[This was originally posted on Expedia, cos I am their blogging Travel King, although weirdly they refuse to call me by my proper title or send me the crown I asked for. ]
Until a few years ago, I’d never been to New Zealand. No real desire to, either. I figured it would be like Australia, but, you know, colder. What a goose.
But in 2010 my husband filmed a feature film on the South Island, and I went along to write a novel without the distractions of friends/shopping/Sydney/reliable internet. It wasn’t long before we escaped the ‘bustling metropolis’ that is Invercargill, ahem, and headed to Queenstown. The attraction was instant and profound; this is a remarkable, astonishingly beautiful slice of the earth. Queenstown is now my favourite place in the world and we now head over there a few times a year.
My spiel to Aussies who are yet to endure the grueling 2-3 hour flight over there goes something along the lines of: OH BUT YOU REALLY MUST. Queenstown and its surrounds has the most breathtaking scenery you can imagine: aquamarine lakes set against jagged, snowcapped mountains and rolling hills, plus outstanding dining, beautiful hikes, world-class wines, every ridiculous physical extreme activity you can imagine (read: good for kids or daredevils) and five-star snow fields.
My more specific spiel is as follows:
DINE, WINE, BUY
Queenstown sits in the Otago region, which produces arguably the best Pinot Noir in the world. While there are several billion excellent wineries to visit, I recommend Amisfield Winery (book in for lunch and pray for sun so you can sit outside and soak up the surrounds) and definitely buy some wine and have it shipped home before you leave, and also Gibbston Winery, who make award-winning Pinot Noir but also some of the very best chardonnay you can guzzle, and serve a fantastic lunch also.
GO IN AUTUMN
To be fair, each season is as good as the next in Queenstown. Winter brings snow and sees this resort town heaving with funseekers from all over the world, Spring and Summer are picture perfect and ideal for hikers and bike heads, but Autumn is magic. Never have you seen such vivid colour (and such a spectrum of colour). Your best vantage point is in the beautiful little goldmining settlement of Arrowtown, around 20 minutes out of Queenstown, where you should take one million photos and keep an eye out for international car advertisements being shot on the winding, tree-lined streets.
SPEAKING OF ARROWTOWN…
It’s a secret foody go-to spot of ours. We love the breakfast and lunch at Chop Shop, and some early evening tapas at La Rumbla, and never miss a chance to pig on at the award-winning Saffron for lunch or dinner. (Get the curry or forever regret it.) A flick at Dorothy Brown afterwards with some wine and cheese is the perfect full stop.
JUST REGARDING PIGGING ON
Queenstown offers some exceptional dining options. It must! It spends most of the year catering to a well-heeled international crowd who demand good grub. My top pick for a fancy feast is Rata, which is owned by Michelin-starred chef Josh Emmet, and which is probably the most ‘fine dining’ option available. Next would be Botswana Butchery, which does the most succulent lamb shoulder for two on earth, and offers a warm, relaxed, dining-in-someones-house, feel. It’s perfect for a group dinner since they have private rooms, and it can’t be beat on a sunny day for a lunch outside overlooking Lake Wakatipu. (Start with Peking duck; finish with local cheeses.) Some other favourites are Madam Woo, which has a Sydney/Melbourne vibe, and offers hawker style Chinese/Malaysian food in a chic, modern restaurant (start with an Asian-style cocktail and prawn dumplings then definitely order the chicken roti hawker roll), and finally, there is VKnow, which is five minutes out of town and which does some of the most exceptional homemade Italian pizza and pasta you can imagine coupled with an outstanding wine list. The best breakfast in Queenstown is at Vudu, and it goes without staying (but not writing, apparently) that you must try a burger from the world-famous Fergburger. Queue too long? Grab a pie (and a Boston bun) from the Fergbaker next door instead. Deeeelicious.
OH, SNOW ON THEN
There are two main ski areas in Queenstown: Coronet Peak and The Remarkables, which are open mid-June to October-ish. Coronet Peak, (depending on weather conditions/icy roads) is a much gentler and more pleasant way to get your snow fix (and better for kids) than The Remarkables, which a bit more serious, and which can only be accessed by a hair-raising road brimming with hairy cliff drop offs.
DO ALL THE ‘THINGS’
You know… the Bungy jumping, the skydiving, the helicopter rides, the parasailing, the paragliding, the gondola up to the luge, the mountain bike riding, the Shotover Jet… all the things. This is an adventure town, after all.
Queenstown is home to numerous tramps and hikes. This is New Zealand, land of walking/biking/camping, after all! Try a three or four day hike like the Routeburn Track, which traverses the magnificent Southern Alps, or the Milford Track within the movie-set beauty of Milford Sound. For those who want a quick hit, try the fierce incline of Queenstown Hill (the views are worth it, and you will really earn your Fergburger), or the Moonlite Track, which is as long as you want it to be, and kicks off at Arthur’s Point, five minutes out of Queeny, or a stroll around Lake Hayes, which is scenic and gentle.
RUB IT DOWN
Any ski town must offer decent massage options; all those poor snow battered bodies need desperate TLC. My pick is either Le Spa at Sofitel, (ask for RiRi if possible), who offer excellent deep tissue massages, and also a fantastic pregnancy massage should you happen to need one, or else make a trip to the spa at Millbrook and watch bunnies hop by a stream as you wait for your treatment to begin.
HAVE A DRINK BY THE FIRE
Have five! You’ve earned it with all that walking and skiing and that, uh, massage. I love standing by the hearth at Bunker or Bardeaux (both in town) with an Old Fashioned or a Martinez to cap off a night.
A BED FOR THE NIGHT
From the superluxe Matakauri Bay (Prince Willy and Katie stayed here), or the cosy, luxurious comfort of Azure, (both ten minutes out of town), to the boutique feel of Eichardt’s Private Hotel or The Spire (perfectly positioned in town) to the English countryside elegance of Millbrook in Arrowtown, to the familiar names like The Sofitel or The Novotel, there are options for every budget, taste, or group size in Queenstown.
From backpackers to grimy teenage snowboarders to families and honeymooners and the superwealthy, private jet folk, Queenstown caters to everyone. It really is the best holiday you’ve never been on. GO.