One random weekend we popped over to Auckland. Explored the city, ate really great food, even did a wine tour. We had a great weekend and it was a good first taste of New Zealand. But that is all it was – a taste, a morsel. We were left hungry for more.
The months went by and it was time for us to take a bigger bite out of it. We scrimped and saved our Annual Leave and managed to set ourselves up with 9 days to explore the South Island – focusing around the Central Otago region and Queenstown.
Kia Ora Tāhuna
The first impression of the area can be seen from the window of you airplane (if you fly in!). Gliding over the Southern Alps and the Fjorldand National Park, the white snowy caps of Mount Titroa peeking around the off-white cloud cover as we descended into Queenstown Airport. We had landed in the afternoon, the sun beginning to burn away the morning mist and after picking up the hire car we drove into Queenstown.
As we navigated the windy 6A Highway our second impression was as good as our first. The road takes you parallel to Frankton Arm- an appendage to the much larger Lake Wakatipu. The lake seems to ambush you as you drive around base of Queenstown Hill and as the pine trees give way to the human activity of hotels and houses you have arrived at Queenstown Central (and the traffic!).
We decided to stay outside of town. The method in our madness being that we had a number of activities the next day and it was better to base ourselves there. So no sooner had we entered Queenstown it was a sharp left turn on the hire car steering wheel and up the aptly named Gorge Road to Arthurs Point.
The area was named after a man, Thomas Arthur, who in November 1862 discovered gold on the banks on the body of water that runs up the gorge – the Shotover river.
After checking into our AirBnB a quaint attic type apartment with a decent kitchen we decided to drive back tinto Queenstown for a recce and some dinner. John’s boss is a Kiwi with family in the are, so we had a great tip. The Cow is not only an atmosphericplace but an institution in Queenstowns culinary company. Since 1977 this converted stable has been churning out some awesome pizza and pasta for hungry travelers like us. Named after one of Queen Victoria’s unflattering nicknames it’s a must for anyone in town.
Before breakfast beckoned the next day we had an activity booked. It was the kind of activity that would not sit well with a full stomach. Since 1965 people have been coming to this part of the world to experience the thrill of the Shotover Jet Boat.
You start with a few warm up turns before tearing up river, underneath the historic Edith Cavell Bridge before hurtling down the river canyon at high speed. The rocks flash past and you are not quite sure how you make it in one piece.Along the route you pass the remnants of the once thriving gold industry. Husks of old cottages, rusting equipment and man-made tunnels.
After that adrenaline high we went for a walk along the riverbank to stretch our legs and relax. Its really hard to imagine that this quiet corner of the world was once one of the richest gold-bearing rivers in the world. In the mid 1800s there would have been thousands of prospectors and miners at work where we stood now.
By a quirk of history the Jet Boat was invented by Sir William Hamilton (Karen’s granddad’s namesake). Specifically designed for the shallow fast flowing rivers in New Zealand and to protect the propellers from striking rocks.
After breakfast we went up the road, past the Golden Nugget Hotel, to The Onsen Spa Experience – Queenstown’s take on the Japanese art of the hot spring baths. We opted for the ‘Tandeki’ package which included a drink, snack and an hour use of one of the hot tubs.
It was very impressive and the views were stunning as we had an alpine backdrop and part of the Shotover river canyon to look out on as we had our champagne.
That night we went into Queenstown and spent our first full evening exploring it’s laneways and along the waterfront. We made it as far as the lookout on the Queensland Trail (in the park). As towns go it is very picturesque, Lake Wakatipu sweeps right up to the centre of town. In the distance you can see Cecil and Walter Peaks (both named after Queenstown founder William Ree’s son – Cecil Walter). Behind us the Remarkables Mountain Range peeking above the pine trees. Around us were backpackers playing Frisbee Golf – a curious local delicacy.
William Rees ran a farm where the town hall now sits before gold was discovered in nearby Arrow River and he converted his wool shed into a hotel called the Queen’s Arms (now Eichardt’s) to take advantage of the boom in the population. In 1850 there was a small ceremony held by Irish miners for Cobh, which had been renamed to Queenstown in honour of Queen Victoria. Less than 12 years later this ceremony was referenced when they named the settlement Queenstown.
We capped the night off with dinner at Flame Bar and Grill – a South African BBQ restaurant on Beach Street. The meat was cooked ‘braai’ style – large chunks over fire. Not a bad way to end our first day.