Queenstown is lucky. Very lucky. It started out as a town called ‘Camp’ – so named by William Rees, a man who must have been pinching himself when he arrived on the shores of Lake Wakitipu in February 1860. Imagine what it would have looked like then; the wild razor-backed Remarkable Range the backdrop to a lake so tranquil and clear, and on the eastern side – thick green forested slopes that give way to alpine splendours. Thankfully, the town became known as Queenstown, either because it is so beautiful it is fit for a queen, or after the Irish town of Queenstown – now known as Cobh – where the Titanic was built. Either way, this idyllic, postcard-pretty place deserves its regal status and certainly delivers a royal experience, whether you want to be active, do some wine tasting, go sightseeing and of course stay in five-star accommodation fit for a you-know-what.
The landscape lends itself to outdoor adventures in spring and summer, and everything seems easier when you have such beautiful scenery to admire. For two-wheeled fun hire a bike and putter about the lakeside, or test your legs a little more on The Queenstown Trail which has 110 kilometres of walking and cycling trails. Then there’s Rabbit Ridge Resort, a new year-round bike resort in Gibbston Valley, with 30 kilometres of single tracks over stunning high country terrain for learners to advanced riders. A little further afield, the Otago Central Rail Trail is spectacular, and while the 150-kilometre trail runs from Middlemarch to Clyde (40 kilometres from Queenstown), you don’t have to do the whole thing. We tackle a 22-kilometre stretch between Oturehua and Lauder, and really want to do the whole trail as a result.
For a serious dose of Paradise with your exercise, visit Glenorchy, just 45 minutes from Queenstown at the head of Lake Wakatipu. Sign up for the Dart River Wilderness Jet, which includes a walk through untouched forest that looks like something out of Lord of the Rings. Or leap into the saddle with Dart Stables who operate a number of rides – some for beginners and some for advanced – with most going through filming locations for the Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as The Hobbit.
For a good walk, often ruined by a little white ball, Queenstown has six spectacular courses within 25 minutes of the town centre. Try your swing at Jack’s Point, The Hills, Millbrook Resort, Arrowtown Golf Club, Queenstown Golf Club at Kelvin Heights, or the Frankton Driving Range and Golf Course.
If that’s not enough, zip through the trees like Tarzan with ZipTrek, fling yourself off a bridge or a ledge on a bungy cord, or try parasailing from Skyline Gondola, where you can have an entrée of luge to settle the nerves.
Take it easy
For more relaxed pursuits, step aboard the historic and elegant TSS Earnslaw for the tranquil 90-minute cruise across Lake Wakatipu or choose a cruise plus a tour to Walter Peak High Country Farm. Now one of the oldest tourist attractions in Central Otago and the only remaining passenger-carrying coal-fired steamship in the Southern Hemisphere, TSS Earnslaw is as elegant as always, and has been enjoyed by Bill Clinton, the Queen and the Emperor of Japan.
For another slice of history, hire a car and visit Arrowtown, Cromwell and the town of Clyde. Picturesque Arrowtown is an old goldmining village with quaint tree-lined streets featuring old miners’ cottages and a restored Chinese Village alongside intimate cafes, boutiques and galleries. In Cromwell, visit Old Cromwell Town, which pays homage to the old town that was flooded when the Clyde Dam was constructed. Some forward thinking locals saved eight original properties and have restored or reconstructed many others. The buildings are now brimming with quirky shops and mementos. The town of Clyde, not far from Cromwell, hasn’t changed much since it was a raucous, rich, gold mining town. Cruise on the Clutha River out of town and see just how hard the miners had it back in the day. The old Naylor’s General Store, built of stone in 1869, along with its homestead, sheds, stables and barns, is now Olivers Central Otago, a beautiful boutique property with 11 rooms, all different and exquisitely furnished to reflect days gone by. The Restaurant, in the old general store building, opened its doors in March 2015, along with the Victoria Store Brewery, a bakery, deli and café.
To really enjoy doing nothing, book in for an onsen experience at Queenstown’s Onsen Hot Pools. Situated on the cliffs overlooking the Shotover River canyon, the hot pools are perfect to ease tired muscles and to feast your eyes, as you can convert your pool from indoor to outdoor at the touch of a button. The view to the mountains is glorious.
Central Otago is home to 200 vineyards and top growing conditions mean the region has more than its fair share of award-winning wines. Amisfield is well worth a visit, overlooking Lake Hayes and in the shadows of the Pisa Mountain range. This former merino station now boasts a state-of-the-art winery and produces mostly Pinot Noir as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling.
The Cellar Door is in a beautiful stone building where you can enjoy wine tasting, and have a spectacular lunch in The Bistro. Amisfield received the royal tick of approval last year when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge dined at The Bistro and enjoyed a glass or two of Amisfield Pinot Noir 2011.
Mt Difficulty is another winery with incredible views, situated on Felton Road, which has commanding views across the Cromwell basin and Lake Dunstan. The architecturally-pleasing building is a great place to wile away a few hours, tucking into lunch on the outdoor terrace and savouring one of their wines; the Sauvignon Blanc is exquisite.
Gibbston Valley is home to the Wine Cave, New Zealand’s largest wine cave and certainly one of the most beautiful.
Join the daily tour to the Cave and do a tasting tour that includes a visit to Home Block, the region’s oldest vineyard. Then there’s the Gibbston Valley Restaurant, offering one of the finest Central Otago wine and food experiences imaginable, with Executive Chef Mark Sage and his wife and Sous Chef Sue Sage, creating a harmonious blend of wine, food and place.
Stay in style
Queenstown has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to luxury accommodation, with some of the world’s best lodges, boutique properties, resorts and hotels to choose from. Matakauri Lodge sits high and very pretty overlooking Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkable ranges, and while it’s just seven minutes out of town, it’s a world away. Accommodation is in 12 resplendent guest rooms and suites, with the ultimate being the Owner’s Cottage, which has four suites, a private Jacuzzi, kitchen, lounge and courtyard. The property also has a magnificent spa.
You don’t have to be a golfer to enjoy a stay at Millbrook Resort, which has one of the most scenic rural outlooks around. The Resort has 160 rooms, a 27-hole championship golf course, and an award-winning day spa. It is an oasis in green and the perfect place to get away from it all, without being too far from the delights of Queenstown.
Closer to the bright lights, The Rees Hotel & Apartments is perched on the lakeshore between the airport and the town centre, with its beautifully-designed apartments a pleasure to stay in. The large balconies are perfect for a sunset drink, or for a bit of plane-spotting, as airlines swoop in over the lake. The view is arguably even better from the Bordeau Wine Lounge, with its comfortable lounge, fireplace and soaring glass window opening up the Tolkienesque landscape in jaw-dropping fashion.
It seems fitting to raise a glass to the man the Rees is named after, the founder of this town and who still has descendants in the area. He saw the future when he came ashore all those years ago.
But thank goodness the name Camp didn’t stick. •
Photography by Destination Queenstown, Helen Hayes and various establishments
Air New Zealand, Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin fly to Queenstown.
- Air New Zealand: airnewzealand.com.au
- Qantas: qantas.com.au
- Jetstar: jetstar.com.au
- Virgin Australia: virginaustralia.com.au
What to Do
- Dart River Wilderness Jet: dartriver.co.nz
- Dart Stables: dartstables.com
- Otago Central Rail Trail: otagocentralrailtrail.co.nz
- Onsen Hot Pools: onsen.co.nz
- TSS Earnslaw: realjourneys.co.nz
- Amisfield: amisfield.co.nz
- Gibbston Valley: gibbstonvalley.com
- Mt Difficulty: mtdifficulty.co.nz
Where to Stay
- Matakauri Lodge: matakaurilodge.com
- The Rees: therees.co.nz
- Millbrook: millbrook.co.nz
- Olivers Central Otago: oliverscentralotago.co.nz
- Platinum Villas: platinumqueenstown.co.nz
Destination Queenstown: queenstownnz.co.nz