June 27, 2018
Picture-perfect landscapes as far as the eye can see, adventure-filled days and ambient nights – Queenstown is the pleasure centre of New Zealand’s South Island.
Flying into Queenstown, all eyes are out the window as passengers eagerly wait to cross the snow-capped mountains. Living here on the beautiful Sunshine Coast, we seldom have a true break in seasons, let alone experience snow, which is why an escape to New Zealand is something my husband and I aim for once a year.
The South Island of New Zealand is superb all year ‘round, particularly in autumn when the colourful foliage is ablaze, and of course winter, when it transforms into a wonderland. Having spent two weeks in the Otago region in April/May, we were blessed with a little of both, but I have been told that the perfect time to catch the autumnal colour is at the beginning of April.
With direct flights from Brisbane to Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin, the South Island is easily accessible, regardless of the type of holiday you’re chasing. Canvassing the whole island in a motorhome is always a popular option, as you’re able to take in the sights along the way and experience all of the intricacies each region has to offer.
I’ve found that two weeks is the magical amount of time to spend in NZ, whether you’re going for a driving vacation or wanting to wind down and relax, spending more time in one specific town or region.
Having done the motorhome trip a few times before, this time we concentrated on the Otago region, taking a one-night detour to Fox Glacier and Lake Matheson on the West Coast.
Known for being the tourism mecca of New Zealand, Queenstown has a plethora of adventure activities on offer such as jet boating, skydiving, hot air ballooning, bungy jumping, zip lining, quad bike tours and many more.
Shotover Jet is the most exhilarating of the jet boating, reaching speeds of over 85kph through the narrow Shotover Canyons, an ideal option for people like me, who want a taste of adventure but aren’t quite brave enough to launch themselves out of a plane or off a bridge!
Another popular activity is the Skyline Luge at the top of the lookout in town. Take the gondola to the peak and soak up the views overlooking Queenstown and bordering mountain ranges, before whipping around the luge track.
For the skiers out there, Queenstown is considered the ultimate playground, nestled in the heart of the Southern Alps and boasting four local ski fields; Cardrona Alpine Resort, Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Treble Cone.
Having worked up quite an appetite, now’s the perfect time to indulge in some of the delicious eateries in town. Fergburger is by far the most popular, with people lining up for hours to grab one of their famous burgers. Tip: place a phone order, rather than physically lining up, as you skip the queue!
My favourite breakfast spots are Vudu Larder & Cafe, Bespoke Kitchen, and Yonder; and for lunch or dinner, I highly recommend Botswana Butchery (bookings essential) which is renowned for its delicious selection of locally-caught meat, modern-Asian restaurant Madame Woo, and woodfired pizza joint, Winnie’s.
Then there are the sweets – Patagonia Chocolates is an absolute must, as is Fergbaker next to Fergburger. Most cafes also have a wide selection of traditional slices, including ginger crunch and lolly cake.
The Central Otago region is also a lavish fruit bowl, with orchards and wineries featuring heavily throughout. In fact, some of New Zealand’s best Pinot Noir is produced in this region and is the dominant grape variety, but you will also find Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.
Having indulged in the gourmet offerings of the region, you may wish to walk it off. Among the most popular walking trails are the three-hour Queenstown Hill Loop; the Tiki Trail starting at the bottom of the gondola and finishing at the lookout; Ben Lomond Walkway, a five to eight-hour journey depending on conditions taking you to Ben Lomond’s 1748m summit; the wheelchair-friendly Frankton Arm Walkway alongside Lake Wakatipu; the Sunshine Bay Track to Sunshine Bay’s jetty with a sidetrack leading to a waterfall on Two Mile Creek Falls; and the two-hour Lake Hayes Loop.
Road trips from Queenstown
Arrowtown 20 minutes
The historic gold-mining town is a must-visit, especially in the autumn months when the village is emblazoned in colour. Make sure you go to the Chop Shop Food Merchants; an eclectic cafe with the most delicious breakfast and lunch menus and seasonal specials.
Glenorchy 45 minutes
You may recognise the landscape of Glenorchy from some of your favourite films including The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and of course the Lord of the Rings trilogy, with locations filmed for Isengard, Lothlorien and Amon Hen accessible on foot.
Lake Wanaka 1 hour 20 minutes
The relaxed lakeside town of Wanaka is one of my favourite destinations and somewhere you can easily spend a few days exploring. Don’t forget to snap a pic of the famed Wanaka Tree, always a popular location for photographers at sunrise and sunset. My fav foodie spots are Francesca’s Italian Kitchen, The Cow, Federal Diner and Alchemy.
Aoraki/Mount Cook 3 hours
Aoraki/Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand, at 3724 metres. The most popular short walk in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is the 10km Hooker Valley Track. The drive out to Mount Cook is stunning, so make sure you allow plenty of time for photos.
Lake Tekapo 3 hours 15 minutes
Lake Tekapo is within the world’s largest dark sky reserve, the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, making it exceptional for stargazing. It is also the only place you can see the Magellanic Clouds all year. You may also see the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights). A picturesque viewing point is the stone church and the Mt John Observatory.
Milford Sound 3 hours 45 minutes
Take a bus tour or drive yourself to Milford Sound (save time for photo pit stops at Mirror Lakes and the Chasm), where you can take a breaktaking cruise down the fiord. Home to seal colonies, penguins and dolphins, as well as being surrounded by towering waterfalls, Milford Sound is a must-do.