Cosy on down in New Zealand’s ad­ven­ture cap­i­tal

Queen­stown’s var­ied bar scene comes alive in win­ter months

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Australian & Nz Ski Holidays - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

THEno­tion of writ­ing about Queen­stown af­ter dark is no cheap shot. While NewZealand towns gen­er­ally don’t have a rep­u­ta­tion as nightlife hubs, the South Is­land’s ad­ven­ture cap­i­tal is a vi­brant ex­cep­tion. Comethe an­nual snow sea­son and its bars, clubs and eater­ies are jump­ing. Be­cause there’s no ac­com­mo­da­tion on the slopes, skiers de­scend on this most con­vivial of base camps at the end of each day to warmup and hun­ker down.

Myvisit is just be­fore the start of this year’s sea­son and at the his­toric Eichardt’s Pri­vate Ho­tel, on Marine Pa­rade by the shores of Lake Wakatipu, staff are pre­par­ing the side ter­race. Chairs are draped with woollen throws, the heaters are ready to roar and the bar­tenders are putting fi­nal touches to a mid­win­ter drinks list fea­tur­ing con­coc­tions that al­most sound nu­tri­tious — say, a fig­ure of eight (fig-in­fused Bac­ardi and eight-year-old rum stirred with orange bit­ters, Grand Marnier­soaked raisins and orange zest) and ap­ple pie mar­tini (ap­ple smashed with cin­na­mon and shaken with vodka, pom­mev­erte liqueur, ap­ple juice and house­made ap­ple pie bit­ters).

The ho­tel’s fire-warmed Front Bar is ar­guably the best place in town to snug­gle down and its win­ter tapas menuhas just been in­tro­duced, which in­cludes the likes of seared pa­prika-mar­i­nated beef skew­ers; salt and pep­per­fried squid with green herb and gar­lic aioli; and ba­con and duck liver pate with cor­ni­chons and cros­tini. These snack items, avail­able from 4pmto 10pm, are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Queen­stown win­ter bar scene, where it’s not so much a pub crawl as a pro­gres­sive party each night.

Nearby, at chef Chris Bin­don’s ex­cel­lent restau­rant, Botswana Butch­ery, the cushy vel­vet din­ing chairs are per­fect for rest­ing skisore bones and up­stairs are pri­vate rooms where, (in­cred­i­bly) for no ex­tra charge, din­ers can dine a deux or as a party in lodgestyle nooks with fire­places; this sec­ond-floor do­main also houses an el­e­gant bar with choco­late­coloured so­fas. Botswana Butch­ery, which is housed in a her­itage cot­tage with a Tardis­like ex­ten­sion, has a street­front side ter­race with a brick fire­place that is buzzy in win­ter — lake views, or­ders un­til 11pm, open seven nights.

An­dif you are off the slopes and back in Queen­stown around the mid­dle of the day, Botswana Butch­ery’s $NZ15 ($11.50) ex­press lunch menuis amaz­ing value.

Ay­oung crowd de­scends on the Mi­nus 5 Bar at the lake­side Steamer Wharf where ev­ery­thing, even the glasses, is made from ice (jack­ets and gloves pro­vided). It’s frankly aimed at tourists but the vodka-based cock­tails are guar­an­teed to stave off chills and it’s fun to smash your ‘‘glass’’ as you leave.

The Bunker is in CowLane in the cen­tre of this com­pact town and the sig­nage is so dis­creet it feels like vis­it­ing a speakeasy. Ei­ther dine here or just drop by and pull up a leather arm­chair for a tip­ple by the warm­ing log fire. There’s an up­stairs cock­tail bar and a star-gaz­ing ter­race with fire­place and ca­sual seat­ing; a glass of neigh­bour­hood pinot noir is a splen­did choice and there are 11 mar­ti­nis on the cock­tail list, with flavours as funky as orange and vanilla or ly­chee and cu­cum­ber.

For a true win­ter warmer, there’s even a Toblerone dessert cock­tail made from Bai­leys, Frangelico, Creme de Ca­cao, cream, honey and choc swirls. An­dif you want to make a night of it, the bar men­uat The Bunker in­cludes that old alpine spe­cial, cheese fon­due. You could eas­ily stay put un­til the wee hours; some bar snacks are served un­til a cheeky 4am.

Also on the Queen­stown bar tab should be Bardeaux (se­ri­ous whisky list and wines by the glass) and the sump­tu­ous Bar­muda with its court­yard fire­place; both are in the Searle Lane precinct.

Ven­ture 20 min­utes by road north­east of Queen­stown to Ar­row­town, the for­mer gold-rush vil­lage that still trades on its 1860s min­ing her­itage, and things may seem deadly quiet when the tourist coaches have gone for the day. But turn off Buck­ing­ham Street into the slen­der al­ley by Saf­fron Restau­rant, and on the left is The Blue Door, a bo­hemian lit­tle bar also run by Saf­fron’s Aus­tralian own­ers.

It’s a small con­verted schist­stone cel­lar be­neath one of Ar­row­town’s old­est build­ings; there are low ceil­ings, a hearty fire, arm­chairs and plenty of wines of the parish avail­able by the glass, as well as gen­er­ously poured spir­its. Pinot noir is, of course, the drop of choice in Cen­tral Otago, the south­ern­most grape-grow­ing re­gion in the world. This va­ri­ety makes up about 85 per cent of plant­ings and is the per­fect cold-weather wine.

You couldn’t do bet­ter than or­der an Am­is­field pinot noir at The Blue Door, or to drop by this win­ery over­look­ing Lake Hayes be­tween Queen­stown and Ar­row­town. Lunches at Am­is­field, taken in a high­ceilinged room with two-way fire­place, are very pop­u­lar but din­ners are served early due to li­cens­ing con­straints in this semiru­ral set­ting (book­ings taken for 5.30pm or 6pm), so there’s no drink­ing on into the night.

Which is as well for early­bird skiers, but I would rec­om­mend duck­ing down the road to Dorothy Brown’s art-house cin­ema in Ar­row­town (just along the al­ley­way and up­stairs from The Blue Door) and set­tling into a lounge chair with a tip­ple from its lit­tle bar. Ali­censed cin­ema with pink silk-clad walls show­ing slightly edgy movies? Never let it be said NZis dull.


The Front Bar at Eichardt’s Pri­vate Ho­tel in Queen­stown

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