My earliest memories of a summer holiday are of the time we stayed in Queenstown. I remember the motel on the hill, the swing and slide in the playground behind the motel, my cousins and aunt in the unit opposite us, and the pain of my mother ripping off a sticking plaster on my knee when I was taking a bath.
I have been to Queenstown a number of times since then. Sometimes I visited with my family on a day trip from our traditional summer holiday base in Alexandra (a warmer and less touristy spot) about an hour and a half drive from Queenstown, and over the last twenty years or so I have travelled there with my husband, part of a swoop around the South Island we do occasionally on the way to visit my parents.
Queenstown is probably the most well-known destination for overseas tourists in New Zealand. Popular both in winter as a ski resort, and in summer, it is a bustling boom-town, popular as a destination for the rich (if you’ve got enough money establish your own vineyard – like actor Sam Neill or director Roger Donaldson – or golf course like Michael Hill Jeweller), and for those who can make money from them. I have dreams of having a home there if I won big on the lottery. I can’t see it happening any other way.
The sheer beauty of the place is the main attraction. Lake Wakatipu, a glacier lake, is always a deep, cold, blue, and the jagged Remarkable mountains are always dramatic, even without the snow that coats them in the winter. The town is built around the lake and on the slopes of the surrounding mountains, so many (if not most) homes, apartments and hotels have views of either the lake or the Remarkable range. This is right in the middle of Lord of the Rings country, and the scenery will seem familiar to fans of the movies.
But many people go to Queenstown with the simple aim of never standing still. It is billed as the adventure capital of the world, the first place in the world to have commercial jet-boating, bungy-jumping, and river-surfing operations. Queenstown’s reputation as the world’s favourite adrenaline destination is well deserved. Pick from skydiving, bungy-jumping, jet-boating, canyon-swinging, white-water rafting, parapenting, heli-skiing, etc for your adrenaline fix. It doesn’t matter what age you are – old age pensioners regularly bungy jump, and last December my two and a half year old nephew was thrilled with jet-boating in the morning, then insisted that afternoon that it was “his turn” on the luge – much to the disgust of his height-and-speed-averse mother. For the less adventurous amongst us though there is hot air ballooning, a trip on the steamer Earnsclaw across the lake, some fishing perhaps, walking, sailing, hiking, climbing, cycling, golfing, skiing or mountain biking.
As most of these escapades involve heights, I prefer to watch. And I have to say that standing on the viewing platform of the AJ Hackett Bungy operation over the Kawarau river is plenty high enough from me. I almost feel sick seeing the continual stream of tourists hurtling themselves off the bridge. The oldest person to have done this was 94. So if I reach 90, maybe I’ll do it then …
There is, however, another reason to visit Queenstown these days: divine pinot noir, pinot gris, riesling, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Directly across from the Kawarau River Bungy is one of the first vineyards of the area, Chard Farm, the vines green against the stark, brown rock and shale hills. But there are many more vineyards in the region now, including my personal favourite, the organic Kawarau Estate (and owned by my bore/boar encountering friend of P = Portofino) that produces delicious Pinot Noirs and a fabulous chardonnay; my regular brunch pinot gris from Peregrine Estate; and the exquisite Mt Difficulty and Felton Road Pinot Noirs. Not to mention the producers of the recently named best value Pinot Noir in the country, Wild Earth.
I’m thinking that it’s time for another visit there. This time we’ll rent a nice apartment with a view of the lake and/or mountains, and we’ll book in advance at the good winery restaurants (Amisfied), or at Saffron in Arrowtown nearby. If we go in late summer, it will still be stonefruit season in the nearby growing areas of Cromwell and Alexandra, and we might be dragooned into helping out on the grape harvest at Kawarau Estate.
President Clinton said it was magical. Come see for yourself.
(Sadly, I have discovered that I spent so much time looking at Queenstown that I have rarely photographed it – but look around the internet to see some spectacular pictures of this town).