Lady of The Lake
Queenstown is like the M&M’s you tediously pick out of the trail mix and save for last, being rewarded for your work and patience with a few blissful moments of the best part. And I savored her sweetness so much more after four nutty days on the Milford trail – I almost couldn’t leave either because my knees locked up the first evening on the top of the stairs at Botswana Butchery, a Peter Jackson favorite where I went to celebrate completing the track with some Cloudy Bay sauv and a steroid steak. I eventually shuffled down with all the grace of a rhinoceros, but there are worse places to be stuck.
Queenstown is the adrenaline-junky mecca that reigns picture perfectly over the middle of Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand’s largest lake at 50 miles across. The first Pakeha (white dude) arrived on the scene in the 1850’s, and Her Majesty grew to recognition during a gold rush in the late 19th century. Deemed “fit for a queen” by the government, she lives up to the great expectations of her title. The treasury stays plush these days through a constant stream of smart Kiwis on holiday and death wishers looking to jump out of something new.
They say that if Queenstown didn’t exist, someone would have to create it. The perfect movie star. So lovely as to seem digitally or medicinally enhanced. Azure skies, a teal lake stretching out to infinite snowcapped mountain ranges and bordered by lavender dotted hills from which paragliders lazily drift down a backdrop of the closest mountain range aptly named…are you ready…The Remarkables. The walkable town itself is a contagious blend of adventure and affluence, local and luxury, spontaneity and steady beauty with a compact grid of sporty boutiques, cheeky pubs and gourmet restaurants.
The first few days after the tramp, I was physically unable to jump out my bunk bed, much less an airplane, so after you’ve earned your bragging rights from bungy jumping, skydiving, trekking, gliding, canyoning, rafting, climbing, biking, skiing, jetboating, sledging or river surfing(!) here are my favorite footprints around town to rest your dogs, nurse your soles and take in stunning Queenstown from your very own throne:
Best hotel bar: I have a crush on Eichardt’s Private Hotel, which occupies a small stately building with the most exclusive lakefront address in town. This historic BUY was founded in 1867 by a Prussian immigrant Albert Eichardt and is now owned by two young local ladies. Sharing a birthday close to the town herself, the doors have opened for gold miners and pioneers and now welcome those who are willing to pay $1,000+ for a revival room with a view and the privacy of the upstairs Parlor room. I dropped in the boutique for a Bloody Mary and was impressed by how the unassuming eggshell of the colonnaded facade let the beauty of Queenstown play the leading lady while the restored interior let you hold court with all the richness of a bygone era.
Best pizza: Cow. No, not you! Although I felt like one after visiting this tiny former cow shed tucked into shy Cow Lane. You’ll tuck into wood-fired pizzas, crisp ciders and other worldly garlic bread all in the cozy comfort of rustic wooden beams, the original stained glass, roaring fires and candlelight. Never change.
Best coffee: Patagonia, a lakefront chocolatier and cafe which also scoops out the most popular ice cream cone. Get in line. It’s worth it. If you can’t make it home without seconds, they have a small mobile shop a couple blocks down the lakefront near the fish and chips stand.
Best burger: Fergburger, a local rite of passage a good place to bring another carnivore to go sharesies.
Best seated adventure: I took the Skyline Gondola up Bob’s Peak for a truly “remarkable” view. If you need a fix once you are up there, you can always tandem glide or mountain bike down instead of cashing in your return ticket. My friend broke his collarbone, so…ya…be careful.
Best free seat: I stopped in to see the boss at the Church of St. Peter, silently enjoying the detailed wooden lectern carved by a Chinese immigrant and giving thanks for getting to meet Her Majesty and enjoy her lake. Click here to do the same.
Thank you M’am.