Queenstown is the city hub of New Zealand‘s Central Otago region, famed for its pinot noir, thrilling adventure activities and world-class ski slopes. While luxury lies within easy reach – such as some of New Zealand‘s luxe lodgings, renowned wineries and fine-dining galore – there are also hidden gems to discover throughout the lower South Island. Wanaka, Milford Sound, and Fiorland National Park are just a handful of the options for those wanting to get out of town.
Outdoor challenges — indoor delights
In New Zealand’s adventure capital, there are innumerable ways to scare yourself silly, or watch others doing it for you. First home of the world-famous bungy-jump, the classic experience is at Kawarau Bridge, where there is a constant queue of eager jumpers shuffling to the edge of the platform. Head first, feet first, in tandem, in silence or shrieking fit to burst, their only common feature is the width of their grins afterwards as they’re guided into the boat 43m below this historic suspension bridge.
Leaping into vast wilderness is a common theme here: try a canyon swing, less dangerous perhaps than the bungy but addictively fun — you’ll never look at a simple chair the same way again; or swoop down from Bob’s Peak on a zipline, or tandem paraglider. Go even higher, and do a tandem sky-dive from far above the brilliant blue lightning bolt of Lake Wakatipu. Duck and dive out of that clear water in a shark-shaped boat-cum-submarine — or maybe just marvel at its bizarre antics from your elegant waterfront suite at historic Eichardt’s Private Hotel, right in the middle of town. You could even copy Princess Catherine and Prince William, and take the thrilling jet boat ride through the narrow gorges of the Shotover River, closer to the rock cliffs than you would have thought possible.
Even golf here can be extreme. Eighteen holes? That’s for beginners: work your way around the 27 holes of the championship course at Millbrook, and work up an appetite for one of the resort’s four restaurants. Have a golf course all to yourself at The Lodge at the Hills, where a team awaits to give you a tailored, memorable experience. Nestled between the Remarkables mountain range and Lake Wakatipu, Jack’s Point Golf Course runs to the lake’s edge with wetlands and bountiful wildlife, with fairways designed with little impact to the natural environment. Four tee positions cater to golfers of all levels.
Or, go extreme and let Over the Top Golf chopper you away to an experience no-one will believe: how often is vertigo a factor when teeing off, and how often on a round are you at such great heights?
There are more sedate pleasures to enjoy. Treat yourself to the baronial splendour of Blanket Bay near the top of the lake, and take a soak in the Jacuzzi as you gaze across at the light painting the Humboldt mountain range. From here you can take a jet boat to the top of the lake to skim along the bi-colour Dart and Rees Rivers.
Catch some trout for yourself on a bespoke fly-fishing helicopter flight to a remote river. That’s just one of the fabulous activities on offer at many of the region’s luxury lodges — like Matakauri Lodge where you can take a bubble bath in the window, gazing out at the TSS Earnslaw puffing across the lake, and understand why The Remarkables mountain range is so well-named.
The old Earnslaw steamer is a Queenstown icon, but to truly appreciate the lake’s beauty, why not take your own boat? Perhaps the super-yacht Pacific Jemm. Sleek and elegant, she’ll take you wherever you fancy, and there can be few things more memorable than dining well under a bright starlit sky before being rocked to sleep in perfect peace and quiet.
Speaking of tranquility, take a look at Azur Lodge: close enough to town to have a special meal brought in from one of Queenstown’s finest restaurants (as long as you didn’t overdo the home-made afternoon tea), but far enough out for total seclusion.
Perhaps, though, you like to be close to the action. Right in town is the distinctively French-flavoured Sofitel: Parisian panache plus possum-fur throws, it’s a winning combination. A short water-taxi ride away is the Hilton Resort and Spa, each of its suites complete with a schist fireplace: now what could be cosier on a crisp autumn afternoon? For a more personal experience, Touch of Spice offers a full range of private villas in the area, with something to suit every taste.
The area is thick with excellent vineyards and restaurants: on the way to picture-perfect Arrowtown, be sure to stop off at Amisfield Winery to taste their signature pinot noir. A sure bet is the ‘Trust the chef’ dinner menu at their popular Bistro: different every day, depending on local produce, it’s always a triumph of fresh and innovative tastes complemented with excellent wines.
Queenstown: in autumn, its colours are blue, white, yellow, orange and red— really, though, it’s all gold.
But wait, there’s more…
Don’t just be dazzled by Queenstown – you might miss some of New Zealand’s most dramatic scenery. It is truly breath-taking to take a helicopter ride over and through the snow-capped jagged peaks of Fiordland National Park to spectacular Milford Sound. Hover over the top of Sutherland Falls, the country’s highest cataract, spot the world-famous Milford Track, land on a glacier, view Mitre Peak from all angles: you’ll never forget these sights. Stay in the heart of this World Heritage area at Fiordland Lodge near Lake Te Anau: stylish, private and designed for your total comfort.
Over the Crown Range from Queenstown lies Lake Wanaka, its radiant blue waters fringed by autumn-bright willow trees. Less frenetic than its neighbour, this is where the connoisseurs come for pure beauty. Everything you thought you wanted is here, and much more besides: the famous Lone Tree of Lake Wanaka, Carole Lombard’s 1934 Duesenberg and an armchair cinema. For a memorable wintery stay, Minaret Station Alpine Lodge is set on a glacial valley surrounded by unspoiled landscapes. You can only arrive to this remote cluster of four luxury chalets by helicopter.
New Zealand: it’s full of unexpected delights and seductive luxury, tucked into some of the planet’s most spectacular, and accessible, scenery. And it’s all just a short hop away.