Lakefront charm and heart-pumping pursuits in Queenstown, New Zealand.
Queenstown comes by its “Adventure Capital of the World” title honestly. This is a place where preferred modes of transportation include jet boats, gondolas, helicopters, and paragliders – and “Would you like to bungee today?” is standard hotel concierge small talk. Throw in the nearby Central Otago wine region, The Remarkables mountain range, and Fiordland National Park – home to Milford Sound, one of New Zealand’s most visited natural attractions – and the moniker feels like a no-brainer. The South Island city is more than just a gateway to the natural wonders that lie beyond, with a vibrant, walkable downtown that packs an impressive amount of appeal into its few square miles. Spring (September through November) promises mild temperatures, cherry blossoms blooming on Lake Wakatipu’s shores, and fewer crowds – which means even more wine and bungee jumping for visitors.
After a stint abroad with Gordon Ramsay, chef Josh Emett returned home in 2012 to open Rata, the first of his many restaurants in the country. In a small, woodsy space with giant forest murals decorating the walls, his menu showcases slow-cooked local flavors, such as roasted Otago lamb rack and cured Marlborough Sounds salmon.
Entrees at Botswana Butchery celebrate pristine cuts of regionally sourced meat – lamb, rib eye, filet mignon – which match well with green-lipped mussels and pours from the restaurant’s New Zealand-focused wine list.
A 25-minute drive northeast of Queenstown, Arrowtown’s main drag is a well-preserved slice of the 1860s gold rush days, when both townships were established. Wander through the former miners’ cottages that now house galleries and boutiques before heading to The Chop Shop, a favorite for brunch.
The beer cooler behind the bar at Yonder invites patrons to “Get Some,” which sets the tone at this convivial space, opened last August in a restored 1882 cottage. Past the baristas serving Auckland’s Atomic Coffee Roasters beans up front, snacks such as tofu bao buns and salt n Sichuan squid are served, complementing beers from Dunedin and Wellington; after dark, Yonder becomes a venue for bands, comedians, and touring DJs.
Tucked into the Steamer Wharf complex – and away from Queenstown’s backpacker-heavy watering holes – the cozy Little Blackwood pairs lake views from its deck with standout craft cocktails, such as the Kiwi Verde (vodka, elderflower liqueur, kiwi, and lemon juice). On chilly nights, grab a table by the fireplace inside.
A place like Outside Sports is pretty much a requirement in a locale that champions its outdoor pursuits the way Queenstown does. Stock up here on skiing and hiking gear, daypacks and camping supplies, and merino wool activewear from New Zealand brand Icebreaker before hitting the trails or (in winter) nearby slopes.
Pick up fun, locally made souvenirs at The Outpost, a small shop overflowing with manuka honey, art prints, greenstone jewelry, and more.
The Queenstown location of Auckland fashion house World feels like peeking into your most glamorous friend’s spacious closet, with its thoughtfully curated selection of New Zealand-made clothing, Santa Maria Novella soaps from Italy, and classic French perfumes, surrounded by taxidermy and other vintage curios.
Queenstown’s grande dame is the 11-room Eichardt’s Private Hotel, housed in a white British colonial-style building across the street from Lake Wakatipu. Stately accommodations with fireplaces and soaking tubs make it easy to settle in, but head downstairs early to vie for a coveted table by the fireplace at Eichardt’s Bar.
A seven-minute drive from the city center, the 13-suite Matakauri Lodge hosts guests in chic, Virginia Fisher-designed lakefront accommodations and keeps them busy on private cruises, helicopter tours of Milford Sound, and South Island winetasting and photography excursions.
This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Virtuoso Life.
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