Queenstown: Top things to do during Summer

Having spent a fair while exploring Wellington and *ahem* visiting my sister (Travel & Food guides to Wellington), I then took a detour down to Queenstown, hired a car and thus began my northward travel back towards Wellington along South Island’s stunningly diverse west coast.

A few travel details:

  • How did I get there? I flew down from Wellington. Flying in is probably the easiest route. If you’re lucky enough to score a window seat you will have amazing birdseye view of Fiordland and the central plains.
  • Where did I stay? Novotel Queenstown Lakeside. Great lakeside location in the centre of town. Contemporary, reasonably sized rooms.
  • Car hire? Apex car rentals. There are plenty of good rental companies, but Apex seemed the cheapest (approx. $50NZD/day) and I had no issues with the experience.
  • Cheap deals? Check out Bookme.co.nz for last minute deals (up to 99% off, which is virtually free) on cruises and guided tours, jetboat rides, bar entries. Be sure to check it out.

Sit in a café and enjoy the long sunny days. There are a gazillion cafes (too many for such a small town) that offer panoramic views and/or quirky brunches. The caveat being the sunny warmth of long daylight hours is only during the summer months.

Vudu café and larder has the tick of approval from AlmostAlwaysRavenous, strutting the catwalk with wholesome yet equally decadent brunch options. Exciting fruit juices, freshly toasted muesli, quinoa coconut rice pudding to the other end of the spectrum with brioche french toast, buttery muffins and what have you.

Where to go for a burger?
Fergburger comes widely recommended by travellers, but as a result it is packed to the brim with youngsters. I did walk pass to check it out but was not hugely impressed by the jostling crowd of hungry eaters wolfing down their meal. And I for one am not a particular fan of waiting excessively.

So instead I plodded my way down to the waterfront Pier 19 for a succulent venison burger with prime real estate views of the lake. Wide brim hats were provided to prevent you from getting sunburnt too quickly under the unforgiving UV. Mind you, it didn’t cost an arm and a leg more than at Fergburger. So, such is life of a snobby food blogger…

Take a stroll along the lake side. Dip your toes in the sapphire blue waters of Lake Wakatipu if you dare. The lake sources its water from the surrounding snow-capped mountains, thus freezing cold year round.

Get an adrenalin pump. These include various lake activities such as jet boat rides, sky diving, bungee jumping, parasailing… Take your pick. These are certainly not cheap pursuits.

Eat at Rata. Rata is one of the finer institutions of dining amongst many touristy spots – opened by Josh Emett formerly of Maze at Crown Melbourne. The contemporary menu is designed to share, with a focus on slower cooked foods in the cooler climate of Queenstown.

Make sure you have seafood somewhere… no excuseFish Bone is a reasonable option.

Shopping? There are plenty of well-known brands around Shotover Street, Beach Street, Ballarat Street and Camp Street for those who want to do a little therapeutic spending.

Hire a car, and drive up to Glenorchy (approx. 40 minutes by car). You won’t regret it. Personally Glenorchy had some of the best scenery of New Zealand during my trip, even more inspiring than Milford sounds. Meandering roads alongside the shimmering lake, with the reflection of snow-capped mountains perfectly mirrored in the calm weather. Tip: leave plenty of time to arrive at the destination with many stops along the way for photo opportunities (recommended at least half a day). Try to keep your eyes on the road if you can…

“…From the village of Glenorchy, at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu, you can see the north-western slopes of Mount Earnslaw, which featured in the opening sequence of The Two Towers. From Glenorchy you can also discover Lothlorien – the beech forest on the road to Paradise…” [Lord of the rings film location]

Take a winery tour of the Otago region. The Otago region close to Queenstown is well renowned for its pinot noirs, accounting for more than 70% of the grapes in the area. [Sommelier’s guide, Gourmet Traveller]

Amisfield – the closest to Queenstown (15 minutes by car). A grand stone building atop a hill with a modern bistro headed by Jay Sherwood, with stunning vineyard and lake views. Both the wines and the restaurant have been recognised with a long list of awards. I loved all their current pinot noirs (2009, 2010, and 2008 reserve) – I personally bought several bottles of their 2010 Amisfield pinot noir (an absolute bargain buy for a smooth deep velvety and plummy pinot).

Chard farm – (a further 10 minutes drive from Amisfield) nestled at the edge of the spectacular Kawarau river (LOTR film location: River Anduin, Pillar of Kings Anduin & Argonath. Note: the pillars were computer generated, but the milieu is still stunning), you have to drive precariously along the cliff’s edge to reach it.

There are at least another dozen wineries within close proximity that are well worth the trip. Grab a map from the information centre and be on your way.

Climb to the summit of Ben Lomond for panoramic views. From here you have unparalleled view of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables mountains. Ok, I must admit I took the easy way, paying a small amount for the gondola ride straight to the summit. If you’ve never seen the Milky Way in its full glory, you should set aside one night for a stargazing tour. With minimal light pollution, and expensive telescopes to facilitate the experience, it was certainly a night to remember. Note. I haven’t read much positive review on the food at the restaurants on the summit, but no doubt the views are unbeatable.

If you’re not so into stargazing, you can still catch the beautiful sun set by the lakeside.

What’s next? Stay tuned for Milford sounds…

Don’t forget to check out other travel posts by AAR:


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