Legend has it that the mountain range on Queenstown's easterly horizon was originally called 'Remarkable' for the geologically unusual fact that it runs due north-south and so, in bygone days, could always be relied upon as a navigational aid. I prefer to imagine an old timer, his calloused hands kneading the small of his back after laborious hours in his gold claim exclaiming to his buddy at sunset just as I did, "They're just remarkable! They look like a painting!"
But painted or not, it's undeniable that Queenstown and its environs are pretty remarkable places. Despite being a tourist mecca par excellence, it only takes a few steps outside the town centre and the visitor is once again brought to realise that nothing, bar nothing, can detract from the jaw dropping splendour of the natural surroundings. Sure, there might be a cool cafe to breakfast in, Vudu springs immediately to mind, or the best place north of the South Pole to find a hamburger, Ferg's on Shotover St, but for me, a visit to New Zealand's very own Switzerland of the south would not be worth making without time for an amble in the crisp mountain air.
No humidity to make my wayward hair curl, no traffic fumes and bad temper, just crisp sunshine bouncing off Lake Wakatipu, so ridiculously clear that even where the ducks swim it looks like a TV commercial for New Zealand's clean green image.
To make the most of my time after a work trip south I set off by water taxi from Skippers Wharf, buzzing and energised after my scrumptious coffee at Vudu, and met with my local friend Trudy at the wharf below the Hilton on the far side of the lake. Apart from the fact I'd had to wait until the first service at noon, this lake crossing is an excursion all of its own. If I lived in Kelvin Heights and needed to commute to Queenstown proper I know how I'd be doing it. What a treat.
We set off towards Queenstown on the wide flat section of the Wakatipu Trail towards Frankton. At this point it is known as the Frankton Trail and is as popular with cyclists of all ages as it is with walkers. Crossing the historic single lane bridge where the lake empties itself into the Kawarau River above the Kawarau Falls is something of a jerk back to reality with the tour buses squeezing by on its single lane, but in no time we have rejoined the tranquillity of the lake front trail at the bit where it scoots around in front of the Frankton flats.
As still as a blanket and impossibly blue as the sky above, Wakatipu stretches out in front of us and we can just see the puffs of smoke from the Earnshaw far away on the inland horizon.
Because we're talking so much it seems like no time before we reach our midpoint destination where we're stopping for lunch. Called The Boat Shed Cafe and situated in what was once the working hub of the lake, the Frankton Wharf, it can't put a foot wrong.
From the beauty of its lake-front setting to the offerings on the menu, this is an eating place, like its sister outfit, Provisions in Arrowtown, to seek out. If you're not local and are travelling along the main Queenstown-Frankton Road, look for the signs to the Frankton Marina and follow your way to the car park just below road level. Believe me you'll find it's worth it.
After another 35 minutes of walking and talking we're in Queenstown itself. Trudy hops back on the water taxi to where she's left her car and I make my way back to my hotel on the hill, wondering yet again why I just don't up-sticks and live here. It might be a bit of a wrench for a girl from the north but my goodness, think of the compensations.
Getting there Jetstar flies direct from Auckland to Queenstown up to three times a day so getting there is easy.
Save your pennies: Enjoy the journey with Caltex. Use your AA membership card or pick up a free AA Smartfuel card (from AA or Caltex) and start saving on fuel. This rewards programme lets you accumulate fuel discounts as you shop. Swipe your free AA Smartfuel card or AA membership card at participating Caltex sites and save 6 cents per litre when you spend $40 or more on petrol or diesel. Terms and conditions apply.
Plan your holiday: Celebrate the warmer weather by heading to GoBook. GoBook offers the best of New Zealand right at your fingertips, with options to suit every budget. Browse and compare activities, attractions and adventures by hundreds of reputable businesses all over New Zealand. Book a time that suits you, enjoy instant email confirmation, then rest easy knowing your dream holiday is sorted.
Getting around: Spend Saturday by the lake, Sunday at the summit and Monday exploring the long road home. With so much to discover in Queenstown, you'll need an extra day off. Take it all in with a Budget rental car. Call 0800 BUDGET to book.
Vudu Cafe: Entrances on 23 Beach Rd and 16 Reese St, Queenstown, ph (03) 442 5357
The Boat Shed Cafe & Bistro: Sugar Lane, Frankton Marina, open daily from 7am; dinner Thursday-Sunday, ph (03) 441 4146.
Queenstown Water Taxis: Phone (03) 441 1124.