New Zealand – Central Otago – A taste for adventure

The South Island of New Zealand has plenty to keep you busy

By Winsor Dobbin
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Kawaru Village and the Remarkables from Lake Wakatipu, NZ

Kawaru Village and the Remarkables from Lake Wakatipu, NZ

Rippon cellar door, Central Otago, New Zealand
Matakauri Lodge suite with views of the Remarkables, NZ
Mount Difficulty Vineyard, Central Otago, NZ
TSS Earnslaw under steam, South Island, New Zealand


Whether you are a thrill-seeker, outdoor enthusiast or a lover of fine food and wine, Queenstown, deep in the South Island of New Zealand, has plenty to keep you busy – and is the ideal base from which to explore the many vineyards of Central Otago.

Queenstown is renowned for some of the best ski runs in the southern hemisphere, but also for kayaking, bungy jumping, jet boating, white-water rafting and hiking, so visitors can follow pinot noir tastings from some of the regions 75 wineries by plunging to the ground with a cord attached to their ankle.

From the Onsen Hot Pools to the Skyline complex - reached by a gondola cableway – or maybe trout fishing, the options are many, and varied.

In winter, skiing at resorts Cardrona Alpine Resort, Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Treble Cone takes centre stage – and the town is also known for its vibrant nightlife scene.


Stop 1 – Over The Top helicopter flight

Louisa Patterson has been flying helicopters since 1976 and started Queenstown's only locally-owned and operated helicopter company to provide unique and exhilarating experiences for visitors. Over The Top offers a selection of flight choices; maybe a flight taking in Coronet Peak, the Skippers Canyon gold mining sites and the Shotover River, or a trip over some of the finest pinot noir vineyards in the world, stopping in for tastings at wineries like Mount Edward and Felton Road. As part of the Wine By Invitation Tour, you can “drop in” and pick up a winemaker to be your guide for the Wine by Invitation tour (Duncan Forsyth from Mount Edward, if you are lucky) and then learn about the history, soil, wines, climate and the grapes as you ‘copter to a selection of local vineyards – and travel as far as your budget stretches. Trips to Milford Sound, alpine glaciers, fly fishing or skiing sites are also possible with the company boasting "itineraries are limited only by your imagination".

Open: Daily
P.O. Box 2094,
Phone: (+64) 3 442 2233


Stop 2 – Wine tasting

This is the most southerly wine producing region in the world. Many Central Otago wineries have cellar doors offering tastings – and virtually all of them produce pinot noir. Names to look out for include Felton Road, Olssens, Carrick, Chard Farm, Mount Difficulty, Mount Edward, Gibbston Valley, Rippon (which recently opened a new cellar door) and Quartz Reef. Some are open by appointment only, so it pays to call ahead (or get your concierge to do so for you). The wineries are dotted throughout several sub-regions, including Bannockburn, Bendigo, Cromwell and Alexandra, each with their own special characteristics. Several, including Amisfield, Carrick and Gibbston Valley, have on-site restaurants.

Open: Daily.


Stop 3 – Bungy jumping

It started in Queenstown, the invention of a New Zealander called AJ Hackett who began  the world’s first commercial operation in 1988, and soon become a global craze. The original bungy was at the Kawarau Bridge and today Hackett’s operations have expanded not only to France, Russia and Bali but also to several other local sites, including Nevis Bungy, Nevis Swing, Ledge Bungy and Ledge Swing. (Disclaimer: The author was not crazy enough to try any of these).

Open: Daily
Office: Corner of Camp and Shotover streets, Queenstown.
Phone: (+64) 3 442 4007


Stop 4 – Lunch

The newly-opened Hilton Kawarau Village development comprises the 178-room Hilton Queenstown and the 98-room Kawarau Hotel. There are several dining options including a noodle bar, a pub and a wine bar. One of New Zealand's most acclaimed chefs, Peter Thornley, heads up the Hilton Queenstown's signature restaurant Wakatipu Grill, which is right on the lake with vast windows offering views of the water and Coronet Peak. There’s an open kitchen and a rotisserie and the wine list features over 1000 different labels.

Open: Daily. 6am-11pm.
Kawarau Village,
Peninsula Road,
Phone: (+64) 3 450 9400


Stop 5 – Cruise on Lake Wakatipu  

After the morning’s adrenalin rush, move down a gear with trip across Lake Wakatipu on the historic steamer the TSS Earnslaw, which was built in 1912 and is the only remaining passenger-carrying coal-fired steamship in the southern hemisphere. Known as “The Lady of the Lake”, the Earnslaw makes several trips each day from Queenstown to Walter Peak High Country Farm, where visitors can enjoy dramatic scenery, farm tours, horse treks and heritage tours. There are a range of different tours and pricing structures.

Open: Daily
Steamer Wharf,
Phone: (+64) 3 355 9902


Stop 6 – Afternoon drinks, dinner and overnight at Matakauri Lodge

First there was Kauri Cliffs, then the Lodge at Cape Kidnappers and now there is Matakauri Lodge, recently named by Tatler magazine as one of the world's 101 best hotels and also on Conde Nast Traveller's 2011 Hot List. The alpine lakeside retreat is the latest in Julian Roberton’s string of luxury lodges, it has a very special charm and most guests will want to spend as much time in-house as possible. After a sauna, jacuzzi or dip in the outdoor infinity pool, pre-dinner drinks and meals are served in the main lodge, which has dramatic views of Lake Wakatipu and the snow-capped Remarkable, Cecil and Walter Peak mountain ranges. Private dining can be arranged for couples seeking romance. Executive chef Dale Gartland has worked at English two-hat Michelin restaurant Gidleigh Park and matches dishes like seared scallops and grilled scampi with garlic and parsley butter, crayfish thermidor or fillet of beef with roast shallots, potato puree and asparagus matched to a fine collection of New Zealand wines, including several choices from the owners’ own vineyards. Matakauri Lodge has just 11 luxury suites, each with private terraces, and all tariffs include dinner, breakfasts and a complimentary mini bar. It is a member of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux group.

Open: Daily
569 Glenorchy Road,
Phone: (+64) 3 441 1008

Don’t miss:

  • Dinner at one of the many local restaurants, including Gantley’s, the Botswana Butchery, the Fishbone Bar and Grill, and Bella Cucina.
  • A tour with Appellation Central Wine Tours, who operate full- or half-day tours for small groups in luxury vehicles.
  • The Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration held annually. The next will be from January 26-28, 2012.
  • Lunch or dinner at the Amisfield Wine Company’s bistro, which is just 10 minutes from Queenstown Airport.
  • A visit to Big Picture Wines at Cromwell where you taste wines as they are being explained by winemakers on a big screen. There’s also a cellar door featuring many smaller producers.
  • The new cellar door at regional pioneer Rippon Vineyard, which offers spectacular views.



  • Central Otago (NZ)

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September 01st, 2011
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