Coming to land amidst New Zealand’s stunning Southern Alps is an experience in itself, majestic mountains hailing you as you come to rest in what is often described as the jewel in the country’s crown. I’m filled with excitement and wonder, having heard from a great many travellers that what I’ll find on the ground is just as breathtaking as the view from the air. I’ve arrived in Queenstown.
Amorning wander through this beautiful town brings me to one end of its centre and a pub called Red Rock for their famous $10 breakfast. Wooden beams, slate floors, and a friendly smile behind the bar are the first things to greet me. A table by the woodburner is warm and welcoming, and there is plenty to look at, a large screen in the corner playing the sport, US licence plates adorning the walls, and a jersey on display from the local ice hockey team the bar is sponsoring – the Ice Maidens, Queenstown’s first women’s team.
A pool table sits over in a side section, windows framing the picnic tables overlooking the street beside firepits ready to keep revelers warm when they come down from the mountains. I’m told there’s live music and a cosy, upstairs bar called the Whiskey Room – I’ve already decided to come back and check out the evening vibe.
A lovely chai latte later and breakfast is on the table – surely the best in town for value, and delicious to boot. Happily full, I could sit there all day listening to the tunes, but the scenery is calling and I’m off to look around.
Queenstown is a myriad of interesting, interconnecting streets and side alleys. I make my way towards the lake via the pedestrianised Mall, parallel to the main street. Untouched World, next to palatial hotel Eichardt’s, calls to me and I treat myself to a scarf – some winter warmth for my coming walk.
A pretty path along the lakeside takes me beside the beach and into Queenstown Gardens. As well as the unfolding views, I get to watch the frisbee golf in play and marvel at a hole-in-one. Is there any activity Queenstown doesn’t have? I could follow the winding path along the lakeside all the way to Frankton, but I loop around and choose to come back into town. There are more than enough shops and sights to keep me occupied all day. The afternoon sees me climbing Queenstown Hill to enjoy its walking track and stunning views across the town, the Remarkables towering over Lake Wakatipu in the distance.
As evening falls, the indoors calls and I make my way to the Whiskey Room above Red Rock. It’s the perfect place to while away the hours, a roaring fire warming the small tables and leather sofa, flanked by cosy armchairs. A cabinet gives testimony to the range of whiskeys on offer, and I curl up with a cocktail to enjoy the intimate space with its après-ski charm.
Queenstown’s nightlife embraces an eclectic array of options, but I’ve already heard of one not to miss. I head over to Cowboy’s on Searle Lane to sample this Old West themed bar, complete with horse saddle bar stools
and mechanical bull. I pass an enticing nook with its own fireplace opening onto a smokers’ den before an enormous bear greets me at the entrance to the main room. Along with a crowd of cheerful people tapping feet to the popular music, I order a signature stein and soak up the surroundings. I’m lucky enough to enjoy a seat by the fire, a perfect people-watching spot opposite the bar, flanked by enthusiastic shuffleboard and pool players taking advantage of the free tables under an impressive collection of paraphernalia. From the pistol bar taps to the antler chandeliers, Cowboy’s offers a unique, playful ambience in which to enjoy the drinks and free bar snacks they offer every day between 3 and 8pm, with pizza handed out all night on Wednesdays. It’s easy to get into the spirit of things here; I can tell the karaoke they hold on Sundays would make a great night out, with cash prizes and free chicken wings to go with the entertainment. But for now, I finish my delicious pizza and round off with an exhilarating if short-lived ride on the bull before going back out onto the chilly streets. Always a lover of traditional Irish pubs, I head back towards the lake to try the Guinness at Pog Mahone’s. I’m far from disappointed. A barman from the Emerald Isle pours a pint perfectly and it goes down a treat. Pog’s has the pleasant pub atmosphere I’ve come to expect from the Paddys, flags adorning the ceiling like in so many establishments, but with a charm all its own. Talented local band Calico is playing on the raised platform in one corner of the room to the delight of drinkers and diners alike, the sight and aroma of sizzling stonegrills making my mouth water. Outside tables overlook the lake and jetty, while upstairs seating offers more restaurant-like surroundings in which to enjoy the extensive menu. I hear a rumour the Sunday roast is worth returning for – my weekend seems to be mapping itself out for me already!
Sitting at the bar, I listen to the lively music and strike up conversation with the chatty bar staff. One of the best things about Queenstown is the great mix of people you’ll meet from all over the world, whether visiting or having come here to make it their home. They certainly seem to like their Guinness, an awe-inspiring display of plaques bearing witness to the 100, 500 and even 1000 pint clubs, proving this particular pub is loved by locals as well as holiday-makers.
I retire content in the knowledge that I’ve sampled some of Queenstown’s highlights already. I can hardly wait for tomorrow.
Lively times at Red Rock
Cowboys Bar & Restaurant