill about his trip all this week in both words and music.

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The Remarkables
If any place on the planet could be excused for a big ego, it’s Queenstown on the South Island of New Zealand.

Queenstown is stunningly beautiful. It also has rugged good looks. Queenstown is young, vibrant, cool, hip, and full of energy and adventure. Although confident, Queenstown is certainly not cocky. It is polite and yet passionate.

I loved the warmth of natives.

We used Queenstown as a warm-up to the Fiordland hiking trip I wrote about Wednesday. But it could very well be a stand-alone vacation – I never grew tired of looking up at the mountains during my three days there.  (View an audio slideshow of Bill's New Zealand journey.)

I also loved the town’s Alpine village feel with lots of neat shops and excellent restaurants.

Tourism officials tout Queenstown as the “Global Adventure Capital” with its bungee-jumping, jet boating, sledging, caving, rafting, hang gliding and sky diving.

But Queenstown is also emerging as an arts mecca and simply a cool place to hang out for a cup of coffee and conversation with a host of fascinating international travelers who flock there each year.

We dined at Finz at Steamer Wharf and met a young waitress with a peculiar dialect. It was part Midwest, part Kiwi.

“Are you from Minnesota?” I asked.

I was right. I love to guess dialects. She and her boyfriend were working their way across the country. She’s pretty good at code switching – that is, she can blend in and almost talk like the locals.

By the way, the food at Finz was delicious!

We loved the Skyline Gondola recommended by WRAL News colleague Emily McKnight. It provided me a grand view of the city and some terrific pictures. The hang gliding here reminded me of the days when they allowed the sport at Grandfather Mountain here in North Carolina.

The majestic mountains along the lake here are called The Remarkables. The name fits.

When we saw them, they were capped in snow. Late afternoon, with the constantly changing light and dazzling array of cloud formations, provided a golden photo opportunity along the shores of Lake Wakatipu.

If you’d like to see a real Kiwi, there’s a bird park that will give you the opportunity. It is located near the entrance of the gondola.

We rented a car one day and cruised out of town a few miles and found a line of fine wineries.

Amisfield, with its award-winning Pinot Noir, has a marvelous bistro for lunch.

Arrowtown, nearby, was aglow in its autumnal beauty. This former gold-mining town was a major filming spot for "Lord of the Rings."

Any excellent winery is Chard Farms. If you go there, look for the bridge where bungee was born. You can watch for free. It’ll cost you to jump.

For a bountiful breakfast and superb accommodations, consider Central Ridge Boutique. For another fine meal, check out Fishbone.

There is so much to do in Queenstown. Check out the Ultimate Hikes office and ponder one of their great hikes.

By the way, if you’re wondering about the name of the town, it was called Queenstown by explorer William Gilbert Rees. He was overwhelmed by the beauty here and said it was "a town fit for a queen".

On Friday, we’ll talk about the place where Sir Edmund Hillary trained before conquering Mt. Everest.



Bill Leslie, Reporter

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