Nestled in a picture perfect bay, and surrounded by majestic mountains, it doesn’t take long to figure out why Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand. While thrill-seekers can get their fix a thousand different ways, when I visit the fam down under, I manage to relax and recharge in this sweet South Island setting.
For proximity to the bustling downtown area, the Queenstown Park Hotel offers chic self-contained suites with kitchenettes and views of the Remarkables alpine range. Complimentary pre-dinner drinks to sip while admiring the mountains too.
For a serene and secluded lakeside retreat, there is nothing quite like Matakauri Lodge – just seven minutes away. All eleven outstanding guest suites, as well as nine outlying cottages, boast open fireplaces and glorious panoramas of Lake Wakatipu. Amenities also include a stunning full-service spa, swimming pool and fitness centre.
For such a small place, Queenstown has an extraordinary variety of cuisines on offer. In fact, I think I’ve eaten some of the most authentic Thai food from this little take-away called AT. By day, cafes and restos offer fresh fare and loads of choice. Veggie delights and gluten-free goodies are a given in this town. Of note is my go-to local hot spot Vudu Cafe that has two locations offering hearty healthy plates for breakfast and lunch. My sis-in-law swears by the bean burrito, while I’m a sucker for their gluten-free brownies and carrot cake. On sunny days, one option is to pick up satisfying grilled fish and salty chips from PJ’s, and find a spot in the park or on the edge of the Bay.
By night, there are many reasons to get out try the restos. My latest intel is that Rata is the place to go. One of the owners is celeb Chef Josh Emett, who earned his cred over 10 years working with Gordon Ramsay, and a spin on New Zealand’s version of Master Chef. Kappa Sushi Cafe is, by all accounts, the best Japanese in town. Italian? Bella Cucina serves lovely pastas and wood-fired pizzas. For something a little more fine, Wai specializes in the freshest seafood.
Further afield is Amisfield Winery. Located 15 minutes from central QT, the bistro serves a lunch menu that incorporates a variety of organic and locally sourced food. And since it changes daily, I can only describe each dish as a delicious experience, made all the more pleasant by their range of estate grown wines.
On the topic of wine, a self-guided vineyard tour can start with Chard Farm – promise the vintages are worth the precarious drive (another reason this should be the first stop). Gibbston Valley Wines has gorgeous outdoor setting, and Peregrine is not to be missed for its award-winning structural design and lovely Sauvignon Blanc.
As far as aerobic activity goes, the list is endless as world-class golfing and mountain biking, and even indoor ice-skating can fill the agenda. Taking it up another level is the famous A J Hackett bungy jump over the Kawarau River. But nothing got my adrenaline pumping like white water rafting on the Shotover River. A white-nuckle ride through grade 3-5 rapids actually begins by driving into Skippers Canyon to get to the launch site. This is the third most dangerous road in the world. Yup, it’s a long long way down if the minibus does not make that turn.
So when all this and day of tramping (a Kiwi term for “hiking”) on the Milford Track is done, book in for a rejuvenating treatment at Body Sanctum. Getting back to neutral, morning runs and afternoon strolls through Queenstown Park often preceed classes at Yoga Nadi.
Renting a car is essential to enjoying what this area of the South Island has to offer. Adventure walks, panning for gold on the Arrow River, or just going for a drive to take in the local landscape, makes it a worthwhile expense. You’ll hardly ever have to pay for parking! And don’t miss Walnut Cottage Cafe on the drive to Arrowtown. Rick and Dini’s sweet garden is a must-stop for brunch, lunch or afternoon tea.
BEST TIME TO GO:
Put simply, New Zealand’s weather is opposite to ours since its North and South Island lie in the Southern Hemisphere. Although winters are mild with temps maxing out between 10 and 15ºC (inland alpine areas around QT can be as cold as -10 C), if you like it cold then by all means go in June, July or August. But let’s talk summer when the North Island is subtropical, and when the South is temperate with moderate rainfall and loads of sunshine. The warmest months are December, January and February when average max temperatures range between 20 – 30ºC.