Take To The Sky And Explore Queenstown

3 November 2014

Queenstown always dishes up the unexpected.

It never disappoints, but it can be a fickle friend when it comes to planning holidays.

Take my last two trips to New Zealand's South Island capital of fun as an example.

I arrived in late June eager to ski and there was nothing but sunshine. It's clear that snow, and hotel bathroom scales, are two things in life you just can’t trust. I had four days; a bag full of toasty Icebreaker clothes; skis; and a room at the Sofitel just opposite the famous Fergburger hamburger shop.

But no snow. Rain had all but washed away a potentially great start to the season.

I needed a new plan, and for something completely different that involved taking to the sky.

Cecil Peak ledge is 4,000 metres above Lake Wakatipu and one of the most amazing picnic spots in the world.

On a clear day you can see Queenstown in all its glory.

You can charter a helicopter from Over The Top Helicopter company, based at Queenstown and fly to the peak for a private picnic. Over The Top, one of many helicopter tour operators in Queenstown, offers personalised trips where the “itinerary is limited only by your imagination”.

 A helicopter tour can take you to the most amazing picnic spots around Queenstown

Apart from the view, the speed and directness of helicopter travel allows you to fit so much more into a day.

My trip to Skippers Canyon is the perfect example of this. Nomad Safaris picked us up at 8.30am in a 4WD Land Rover to explore Skippers.

The canyon road (even today not easy to pass) was blasted from rock in 1862 during the gold rush. We made several stops — at Hell’s Gate and Lighthouse Rock — for glimpses of the Shotover River.

Helicopters can get you places that fixed wing aircraft — and even 4WDs — simply can’t. So instead of taking the same long windy, bumpy road back from Skippers looking at exactly the same countryside, Over The Top picked us up.

From the ground the cliffs looked imposing. Flying over them, in the six-seater helicopter, they looked awesome. Up close you get a completely different appreciation of their size, ruggedness and the remoteness of the area.

On my next trip to Queenstown ironically we had too much snow.

 When the weather warms up the pool at Matakauri Lodge has some great views.

By Sunday afternoon Queenstown was in chaos, covered by a thin veneer of snow. The airport had closed and the roads were slippery.

By 6.30 on Monday morning the snow was calf deep and rising at Matakauri Lodge and all flights had been cancelled. There was nothing we could do except go back and snuggle in our king-sized bed while we watched the snow pile up outside.

I could think of worse places to be snowed in than Queenstown, especially when you are staying at the amazing Matakauri Lodge.

Matakauri Lodge is the baby sister property to the famous Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers, both on the country’s North Island.

It sits isolated above Lake Wakatipu on the Glenorchy Road, about 7km from Queenstown. The lodge, and its 11 suites, look out over the lake to Cecil and Walter peaks, as well as the Remarkables Ranges.

The lodge oozes warmth and charm. A collection of lounges and oversized chairs fills the sitting room, which is heated by dual fireplaces.

Nothing is out of place, yet you never feel uncomfortable just collapsing in a lounge and reading a book. That’s the secret of Matakauri. It feels like your home, but with eager staff running around getting you things to eat and drink.

 Guests arrive at the chic Matakauri Lodge in Queenstown

At night this area transforms into a dining room. The menu changes each night. Both times we dined it was a fresh produce-inspired tasting menu consisting of four courses, cheese and dessert served with matching wines. The food is part of the nightly tariff so there’s really no need to hold back. The only thing you should be aware of is that you need to wear a jacket.

Thankfully they had an extra jacket in the closet.

Both the design and the layout of the suites had a combined open-plan lounge/bedroom and a fireplace encourage you to curl up on the lounge, wrap yourself in a mohair rug and just enjoy the view, which is truly mind-blowing.

The service here is without peer. Every time we left the room, someone would come and tidy. When we arrived back from our ski trip, we were met at the top of the outdoor stairs and handed our room key, which meant we could go straight to our room rather than having to lug our ski gear to reception beforehand.

When the snow caused flight chaos, the front-desk staff made all the calls to discover what was happening. They also rebooked flights for guests. The attention to detail was astounding.

Brian Crisp

I've has been a journalist for more than 30 years and travelled to more than 60 countries. When I travel I love getting lost because that's when you find the true heart of a city. I love country music, but as yet I haven't made it to Nashville. Perhaps next year!