Destination: Queenstown, New Zealand
I always like to think of Queenstown as a little piece of the Swiss Alps right here in the South Pacific. This gorgeous sleepy little town bursts to life in the winter where it brings the bling with its après chic bars and restaurants attracting the rich and famous.
Queenstown is nestled within the southern alps of New Zealand and has some of the most amazing vistas anyone could hope for. The town gets many Australian visitors thanks to direct flights from the Australian mainland. The flight is under 3 hours… and who wouldn’t want to fly to NZ to ski? The facilities and ski fields accessible from Queenstown are world-class, and frankly much more chop than those available in Australia.
Gambling your thing? Well you’re in luck. There are two casinos in town – Sky City is a little more flashy and commercial where Lasseters has a classic old school feeling to it. Both will deplete you of your money – I’ve never come away with money in my pocket.
Queenstown Accommodation Options
I’ve stayed in two private rental apartments and one hotel in Queenstown. Private rentals win hands down. ‘Touch of spice‘ are a great holiday letting group in Queenstown and I’ve used them both times during my Queenstown visits. They have a top shelf smorgasboard of high-end properties available for rent and offer concierge services also – check them out.
Read my story on ‘FortyTwo’ – a three bedroom luxury apartment close to Queenstown CBD. This will give you a taste of what you can get on the private rental market through A Touch of Spice.
Moving to hotels, there are many options to suit every budget. At the top end, you have the Hilton and the Sofitel and both offer top quality facilities. I had previously been a guest at the Sofitel and we thought it was nice, though I baulked at the $500 cost for a suite. There are a good range of hotels and you can see them all at our friends at hotels.com
Activities and Sights in Queenstown
Besides the obvious ‘Ski’ option, Queenstown bedazzles bright-eyed, bushy-tailed tourists sporting a full wallet. There are a multitude of things you can get up to here but some of the most awesome options cost a bomb. This is what we recommend:
- Bungy Jumping – Queenstown is the home of bungy
- Gondola & Luge Rides – These go-kart things are great (I’m still a big kid!)
- Shotover Jet – For buzz junkies
- Go on a Private Wine Tour – We used Queenstown Wine Trail
- White Water Rafting – For those who like it wet
- Do a Milford Sound Fly/Cruise/Fly – We used Glenorchy Air and they were tops!
- Drive to Wanaka and spend a day hanging out by the lake
- Visit Arrowtown – an old school gold mining town
This sleepy hollow is extremely lucky to sport some top end restaurants. You’re on holiday so why not treat yourself to some gourmet! The best options we found were as follows:
Botswana Butchery. This awesome restaurant is right on the Queenstown foreshore and even has an outdoor fireplace for those that want to dine in the winter air whilst keeping warm. The menu is modern European and is packed with local ingredients. We went for dinner and shared a ‘milk fed baby lamb’ which was just… orgasmic. The meal was on the high side, but you’re paying for quality. Great wine list to boot. Website here.
The Bunker. Well this one came out of left field. An extremely intimate and relaxed (and alpine) feel to this restaurant got us in the mood for some yummy munchwa. The food was amazing and was certainly the best meal we had during our trip. The cost of the meal was also the lowest which shocked us all. The restaurant has an upstairs bar which is perfect for pre-dinner drinks. Apparently its a hot spot during the winter months. Website here.
Wai. A friend told me that this restaurant was overpriced and had seen a decline in quality since it opened years ago. The meal between four came to well over $1000 but included a degustation with matching wines and a spare bottle of champagne (so basically at Sydney fine dining pricing). The actual degustation had some memorable peaks but also a few unusual courses with even more unusual wine matchings. Give it a crack and see what you think. Website here.
My advice. Avoid the tourist trap buffet at the top of the Gondola. The word ‘buffet’ should set alarm bells ringing, if nothing else. If you like chewy meat and stale old side dishes whilst sharing your meal with the bogan elite, give it a go. The only thing this place has going for it is the worlds most amazing views and vistas. There is a bar there which would be a better option.
Nightlife in Queenstown
I haven’t really ‘hit the town’ in Queenstown but there are a few different angles you can take. One is the backpacker style ‘pub crawl’ of which there are a couple of operators: Kiwi Crawl and Big Night Out. I’ve never tried these as they aren’t my demographic but i’m sure some people out there would love that sort of thing (I admit I was tempted, but my travelling party didn’t share my enthusiasm).
If you’re seeking something a little more… refined and classy… try The Bunker which has a funky cocktail bar which sits above its restaurant. The cocktails are amazing and the vibe oozes cool, with the projector playing 50′s James Bond movies on the outside wall adding to the ambiance. Skybar and Barmuda both look contemporary and chic though I haven’t been there in the flesh (next time perhaps). The ‘Below Zero Ice Bar‘ was an interesting experience, though tacky in tourist trap way.
Queenstown Airport is regularly serviced by Air New Zealand and Jetstar on domestic New Zealand routes (most are to Christchurch or Auckland). Internationally you are spoilt with Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia and Qantas all offering flights to Australia (check timetables as flights might be seasonal). Some travellers like to fly into Christchurch and drive to Queenstown through some of New Zealand’s most remarkable scenery – keep in mind that roads can be dodgy in winter with road closures the norm that time of year.
You have to go to Queenstown – it’s a must do. If you’re an Australian who has never done the New Zealand thing before, make Queenstown the first place you go – it will be a perfect introduction to this fascinating and beautiful country. It can get expensive here in Winter but Queenstown is picture perfect year round – you may get cheaper deals in the off-season. Like I said before, look into private rentals for your accommodation. It can often save you money especially if you’re travelling with friends.