An extraordinary outdoor life

Ann-Louise Riddell traveled to Queenstown to snowboard, and found a life of exciting challenges.
An extraordinary outdoor life

Some people travel to Queenstown from the other side of the world to do once-in-a-lifetime hikes. Ann-Louise Riddell enjoys running those tracks on weekends with her friends.

Living in New Zealand’s adventure capital certainly has its perks, and even after being there for six years, Ann-Louise still makes the most of what Queenstown offers. “We do a lot of trail running. We do the Routeburn Track quite often on a Saturday, either the whole track or we’ll just run for a bit, turn around and come back. It’s just an hour away,” she explains.

You know, how many people can climb a mountain after work?
It doesn’t really get boring.

Most Wednesday nights in summer, she and her friends will run along the trails at nearby historic Arrowtown, or climb a mountain that’s 15 minutes walk from her house. “You know, how many people can climb a mountain after work? It doesn’t really get boring.”

The outdoor lifestyle was a large part of what lured Ann-Louise to New Zealand in 2009, when she was 26. Born in Scotland, she chose to establish a career after university rather than doing a gap year (travelling for a year before finding full-time work), she started working in Glasgow doing marketing for an IT (information technology) company.

An acquaintance spoke enthusiastically about Queenstown’s heli-snowboarding (taking a helicopter to the top of a mountain and snowboarding down), so she decided to come here. Her other aim was to get a more career focused job that meant she could stay here longer than one year.

Ann-Louise originally came here on a one year working holiday visa, and she worked in a temporary adventure tourism job and travelled the country. At the end of that year, she got a job as the head of marketing at NZONE Skydive, and the company helped her get a work visa.

Extraordinary sights became part of her life. “It was very distracting, you know, with the parachutes coming down next to your window every day,” she laughs. “I kept looking out the window at all these skydivers, and it was such a beautiful location – it was pretty unreal, actually.”

Now Ann-Louise manages the marketing and sales for Queenstown Rafting and Kiwi Discovery, which are also adventure tourism operators. And yes, she still snowboards, and enjoys the occasional “crazy” activity such as skydiving, bungee jumping, river surfing and rafting.

New Zealand’s “relaxed outdoor lifestyle” has made her want to stay here. Though people still work hard, she says, they spend less time commuting so there’s more time to enjoy the natural surroundings. Ann-Louise has competed in four marathons since arriving here, and is currently training for an Ironman competition – although she says Lake Wakatipu is “freezing”.

One of the biggest adjustments Ann-Louise has had to make is that there are far fewer people around (and a smaller range of shops) compared to British cities. She uses Skype and photo messaging to stay in touch with friends and family, but she says that missing big events such as birthdays and weddings is difficult. “I have gone home for a few weddings, but you can’t go to everybody’s,” she says. “Also, my friends’ kids are growing up and you miss that.”

The cost of living in Queenstown is higher than in most other New Zealand cities, Ann-Louise says. Rental houses are in short supply, and buying a house is “very expensive”. Some of her friends choose to live in Cromwell, about an hour’s drive away, where houses are much cheaper.

Ann-Louise came to New Zealand by herself and met her English partner Josh here soon after. They both have residency, and are happy living here for at least a few more years. But they are starting to wonder whether they want to be so far away from their parents once they have children.

“Lots of people say, ‘Oh, you have to come home if you have kids, because how are you going to have any babysitters if you don’t have your mum and his mum?’” says Ann-Louise. “I did think that it would be far too hard, but there are lots of British couples out here, and everyone just helps each other, because no-one has that base of all their family to help.”

The fact that school children in Queenstown go snowboarding for PE (physical education classes) impresses her. “It is definitely a beautiful place to grow up. I imagine growing up here would be quite a privilege.” She advises people thinking of moving here to do some research into New Zealand’s different regions, because “nowhere is the same, it is such a diverse country”.

If I was still in Scotland I think I would still be in the same job, probably still sitting in the same office doing my commute, and probably be pretty bored with life,” says Ann-Louise. “I definitely don’t regret my decision to move to New Zealand.

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