QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND
I’ve never really given New Zealand much thought as a travel destination. My only encounter was from watching Lord of the Rings. So sure, it looked stunning, but wasn’t it much like holidaying in Australia? Then as these things go, it was constantly popping up on my social media feeds and friends kept raving about it and I got some serious FOMO (Fear of missing out for those who aren’t up with the acronyms). Add the short 3 hour flight across the Tasman from Melbourne and it quickly shot up to number one spot my holiday destination list.
I chose Queenstown, located on the South Island, as our introduction to New Zealand; which I ummed and ahhed about as it’s a destination known for adrenaline junkies and thrill seekers. Something my partner and I DEFINITELY are not. We prefer gentle activities centred around eating, drinking and sightseeing but a quick shout out for recommendations and a google of a few blogs assured me that this town has something for everyone.
Queenstown doesn’t really have a ‘off’ season as such. Every season offers something unique but winter is the most popular owing to the world class ski fields (Coronet Peak and the Remarkables). We haven’t attempted any snow sports yet and thought that might be best left to a day trip to the Victorian high country where we can make a quick escape home if it’s not for us! I picked Autumn (Mid-May) and I’m very glad I did; the array and spectrum of colour was breathtakingly beautiful and the weather wasn’t bone chillingly cold (top of 18 degrees, I still wore thermals and snow coat though, cos I’m a sook).
I was prepared for amazing but I was absolutely blown away with how beautiful Queenstown is; from the second the plane touches down right next to the snow capped mountains of the Southern Alps, to the trip into town where you get glimpses of the imposing Remarkables and azure coloured Lake Wakatipu, to heading out to the quaint little town of Arrowtown with it’s golden tree lined streets. The scenery is awe-inspiring and every vantage point offered something different. Truly a stunning slice of the world.
Queenstown has a small airport about 15-20 mins drive to the main town. The only international flights landing there are from the Australian east coast so if you are coming from somewhere else you will need to fly via Auckland or Christchurch. If you are living in Melbourne, flights are cheaper with a stopover BUT the travel time is more than double. If you are only going for a short time, like we did (4 nights), it’s worth the extra clams for the direct flight. We went with over with Jetstar and back with Air New Zealand. Air NZ was far superior (no surprises there).
WHERE TO STAY
There are no shortage of places to rest your head. Being a tourist town, there are loads of the usual suspects hotel wise, Airbnb's and other assorted options available for every budget. I really wanted to stay at the Sherwood. It’s very hipster, which of course being a Melburnian, I love and sucked me right in (well played, Sherwood) but it actually has some sustainability chops too. The owners have renovated an old run down motel set on Lake Wakatipu and turned it into a community focused hotel that respects nature. The renovation is considered and uses sustainable materials. The hotel also houses the largest private solar installs in New Zealand (pretty cool)! We didn’t stay there because it’s about a 45 minute walk out of town, being our first trip, we wanted to be a short walk to the action and didn’t want to be catching taxi’s everyday (we also didn’t hire a car). I plan on staying there next trip. We ended up staying at Hotel St Moritz, which was excellent. The rooms are big and decorated beautifully. We stayed in a mountain view room because you can never get too much of that view. It’s 5 mins walk to the centre of town with only a small hill to walk up (be mindful when booking, some places have killer hills to climb).
WHAT TO DO
EVERYTHING. Like I mentioned, we aren’t thrill seekers, so bungy/hang gliding/skydiving/crapping myself/etc didn’t appeal. We did want to get in on some action though and went on the Shotover Jet Boat. Perfect if you want some adrenaline but aren’t into the extreme side of things where you lose your lunch. It turned out to be one of the most fun tours we have ever been on! There are plenty of jet boat options in Queenie, but this is the only one that is allowed through Shotover Canyon. The canyon is narrow stretch of turquoise water that passes through rocky cliff faces. The jet boat drivers are highly skilled and do some hair-raising manoeuvres (360 spins!) while also stopping every now and then to give you a bit of history of the area (it’s a gold rush area and the river used to be filled with gold!).
The Gondola is a must do and is walking distance from the centre of town. The cable car will take you to the top mountain with the most amazing view of Queenstown. At the top there is a look out, restaurant and the luge (basically a go-cart track at the top of a mountain!). Other notable things to do in town include the Million Dollar Cruise; which is a hilariously fun boat cruise around Lake Wakatipu. It’s run by a married couple and Captain Wayne will give you all the goss on the million dollar homes that line the lake. And most importantly there is a bar on board so you can enjoy a glass of Pinot Noir while taking in the sights.
If you want to get out of Queenstown, Arrowtown is a must do. It’s a quaint little gold mining town about 20 mins drive from Queenie. It’s absolutely stunning with the main road lined with charming old shop fronts. In Autumn it’s covered in an array of bronze, gold and auburn leaves.
The area is known for Pinot Noir so there are plenty of wineries around, most of them producing world class wine. Amisfield and Gibbston Valley are probably the most popular and are quite busy so make sure you book for lunch.
WHERE TO EAT
You could write a novel about the food options in Queenstown. There are the usual suspects, like the famous, Fergburger (it was delicious, despite the long wait), to a bit fancier, like Amisfield Winery.
We didn’t stay at the Sherwood but we did eat at the restaurant. It was amazing. All the produce is either picked from Sherwood’s own kitchen garden or sourced from local farms. The dishes are seasonal, elegant and fresh. They have a huge list of natural wines and local craft beers plus the cocktails are damn good.
If you want to go a bit fancy, you can’t go past Rata. It was a very memorable meal and reasonably priced for a fine dining establishment. Run by Michelin-star Chef, Josh Emmett, Rata celebrates the regional produce of Central Otago. Just really damn good food (classics like Beef Wellington) and good wine (hello local Pinot Noir). Order the goat cheese profiteroles or forever regret it.
This is not an exaggeration: we ate best garlic bread EVER at The Cow. I’m not even going to bother talking about the pizza (it was yum, by the way) because the bread was something else. It’s a freshly baked loaf of wholemeal bread drizzled in garlic oil served on a chopping board with a generous serve of butter. The crust is crunchy and the inside warm and soft. It’s huge so we took the rest back to the hotel to eat the next day. I should also mention that The Cow is super cute: tucked away down a lane way it’s decorated to look like a milk barn and is very cosy and warm. .
The Chop Shop is a gorgeous little cafe in Arrowtown. It was incredibly busy when we went there and I must admit, the chaotic open kitchen had me worried, but the food turned out to be delicious. The menu is an interesting hodgepodge of different cuisines from the usual cafe style eggs on toast fare to nasi goreng. I had the okonomiyaki pancake and I devoured it. Lovely fresh flavours and the crispy prawns were divine.