Editor’s note: This article appeared in the Escape national travel supplement of Newscorp Australia newspapers and websites in October 2015. Alimentary flew to Queenstown with Air New Zealand.
New Zealand’s adventure capital draws thrill-seekers from around the world to its bungee jumping, jetboating and other active pursuits. But if you’d rather shoot pictures than shoot rapids, there’s also plenty to see and do.
BY JOHN CORBETT
FINE LOCAL FOOD AND WINE
Located in the world’s southernmost wine region, Queenstown is the place to taste world-class pinot gris, chardonnay, Riesling, shiraz, sauvignon blanc and sparkling wines. The star of the show is pinot noir, which rivals the very best from Burgundy. Get acquainted with this gorgeous aristocrat of the wine world at chic, architecturally-snazzy local wineries such as Peregrine, Chard Farm and Amisfield; a little further afield are Rippon Vineyard and Maude Wines near Wanaka, and “pinot noir central” in the Pisa Valley. Queenstown’s hinterland also produces wonderful beef and lamb and stone fruit (cherries, plums and apricots in particular). A raft of great local restaurants from fine-diners to fast-food outlets caters for every taste.
COMPULSORY PARENT BREAK
Fancy a romantic soak in a luxurious private pool in hot mountain spring water? High on a clifftop at Arthurs Point, Onsen Hot Pools offers private cedar-lined bathing rooms complete with private showers and changing areas and all manner of pampering add-ons (aromatherapy, chocolate, sparkling wine). At the push of a button, the walls and roof of your bathing cubicle retract to reveal the jaw-dropping landscape of the Shotover Valley. There are candlelight bathing packages for the evening, and a whizzy one that brings you straight from the ski slopes by helicopter; both are possibly trumped by the Parent Break, which entertains your little darlings at a Kidz Club for two hours – or more.
THERE’S GOLD IN THEM THAR HILLS
In a corner of the Lakes District Museum in the postcard-worthy settlement of Arrowtown is a mock-up of an 1860s gold miner’s hut. The timber and turf-lined dwelling boasts a pot-belly stove flanked by two sheets of corrugated iron – state-of-the art technology back then for staving off an alpine winter and unimaginably spartan today. From riverside tailings and sluicings to forgotten stone huts in the high, dry hills, reminders of the region’s gold rush days are everywhere. Follow the well-posted heritage trails or visit the Goldfields Mining Centre near Cromwell and pan for gold – and remember, it’s “finder’s keepers”.
The alpine air is a tonic, but so too is the raft of therapies and treatments available at Queenstown’s hotels and day spas. Among the best: Millbrook Resort Spa near Lake Hayes, voted “New Zealand’s Leading Spa Resort” at the World Travel Awards in 2012, 2013 and 2014, and LeSpa at Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa. Also scooping international accolades is Aro Hā Wellness Retreat, recently voted #1 Destination Spa in the world and #8 in the Top 100 Hotels & Resorts in the World by Condé Nast Traveller readers. Located 45 minutes from Queenstown on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, eco-chic Aro Hā offers all-inclusive Wellness Adventure programmes that include yoga, sub-alpine hiking and meditation.
If golf is your thing, you can play like a king. Two world-class championship-level courses near Arrowtown offer enjoyment for players of all abilities. At The Hills, the spectacular 200-hectare setting of lakes, waterways and wetlands is complemented by sculptures by international artists and innovative architecture: the Clubhouse integrates seamlessly with the mountain landscape. The owner of the course – Michael Hill, Jeweller – needs no introduction. Right across the road is the award-winning 27-hole course at Millbrook Resort, voted Best Golf Hotel in New Zealand at the inaugural World Golf Awards 2014.
Philippa Archibald, the owner of Dorothy Browns boutique cinema in Arrowtown, is a firm believer in intermissions, so midway through each screening of art-house, classic or new-release movies, patrons can head for the bar stocked with fine local wines. Named after a 19th-century photographer who is rumoured to have run an opium den, Dorothy Browns is idiosyncratic (think pink chiffon-lined walls, chandeliers, fireside seats covered in red possum fur) and very comfortable. The quirkiness factor is also high at Cinema Paradiso in Wanaka, where the seating includes comfy couches, aircraft seats and an old Morris Minor. Hot cookies and home-made ice cream are served at intermission. Lonely Planet calls it a New Zealand national treasure.
THE LADY OF THE LAKE
To describe the TSS Earnslaw as a 1912 twin-screw, 330-tonne coal-fired steamer is like saying that a Rolls-Royce is a car. The beautiful and elegant “Lady of the Lake” carries passengers across Lake Wakatipu several times a day from the Queenstown Steamer Wharf to Walter Peak High Country Farm. Step on board, step back in time, have a drink in the onboard Promenade Café and Bar and sing along with the pianist. And don’t forget to gawp at the scenery.
The Queenstown Trail is a 110-kilometre network of easy- to intermediate-gradient walking and biking trails linking Queenstown to Lake Hayes, Arrowtown and the Gibbston Valley. The trail winds through wonderful lake, river and mountain scenery and passes bungee jumping and jetboating sites which you can view serenely before heading for a wine-tasting. For an added scenic buzz, take the “bike lift” up the iconic Skyline Gondola. Learners and families also head to Rabbit Ridge Bike Resort located conveniently next to Gibbston Valley Winery.
Powerful. Moody. Operatically beautiful. The landscapes of Central Otago surpass every adjective you can throw at them. From Queenstown there are awe-inspiring drives to Kingston at the southernmost end of Lake Wakatipu, Glenorchy on the northern arm, and “over the hill” to Wanaka. Hard to beat though is the 40-minute journey from Queenstown to Cromwell through a series of mountain valleys each more sublime than the last: if this scenery could speak it would sing Wagner. Finish the journey with a glass of award-winning wine at the Mt Difficulty Winery restaurant in Bannockburn where your other reward is the astonishing view straight up the glacial U-shape of the Pisa Valley. It’s a geology lesson on a cosmic scale. www.alimentary.co.nz
Photos: Peregrine Winery; Neville Porter; queenstown.com; queenstownnz.co.nz
Jetstar, Virgin Airlines and Air New Zealand offer frequent services from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Queenstown. Air New Zealand and Jetstar provide domestic services from NZ main centres.
See jetstar.com, airnewzealand.co.nz
Queenstown has a wide range of accommodation in all price categories, from backpacker hostels to luxury lodges. Alimentary recommends the 5-star Hotel St Moritz.
Queenstown is an ideal base for exploring the Central Otago region, and beyond. It is a starting-point for the Southern Scenic Route which links Queenstown with Fiordland, Te Anau, Invercargill and Dunedin.