Queenstown is often known for being one of the adventure capitals of the world with world-class skiing and snowboarding, unique water, air and land adventure sports and thrills and all surrounded by a topnotch wine region. That said, after a particularly busy period at work and through the holidays, we were in great need of 4 epic days to totally wind down and so we went to Queenstown to see its more relaxing side and to confirm that the world’s adventure capital, has all the charm and tranquility of the penultimate chill zone.
We choose to fly Qantas whenever possible. From Sydney-Queenstown, Qantas offers a direct flight
Hire Car Avis - we rented the car directly from the airport making pick up and drop off easy and avoiding the need for any taxis or public transport during our stay in Queenstown.
Visiting over the ANZAC long weekend (April 25th-29th) we were there just as the weather was starting to change. The sun was still out and shining but it was definitely starting to get chilly and we did get some rain. As such, although our chill time was set to include a jet boat for that one hit of the more adventurous activity, ultimately the cold and rain won out and it’s on the to do list for next time (and after one taste of Queenstown, I can confirm there will definitely be a next time because I’m in love!). So, with this changing weather, we decided to book a hotel room with a fireplace and lake views so we could totally indulge!
We stayed at the Hilton Queenstown Resort and Spa which is actually slightly outside of the main town and does require a hire car to access easily and consistently. It’s only a 5 minute drive and the roads are great for the most part, though the end of the drive definitely has limited street lighting at night so if this bothers you, you may want to take that into consideration. We felt that the views were totally worth it as we were right on Lake Wakatipu and right outside the hotel were beautiful walking tracks and benches to just enjoy the lakeside.
Our fireplace was stunning and we did love the hotel surrounds. They were gorgeous and relaxing. Unfortunately the beds were extremely soft - so soft that they were challenging to sleep on at all. It was a shame because it would be the main prohibiting factor to us staying there again because we did absolutely love the rest of the room and we do tend to stay loyal to Hilton.
We had lunch that day at Stacks Pub which is right next door to the Hilton (part of the village) so
that we could continue to enjoy the lake and take things slow for the afternoon. If you find yourself there I have to recommend the Wine’s Mate Pizza which has prosciutto, goat’s cheese, rocket, baked balsamic pear, honey, balsamic glaze and extra virgin olive oil - you’ll find it on the lunch menu and it’s delicious!!
We meandered most of the afternoon by the lake and reading our books by our cosy fire before heading into town for dinner at The Grille at Eichardt’s. My research prior to getting to Queenstown had this pegged as a must visit so we booked ahead and made sure we were there on our first night. The restaurant itself is lovely in regards to decor, although fairly dark, and the food was definitely very good, but after tasting the rest of what Queenstown had to offer, in hindsight we found it quite expensive for its overall value for money. If going back I would perhaps choose lunch there or even an early dinner setting so that you can look out to the lake - we went for a late sitting and it was pitch black.
We started the morning with breakfast at the hotel which, though a standard hotel buffet in relation to food, was certainly enhanced by the breathtaking setting. There is truly something magical about the views in Queenstown - you can look all day and still not be able to take your eyes away.
We headed up to Skyline Queenstown where we took the Gondolas 450 meters up to even more glorious views on the Southern Hemisphere’s steepest cable car. Yes, of course it is touristy, but SO WORTH IT! The views are magical and on a clear day you really do feel like you can see forever. Once up there, we wanted to take advantage of a number of the attractions. As well as the gondolas, there are dining options, walks and hikes, biking trails, stargazing opportunities and luging.
I love a luge! So I was totally ready to go sliding down that mountain and did so again and again like a total child - it was such fun and honestly, felt surreal whilst looking out over the lakes and mountains beyond. I will warn, access to the luge is via a very steep walking path so you need to be prepared for that on route to and from the luge area.
We decided to have lunch at the Stratosfare Restaurant and Bar which is a full buffet restaurant with spectacular vistas throughout the restaurant but that you do need to book well in advance of your visit to get a table. The pulled lamb bao was surprisingly good and definitely the highlight from a food perspective!
Once down the gondola (by the way, leave yourself enough time to park if you’re driving to Skyline...parking is COMPETITIVE but doable), we went back into the centre of town to explore the streets and, particularly, in pursuit of the famous Cookie Time store that everyone we spoke to at Skyline had been talking about. No wonder! This place is adorable!! Selling cookies, milk on tap, cookie dough, ice cream and a range of other cookie related products, this international cookie chain is just too cute and super delicious! Worth a quick stop in for sure although also worth going back if the line is too long.
Something worth mentioning...people in Queenstown (tourists in Queenstown I should say) don’t seem to be afraid to line up for extensive periods of time for the most simple of things. Case in point is FergBurger which, now that I am blogging I am of course regretful to inform, I just could not justify the 2+ hour wait time for...a burger?! I look forward to trying one when I go back but sadly, it didn’t happen for me this time.
After a great day at the top of Queenstown, we were more than happy to call it and headed back to the cosiness of our fire place where we had room service brought directly to it and stayed huddled with our books and reruns of some old Kiwi drama we weren’t familiar with but were all too happy to watch on TV. A long bath with a glass of great red wine later, and a perfect day in Queenstown on our chill-cation had come to an end. By this point we were seriously wondering how to turn 4 days into 14!
After reading extensively about this place from Sydney, I seemed absolutely no closer to making a decision on what I was going to have from their amazing menu when we got there than if I had walked in randomly off the street. Balls and Bangles in the middle of town is a bagel and donut shop that will leave you literally just wanting one of everything! I mean, just look…
Hands down one of the best bagels I have ever had and a delicious donut too. We left totally stuffed but absolutely satisfied that we hadn’t tried to limit our deciduous any further because everything on this menu and in store looked like total perfection. A definite breakfast, lunch or snack recommendation for anyone visiting Queenstown!
We drove up to Arrowtown next which is approximately 20 minutes from Queenstown, and luckily for us, it was through scenery that looked like postcard images of what Autumn/Fall should be. Perfect pops of yellows, oranges and reds adorned the trees throughout the drive and we, total city-loving-girls, drove with complete love and bewilderment of the nature around us. We were having a ball to say the least!
Gorgeous Arrowtown was in the midst of their Autumn Festival so the streets were lined with stalls of local vendors selling products from all around New Zealand - artisan food products, crafts, soaps and candles, home decor and plenty of food vendors. We also were privy to concerts by local school children and choirs with crowds of proud parents and grandparents - I loved it! Whilst I am sure that the town is always so sweet as it is just lovely and quaint with an old-world charm and the history of the gold mining era, the festival added a life to it that made it so festive and, in a way, nostalgic, that if you’re there during this period, I’d say it is an absolute must visit! Any time of the year the town features cafes, restaurants and boutique stores to enjoy so go anyway. Arrowtown made our whole New Zealand experience feel so authentic.
On authenticity, the locals in Queenstown are simply divine. Everyone we encountered was more than just friendly or polite, they were welcoming in a way that exuded pride for their home or business and invited you to join them as a personal guest, not a customer. It was a lovely experience.
Being Australian, I was getting a bit embarrassed that I had not yet crossed the pond to New Zealand when I had travelled far so often and so visiting somewhere in NZ was a must. Whilst I really want to do a whole NZ trip ASAP, I wanted to start with somewhere as soon as possible but wasn’t too sure where until I saw a picture of the next attraction that made Queenstown not just the top of my NZ list, but a total must on my travel bucket list.
The Queenstown Onsen was my initial drawcard to this great town and I knew that one day when I was really in need of a break, this was going to be my perfect reward...and this was that time.
It was everything that I wanted the experience to be and I cannot wait already to go back!
The Onsens are in private rooms and up to 4 people can go into one room/bath together. When we went the only option was for 1 hour in the indoor Onsen and we chose to upgrade to include drinks and snacks. Now I believe there is a spa, an outdoor Onsen and longer periods of time to choose from as well. You need to book in advance to get in and trust me, you do not want to miss this.
This was us hitting the peak of our chill zone - it was fantastic!!
We ate dinner that night at Finz seafood restaurant on the banks of the lake. We shared the Seafood Platter for two which was a great amount of seafood (which we love!) but wasn’t the very best we have had...good, not great.
Unfortunately the rain really hit today which meant that jetboating was out for me, however, Queenstown has some fun activities that better fit in our strict relaxation regime and we were very happy to partake.
First off, it was back for bagels again at balls and and bangles because the only way to combat an overwhelming menu...turn up and do it all again!
We then went to learn about Queenstown’s mining history in the most fun way we possibly could - an escape room. Escape Quest Queenstown has a variety of room themes and challenge difficulty levels to choose from - we did the Gold Heist in the Gold Rush which is based on a real Central Otago gold robbery which meant us having to go back to 1860s Queenstown to solve the puzzle and get out. It was actually great fun, we solved it and learnt a bit about old Queenstown - a great way to get out of the rain and have a good laugh!
We walked through the shops in the centre of town and enjoyed just taking it easy and breathing in the wonderful fresh air and totally relaxed pace of this small town. We also loved laughing at who must be visiting from the Northern Hemisphere and who must be from Australia based on the mix of singlets and ski jackets that everyone seemed to be walking around in - it was so wonderfully confusing!
Our next major stop of the day was The Winery. In the middle of town is your perfect answer to tasting all the wines when you aren’t sure which winery to go to outside of Queenstown or if you want to taste wine from all regions of New Zealand. You buy a card on arrival and get a wine glass and use the card and wine glass at the wine ‘vending machines’ or ‘on tap’ facilities all around the store. I’m explaining this badly because I don’t quite have a word for it - but essentially, you choose the size of your pour and which wine to try and can continue to do so with wines from around the country, and world, all around the store. They also make the most delicious cheese platters for you to enjoy from the comfort of their large leather chairs and chalet style living room store. It was so relaxing and a perfect place to spend a cosy afternoon with a wine in hand!
We went to my personal pick for dinner restaurants in Queenstown that night - Botswana Butchery. I hope the designer of this restaurant has won some awards because the styling is just gorgeous. Set in a cottage style house, the interior of this stylish restaurant is all black and white with silver finishings to replicate the butcher’s knife. The menu is fabulous and the food was excellent - the lamb was absolutely sensational. I would recommend this restaurant 10 times over.
Before heading to the airport there was time to fit in one more restaurant that I wanted to tick off my must do in Queenstown list. Back in town, Yonder is your picture perfect restaurant waiting for the Instagram crowd to come through its fairlight pathways. Their menus are inspired by all the things that they’ve loved from around their own travels and so don’t reflect one cuisine but instead an eclectic mix of great tastes, flavours and perfectly aesthetic food. We stopped by for brunch on route back to Sydney but I definitely want to go for lunch or dinner next time as well to keep exploring their flavours.
And with that, it was back to Sydney after the most exceptional little break in Queenstown. I loved it and I’d go back in a heartbeat. I hope this makes you want to go there too...and for more than just a bungy jump =)