ANZPT Queenstown: A town fit for a queen

australia_poker_tour.pngIt was 8:30am when the first shafts of golden-orange sunlight set the snow-capped tip of Bowen Peak ablaze. Thanks to a combination of jet lag and sleep deprivation, I was already seated in a local cafe, downing the caffeinated goodness of hot Earl Grey tea and a plate of mouth-watering banana french toast. The winter sunrise comes late to this part of the world, even later to this lake-side town ringed by beautifully sculpted mountain peaks.

A hearty good morning from Queenstown, New Zealand, home of the latest stop for Season 2 of the Australia New Zealand Poker Tour. The temperature outside this morning is a brisk -1C, just about the perfect temperature for the outdoor winter sports that have made Queenstown an international destination. Our plan, of course, is to spend the day inside for Day 1A of the Season 2 ANZPT Queenstown Main Event.

Nestled on the shore of icy blue Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is located on New Zealand's southern island. It was first settled in the mid-19th century by William Gilbert Rees and Nicholas Von Tunzelman. In 1862 the discovery of gold in the nearby Arrow River set off a boom. Today more than 10,000 residents make Queenstown their year-round home.

That number swells considerably in the winter, as the climate and the proximity to excellent skiing and snowboarding draws visitors from around the world. Already since I've arrived, friends have told me that I have to go bungy jumping and that I should take a helicopter ride up a neighboring glacier. Others encouraged me to spend a few extra days here snowboarding.

Lake Wakatipu.jpg

The central business district is not more than 500 meters per side. Yet yesterday, during a typical winter day, it was jam-packed with pedestrians looking for a bite to eat, a bit of drink or some skiing and snowboarding accessories. At night the town comes alive with "apres-ski" festivities. The drinking goes late into the night.

Of course, for our purposes Queenstown is also home to the SKYCITY casino, a modest structure tucked into a main thoroughfare in the heart of the town. That's where the Day 1A field will assemble today for a full day of high-stakes tournament poker action.

This event actually got a jump-start on Saturday up in Auckland, where an additional Day 1 flight was played. 15 players made it through two days of poker at SKYCITY Auckland. They'll arrive here in Queenstown on Friday, having won return flight Auckland to Queenstown and three nights' accommodation here in Queenstown for making it through the Auckland portion of this event.

Those players will enter the field on Saturday's Day 3. Before they arrive, however, we'll have to see who will be joining them down here in Queenstown. Already we've run into ANZPT Season 2 points leader Tony Hachem on the street. He will be in the Day 1B field tomorrow.

We'll see who else is in town once the players start filing in at 12:15pm local time, about 2.5 hours from now. Until then, we'll be breathing in the crisp alpine air -- a very welcome change after 7 weeks of brutally hot desert breezes at the WSOP in Las Vegas.