Until a few years ago, I’d never been to New Zealand. No real desire to, either. I figured it would be like Australia, but, you know, colder. What a goose.
Then in 2010 my husband filmed a feature film on the South Island, and I went along to write a novel without the distractions of friends/shopping/Sydney/reliable Internet. It wasn’t long before we escaped the ‘bustling metropolis’ that is Invercargill, ahem, and headed to Queenstown. The attraction was instant and profound; this is a remarkable, astonishingly beautiful slice of the earth. Queenstown is now my favourite place in the world and we head over there a few times a year. It’s a popular spot for Expedia’s Aussie travellers who usually spend 2-3 nights getting a taste of what this town has to offer.
My spiel to Aussies who are yet to endure the gruelling 2-3 hour flight over there goes something along the lines of: OH BUT YOU REALLY MUST. Queenstown and its surrounds has the most breathtaking scenery you can imagine: aquamarine lakes set against jagged, snowcapped mountains and rolling hills, plus outstanding dining, beautiful hikes, world-class wines, every ridiculous physical extreme activity you can imagine (read: good for kids or daredevils) and five-star snow fields.
My more specific spiel is as follows:
Dine, wine, buy
Queenstown sits in the Otago region, which produces arguably the best Pinot Noir in the world. While there are several billion excellent wineries to visit, I recommend Amisfield Winery (book in for lunch and pray for sun so you can sit outside and soak up the surrounds), where you should definitely buy some wine and have it shipped home before you leave. Also try Gibbston Valley Winery, who make award-winning Pinot Noir but also some of the very best chardonnay you can guzzle, and serve a fantastic lunch too.
Go in Autumn
To be fair, each season is as good as the next in Queenstown. Winter brings snow and sees this resort town heaving with funseekers from all over the world, Spring and Summer are picture perfect and ideal for hikers and bike heads, but Autumn is magic. Never have you seen such vivid colour (and such a spectrum of colour). Your best vantage point is in the beautiful little goldmining settlement of Arrowtown, around 20 minutes out of Queenstown, where you should take one million photos and keep an eye out for international car advertisements being shot on the winding, tree-lined streets.