Including an evening with Emma Chisholm, the founder of the Queenstown Progressive Dinner Tour, a MUST-DO when visiting Queenstown.
For those of us are working full-time, there is nothing quite like a weekend away; a mini-break that requires the use of ZERO holiday days, is just so good for our minds and souls. Here in New Zealand we are so lucky as there is heaps of choice all within magic travel times, and Queenstown’s Lakes District is an easy win. It boasts some of the best natural beauty in the world, with so much to do and choose from.
A few days ago we tested out the theory that a weekend away is a super smart way to vacation, less stressful planning, lower costs and maximum enjoyment – this mini break really did work wonders for us.
4PM Arrived at Queenstown Airport
Friday afternoon we arrived at Queenstown airport. A few minutes prior to landing we had been wowed by the views of stunning alpine scenery, mesmerising turquoise coloured lakes surrounded by tall mountains, covered in stark white at their peaks, their bases grounded in a soft chocolate colour. It’s not hard to understand why someone named these The Remarkables, because truly – they are.
4:30PM Qt Hotel
Transport awaited and we were soon at QT Hotel, our home for the night.
This modern beautiful appointed QT Hotel sits on Lake Wakatipu’s shoreline, and most rooms capitalise on the lake and mountain views. Located just a few minutes outside the centre of Queenstown, a 10-minute walk will have you at all the bars, restaurants, cafés and tourism operators a soul could wish for.
The rooms were an easy 10 out of 10. Comfortable, warm, decorated in mid greys and whites with quirky art, circular mirrors and floor and hanging lamps. A sheepskin throw and leather bedside book-storage added to the look.
Our rooms boasted a breathtaking view across Lake Wakatipu and the snowy Remarkables beyond. Bathrooms are gorgeous, with marbled grey floors, subway wall tiles and a giant circular mirror (lit up around the edges – perfect for easy application of make-up). The deep two-person bath was a treat, and a scented soak was mandatory. The complimentary bathroom toiletries are a must-try too. You will want to slip these into your bag to take home – so good are they.
Wi-Fi was easy to connect to and super-fast, and the myriad goodies, tasty treats and minibar spoils available were mind-boggling. There was even the makings of a do-it-yourself martini, extravagantly announced on an ornate copper coloured tray.
We could have set up office here for a week – quite easily.
6:45PM Alpine Wine Tours – Queenstown Progressive Dinner Pick Up
After sampling cocktails at Reds, the bar with a view, in the hotel, Emma Chisholm of Alpine Wine Tours met us in the hotel foyer. Having visited Queenstown on previous occasions we were looking for something that was a just that little bit different. Emma recently started Queenstown’s first progressive dinner experience, an all-inclusive tour that visits three iconic locations, so we were confident it would hit a sweet spot. We were looking forward to an evening of fine wine, food and company.
7PM Amisfield – Hors D’oevres and Wine Matching
First stop was at the renowned Amisfield Bistro for an entrée and wine tasting. Being architecture junkies we just loved that everything about this gracious stone building reflected modern central Otago. With its pitched copper roof, recycled timberwork and remarkable stonemasonry, the building cuts a silhouette as sharp as the mountains that guard it. We tasted three wines and learnt that in Central Otago, the pinot noir must be drunk from a special pinot noir glass that boasts a tulip lip. Hors d’oeuvres were divine, with ingredients foraged from the surrounding countryside, infusing our dishes with an element of intrigue.Emma was amazingly informative with her knowledge of local wines having already completed her wine qualification. She was the perfect host for the evening, unobtrusive and delightful.
8PM Aosta Mains and More Wines
Next up was Aosta, situated in the old Saffron premises and next door to The Blue Door, in Arrowtown. Opened last year by Ben Bayley and Michael Hill, Aosta offers the ideal way to pass time on a chilly Otago evening. The warm buzzy atmosphere gave the feeling one gets when arriving home, and the Italian inspired cuisine served, was mouth-wateringly delicious: the sort of food one has to keep on eating even though full to the brim. It was fun being able to see the chefs at work in the open plan kitchen, as they prepared our chosen dishes – Foveaux Spaghetti and Buckwheat Fusilli. Here Emma suggested some wine options, encouraging us to choose what we like best. We both chose Emma’s recommended pinot noir.
9:30PM Eichardts for Desserts and Digestif
By now we were getting used to the routine, eat, drink, chat, then jump back into the comfort and warmth of a Mercedes Sprinter to get ferried to the next delightful venue for more to eat and drink.
We continued to be impressed by Emma’s knowledge of local wines and the personalities behind them. For her, they are like old friends. I am pretty conservative when it comes to choosing my tipple; but spending time with Emma gently reminded me that the wine world is far too rich to drink only what I know and like, and that exploring new and different wines is a lot of fun.
Eichardts, possibly Queenstown most legendary hotel, never fails to please. Located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, it oozes history, and a genuine feeling of the many thousands of people to cross its threshold over the past 150 plus years.
Here we enjoyed dessert (lemon posset or marou dark chocolate truffle cake) accompanied by a choice of apple pie martinis or a rich golden coloured dessert Riesling.
Verdict: Yum! It was indeed the best possible way to end a very special evening.
10:30PM Back to the QT Hotel
Dropped back at to our home for the night – QT Hotel.
9AM Alpine Luxury Tours
We wanted to make the most of our short stay in Queenstown so decided to let someone who knows the area like the back of his hand, show us round. Alpine Luxury Tours owner/operator Lee Saunders, has a passion for sharing the part of the country he knows and loves with holiday makers. Over the years he has built many solid relationships with people in the area, and is able to arrange a bespoke adventure for you at the drop of a hat, ensuring that the time spent on his home turf will be your best Queenstown experience yet.
Lee collected us from the hotel at nine on the dot.
First up was Buzzstop, owned by Nick, a fifth generation beekeeper, and located in a 60-year-old beautifully renovated, sheep shearing shed with polished red beech floors. The need for coffee was soon satisfied, by a fine flat white made using Roar Coffee Beans, unsurprisingly roasted in the heart of Southland, the small batches ensuring an unforgettable aromatic taste. Fresh cream dough nuts were impossible to resist.
Buzzstop is not all about the coffee however, but more about honey, and Nick was soon in his element telling us all about local artisan honeys, introducing us to honeys we had never seen in Auckland before, and demonstrating the process of honey collection, from start to finish.
If you ever need to find out the difference between mānuka and other honeys, umf or Leptosperin, Nick’s your man. He knows it all.
Before departing Buzzstop, we were able to purchase a few items from the gift shop, including of course a couple of jars of local honey, and some honey soaps.
On to Insta-worthy Arrowtown, South Island’s historic crown jewel. Lee regaled us with stories of his grandma who owned the first pottery shop in this quirky goldrush village, and introduced us to The Gold Shop, an old-fashioned outpost for local gold specimens, jewellery made with flakes of gold, and pearls.
1PM Akarua Wines & Kitchen by Artisan
By 1pm our stomachs were growling. A lunch stop was in order, and where better for a long lazy lunch then at Akarua Wines and Kitchen by Artisan. Located in the historic Walnut Cottage, built in the 1870s as an office for the local Wakatipu Flour Mill, it’s literally the best spot to spend a lazy hour or two in the sunshine on a perfect blue sky day in Central Otago. Those of us who feel the cold can keep warm with cosy blankets and an inside fire is also available. The food was divine: I enjoyed a salad RUA poached pears / Whitestone blue / crushed hazelnuts / lavosh / watercress, while Jude chose Duck liver pate / macerated prunes / persimmon / crostinis.
The lovely Ali introduced us to a selection of their cellar door wines, a delicious golden buttery chardi, a clean on the palate with a hint of fruit sav (my fave), and the unique Siren Bannockburn Pinot Noir.
2:30PM Glenorchy and Paradise
Tummies full, and feeling relaxed – we climbed back into the Mercedes and Lee headed us over to Glenorchy, along what is rightly recognised as one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Soon we were standing at the northern most end of Lake Wakitipu, admiring the views and taking snaps of the much-photographed Glenorchy Shed. Then on to Paradise! While some say Paradise was named after the paradise duck, common in these parts, the incredible natural scenery and breathtaking vistas provide enough evidence of it’s apt naming: we felt as if we had found heaven on earth. Heading back along the Glenorchy Road, we could have stepped out for a leisurely stroll around the beautiful and historic Bob’s Cove, but chose to revisit this next time we are in this stunning part of our amazing country, as our flight home beckoned.
5PM Farewell Queenstown
Lee dropped us at Queenstown airport. We had already checked in so literally walked straight onto the flight, and were soon being treated to those record-beating breath-taking vistas from our seat window, as we bid farewell to this most stunning part of the country we call home.
And yes – a weekend vacation is definitely a thing and worth doing at least once a month.