New Zealand’s South Island offers luxury experiences in stunning settings, whether it’s a flying visit or you have a little more time to spare, says Shane Boocock.
Queenstown, in the south-western corner of the South Island is known globally for its adrenaline-based adventures, but it delivers far more when you factor in food and wine, spa and wellness retreats, art, culture, heritage, nature and eco-tourism, as well as breathtaking National Park hiking trails. Fifteen minutes north of Queenstown are celebrated vineyards – serving fine, cold-climate wines – and two championship-class golf courses. Take an extra day’s travel further north again and explore the awe-inspiring Aoraki-Mount Cook glacier region, before flying onto the north-east coastal city of Christchurch. In nearby Akaroa, charter a yacht to view local marine life, or take a helicopter up the coastline to indulge in aerial whale watching, before ending your trip in the stunning Abel Tasman region in the upper far north. Throughout your journey you’ll encounter award-winning chefs serving regional and international cuisine, while lodging in chic rural hideaways, opulent five-star hotels and boutique lodges of distinction – where privacy prevails in secluded, luxurious isolation.
Seasonal changes arrive quickly in the enchanting alpine village of Queenstown situated at the tail-end of the Southern Alps, so it’s worth considering in what season you should visit. During Fall the town’s trees dress in yellow buttercup and apple cider hues reflected in the depths of Lake Wakatipu. The lake is New Zealand’s third largest and beyond its shores you’re encircled by craggy mountain ranges.
A weekend represents the minimum time to explore Queenstown no matter which season you are there, so being centrally placed is advantageous. Most of Queenstown’s activities can be experienced year-round except for the June to early October winter skiing season. Visitors who appreciate the great outdoors, superb food and wine, and more relaxed pastimes won’t be disappointed either. Must-do activities include a thrilling jet boat ride, cruising on Milford Sound, a flight over the Southern Alps and Fiordland and chartering a luxury motorboat on Lake Wakatipu. For shopping there are big brand international retailers such as Louis Vuitton and local boutiques such as BONZ selling luxurious New Zealand-made fashion and Angel Divine, which has a cult following. With a premium lakefront position at the head of Queenstown’s restaurant and shopping precinct, Eichardt’s Private Hotel in the historic district beckons those looking for sumptuous accommodation where guest options include five 125 sq ft suites with separate lounges or four stylish apartments. Also centrally located, Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa luxuriates in five-star French antique interiors and exceptional concierge service. If you are seeking privacy and exclusivity you’ll find it at Matakauri Lodge, perched on a bluff above Lake Wakatipu with stunning lake and mountain views and only a seven minute drive from Queenstown.
Unwind in one of 11 luxurious 269 sq ft suites each with private terraces or reside in the 5,000 sq ft Owner’s Cottage, which includes your own chef. Queenstown’s eclectic dining scene embraces the town’s most famous local institution, The Cow, a pizza and spaghetti house with communal tables, and Blue Kanu, a “Polynasia” influenced restaurant. Otherwise dine like royalty from the “Trust the Chef” signature menu at the Bistro at Amisfield Vineyard, a Central Otago-based wine producer – Amisfield hosted the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in April 2014. In nearby Arrowtown, 12 miles north of Queenstown, order brunch at local favorite, The Chop Shop or for dinner savor a confit of Bendigo rabbit at the village’s best restaurant, Saffron. For dessert don’t hold back on the divine chocolate at Queenstown’s Koko Black.