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by Margaret Prince

As a keen skier I’d been to Queen­stown more than once and spent my days go­ing hard on the slopes and my nights en­joy­ing the après ski buzz in its many restau­rants, bars and clubs. But this time some friends who’d set­tled in Queen­stown sug­gested I come and visit them in spring so I could ex­pe­ri­ence what the town and its sur­round­ings has to of­fer out­side of ski sea­son.

I thought it was a fine idea and de­cided it was time I treat my­self to a well-earned break with a bit or pam­per­ing, a touch of ad­ven­ture, some leisurely wine tast­ing, the odd walk or bike (but noth­ing to stren­u­ous), some over-in­dulging in the eat­ing depart­ment, and just a smidge of ex­plor­ing and re­tail ther­apy thrown in for good mea­sure.

Sounded like the per­fect hol­i­day cock­tail to me.

Fly­ing into the re­sort, nose pressed to the win­dow like ev­ery­one around me, we de­scended to­wards the air­port and I was spellbound by the snow-capped moun­tain peaks as far as the eye could see the green val­leys be­low, and the re­flec­tion of the plane pass­ing over the shim­mer­ing lake.

Once I stepped off the Jet­star A320 to a view of the fa­mous Re­mark­ables Moun­tains and breathed in the pure crisp alpine air, I sus­pected I was go­ing to be a fan of Queen­stown in spring.

I’d read re­cently that the trav­ellers ‘bi­ble’ Lonely Planet had re­cently cho­sen the Southern Lakes Re­gion as one of the world’s top 10 places to visit in 2013 for its year-round ac­tiv­i­ties and spec­tac­u­lar scenery, so I set about putting as much of that to the test as pos­si­ble. Although my friends had of­fered their spare room, I de­cided to splash out and treat my­self to a cou­ple of nights one of the loveli­est new hos­tels on the out­skirts of town, fol­lowed by a stay in more cost-con­science accommodation. There were plenty to choose from, from backpackers to ‘flash-pack­ers’, mo­tels and

apart­ments, and all cat­e­gories of ho­tels, but I fig­ured that a five-star lux­ury on the edge of the lake was go­ing to get me in the mood for re­lax­ation and ad­ven­ture.

Queen­stown is quite com­pact which is one of the things I like most about it – the air­port is only 10 min­utes from town cen­tre and ev­ery­thing is within walk­ing dis­tance or a short drive. Af­ter check­ing into my ho­tel, I found the per­fect spot over­look­ing the wa­ter to soak up the sun­shine with cof­fee in hand and just watch the world go by. Next on the agenda was a bit of ‘me time; and within half an hour I was lux­u­ri­at­ing in one of the best spa ex­pe­ri­ences I’ve ever had. Four bliss­ful hours later I floated to my room, re­sisted the urge to curl up and fall asleep, got dressed and caught the ho­tel’s wa­ter taxi ser­vice into town to meet my friends.

As the boat pulled into Queen­stown Bay, we slowed down to make way for the ma­jes­tic TSS Earnslaw, one of the last re­main­ing coal-fired pas­sen­ger ves­sels still op­er­at­ing in the Southern Hemi­sphere, as it came steam­ing into dock. Af­fec­tion­ately know to lo­cals as the grand old lady of the lake, she’s one of Queen­stown’s great icons and her deep pierc­ing ‘hoot hoot’ has be­come an in­te­gral part of the town’s fab­ric.

It was only Day One but I was al­ready learn­ing spring­time in Queen­stown com­bined the best of both worlds – long days, warm spring sun­shine and bright blooms

ev­ery­where com­pletely trans­formed the scenery I’d pre­vi­ously only seen as a win­ter won­der­land. And although I was def­i­nitely tempted by spring ski­ing, this time my Queen­stown visit had a dif­fer­ent agenda.

Af­ter strolling around town and sit­ting out­side en­joy­ing a sneaky glass of the fa­mous lo­cal Pinot Noir, we lit­er­ally had to toss a coin to de­cide where to eat. There are restau­rants ev­ery­where; Queen­stown is a ver­i­ta­ble melt­ing pot of na­tion­al­i­ties, cul­tures and in­flu­ences and it was just too hard to chose from Pa­cific rim, tra­di­tional pub, win­ery kitchen, stylish café bars, Asian, de­signer burg­ers, Ja­panese, In­dian, Chi­nese, Turk­ish or Mex­i­can. The coin toss de­cided the menu for us – tapas by the water­front – and af­ter a de­li­cious meal com­plete with mil­lion dol­lar view, we planned our days to come.

It’s no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say you can ex­pe­ri­ence more here in a day than most do in a life­time, and on the ad­ven­ture front it boasts a huge range of adren­a­line pump­ing ac­tiv­i­ties like sky­div­ing, bungee jump­ing, jet boat­ing and paraglid­ing. For the next day’s en­ter­tain­ment, how­ever we de­cided to bike the new gon­dola-ac­cessed trails high above the town.

While one of my friends was def­i­nitely the equiv­a­lent of a dou­ble di­a­mond skier when it came to the bik­ing, I was re­lieved to find out that the bike trails ranged from the ex­treme to vir­tual novice. Fall­ing

some­where be­tween the two, I put my trust in the sturdy bike and hel­met I‘d rented from one of the shops in town, hooked it up to the gon­dola and cruised up to the bike park. While ini­tially cau­tious, I gained con­fi­dence by the minute and couldn’t be­lieve how much fun it was to ride down through the for­est trails, and then catch my breath on the gon­dola ride back up to do it again.

We’d set aside the next day for a trip to the world-fa­mous bungy bridge in nearby Gibb­ston Val­ley, and my first bungy jump (scary but an amaz­ing rush!) was fol­lowed by lunch at nearby win­ery and an af­ter­noon of wine tast­ing. For ease, we took a guided tour which was well worth ev­ery cent to have our trans­port taken care of and a knowl­edge­able guide to lead the way.

In fact I learned a lot that af­ter­noon. Fine grow­ing con­di­tions in Cen­tral Otago mean the re­gion has 200 vine­yards in the vicin­ity and more than its fair share of award­win­ning wines. At 300 me­ters above sea level and 45 de­grees south, it is also the most southerly wine re­gion in the world, es­tab­lished buy a wine lover who be­lieved the cli­mate was per­fect for pro­duc­ing what could be some of the best wines in the world. I’ve now tested most of them and he was right. We spent what I would call a pre­fect lazy af­ter­noon soak­ing up the scenery, drink­ing award-win­ing lo­cal Pinot Noirs and snacking on gourmet plat­ters or lo­cal pro­duce.

Day Three and it was time to hit the golf course. There are six cour­ses within a 25 minute drive but given my poor level of play, I wisely tool some lo­cal ad­vice on which one would suit me best. In the end, it didn’t mat­ter that my skill level is par­tic­u­larly zero be­cause I has the stun­ning scenery to blame for the fact that I couldn’t keep my eye on the ball.

Next it was time for some ad­ven­ture and with a nat­u­ral out­door play­ground on its doorstep, I can see why so many ad­ven­tur­ers and en­trepreneurs have cho­sen Queen­stown and its sur­rounds as a base for their tourism op­er­a­tions. In fact, it was one fa­mous Kiwi, Sir Henry Wrigley, who be­came a game changer for the re­gion back in 1947. Fa­mous for his fore­sight,

he de­vel­oped a com­mer­cial ski area at Coro­net Peak with the help of an­other in­no­va­tive New Zealan­der, Bill Hamil­ton later Sir Wil­liam). Bill used his tech­ni­cal knowl­edge, de­ter­mi­na­tion, ‘Num­ber 8 wire’ men­tal­ity and more than a smat­ter­ing of Kiwi in­ge­nu­ity to build a tow rope for Coro­net Peak from scratch, and al­most overnight Queen­stown be­came a four-sea­son re­sort.

Bill Hamil­ton was also re­spon­si­ble for the par­tic­u­lar in­no­va­tion I was keen to try – the jet boat – and

see­ing I was in Queen­stown, con­sid­ered by many to be the ad­ven­ture cap­i­tal of the world, it seemed like the per­fect place to take a spin.

Let me just say that the power and ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity of these boats and their abil­ity to travel in less than three cen­time­tres of wa­ter is phe­nom­e­nal. It was like a roller­coaster ride as our jet boat driver took us close to tow­er­ing roc faces at speeds that had the hair whip­ping off my face and left me gasp­ing for breath. I barely had time to re­cover be­fore her sig­nalled a 360 de­gree ‘Hamil­ton spin’ was com­ing up. Ask a lo­cal which is the spot on the boat NOT to sit in f you want to stay dry! Ap­par­ently I looked like the sort who wouldn’t ‘mind’ a dunk­ing… and I didn’t. In fact, I had a grin ear-to-ear for about half an hour af­ter­wards.

Later back up the gon­dola, my friends and I chal­lenged each other to luge races be­fore walk­ing a bit fur­ther up the hill and launch­ing our­selves into the wild blue yon­der har­nessed to a pilot and a huge in­flat­able para­pente wing that re­as­sur­ingly filled with air as we ran off the moun­tain­side. It brought us safely back to terra firma in the heart of town but not be­fore my friends heard me squeal­ing like a girl as we spun this way and that “just for fun”. I still haven’t lived that down.

Day Four and it was time to take a drive to what’s been called ‘a true slice of par­adise’ – a spec­tac­u­lar 45-min­utte drive west of Queen­stown at the end of Lake Wakatipu. To be sure, the word ‘spec­tac­u­lar’ gets bandied around a lot these days, but it truly ap­plies to this drive and to Glenorchy, our ul­ti­mate des­ti­na­tion. Bor­dered by the South West New Zealand Wold Her­itage Area, this tiny ham­let is the gate­way to some of New Zealand’s most epic scenery.

While the drive to Glenorchy is of­fi­cially 45 min­utes, you can’t help but want to stop around ev­ery bend and send the cam­era into over­drive cap­tur­ing breath­tak­ing views, hang­ing val­leys, glaciers, is­lands and tow­er­ing moun­tains. It’s hardly sur­pris­ing to learn that the area has pro­vided the in­spi­ra­tional back­drops for many films in­clud­ing Lord of the Rings.

We wan­dered around the vis­i­tor cen­tre and took ad­vice on a cou­ple of good short day walks, which led us along the start of the fa­mous Route­burn Track, and also on a board­walk around the lake’s edge to spot lo­cal wildlife. All that walk­ing was guar­an­teed to make is hun­gry, so we stopped at a lo­cal café, sat out­side and en­joyed the views and sated our hunger with de­li­cious ham on the bone sand­wiches and steam­ing hot cof­fee.

With my nose for re­tail ther­apy wher­ever I go, I man­aged to find the out­lets stocked with the re­gion’s fa­mous pos­sum fur prod­ucts and New Zealand-made de­signer gar­ments and gifts. I might even give some of my pur­chases to my fam­ily and friends as presents if they’re lucky.

While we didn’t have time to ex­plore fur­ther this time around, I made a men­tal note to come back to “GY” an­other time to check out some of its ad­ven­tures like wilder­ness jet­boat­ing, horse riding, fish­ing and kayak­ing. If I had a spare three or four days it would be the place to go as the jump-off point for Great Walks such as the Mil­ford, Route­burn, Caples and Green­stone tracks.

Day Six rolled around and it was time to head home, although not with­out a quick trip to the pretty town­ship of Kingston at the op­po­site end of the lake to Glenorchy. The road to Kingston is an­other 45-minute gor­geous lake­side drive and the laid­back lit­tle town is a pop­u­lar hol­i­day hub. I even man­aged to squeeze in a ride on its most iconic and much-loved at­trac­tion – a vin­tage steam train called the Kingston Flyer which has just re-opened af­ter lan­guish­ing on its tracks for a cou­ple of years be­fore be­ing given a new lease of life by its new owner.

I was too early for the an­nual jazz fes­ti­val and the pro­gramme of events for sum­mer looked hugely tempt­ing, so as I flew out I made a men­tal note to come back soon. With bells on.

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