If God created a place for all his children so that they can run, play and marvel at pure, awesome beauty, then that place would have to be Queenstown.
I think I am at home in the cold, surrounded by snow capped, jagged edged mountains that touch the clouds. I think I am at home in a place surrounded by tall pine trees, so thick and dense that the colour green places my heart and mind at ease. I think I am at home beside the wide and vast lakes that make it seem you are at sea when you look into it, with it’s dark blue clear waters that stretch on for miles, disappearing behind the mountains that frames every view of the city.
I love Vancouver, the place where I first fell in love with snow capped mountains and the deep dark waters of the lakes in and around it. It seemed peaceful and the people seemed to be so relaxed. The views are breath taking and I can remember thinking that I never wanted to leave the place. Switzerland was the other place close fitting to this scenery.
Queenstown is much the same and I never thought I would say this, but I think it’s more breath taking than Vancouver! I’m sorry BC, I still love you but man Queenstown is something else.
On the plane ride in, I was swept away by the views. We flew in on a dreary day, over cast and from the onset, it looked dark and cold. The plane, upon its decent felt like a feather falling from the sky, swaying from side to side, dipping, diving and suddenly dropping. It was a plane landing where I seriously thought might not end like traditional plane landings but we managed to land safely, some how!
As soon as you get out of the plane and onto the tar mac, you are first reminded of how cold this place is then, as soon as you look around to get your bearings, you are swept away by the beauty all around you. The colour blue, green, white surrounds you. And the air, it’s noticeably fresh, clean and so refreshing.
On my first day there, I checked into the Hilton Queenstown. Right on the foot steps of the Remarkables, which are the snow capped mountains that stand as the back drop to Queenstown and one of the ski hills frequented by the ski bunnies in winter.
The Hilton is about 15 minutes drive from Queenstown city centre but don’t let that discourage you. So long as you have a car (which is pretty cheap to hire and a necessity if you want to sight see), then every thing is quite easy to get to.
Hilton Queenstown is on the banks of the lake Wakatipu and it is by far one of the most beautiful hotels I have stayed in and believe me, having worked for many brands of hotels for most of my career, I’ve seen my fair share. The location is prime, with clear views of the town from all angles. The mountains are so close you can almost touch them and you can walk right down to the lakes edge and look into Queenstown in the distance.
The hotel is laid out much like a ski lodge. The building is not tall, which is great because it doesn’t spoil the view and the rooms it self are fantastic. With twin basins and deep baths in the bath rooms, right through to the open fire place. The room I was in had double balcony’s with a flat screen TV that swings around to all angles, allowing you to watch it from bed.
The hotel’s amenities are fantastic, particularly the bar where you can enjoy your beer and meal by the huge open fire or the out door deck surrounded by the scenery or simply at the bar being entertained by the superb hospitality of the Hilton bar staff.
Completing the experience were the wonderful staff that worked there. Every one was helpful and suggested so many activities, locations to visit and places of interest and the concierge team and Nathan in particular were truly amazing. He organized tours and bookings and showed us places I would other wise never thought of. In short, this hotel is by far the best I have stayed in; service was great, location amazing and the rooms were definitely five star.
In the five days I was In Queenstown, I enjoyed so many things that this fabulous town offered. Firstly, to enjoy this town, you must get a car. I got a small but new Holden Barina, great to drive and great on petrol.
There are really only two ways to go, left or right. You sort of do a loop to Wanaka and back. From Queenstown, I drove to Cromwell, from Cromwell to Wanaka and then from Wanaka to Arrowtown and back to Queenstown.
On this tour I stopped of at a few wineries in Gibbston Valley, one being Wild Earth. Placed close to the rapids just outside of Cromwell, this little place is a gem. Their pinots are amazing and I must say, one of he best I have tasted in a while. I stopped there to also taste their intriguing food. It is a tasting platter, complete with matching wines. What is intriguing about this food is that everything is cooked in converted old wine barrels to give a unique flavour to the food. Quentin, the chef and proprietor of the place, came up with this way of cooking and it was rather interesting to say the least. I was fascinated at how they presented their food, on small slabs cut from old wine barrels and the wine flight was also served in the a small part of a wine barrel. This food presentation was something I will definitely look into, I thought it was very clever and appealing.
Don’t worry about the wines, you get only a small taste of each wine so you won’t fly over the limit if you’re driving and the food is good, a definite lunch stop if ever you are in the area and if you’re into it, it is also where the jet boats are launched from!
From there I headed to Wanaka, with the weather getting better and better as the day went on. I was lucky to have picked an awesome sunny day to visit Wanaka and it was the type of day you can sit by this beautiful lake, soak in the rays and enjoy the scenery. More lakes and snow capped mountains fill the scenery.
Whilst I was in Wanaka, I decided to have an organic smoothie at Soul Food, located on the main street of Wanaka city centre. Paul is the owner of this place and it’s nice to see so many varieties of organic food being sold and prepared at such a beautiful and engaging shop. Visit him, his smoothies are great and drink it under the shade in the little veggie garden he has out the back!
Just outside of Wanaka, go to a place called Have a Shot. This place was a highlight for me. I love guns, especially rifles and for around $75 you get to hit golf balls at a range, shoot a bow and arrow, shoot a .22cal rifle but the most exciting of all, the clay pigeon shooting. I looked forward to clay pigeon shooting and as it turned out, it truly was great fun. I’ve shot guns before but this time I enjoyed shooting them at a moving target. I enjoyed it so much that I just had to go again. I am convinced that I’m addicted; I think I might take it on as sport!
The drive from Wanaka to Arrowtown is amazing. You come from high up the mountains, slowly winding your way down into Arrowtown. The view opens it self up more and more as you descend down, with each turn giving you a new perspective of the valley below. The road is meanders down the hill, turning into some very tight corners forcing you to really take it slow, which is great because you get to enjoy the views.
Arrowtown is a small little town, about 15 minutes away from Queenstown. I was instantly drawn to this little town.
Surrounded by trees, its made up of a small main street no longer than a couple of hundred meters long and both sides of the road lined with small little shops in buildings that were probably the original buildings built so many years ago. It wasn’t snowing when I was there, but I could imagine that this place would be a carbon copy of little towns you would normally find in the Swiss Alps, it just had that look and feel about it.
The houses beyond the main street were so beautiful, made of wooden slats and a lot of them lined with picket fences. I loved this little town, because it seemed so peaceful, a type of place you can easily let go and forget the hustle and bustle of the big cities. If there is any one in Arrowtown looking for an experienced chef, please consider this as my application, I would move there at a drop of a hat!
Now for the best bits, the food.
Queenstown offers so many choices from fine dining right through to tasty, no fuss meals. I decided to have a taste of both worlds.
An institution in Queenstown. You know you are in the right place because it is constantly packed, so much so, there were people lined up outside waiting, just to get a burger. I was excited, anticipation was high after seeing the line up and the buzz outside this place. This must the place where so many people have told me about “the” most amazing burger and if you know me, I love a good burger, ribs or hot dogs.
The menu is quite big and the there is something for every one, ranging from the moderately hungry right through to the very hungry. The burgers are pretty big and very tasty. A nice, chutney type sauce in the burger and the meat patties are quite tasty. Ferg Burgers are good but I am sorry to say, I’m still in search for “the” great burger, nevertheless, these burgers did the job and I can’t help but think that the hype has built this burger bigger than what it actually is.
Flame Bar and Grill Restaurant
I must have walked past this place a million times trying to find it. I could smell the goodness before I even saw the place. Again, this place is packed, how ever you can book here and I suggest you do before you just walk in because chances are, they would be full.
This restaurant is right down my alley. It had all of my food vices in one place from burgers, flame grilled sticky pork ribs, chicken wings and even grilled fish. I ordered the pork ribs, one whole slab please! And I tell you, THE best ribs I’ve had for a long time. They were tender, juicy, sticky, smokey and very very tasty indeed! They didn’t last too long, it was devoured with in minutes. I was full but just on flavour alone, I think I could have done another slab, EASILY but I didn’t in the risk of being judged by the people that packed the restaurant. Highly recommend this place and on my way out, I found out you can get a combo meal consisting of ribs, grilled steak, sausage and chicken wings! OMG – true awesomeness on one plate!
Saffron is a restaurant in Arrowtown. This restaurant is beautiful and the type of place I could see myself comfortably enjoying a meal in the middle of winter. It has that cosy feel about it, with a open fire place in the middle of the room and warm yellow lights that illuminate the wood and stone that make up the structure of the entire restaurant.
The food was presented well and punched big, bold flavours. The plates were so colourful and the smells that came out of the kitchen were delectable.
The flavours seemed to be influenced by Thai cuisine and the menu certainly read that way. I started with a crispy whitebait with lemon and ailoi which was tasty and well seasoned. That was followed up with a crispy pork and squid salad with a tangy lime and soy dressing which was really big on flavours but tasted rather nice and for mains I had the braised beef in wanton with crispy ribs, served with a type of Thai influenced curry sauce. It was a strange combination of flavours and textures but it was still a nice meal.
Saffron is a lovely restaurant and the service staff were very attentive and were very good. They knew their product well and we were served professionally, fitting of that type of “higher end” restaurant. I had higher expectations of the food and was really excited to dine there but although it was an ok experience, it certainly doesn’t make it in my top ten restaurants.