Where in the world can you do wild and crazy things, and yet be perfectly safe? Where you can experience thrills of adrenalin-pumping excitement, and then retreat to a quiet lounge with a fireplace to read a book? This may seem like a land from Lord of the Rings Middle Earth – and indeed it is, with scenes from the blockbuster trilogy filmed near the adventure Mecca and tourist retreat of Queenstown. Situated near the 45th parallel in the south west of the south island of New Zealand, it is refreshing to see acres of lush green grass with sheep dotting the landscape. Indeed, one may enjoy these views while skydiving, paragliding, hang gliding or bungy jumping, just one of many adventure activities run in the summer season of the premier ski resort in the New Zealand.
The population of Queenstown (8598) swells at New Years Eve, known to be the Hogmanay of the southern hemisphere, with famous people such as Robbie Williams jetting in to view the fireworks on picturesque Lake Wakatipu, albeit rugged up for the crisp mountain air.
Even though summer is peak season, it is still possible to obtain accommodation if booking enough in advance, from backpacking hostels YHA Queenstown Lakefront (from NZ$20-27 multishare a night) to 5 star hotels, such as the exclusive Eichardt’s Private Hotel (suites from $1375 NZ a night). Staying in a house as a group is an excellent option, with gourmet kitchen facilities, DVD player, big screen TV and fireplace to retreat to on colder days.
The summer season in Queenstown is an excellent opportunity to escape the Australian summer heat for milder temperatures typically ranging 10-22 °C in December to February. On the sunnier days, it’s wise to go bushwalking, and Queenstown has tracks on the outskirts, such as The Queenstown Hill track that winds its way around tree-canopied bends with eye-catching fairytale toadstools and twisted tree trunks.
Queenstown and the surrounding region also have a series of mountain bike tracks, even one accessible only by helicopter. You can hire a bike from any number of local adventure sports outlets or bring your own, just remember to rug up – even in summer the peaks still get a dash of snow.
Every day could be a new activity – tennis, water-skiing, yachting and golf. Even a game of Frisbee golf in the Queenstown gardens on the lakefront can wear you out and develop a ravening appetite.
For a lazy day, visit the Queenstown Events Centre situated near the international airport and to see a game of cricket. Watch as fielders gaze into the skies to catch a mis-hit six, shadowed by an incoming jet, or be distracted by the magnificent backdrop of the mountain range of the Remarkables. Even if cricket is not a thrill a minute, taking a book with a picnic of the local delicacies is entertainment enough.
If heights, dirt and sport are not on your list of “to do’s” then jet boating is a happy medium. The company ‘Shotover Jet’ has boat rides every half an hour with 14 people per boat ($99 adults $59 children) gripping the hand rails during tight turns through the Shotover River canyons and 360 Degree spins. The jet pilot likes to scare people with ghost stories and inform that the Shotover River produced the second largest haul of gold in history. In any case, it was hard to look at the sand 10cm below water at speeds of 70km/h.
For a complete list of activities and related services, see http://www.queenstown-nz.co.nz/index.cfm
Food and Wine
A bit of calming might be required after all the adventures, and why not mix up the activities with trips to wineries and gourmet food providores. Travelling to Peregrine Wines on the outskirts of Queenstown, it is tempting to request ‘sheep’ as one’s next reincarnation as the lush green grass nourishes the NZ livestock. Of course, with a country that has approximately 48 million sheep, related foodstuffs feature strongly in local cuisine. The local Gibbston Valley Cheese Company’s Hokonui cheese of sheep’s milk is intense and lingering with a flavour that may be off-putting to those who do not like the smell of a farm. Rest assured though that the cheese, eaten with a spoon and some quince paste at room temperature, is a unique flavour.
As if there weren’t enough opportunities to eat cheese, why not try a world famous Hell Pizza; chastised by the Catholic church for the franchise’s over-the-top marketing by including free branded condoms in their deliveries for its Lust pizza. The pizza itself is worthy of canonisation, and they have smartly designed a leftovers box ‘for your remains’. Some sinful pizzas to eat in front of a Lord of the Rings DVD film fest include the Damned (avocado, camembert, cashews etc) or Nemesis (capsicum, feta, mushrooms, etc) prices range from $NZ8-$16.
For the epicurean traveller, Queenstown and the surrounding towns of Wanaka and Arrowtown offer a range of gourmet treasures, sometimes found within an individual meal. The platter at The Spire in Queenstown had Manuka wood chip smoked mushrooms that were new to everyone’s tastebuds. Similarly, the tapas menu of local resort Millbrook’s pond-side restaurant ‘The Millhouse’ revealed the rillete of wild hare and thyme spread on miniature toast, which teamed exquisitely with a Peregrine chardonnay. The restaurant also offers a high tea for two ($NZ25.00), and the atmosphere of the pond with ducklings is surreal, even with the good service of Sebastian on New Years Day who was polite even though he was tired from the resort’s big function the night before.
Be warned though, not all food and service is exceptional. Being a tourist haven, be aware of those establishments that employ itinerant employees and overcharge for simple fare such as cold white toast with a bowl of vegemite packets, sufficing for ‘selection of condiments’ (after waiting 20 minutes). Ask the locals for their favourite restaurant, which may be off the beaten track. Sometimes though, less than efficient service is worth the wait, as at Patagonia near the boulevard, where the huge ice cream scoops (NZ$3.80) with flavours such as dark chilli and chocolate, lavender and honey, and Apple Pie (among many more) keep your tastebuds buzzing as you stroll through the nearby markets held every Saturday. For breakfast, Patagonia also has a generous serving of croissants, whipped butter and jam. Ask for a take-away coffee and bag of home made chocolate (including sugar free and 71% Belgian choc) and sit outside on the grass of Earnslaw Park and watch people board the 95-year-old Earnslaw steamship. Just be careful if you sniff the lavender – your nose might run into the biggest fuzzy bumblebees outside of a fairytale.
In high summer, dusk may be a late as 10pm, when activities of the epicurean or adrenaline nature are replaced by the bustling of backpackers and adventurers as they head out to the pubs, and the more cosmopolitan types head for the bars and lounges. The popular pub and adjoining restaurant Dux de Lux has house beers, such as the refreshing but not too sweet Ginger Tom. Kick back on the bar stools with wool balers as bar tables and watch the cricket on the big screen, or other try to pick the cacophony of accents from foreign lands.
Dinner in Queenstown can range from a chicken fillet burger from KFC eaten by the The Mall or at a fine dining establishment such as Bezu on the waterfront. A happy medium toward the higher end is Tattler, with excellent service, tasteful and tasty meals with a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. The lamb rack was substantial, and had a very intense flavour that was so good as to justify not eating the crispy green vegetables that would only take up valuable eating room. Similarly rich in volume and flavour was the Wild Fjordland Denver leg (venison) with sautéed gourmet potatoes, braised red cabbage, berry compote and cinnamon infused jus ($34.50).
Of all the possible summer escapes, Queenstown is certainly one to impress people of all ages, tastes and budgets. And if you feel the compulsion to roll around in the grass – do it!
Whatever the weather, whether you are a daredevil or scaredy cat connoisseur there is something for everyone in Queenstown.