“So, did you bungee jump?” Nope.
“Did you mountain bike down the beautiful mountains?” I did not.
“Did you jump out of a helicopter and ski down the mountains?” Well, I did go in summer, so no, snow skiing was probably not going to happen.
“Well, what the heck did you do in the adventure capital of the world?”
Everyone comes to Queenstown with a different agenda. My four days in Queenstown was solely focused on eating fresh, unique NZ cuisine and drinking locally produced wine; I probably could have used the hiking and mountain biking as a means to losing some of the weight I put on but then it would not have been a vacation! If you plan on traveling around the world and not doing anything athletic but rather following in the footsteps of a food and wine enthusiast, here is my recommendation on taking Queenstown by storm…mostly in a seated position with a fork, plate, and wine glass.
1. Wine, Wine, Wine and more….wine?
For an American, the areas of Napa, Sonoma, and Solano are most commonly associated with wineries, tastings, and tours. Take that image and add incredible mountain backdrops, bright sunny days, and the friendliest people in the world and you have Queenstown, New Zealand. Most of the Queenstown-area wineries are about a 20-30-minute car ride from downtown Queenstown.
I know what you are thinking, “how could I enjoy a wine tour (or multiple) and not need to drive from the downtown area?” Every wine tourists favorite phrase is the answer to that question: free tour bus pickups! Most of the winery tours have buses that will pick you up from downtown Queenstown and there is also a local town bus that runs pretty frequently for those who do not want to do a wine tour. After looking at a number of wineries and the reviews I settled on the Gibbston Valley Tour wine tours, which I highly recommend! The bus picks you up downtown at 10am and you have some options: 1) you can get dropped off at Arrowtown (small mining town worth checking out) and then bike ride to the vineyards or 2) get dropped off at Gibbston Valley and bike ride to numerous vineyards from there (They also have other non-biking options for those less adventurous!) I recommend going to Gibbston Valley and renting a bike from there, it’s a much less strenuous ride. The package I purchased included a bike, access to the winery, a tasting, and lunch, which I scheduled for 2pm the day I arrived. I managed to make 4 stops on my, very ambitious bike ride and I missed my 2pm lunch reservations due to my desire to taste every wine I could. (I was on a mission!) My stops included the following and there is a map below as a reference:
· Peregrine: Small indoor tasting room with fabulous Pinot Noirs. The 2011 had great body and a nice spice. They happily let me try 5 wines for free, GREAT start
· Kinross: A must stop! They serve wines from all of the vineyards in the area. I did the 5 tastings for $15 and sat outside and enjoyed the views. I loved the outdoor wine garden area with lots of regular and high top chairs and tables made from wine barrels, as well as picnic style seating. They also served food here.
· Brennan: A really cute tasting room with bar seating as well as couch seats, and a nice outdoor area equipped with picnic style seats, complete with spectacular views. I ended up trying 3 wines for free. She said they were known for their Pinot Noirs. I really liked their 2012 vintage.
· Mt. Rosa: Directly across the road from Brennan, they have a small indoor space and a few tables outside. The owner, Guy, was very nice! I ended up doing the 5-wine tasting for $15. They sell a mulled spice syrup, also, which was amazing and perfect for the holidays!
After the four vineyards, I biked back to Gibbston winery – a 25-30 minute ride. The Gibbston winery was amazing! I really enjoyed eating my delicious lunch outside in the garden. Inside they have a large tasting room complete with couches and a fireplace. There’s also a cheese shop across the parking lot and a cave are where they do tours every 30 minutes. The Gibbston bus then drove me back into town at 5pm (there is also a 2pm shuttle).
2. Tasting menus
I booked the 3-course lunch tasting menu at Amisfield for $75 (NZD) and it was incredible; I was extremely pleased with everything! I arrived at 2pm and was led outside to the courtyard to be seated.
The sun was shining brightly and the courtyard area was buzzing with people. The waitress came over and asked what my dietary restrictions were and if I cared for any wine. I told her no beef or pork and ordered a glass of Pinot Gris. The light, fruity, and crisp glass of wine came moments later and I slowly sipped it while awaiting my first course. I wish I could tell you the details of each course but, alas, they never gave me a menu! I think the pictures do it justice. The snack that came out first was crunchy and had small dollops of aioli sauce, very tasty. The second course was my favorite; it featured a local lobster with bits of aioli sauce placed on the rocks the little guy was sitting on and some freshly baked bread with creamy local butter to go with it. Following the lobster was a lovely salad of asparagus, assorted leaves, and baked potato chips with a lightly flavored dressing underneath it. The next course was an abalone dish which came on a flaky pastry with seaweed crisps on top; decadent. After the abalone, I indulged in their butter fish, complimented with a side salad. The fish was accented with peas and green beans in a sweet pea based sauce. Not having seen a menu, I assumed I was done with all the courses when much to my surprise; they presented me with a fourth course of smoked salmon accompanied with a side of roasted potatoes. It was a delicious meal paired with an excellent wine and the opportunity to enjoy a conversation with some fun loving, visiting Aussies.
Be sure to check out: www.bookme.co.nz for other great degustation dining deals! I have seen a few others listed!
3. Fabulous restaurants
Queenstown features some amazing restaurants featuring all types of cuisine, ranging from Mexican, to Japanese, including tapas, seafood, and Irish bar staples. Queenstown is also home to Fergburger, which has become very popular over the last few years. It started out as the only place in Queenstown you could get a snack at 2am, and has quickly become the NYC version of Shake Shack or Chicago’s thick crusted Giordano’s pizza. Queenstown is also known for its cookie bar. #1 cookie bar in the world (or so they say…)!
Many of Queenstown’s restaurants have outdoor or rooftop seating which was awesome given it was summer time in December. I popped in the bar at the Eichardt hotel and had a small salad and a delightful martini one evening and a casual dinner of Chinese dumplings the next, as well as some fabulous Mexican food at the casual Caribe Kitchen before I left. Most places advertise $15 lunch and happy hour from 4-6 (or 5-7pm). Some online reviews mention Queenstown as being a bit expensive, but I thought the food was on par with any touristy city.
4. Eating and drinking with the most amazing views you have ever seen
I thought Colorado and the Rocky Mountain states featured amazing and breathtaking views…until I arrived in Queenstown. I had the opportunity to sip a glass of wine high up on the mountainside by the gondola overlooking all of Queenstown; that was the epitome of perfection and relaxation. I also ventured out on multiple wine tasting where the outdoor areas were surrounded by picture perfect, gorgeous mountain ranges. Something as simple as grabbing a quick snack in downtown Queenstown offered an opportunity to stare at the beautiful, crystal clear lake and enjoy the peace and serenity that envelopes all of Queenstown; this was a moment of bliss for a NYC girl who is constantly on the run in the urban jungle of the eastern United States. There is no such thing as a “bad view” in all of Queenstown.
5. Eating outside at 9:30pm in broad daylight (in summer, obviously!) Christmas in summer, woo!
Visiting the far reaches of the globe, literally, afford you some experiences not known to the continental United States. During the summer months in the southern hemisphere, the sun rises around 5am and does not set until 9:30-10pm; it makes drinking all day take on a whole new meanings! For you fair skinned or sun sensitive followers, be warned: New Zealand is located under the Antarctic ozone layer hole and the sun (which is out for 15+ hours a day) can be very intense, especially for those not accustomed to such a climate. It may say 80 degrees outside but it feels like the Sahara Desert. Check out the local weather of NZ here: (https://www.newzealand.com/int/feature/new-zealand-climate-and-weather/). It is enjoyable to see the bright sun, especially in December and everyone takes advantage staying out late and enjoying all that Queenstown has to offer. Other notable non-extreme things to do in Queenstown in warmer months (that do not include eating massive amounts of food and drinking copious amount of wine) include, boating and jet skiing, hiking, walking and biking, ice skating, spas, art museums, and shopping.
Have you been to Queenstown?! I would love to hear about your experiences!
Don’t forget to visit Arrowtown too. I just breezed through the town, but I absolutely loved it!
Here are some websites that helped me book my trip: https://www.queenstownnz.co.nz, https://www.bookme.co.nz/ and bloggers like: https://www.crazytravelista.com/10-best-things-to-do-in-queenstown/