Touching down in Queenstown, New Zealand, I was in awe and disbelief that it had taken me 31 years to make this mere three hour flight across the Tasman (from Melboune). With breathtaking views of the southern Alps, the Remarkables (or “the Remarks” as fondly referred to by locals) mountain range and the pristine glacial fed Lake Wakatipu, it’s not hard to see why Queenstown airport is ranked in the top 10 scenic airport landings in the world. It looks like something straight out of an oil painting.
Looks can be deceiving though and this certainly is the case with Queenstown, in the most wonderful way. In contrast to the peaceful, serene backdrop, this buzzing resort town is a hive of activity with a smorgasbord of experiences for everyone from thrill seekers to those just wanting to enjoy some good old fashioned r & r, good food and fine wine. I’m not one to judge, but I will let you know that Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world, so if you do journey there think of me whispering this in your ear and giving you a gentle nudge… when in Queenstown, you gotta do something to get that heart rate pumping, right?!
I spent a few days in Queenstown pre and post the trek along the Milford Track, which I did with my family at Easter (you can read about this here). I squeezed as much as I could into the four days I had, here are the highlights…
A stunning 20 minute drive from Queenstown, the charming little Arrowtown made for a great Griswold family afternoon adventure. Sitting beneath the surrounding mountain peaks with heritage buildings preserved from the 1860s and a tree lined avenue of little miner’s cottages you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. I’m told Quakers with long capes and hats are not an uncommon site. We called into the Fork & Tap for a casual lunch, more for the pretty setting than anything else, but I have it on good authority that Saffron is the place to go for a fine dining experience in Arrowtown.
Onsen hot pools
With aching muscles after my trek along the Milford Track and the cold winter-like weather that set in after my family returned to Australia, it didn’t take me long to make a dash to the bath house. Onsen hot pools are a short 10 minute drive from Queenstown. If you don’t have a car make the most of the free shuttle, because a taxi will set you back about $30 (steep huh?!). With my own private pool filled with pure hot spring water from the nearby mountains, crisp mountain air, and the sounds of Asgeir it was utter bliss. Just about as good as it gets, right?
JUMP OUT OF A PLANE!
I’m certain there’s no better place to jump out of a plane than Queenstown. If you’re after thrills this is exactly what you need to do! After a few false starts (due to bad weather) by the time I got up in the air I was too amazed by what has to be the most spectacular scenery in the world to feel nervous. At 15,000ft we were 3,000 ft higher than Mt Cook (New Zealand’s highest mountain) which we could see rising majestically above the clouds 350 kilometres in the distance.
My tummy might have done some somersaults as I put my feet underneath the plane and tilted my head back, waiting to be nudged out. But fear quickly subsided as the sixty second free fall began and the adrenaline kicked in. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face! Sixty seconds went a lot faster than I had anticipated, I think I spent every one of them screaming in sheer exhilaration. After feeling the jolt of the parachute I found myself face-to-face with the Remarks, hanging like a rag doll, taking a few deep breaths and pinching myself while I soaked up the view. And when I hit the ground, I wanted to go back up and do it all over again!
I jumped with NZone, but am told Skydive Paradise are very good too (both are owned by the same company). If capturing your experience is the priority, NZone will send a camera man up with you, while your tandem buddy will take pics and film you if you go with Sky Dive Paradise. It’s also worth noting that the Skydive Paradise drop zone is located in a gorge, which can mean your dive may be cancelled if it’s too windy, so if you’ve only got one window of opportunity to do your jump you’re best booking with NZone.
You can take the zipline Gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak for stunning views of Queenstown, but I opted for the path less travelled to the top of Queenstown Hill. It’s a one hour uphill walk (at a solid pace) but worth every puff for the view you are rewarded with at the top, of both Queenstown and The Remarks (which you don’t see from Bob’s Peak) and the likelihood of having it all to yourself. Go on, take the scenic route…
Just when I thought my day in Queenstown couldn’t get any better, I witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen over the Steamer Wharf and Queenstown Bay.
Queenstown arts and craft markets happen in this very spot on a Friday and Saturday.
There’s is so much more on offer in and around Queenstown than I had time to see and do. At the top of my list next time will be horse riding where Lord of the Rings was filmed, a glacier trek, lunch at Amisville winery and of course skiing in winter.
I was lucky enough to have some hot local tips (thanks to the lovely Paula at Aro Ha Retreats) and every single one them was spot on, making for a very happy family of trekkers.
Botswana Butchery is perhaps the most renowned restaurant in Queenstown. Think lake views in a sophisticated setting with log fires and impeccable food and service. All seven members of our family ordered different dishes and we couldn’t fault a single one. From the steak, to the snapper, salmon, crayfish and I dare say my personal favourite – the pigs head entree, which was deliciously succulent and tender.
We also loved Madame Woo, as much for its authentic, modern, fresh Malay-Chinese style street food, as for the fun, buzzy atmosphere. It’s set in 1930’s colonial style historic building and very reasonably priced. Make sure you head to the bar upstairs for a pre or post dinner drink.
The award-winning Rata restaurant owned by renowned Michelin star chef Josh Emmett, (who also owns Madame Woo) is another one worthy of a spot on list of places to dine. More exquisite food and friendly service made for a wonderful last Griswold Easter vacation family supper.
Vudu Cafe & Larder is the local favourite as far as cafes go. They do a delicious breakfast and lunch, freshly squeezed juices, raw sweet treats and decadent ones too. The poached eggs with haloumi were pretty spesh!
If too much holiday indulgence gets the better of you, Rehab is the place to go for a takeaway juice, smoothie, or salad hit. If you’d rather apply the ’20’ of the 80:20 rule to the duration of your holiday, I am told a trip to Queenstown ins’t complete without trying a famous Fergberger – the line pouring out into the street at just about any given time of the day is a sure sign they’re worth the wait. Winnie’s Gourmet Pizza bar was also recommended by some friendly Kiwis in the know. It’s located upstairs in an old school cinema with a convertible roof and is a pretty cool and spot for a pizza and a beer.
The Bunker is the place to go for a drink. With a rustic, old world feel it’s hidden off a back alley, with open fires, comfy leather counters – making it a more than inviting place to bunker in whether it in the dining room or upstairs cocktail at the bar. We also had an enjoyable Friday night drink at Ballarat Trading Co, which has more of a pub feel, live music, a good crowd and a great atmosphere. If you like something a bit more fancy then Eichardt’s Bar on the waterfront will be more your style. Think tapas, wine and cocktails in a cosy atmosphere. It’s hard to go past their famous seafood chowder, which I highly recommend.
I stayed at Queenstown Park Boutique hotel, which is in a perfect location for exploring al that Queenstown has to offer. A stone’s throw from all the action, it has bright modern rooms with fridge and small kitchenette. Most importantly it has a warm, welcoming feel thanks to the friendly staff who are only too happy to offer advice on where to go as you chat over canapés and drinks on the house for one hour each evening.
I stayed at Peppers with my family – also in a great location, with spacious modern apartments on the waterfront. Just don’t be duped into paying a fortune for the wifi unless you really need it as there are free wifi zones all over town.
If you want to live it up like Kate and Wills did then you need to book a room at Matakauri Lodge and pack me in your suitcase if you like?
If you live on the east coast of Australia and you’ve never been to Queenstown do yourself a favour and get on a plane immediately. It may have taken me 31 years to get there, but now that I have it’s only a matter of when, not if, I will go back.
If you’re keen to extend your adventure beyond Queenstown check out my stories on the Milford Track – one of the finest walks in the world, and the amazing Aro Ha retreat – which was voted by Conde Naste Traveller as one of the top 100 hotels in the world.