The images many people pin to Queenstown have snow included. But to really get a feel for the picturesque South Island town, it’s worth a sojourn over summer when that snow dome has been lifted and the surrounding mountains revealed in all their craggy glory. Following are four quirky ways to enjoy Queenstown that range from the sedate to the high-risk and the haute.
Queenstown to a tee
Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the world. It’s where extremists go to get their adrenal glands pumping by participating in all manner of super-charged activities.
Over the Top Golf is quintessential Queenstown, offering golfers an Agent 007 entrance, via helicopter, to a single golf green with multiple tee boxes dubbed Over the Rock, The Keyhole, Extreme Tee and The Green, which allow golfers to attempt their hole in one.
Louisa Patterson founded the company back in 1986 because she understood that the mountains that ring the lake that divides the town are rendered even more remarkable when viewed from 4500 feet. Patterson says if the mountains and lake are the town’s greatest marvels, it makes sense to get a birds’-eye view of them while brandishing a golf club.
“I’ve been flying in this area for 35 years and I love helicopters because they take you to places that are normally inaccessible. If you are coming to Queenstown and you are a keen golfer, we are the only company with a golf hole almost a mile high,” says Patterson, whose father was a spitfire pilot and who now has a fleet of eight helicopters.
Forget plaid socks or polyester knit pants. Don your aviator shades for this turbo-charged course, which is perched like an aerie over the cliff and includes single-target challenges that make the most of the topography.
For those who prefer a more sedate golfing experience, and have a predilection for chucking a concave plastic disc about, that game of amusement known as frisbee now has a dedicated disc golf course, Queenstown Disc Golf. The island country’s first permanently marked-out 18-basket course of its kind is located in the well-established 150-year-old Queenstown Gardens, while the resort’s second course is located about 20 minutes out of town at Tucker Beach.
Course designer James Smithells has been playing disc golf – also known as frisbee golf or frolf – for 38 years. The 62-year-old psychologist says what started out as an informal circuit that utilised rubbish bins and lampposts has evolved into a world-class course designed to celebrate the outdoors. “The course in Queenstown Gardens provides a very beautiful environment to play the game and a fun way to connect with the landscape, whether you’re a beginner or a complete fanatic,” he says.
The rules are the same as golf; what differs is that players must throw their discs until they land in a chain basket. Those interested in perambulating anti-clockwise around the peninsula can either bring their own plastic disc or pick one up from Small Planet Sports or the Queenstown Ice Rink where scorecards are also available. The course hugs the banks of Lake Wakatipu with The Remarkables, Cecil Peak and Walter Peak making up the majestic mountain backdrop.
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Calling your bluff on a kayak
One of the best ways to explore in and around Queenstown is from the cockpit of a kayak. Clock up a few kilometres while messing about on the waters of the lake where, if you put your ear to the wind, you may just hear a few hobbits humming folk songs.
Owner operator of Rippled Earth Kayaking, Sam de Reeper, says paddling around in one of the sturdy sea kayaks provides a different perspective and an awe-inspiring eyeful of the mountains. Apart from the plops and splashes of the oars entering the water, paddling around the pretty waterway is a really quiet, sedate experience.
de Reeper was the area’s first tour operator to offer kayak trips to the islands on Lake Wakatipu and he says “it’s not a bad day in the office” given the backdrop that is the Southern Alps.
“When you’re in a kayak, you are observing everything from a really low angle in the water. You can sit on the edge of the mountains and you see so much more at a slower pace. It’s the same perspective that some of the first pioneers and Maori explorers would have seen,” says the 32-year-old, who has a Bachelor of Science in Conservation and Ecology and spent five years guiding kayak tours around Milford Sound and the Abel Tasman National Park.
One of de Reeper’s most popular guided tours takes kayakers on a three-hour paddle to Pig and Pigeon Islands to explore the forest, shorelines, beaches and birds. “There are big flowering trees, flightless birds such as the weka, and lots of rich history that dates back to the first Maori explorers and the gold-mining era,” says de Reeper.
Queenstown, through a wine glass
There are few places in the world that evoke such a sense of awe as Queenstown, located on the South Island of New Zealand. Once you have had your fill of tramping around the wilderness, you can afford to crank up your calorie intake in the Rees Hotel's True South Dining Room, which treats its guests to an ever-changing gallery of light painted on the jagged folds and spires of The Remarkables.
This is destination dining on steroids with head chef Ben Batterbury doing a stellar job of preparing food that vies for attention with that view. Batterbury, who has worked under the direction of two Michelin-starred British chefs, hosts regular degustation dinners, pairing six fine New Zealand wines with tasting menus that include options such as Ora King salmon, pickled beets, horseradish mousse, elderflower and rye bread or the local Merino lamb rump and shoulder shepherd’s pie with smoked potato, peas and carrots.
As a base, the True South Dining Room feels anchored to those mountains, and the menu reads like a love letter to the local produce: “My food is not too tricked up. It’s honest food that keeps the flavours true but also demonstrates technique and a certain element of surprise,” says Batterbury, who was named as one of the most talented chefs ever to complete a stint at James Beard House in New York City.
For oenophiles, the food and wine experience is taken up a notch in the Bordeau Wine Lounge, which features one of the most comprehensive collections of fine Bordeaux wines in the Southern Hemisphere, says general manager Mark Rose. When viewed through a glass of red, The Remarkables take on an even rosier hue.