My Kind of Place The adventure capital of New Zealand's South Island offers not only a year-round base for adrenaline sports but a sophisticated selection of restaurants, hotels and shops.
Southern alpine fun in Queenstown, New Zealand
Adventure buffs get their kicks in the rugged mountains, icy blue rivers and deep gorges surrounding Queenstown. The birthplace of bungy jumping in the 1980s, adrenaline seekers have sought a new fix here ever since. There's aerobatics in stunt planes and tandem paragliding, high-speed jet boating through narrow canyons, and in winter there are four ski fields close at hand. If you really want an adventure, the latest buzz is heli-skiing in the vast backcountry.
But you don't have to scare yourself to enjoy Queenstown; the region is famous for its majestic beauty and is stunning in any season. The town itself is a mostly unpretentious and laid-back alpine resort flanking the deep waters of Lake Wakatipu. It was founded during the 1862 gold rush and historic landmarks now sit alongside boutique shops, restaurants and cafes. One romantic old-timer soon to turn 100 years old is one TSS Earnslaw, a steamship once serving remote farming communities and which continues today to carry day trippers across Lake Wakatipu.
A comfortable bed
Nearly all of the accommodation has been built to maximise the captivating lake and mountain views. The range of options is huge, from budget to five-star, with the top end a mix of international hotel chains and boutique lodges.
In the middle of town on the waterfront is Eichardt's Private Hotel & Lakefront Apartments (www.eichardtshotel.co.nz; 00 64 3441 0450). It was originally a homestead and wool shed which set up as a hotel during the 1860s gold rush. It's a lot more comfortable now but remains a small and intimate luxury hotel, where one of its opulent but traditional double rooms costs from NZ$1,639 (Dh4,832) per night, including taxes, with breakfast, evening drinks and valet parking.
Nearly as central is the former corner store that has been turned into The Dairy Private Luxury hotel, (www.thedairy.co.nz; 00 64 3442 5164). Right in the town centre, it has 13 private ensuite bedrooms, all with views. A standard double room is $465 (Dh1,397); per night including taxes, with a cooked breakfast and home-baked afternoon teas.
Also handily located just off Shotover Street, Queenstown's main road, is Sofitel Queenstown Hotel and Spa (www.sofitel.com; 00 64 3450 0045). King bed rooms including spa start at $389 (Dh 1,136) per night, includes taxes, but you'll have to pay more for a lake view and breakfast.
Find your feet
Situated just slightly closer to the South Pole than the equator, Queenstown sits beside S-shaped Lake Wakatipu on the sunny side of the permanently snow-capped Southern Alps. The international airport is 10 minutes' drive from the centre of town and has direct flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Queenstown is compact and easy to navigate, with the architecture a subtly sophisticated mix of old stone buildings and modern stylish ones built with timber or the local schist rock. A newly-developed broad walkway curves around the water's edge.
A 20-minute drive past some the country's southernmost vineyards is the historic gold-mining village of Arrowtown. Glenorchy and Kingston, tiny towns located at opposite ends of the lake, are much quieter but offer equally spectacular views.
Meet the locals
You can rub shoulders with the locals browsing at Queenstown art and crafts market. Held every Saturday morning on the waterfront at Earnslaw Park, it has possum fur hats (possums are an introduced pest in New Zealand, making this one of the few places where fur is an ethical option) and jewellery sold by local artisans.
Book a table
During the warmer months, al fresco diners enliven the streets and balconies with chatter, while in winter roaring fires set an alpine ambience.
Try some of New Zealand's best seafood at Wai Waterfront Restaurant (www.wai.net.nz; 00 64 3442 5969). Blue cod is considered by many to be New Zealand's best fish - try it pan seared with scampi, celeriac remoulade and cucumber carpaccio for $28 (Dh81). Wai is the Maori word for water.
On Bob's Peak, the Skyline Restaurant (www.skyline.co.nz; 00 64 3441 0101), pictured above, has amazing panoramic views. Access is via the scenic gondola and the buffet, featuring all-you-can-eat Kiwi fare, costs $39 (Dh115) for lunch and $59 (Dh174) for dinner.
Also popular is Arrowtown's Saffron restaurant (www.saffronrestaurant.co.nz: 00 64 3 4420131) for its meals using all local produce. The chef, Peter Gawron, creates Pacific-themed cuisine such as gently poached Akaroa salmon, coated with a dill crust, served with a beetroot and horseradish soufflé and rocket vinaigrette. Mains start $38.50 (Dh113) per person.
There are five main shopping streets - one with pedestrian access only - interlinked by alleyways, so it's easy to stroll about on foot and the shops are open until late. There are many that can supply you with all the clothing and equipment you need to tackle the adventure activities in the region, with the competing stores close enough to make comparison shopping easy.
The town's new gold is "merino mink", a mix of the famously fine wool from sheep that graze in the surrounding high country and possum fur. Untouched World (www.untouchedworld.com; 00 64 3442 4992) is a New Zealand outfit which creates high-quality garments from merino mink and from pure wool. Former US president Bill Clinton is a fan. Other global prestige operators like Louis Vuitton are also represented.
For a reminder of New Zealand to take home, contemporary local art is showcased in galleries such as Milford Galleries Queenstown (www.milforgalleries.co.nz; 00 64 3442 6896) and Artbay Gallery (www.artbay.co.nz; 00 64 3442 9090). And there are a huge number of gift shops selling locally themed T-shirts and fluffy lamb toys dressed in black rugby jerseys.
What to avoid
There is only one supermarket right in town which is overpriced and hectic at meal times. Nearby in Frankton, a 15-minute drive, is a much larger, cheaper New World supermarket.
A drive to Skippers Canyon and stop wherever the precipitous road will allow you to catch glimpses of the fast-moving and clear Shotover River with jetboaters flying down it.