Travel: Queenstown a red-carpet affair

By Jo Ferris

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Queenstown from The Gondola viewing balcony.
Queenstown from The Gondola viewing balcony.

The 'Naki' might have outstripped Queenstown in Lonely Planet's annual thumbs up to the world's hottest spots, but Queenstown deserves its blue-ribbon kudos as an eternal drawcard.

Its magnetic allure captures the spirit and sets pulses racing. It matters not whether you're an adrenalin junkie out to push the limits in winter's fresh white powder on the slopes; a summer thrill seeker wanting to lap up every aquatic bounce around; or a beachcomber who prefers skimming pebbles across the water.

Spend time on the shores of Lake Wakitipu and you soon find the company of visitors have plenty in common.

Whether sipping a latte, licking icecream or gorging on one of the town's famous Fergburgers; people simply seem to hang around. Loitering is clearly a cherished pastime.

When the sky is blue, the air crisp and the craggy outlines of the enveloping ranges cut stark contrast with clear skies, Queenstown's waterfront has a vibe all its own.

Summer, winter, spring or autumn - this southern destination is a red-carpet affair.

Despite having frequented Queenstown several times in recent years, there is always something new to discover. Important items have been ticked off.

The Wakatipu trip on the historic steamship TSS Earnslaw. A.J.Hackett's first bungy - not to actually leap; just watch.

Arrowtown is fascinating - particularly the meander through the old Chinese area where a billboard pathway unfolds a picture of how cruel life was for these shunned immigrants.

For some of the best views, you can't go past a gondola ride - be it for a meal, a jaunt on the luge, tandem paragliding, or simply soaking in the remarkable scenery.

Longer treks have included pub fare by the roaring fire at Cardrona Hotel and now compulsory sojourns to Gibbston Valley with its award-winning wineries.

A visit to Queenstown can be as expensive or affordable as you make it.

Yes, a jet boat ride was on the list this year. But the simple pleasure of strolling around Queenstown Gardens was equally pleasurable.

Originally a patch of treeless scrubland, this 12-hectare peninsula would be barely recognisable to the settlers who founded the gardens in 1867.

It's a picturesque stroll through history and nature - and stark contrast to the adrenalin rush of that jet boat jaunt.

Located right on the lake front, with the underwater observatory part of its package; the KJet boasts its fame as Queenstown's original jet boat ride - a 43 kilometre ripper through two rivers for twice the excitement - 360 degree spins compulsory; getting wet optional. Tip: Grab the front row seat if you can - preferably next to the driver! It might not have the canyon scares of the Shotover Jet but if you're staying in the heart of Queenstown, there are no bus trips.

If budgets don't permit, however, a warm and free welcome awaits at the Ivan Clarke Gallery.

Home to this renowned artist's legendary Lonely Dog, the gallery is a fascinating insight into Lonely Dog's birth.

A landscape artist of note, Clarke's creation of this suit-clad character with sunnies - guitar slung over his shoulder - bears misty similarities to Tolkein's hobbits.

From one painting on a whim, the journey of Lonely Dog has evolved into an entire fantasy of places, characters and fables - complete with faded journals of mystery, poetry and whimsy.

Bronze statues of Lonely Dog - fashioned by Weta Workshop - add to the intrigue of this insightful gallery.

On sunny days, markets on the lakefront promenade serve a glorious feast of arts and crafts.

Queenstown is right-royal perfection, really. Roll on next year.

Eateries:

Breakfast: The Bathhouse - lakefront Pier 19 - on the wharf
Coffee break with sweets: Vudu - near the wharf
Dinner: Coalfire Barbecue Bar - downtown.

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