Travel

By Therese McKeon

Need to change your flight last minute? “No worries.” Returning the rental car to a different location? “No worries.” After enough convincing and real life experience on my journey to the land of Kiwis, I discovered that the stress of my New York ways were melting away much faster than the enormous glaciers I was climbing.

When they say, “No worries,” they really do mean just that. I still felt obliged to explain to these kind people that in “the states,” if you decide to change your flight at the last minute or return your rental car to a different city, there are hefty fees to be paid for these conveniences. In New Zealand, as I quickly experienced, these flexibilities are not a problem and come with (what???) no fee. That’s right. No fee. But it may cost you a smile. Thus began my love of the great country of New Zealand and its residents.

Nugget Point Boutique Hotel

My two week trip to the youngest country in the world brought me to the popular city of Queenstown on the South Island. As early as the 1860s, when gold was discovered in nearby Shotover River, Queenstown was settled by Europeans and populated primarily by the Chinese for its farming and gold mines. With the decline of gold mining, the region became more rural and frequented mostly for summer excursions until 1947 with the opening of New Zealand’s first commercial ski field at Coronet Peak. Queenstown is now a bustling scene of tourist resorts and attractions rich with adventure and culture.

On the outskirts of town near Arthur Point is the quaint Distinction Nugget Point Boutique Hotel (http://www.nuggetpoint.co.nz) about ten minutes from downtown and just south of the Coronet Peak ski range. The view of Shotover Canyon with the Remarkables mountain range as its backdrop is truly breathtaking.

Distinction Nugget Point Boutique Hotel (Photo: Therese McKeon)

Birches restaurant at the lodge has a serene and comfortable atmosphere bordering on cozy. I had the opportunity to learn more about Nugget Point from Chef Keith Rawstorn who was commandeering the kitchen under Executive Chef Rob Hunt. Chef Hunt sources the menu with New Zealand’s most excellent produce and highest quality local ingredients. The wine list consists of New Zealand’s finest offerings with wines from Australia and Europe purposefully absent.

Distinction Nugget Point Boutique Hotel (Photo: Therese McKeon)

As a solo traveler and photographer, I set out to find a mix of activities and adventure in my three days in Queenstown. Nestled into the outlet of Lake Wakatipu, one of New Zealand’s many Southern Lakes, Queenstown is situated in a prime location for high flying exercises like bungee jumping, heli-skiing, jet boating, and zip-lining. They do it all here and you don’t have to travel far to find it. Launching for most activities is centrally located on Shotover Street, the main street running through downtown. The steep gondola ride on the Skyline Gondola & Luge provides aerial vistas of the region that warrants a postcard perfect photo opportunity.

Skyline Gondola & Luge (Photo: Therese McKeon)

Although Queenstown is chock full of adrenaline rush choices, there are equally ample low-key experiences to keep any traveler busy day or night. Lake activities include travel by steamboat with a lunch stop at a local farm with demonstrations of sheep herding and what life on a farm entails. Downtown is bustling with restaurants ranging from the local burger joint to an array of fine dining options. The peaceful Queenstown Gardens is lush with beautifully manicured horticulture and abounds with locals taking advantage of the walking trails or engaging in a round of frisbee golf.

Trip to Doubtful Sound & Tasman Sea (Photo: Therese
McKeon)

The spring winds kept my dreams of heli-skiiing at bay and any hopes of making it to Milford Sound (known famously as the place where the “Lord of the Rings” films were shot) in Fiordland National Park were quickly dashed when the helicopter pilots announced that they were grounded. I opted for a Real Journeys coach bus tour out to the equally stunning Doubtful Sound which was an all day expedition by bus then by boat then by bus then by boat again to the distant Tasman Sea. Immensely relaxing, I found myself taking the time to bond with nature and leave the real world behind.

Amisfield Winery & Bistro (Photo: Therese McKeon)

A dining experience not to be missed is the “Trust The Chef” menu at Amisfield Winery & Bistro (http://www.amisfield.co.nz) near Lake Hayes. Serving French Basque cuisine, the restaurant was constructed using the beams from the old Riverton Bridge that was washed away by a flood in 1999.

No matter what time of year you visit nor how long you stay, there’s plenty to take in and enjoy in the city of Queenstown. Choice, eh?

Originally published December 2010
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