Mini Escape: Queenstown

The ultimate resort party town, Queenstown is where white-knuckle outdoor adventure activities sit alongside swanky bars and some serious dining. The area is a great outdoor playground with its tranquil lakes and ragged, towering mountains (and wait until sunset!).

Any time of the year is good for a lavish escape to Queenstown but the town and its surrounds really shine when it comes to winter escapes. Ski slopes, roaring fires, red wine, stunning views and a blanket of snow that brings out the adventurer in everyone; Queenstown in winter is a wonderland like no other. And what better way to explore it than in a new MINI Countryman. What’s Hot New Zealand took one with the ALL4 all-wheel-drive option for a spin down to Queenstown and it was perfect for keeping out of trouble on sweeping highway bends and the occasional patch of ice as well.

The elevated roof racks mean it’s easy to add a rooftop storage box. We thought we would need this to allow plenty of room for suitcases (one only half-full, of course, so we’ve got room for some treats from Queenstown’s many boutiques) but the new Countryman is 4.3m long and has 450 litres of passenger and luggage capacity. That’s 100 litres more than the previous model and plenty for our purposes. The MINI’s leather seats were just as comfortable at the end of the drive down from Christchurch as at the beginning, and keeping the music cranking and navigation on rack was as easy as pushing a button. That’s because right in the middle of the dashboard is the Centre Instrument. Flanked by an interactive LED display ring, this one control covers all your entertainment and navigation functions. Whatever you want from your winter escape – excitement, spectacular scenery, relaxation, big nights out, history and heritage, or getting out into nature, Queenstown and the surrounding towns can provide it – and then some!

SKI

This alpine playground hits its stride in winter, with sparkle and sass warming up as the snow falls. From the brilliant buzz of the fabulous Winter Festival to the laid-back luxe of hot spas after a day on the slopes, the chill in the air brings out the real cool of Queenstown. With skiing the activity du jour, Queenstown boasts some of the best ski fields to be found anywhere in the world, with Coronet Peak just 25 minutes from the centre of town and The Remarkables only 45 minutes away.

Further afield, check out Wanaka’s Cardrona Alpine Resort. This is a favourite with families. The perfect ski field for beginners and intermediate skiers, Cardrona Alpine Resort boasts the country’s only combined gondola chairlift. Treble Cone is world famous as a genuine Kiwi snow experience. With its long uncrowded slopes and incredible views, Treble Cone has the longest vertical rise in the Southern Lakes. Spread over two large basins – the Saddle and Home basins – you’ll find some of the best free riding in the country with priceless views and an experience like no other.

PLAY

Jet boating and bungy jumping are must-do options for any Queenstown visitor but they’re not the only adventure options. Choose your adrenaline level with an eco-adventure on a thrilling high-wire experience through the tree tops with Ziptrek Ecotours, home of the world’s steepest zipline. With three courses to choose from as well as the option to do twilight tours, you can meander downhill at a sedate pace or go full flight with the Kereru 2-Line + Drop which promises to have you down the mountain super quick, with a swooping 21m drop at the end. Want to take things a little slower? The legendary Skyline Luge is a buzz for the whole family or make the most of the chill by zipping around the ice rink at the Queenstown Ice Arena, set in the idyllic Queenstown Gardens, just a five-minute walk from the town centre.

The beautiful Lake Wakatipu is a centrepiece of the town, and you can get out on the water in any number of ways. Roll like a Rockefeller on the water with a Million Dollar Cruise, kick it ol’ skool on the iconic steam ship TSS Earnslaw, or for some underwater action, try the Hydro Attack shark ride – dive under and out of the lake in this semi-submersible watercraft that does donuts, side rolls and 5-metre dives out of the water. Test your swing at some of the country’s best golf courses (spectacular views are par for the course!) at Millbrook Resort, Arrowtown Golf Club and Queenstown Golf Club. Unwind
with a film at luxurious boutique cinema Dorothy Browns, or keep the party going at SKYCITY Queenstown Casino.

R&R

While Queenstown may be renowned for its high-octane, adrenaline-filled activities, the budding southern town also shines in the R&R department with an abundance of boutiques, luxe spas and art galleries that are the perfect alternative to the hustle and bustle. For the self-confessed fashionista, you can’t go past the gorgeous Angel Divine – expect the latest threads from the likes of Zambesi, Georgia Alice and  Couture Queen, Karen Walker. Tucked away in an off-street in the heart of Queenstown is The Walk In Wardrobe – heaven for those who love a steal of a deal. Decode is a delightful and eclectic boutique that houses New Zealand-based artisans and fashion designers and has everything from clothing to homewares and décor.

If minimalism is your bag, the simple and elegant SLOW is a beautiful concept store that combines fashion, home and beauty; doubles as an interior design studio; and is home to a plant-based eatery and delicious coffee by way of Atomic Coffee Roasters. Peruse the carefully considered and handpicked products from leading designers such as Ole Lynggard Copenhagen, MUUTO and Ferm Living among others. For a luxe shopping experience like no other, SLOW is the place to go. Take your pamper game to new heights at Body Sanctum Day Spa and treat yourself to their selection of spa packages. Nestled in the hills just out of town you’ll find a small oasis of calm and tranquillity at The Spa at Nugget Point, and be sure to check in to the beautiful Forme Spa & Wellbeing, which has opened its doors. And you can’t go past the wealth of art galleries that take up residence. The Central Art Gallery has over 1,000 artworks on display and Artbay Gallery houses work from master landscape artists and contemporary fine art and sculpture, or explore further afield and check out the quirky galleries in Arrowtown and Wanaka. The Nadene Milne Gallery in Arrowtown is worth a stop and has featured past exhibitions by renowned artists Tony de Lautour and Max Gimblett, and Gallery Thirty Three in Wanaka showcases a variety of different works from ceramics and jewellery to sculptures.

TIPPLES

If you’re partial to a little ice with your gin, try Minus 5° ICE BAR and Below Zero Ice Bar. Bardeaux has an endless wine list and brilliant cocktails, and when things start cranking up, head to party bar Barmuda or late-night watering hole Barup. Vinyl Underground is the place to go for low-key, underground hipness or head to rooftop lounge bar The Sundeck where cocktails with a view are the order of the day (or night). For live music, check out Pub on Wharf and Surreal Bar & Restaurant. And you can’t come home without some local tipple so sample the wares from Gibbston Valley. Or head to The Winery, where more than 80 New Zealand wines are up for tasting alongside epic cheeseboards.

EATING OUT

Great coffee is a Queenstown institution. For the best brew in town head to busy breakfast and lunch hangout Bobs Weigh, The Exchange Café, Vudu Café & Larder, or the praise-laden Bespoke Kitchen. For a fine dining fix there are plenty of ways to indulge, including Kiwi celebrity chef Josh Emett’s famed eatery Rātā, Botswana Butchery and The Bunker. For casual dining, perennial fave The Cow Pizza & Spaghetti House is an iconic eatery serving great Italian cuisine, while just up the lane, Tanoshi Teppan Sake Bar is a local favourite. At VKnow they serve up great pizza and pasta and have many enthusiastic fans. And for a luxe dining experience, lock in a long lunch or dinner at Amisfield and indulge in the Trust the Chef option, a 3 to 7-course degustation. Arrowtown is also known for good restaurants – The Stables Café & Restaurant is a top pick and Arrowtown Bakery & Café’s world-famous gourmet pies are worth the drive from Queenstown by themselves. Favourite winery restaurants include Amisfield Bistro and The Winehouse.

WHERE TO STAY

Consistently ranked among the best in the world, Blanket Bay is the ultimate accommodation for your Queenstown escape. If you’re into some serious navel gazing or just need to take some time out for yourself, you can’t go past Aro Ha Wellness Retreat. Matakauri Lodge also provides luxury digs with a selection of rooms, suites and the owner’s cottage for the ultimate in privacy and prestige. In the heart of the township, The Dairy Private Luxury Hotel offers beautiful ensuite rooms with views over The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu. For a sophisticated five-star stay, The Rees Hotel, Luxury Apartments and Lakeside Residences include a library of rare books and art and its own private beach and wharf. Mother Nature meets modern design at the swanky QT Hotel Queenstown, which boasts views over the lake and peaks.

CALENDAR HIGHLIGHTS

Clicquot in the Snow, August 1 – 4

The champagne festival returns, this year boasting on and off mountain experiences, including  the Clicquot Après Ski Bar at Coronet Peak. clicquotinthesnow.co.nz

Winter Pride, August 30 – September 8

One of the largest Winter Pride festivals in the world, this is an opportunity to celebrate community and diversity and have a whole lot of fun. winterpride.co.nz

EDITOR’S PICKS

Stay

  • Blanket Bay for unadulterated luxury and decadence.
  • Matakauri Lodge for on-the-water wonder and the ultimate escape.
  • QT Hotel Queenstown for breathtaking views.

Dine

  • Amisfield for its Trust the Chef option.
  • Rātā for a food adventure and real dining experience.
  • Botswana Butchery for exceptional service and a massive menu.

Casual Fare

  • HALO Forbidden Bite for designer burgers, sandwiches and salads.
  • VKnow for an extensive wine list and perfect pizzas.
  • Vudu Café + Larder for a winning combo of excellent food and waterfront views.

Swanky Bar

  • Bardeaux for its roaring fire and comfy couches.
  • Barmuda for its outdoor area and rocking good vibe.
  • The Sundeck for cocktails, tapas and that view!

Downtime

  • Retail therapy: Fashion, specialty foods, books and art galore, there’s a world of shopping in this small town.
  • Spa: For the ultimate in luxe, you can’t go past Forme Spa & Wellbeing.
  • To market: Held every Saturday in Earnslaw Park, the Creative Queenstown Arts and Crafts Markets showcase the work of local and wider South Island artists and craftspeople.