With spring blossoming across our adventure capital, the serrated ridgeline of the Remarkables was still flecked in snow on my recent swing through Queenstown , accentuating the resort town’s cinematic good looks. The grand old lady of the lake, TSS Earnslaw, was faithfully plying Wakatipu’s waters, but eager for a fresh scoop of floating pleasure, I boarded Southern Discoveries’ gleaming catamaran. They operate daily excursions to Mt. Nicholas Station, one of New Zealand’s most historic, family run Merino sheep stations.
Spanning 100,000 acres of golden high country terrain, the 45 minute scenic cruise down Lake Wakatipu affords glorious vistas of Mt. Earnslaw, Cecil Peak, and the tucked away valley beneath Mt. Creighton, where the Hollywood set have reportedly purchased homes, including Arnie Schwarzenegger and John Travolta. Arriving at Mt. Nicholas Station, you have a variety of add-on sightseeing options including a 4WD Safari, a 2 hour High Country Walk or the Woolshed Experience.
I opted for the latter, which was a wonderfully hands-on exposition of merino wool’s journey from fresh fleece to top-end clothing. All Mt. Nicholas Station merino wool is sold to Icebreaker. As a premium wine-growing region, swooned over for its pinot noir, a swirl of wine trail tours can whisk you across the vineyards of the Gibbston Valley and beyond. If you’re short on time, visit The Winery, a one-stop-tasting shop in the heart of Queenstown where you can taste over 80 wines, including several dozen delicious pinot noirs, at the press of a button.
All of the industry’s rockstars are showcased, including Valli Bannockburn, Mt. Difficulty, Black Ridge and Amisfield. Complement your wine sampling, by grazing from a flavourful platter of local cheese, salami and olives. Speaking of food, you’ve surely heard about the insatiably cultish following that consumes the footpath of Shotover St, outside Fergburger. Some locals are particularly huffy about the constant tangle of humanity crowding the footpath outside the burger store, which is open 21 hours a day. Phone ahead and track your order on the website.
These decadently delicious gourmet creations are sinfully good. My pick? The Bun Laden - fiery, succulent and you’ll be back for more. Another great noshing spot is Akarua Wines & Kitchen by Artisan, just up the road by Lake Hayes. Open for breakfast and lunch, the tasty and seasonal food is thoughtfully matched with the purity of Akarua wines.
On Steamer Wharf, graze heartily from the share plates at Public Kitchen & Bar, a convivial celebration of local produce overlooking Lake Wakatipu and the gazillion dollar views. Another recommended fuss-free experience is the Ballarat Trading Company. This is Queenstown’s only gastropub, stunningly outfitted in the style of an 1850s’ trading post, with lip-smacking gourmet food and a cracking atmosphere.
Trending noticeably amongst many Kiwis holidaying within New Zealand is the desire to trip away with your dogs. I accompanied my parents and their two furry friends on their recent short-break in Queenstown. The resort town probably isn’t top of mind when it comes to affordable paw-friendly holiday destinations, but a highly recommended roost, within walking distance of the town centre is Pinewood Lodge, which I scored through Booking.com
Nestled at the base Ben Lomond, adjacent to the Skyline Gondola, the sprawling complex features a variety of clean and comfortable studios, with full kitchen facilities, that will accommodate you and your canines. Walking options abound in Queenstown and we gave the pooches some solid work-outs on a variety of trails including the gorgeous loops around Queenstown Gardens and Marine Parade. Heading east from the town centre, the Frankton Arm Walkway is a heart-stealer, with its unobstructed lake and mountain views. We enjoyed coffee and a sticky date scone, with crème and raspberries, at the characterful – and pooch-friendly- Boat Shed Café & Bistro.
Its back-story is fascinating, set in the restored New Zealand Railways Shipping Office. The building was originally used as a store in the 1870s. In 1936 it was bought by Frank Duncan, a Dunedin lawyer, who moved the building from the town centre central Queenstown to its current waterfront location. From The Boat Shed, the gravel walkway wends its way along the shoreline to Frankton, passing a quaint parade of rustic Kiwi cribs – a laid-back world away from the glitz and pretence of some of Queenstown’s more recent glamour pad developments. They’re anything but flashy. It is such a great antidote to savour this unmolested vestige of old Queenstown.
10km west of Queenstown, on the road to Glenorchy, we also took the dogs for a romp through the Mt. Creighton Scenic Reserve. After a steady climb, the peaceful trail through native bush, steeped in goldmining history, leads to Lake Dispute. There’s a variety of options, but this 90 minute loop circuit hit the sweet spot. Not only does it give you the chance to gawp at some of the under-the-radar celebrity hideaway trophy houses, but the elevated vistas across the lake to Cecil Peak and Walter Peak are supreme. It will give you a fresh perspective on Queenstown’s unstoppable beauty.
I booked my pooch-friendly Queenstown accommodation through Booking.com who have an excellent filter, highlighting lodging options for pets, in the destination of your choice. It’s such a great time-saver, eliminating the fuss of having to check with the property whether dogs are welcome. By the way, there are actually 14 listed pet-friendly options in Queenstown. No matter what type of accommodation floats your boat, Booking.com has nearly 6000 New Zealand listings, from hotels to campsites. Whether you’re on the website or via the app, Booking.com is super easy to use with incredible deals and total flexibility, whether you need to amend or cancel your bookings. www.booking.com
Mike Yardley is our Travel Correspondent on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.