Queenstown a Winter Playground

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A dash of culture sprinkled in Queenstown mountain air, along with a plethora of outdoor activities, can enrich the spirit and revive the soul after weeks sheltering at home.

The brown Otago landscape is a welcome sight after the drenched green fields of Taranaki. The deep blue water of Lake Wakatipu is surrounded by mountains sweeping skyward, their rugged peaks draped with snow. The mountain air is brisk – my senses seem to sharpen with its chill. Downtown-Queenstown visitors are busy with their cameras capturing the sense of place and smiling perfectly for group selfies. Lines of people crowd the pavement three or four deep outside Fergburgers – the roaring trade for burgers is a licence to print money. Tourists are wearing puffer jackets while the locals are lightly clad, some even in shorts.

 

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“Are they making a point?” I ask myself as I pull my beanie tighter over my ears.

Large landscape photographs fill the window of the Romer Gallery. Fascinated I go inside, visually inhaling scenes of wild remote places and admiring the boldness of photographers to make such large prints. Down the road an elaborate pounamu tiki in the window of Waka draws me into the jewellery store as I admire the carved whales floating on the ceiling, exquisite opals, Tahitian pearls and the most amazing pounamu sculptures. After visiting several more galleries I reach the large stone entranceway of the Ivan Clark Gallery. A wooden door leads into the gallery filled with Ivan’s whimsical paintings, with his Lonely Dog series and large impressionist landscapes reminiscent of the old-world drama in early New Zealand paintings. Down by the waterfront a man is busking, with his dog howling in tune to his music. Nearby a man with a head of dreadlocks is creating soulful music from an old beaten-up piano with the front removed. “The evolving rhythms are a means of reflecting the art of living in harmony with ourselves, each other and the environment which is the key to rhythm, music and life.” – A J Hickling. I was riveted. (Listen to Piano Busker A J Hickling Dusk on YouTube.)

 

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Winter is a great time to escape to Queenstown to experience the mountains covered in snow and explore the many activities on offer in addition to skiing or snowboarding. The experience in the Southern Lakes is so different from the North Island – it is like being transported to another country. In addition to the wonderful cultural experiences of galleries, music and restaurants in downtown Queenstown, there are many interesting day trips, hikes, bike and boat rides, wineries, golf and shopping to keep you busy.

DAY TRIPS AND SHORT HIKES
The drive up Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy actually goes to Paradise, a river valley where scenes from The Lord of the Rings were filmed. The drive is one of the best in New Zealand, and with the sun out and fresh snow dusting the peaks I am in my element. There are numerous sudden stops to capture photographs of the moody mountain landscape, and one particular ‘rest area’, on a bluff where the view opens up the lake, is magic. At the head of the lake is the small settlement of Glenorchy – be sure to stop at the General Store for an ice cream. A few miles further across the Rees River the road forks to Paradise on the right and to the left a narrow winding road through beech forest takes you to the Routeburn Track trailhead.

A shorter drive (20 minutes) from Queen-stown is to the secluded Moke Lake, surrounded by towering mountains. Take the road around Lake Wakatipu towards Glenorchy, and the turn off to Moke Lake is about 10-minutes’ drive, after which the road climbs up into the hills. At Moke Lake there is a two-hour loop walking or biking track around the lake, departing from the campground at the far end of the lake.

 

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Leave mid-morning to visit the charming gold-rush village of Arrowtown for lunch, via Arthurs Point where you can stop for a jet-boat ride on the Shotover River. We took a walk up the Shotover River on a trail we discovered on the road that branches off just before you cross the Shotover River bridge. Moving on to Arrowtown, it has the best bakery with a selection of gourmet pies such as venison and chicken apricot along with pastries and an all-day breakfast menu. There are a number of lovely cafés and restaurants to choose from as well, or treats from the Remarkable Sweet Store or delectable chocolates and ice creams from Patagonia Chocolates. A number of interesting galleries and quirky shops are housed in the historic buildings in the main street.

The Lakes District Museum contains a wealth of information about the early gold-mining days in Arrowtown, while the historic Chinese Village tells another side of the mining story. From Arrowtown there are 15 listed walking trails past mountains, rivers, forest and lakes – pick up a map from the Museum or go to www.arrowtown.com for a list of the trails. The Arrowtown River Trail, the Millennium Walk, Bush Creek Trail and Lake Hayes Walkway, a scenic two-hour loop around the picturesque lake, are among the options.

 

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A trip to Wanaka via the Crown Range is a full-day activity. Drive out of Queenstown past Lake Hayes and take the Crown Range Road, a steep winding road up into the hill country. Check the road conditions before you travel and carry chains – if conditions are not suit-able, take the main route through Cromwell. 

Near the summit are sweeping vistas across the Arrowtown Valley to The Remarkables. On the Wanaka side, the road crosses a plateau of farmland down into the Cardrona Valley, past the historic Cardrona Hotel, one of New Zealand’s oldest. Wander around the village at Wanaka and enjoy the many cafés, restaurants and galleries. If you’re feeling bold like the ski racers I was with in Wanaka, jump off the wharf into the chilly lake for an eye-popping dip. If you are energetic, hike Roys Peak (4–5 hours return) tours, tasting and self-guided options can be found online at: queenstownnz.co.nz

GOLFING
With six golf courses within 25 minutes of the town centre, Queenstown is becoming known as a golfing destination.

Arrowtown Golf Club attracts players from around the world and is set among established trees with historic stone-cottage ruins and holes named to remember its gold-mining past.

The 27-hole Millbrook golf course is set in a natural alpine amphitheatre, with The Remarkables as a backdrop. Designed by Sir Bob Charles and renovated by Greg Turner in 2010, Millbrook Resort has won a number of top golf awards. Millbrook Resort offers luxury accommodation, a spa, health-and-fitness centre, restaurant and conference centre. The golf course is open to the public all year round.

 

Over The Top Helicopters Golf

 

The Hills Golf Club, initially designed as Sir Michael Hill’s private golf course in Arrowtown, opened in 2007 to host the New Zealand Open. Set on 500 acres in a rugged glacial valley among native grasses and mountain tussock, it features more than a dozen sculptures crafted by New Zealand international artists. It is a private members’ club but may take bookings on request.

Jack’s Point, Queenstown Golf Club at Kelvin Heights, and the Frankton Driving Range and Golf Course round out the choices for golf, offering a wide variety of golfing from fun to technically challenging.

JUST DO IT
There are many more activities around the Southern Lakes area to discover and the best resource is the official Queenstownnz.co.nz website. This is a perfect time to visit the area to enjoy the surrounds without the bustle of international visitors, as right now there is more space for us Kiwis. It is a winter playground offering a large selection of fun adventures, fine dining, cafés, galleries and wineries set in a stunning mountain environment. 

 

Story and images supplied by NZToday-RVLifestyle magazine. 
Save 44% on RRP with Promo Code STAR22 pay just $35 of 6 issues + FREE digital editions. Click here for details.  

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