Adventure may be the usual order of the day, but the stunning South Island also delivers its fair share of simple pleasures.
We were in Glenorchy, a tiny settlement 45 minutes from Queenstown on the northernmost tip of Lake Wakatipu. Grand plans to walk at least part of the nearby Routeburn Track were shelved in favour of a more convenient route; it was nearly lunchtime, you see.
Winding along creek beds, glassy wetlands teeming with birdlife and open stretches framing the surrounding ranges, Mount Earnslaw/Pikirakatahi and rolling paddocks, the Glenorchy Walkway was the ideal entree to a lakeside lunch.
Bypassing a spot outside the iconic (and highly Instagrammable) Glenorchy boatshed, we set up a makeshift dining room on a quieter stretch of the stone-strewn shores. The sun was shining, the surrounding peaks crowned in a dusting of snow, the water a brilliant shade of aqua – no mise en place prep station ever looked so good.
In the land of alpine awe, pinot perfection, world-famous burgers and sky-high thrills, I never imagined my fondest South Island memory would involve tumblers of pinot gris and simple tomato pasta cooked in a campervan enjoyed on a rickety trestle table.
Our week-long campervan canter began in Christchurch, the road towards Queenstown unfolding in a patchwork of farmlands; neighbourhoods of fluffy rhododendron gardens; wild plains; brilliant blue lakes; and of course, alpine scenery. Sans Wi-Fi (most of the time) and a reliable radio station, there’s plenty to pique your interest outside the window. The South Island is a right show-off.
‘Hard’ adventure wasn’t on the cards this time around, although I couldn’t pass up the Skyline Luge or a spin on the Shotover Jet. The main focus of the road trip was escapism, with a side order of foodie must-tries.
Lengthy daylight hours were spent exploring the best the south has to offer, with seasonal dishes, must-try meals, cheese platters and glasses (OK, bottles) of the world’s best cool-climate wine earned by hitting the pathways, tramps and trails around Queenstown.
A local recommendation saw us initially bypass perennially popular Fergburger for newbie Devil Burger, but FOMO eventually won out and we joined the fewer early morning crowds for a bite. The verdict? Fergburger is wholly deserving of its reputation. (As are the pies from Fergbaker next door.)
We feasted on dry-aged rib-eye and duck fat potatoes from lakefront Botswana Butchery, artistic plates of crayfish served on ice at Amisfield Winery, tapas in adorable Arrowtown, pub grub in Wanaka and swirled and sipped our way through Central Otago wine country.
Indulgences and adrenaline-pumping leisure pursuits certainly aren’t hard to come by here, but they’re not the initial travel memories I chat about around the dinner table.
It was wandering Queenstown Botanical Gardens with my loved one marvelling at the enormous blooming peonies in every shade of pink; it was the movie night we enjoyed at the quaint Dorothy Browns cinema in Arrowtown; it was the simply barbecued lemon sole dinner at Lake Tekapo on our last night in the van.
On the South Island, you don’t need to hurl yourself off a mountain or spend a lot of money to have a good time. After all, who needs 5-star dining when the best meals come out of a campervan?