As the rest of the world reels from coronavirus, rumours of a planned New Zealand-Australia travel bubble have plenty of Australians excited. With any luck, Prime Minister Ardern will open the borders to her neighbours across the ditch soon enough – and no prizes for guessing where we’re heading first. Queenstown has long been NZ’s most seductive city, with its spectacular setting, sensational food and wine, outdoor vibe and general joie de vivre. We lay out why a quick jaunt to Queenstown is just what we need right now.
Nestled at the foot of the hill, Bespoke Kitchen is the place to get your start-the-day feel-good feed. Take a seat at one of the sun-drenched tables to peruse the extensive menu. It’s hard to narrow down the options, but I recommend the smoothies and breakfast bowls as fine ways to break your fast.
Old-timers can still remember when Fishbone was a humble fish and chips shop, but for more than a decade chef Darren Lovell has been delivering a distinctly superior style of seafood. The menu changes depending on the catch but could include anything from octopus tacos to blue cod with smoked eel.
If it’s in season, you will find it on the plate at Rata, one of New Zealand’s best restaurants. Chef Josh Emett adds a distinct local flavour to his elegantly constructed dishes, finishing off a chicken terrine and crayfish plate with indigenous ingredients including the spinach-like kokihi and kawakawa, a native herb that packs a powerful punch.
With one of New Zealand’s premier wine regions, the Gibbiston Valley, just half an hour away, you have plenty of opportunities to sample some fabulous drops. Stop in at Waitiri Creek Wines, known for its superb pinot noir and housed in an old church.
Can’t wait quite that long for your next glass of wine? Amisfield Winery, just outside town, is a popular venue for a long lunch thanks to its outstanding bistro, but the wines are worth the journey in themselves. The pinot noir is predictably outstanding, but the aromatic wines are also a highlight.
There is more than one best seat in the house at Nest bar, where you can cosy up by the fire or take a pew gazing out at the floor-to-ceiling lake views. The choice of drinks is equally enticing; perhaps a Japanese whisky, a Kiwi gin, or a cocktail that is literally smoking.
Looking for fresh forest vibes and a guarantee that you won’t get lost? Then give the hour-long (one-way) Tiki Trail a try. Simply head to the gondola station at the end of Brecon Street and follow the route all the way to the lookout at the top. Drink in the views, before either walking back down or hitching a ride on the gondola.
Rather avoid too much uphill slog? Try the two-hour long Lake Hayes loop instead. No matter the weather, the views as you circumnavigate the lake are magnificent. On a still, sunny day, the reflections in the water are enchanting; if the weather is moody, the clouds passing overhead or draping themselves across the nearby peaks are just as beguiling.
Itching for something more challenging? Welcome to the Ben Lomond track. You can walk either to the Ben Lomond Saddle (three to four hours return), drinking in jaw-dropping views as you go, or all the way to the 1700m summit (six to eight hours return). Be aware you’ll need to be seriously fit to tackle the latter; between April and November, expect snow and ice on the track’s upper reaches.
If you underestimated just how crisp the Queenstown air could be, congratulations! You now have the perfect excuse to spend up at Untouched World, where eco-friendly knits are made with merino wool and possum fur. On warmer days, head for the racks of enticing linen and cotton clothes instead.
Old meets new at Vesta Design, Queenstown’s coolest boutique housed inside its oldest cottage. Local artists and jewellers are featured alongside ceramics, candles and sleek modern lighting. There is a special children’s room stuffed with an enticing selection of books, jigsaws and soft toys.
If you prefer strolling among stalls to rifling through racks, Saturday is the day to explore the city’s best markets. Queenstown Arts ‘n Crafts Markets take place on the lakeshore and features live music, while the Remarkables Market leans heavily towards produce, although you will also find possum rugs and breadboards made from industrial wood on offer.
Everyone who has been to Queenstown will tell you to take the short drive to Arrowtown: and they’re right. This pretty-as-a-picture Gold Rush town crams a lot into its handful of streets, including inviting boutiques and plenty of dining options. (If Chop Shop is booked out, try a pie from the Arrowtown Bakery – they’re a favourite with locals). End your visit with a walk along the river.
You don’t need to be a Lord of the Rings fan to be seduced by Paradise Valley, which stood in for Lothlorien, the enchanting forest home of the Elves of Middle Earth. It’s an easy drive via the scenic Glenorchy Road; on the way, stop off for a stroll along the Glenorchy Walkway.
There are plenty of ways for adrenaline junkies to get their fix in Queenstown, but few things beat a good canyoning session. Local operators offer trips for beginners and old hands alike, with highlights ranging from zip-lining over gorges and cascading through water chutes to plunging into natural pools.
Located in a tranquil stretch of lakefront just out of town, Matakauri Lodge is the place to book when you really want a memorable stay. It’s not just the lush interiors – courtesy of Virginia Fisher – those panoramic views or the sensational food; it’s the genuinely warm service that sets this place apart.
Every QT hotel shares a similar vibe – a cheeky, chic-y sense of fun that’s bold, verging on brash – but none has a setting quite as spectacular as the Queenstown property, with its lake and mountain views. Other highlights include Reds bar, where bartenders turn blow torches onto pine needles to give your drink an extra tang.