Otago: Queenstown's year-round charm

By Jennifer Ennion

This picturesque slice of the South Island is not just a hub for adrenalin junkies, discovers Jennifer Ennion.
Twilight in Queentown. Photo / Thinkstock
Twilight in Queentown. Photo / Thinkstock

You don't have to be carving turns down the face of a mountain or dangling off a piece of elastic to catch the spirit of Queenstown.

New Zealand's adventure capital also has an air of sophistication about it, which can be enjoyed when you slow down.

Bars offer popular cocktails, restaurants stylish menus and vineyards a plethora of world-class wines.

There are plenty of upscale hotels to stay in too, and The Rees Hotel is one of them.

Designed in timber and stone, the reception and lounge area is impressive. On cool nights, you can sit drinking whisky with friends beside the fireplace, or enjoy the library of historic Queenstown books.

The five-star hotel is in a prime position on Lake Wakatipu, and large balconies showcase the view of the water and The Remarkables mountain range.

It's a view you can enjoy from your in-room spa bath as well.

To get a closer look, borrow a bike from the hotel and explore the path that runs around the lake into Queenstown and, in the opposite direction, to Frankton and the Queenstown Golf Course.

There's a cold wind blowing off the water as I set off along the dirt track. I pass joggers and tourists as I weave around bends, in and out of sunlight. Lake Wakatipu is resplendent in that brilliant aqua cloak worn by many of New Zealand's lakes.

I pass under a canopy of dark pines, pedalling over fallen needles and back out in the open again, the wind cooling my face.

As I near the centre of Queenstown, the "traffic" increases. Couples embrace on park benches as friends snap photos of each other on their phones.

More joggers and cyclists pass, along with a gaggle of Segway riders on a tour.

I continue around the edge of Queenstown Gardens (worth a visit if you have time) and soon I am beside Marine Parade at the CBD's waterfront.

Queenstown is essentially a handful of neat streets, filled with clothing and souvenir shops, boutique bars, stylish pubs and restaurants. It's the Aspen of New Zealand and attracts an international crowd. I hear European accents and see many visitors from China and Japan. There are a lot of Australians here too, lured by the all-seasons outdoor lifestyle.

Australia is the biggest market for The Rees Hotel, general manager Mark Rose says, while tourists from the US, Singapore, India and New Zealand are also regular visitors.

The population of the larger Queenstown valley is about 28,000 but at the height of summer that number swells to 100,000, he says.

When I visit in early January there is certainly a buzz in the air but the town doesn't feel crowded.

Queenstown is lovely to visit year round. In summer, the days are long, with dusk falling around 10pm, and the temperatures are between 20 and 30C.

In autumn, the sky is generally clear and the evenings become cooler, preparing you for chilly winter days that bring plenty of snow to nearby ski resorts Coronet Peak (25 minutes away) and The Remarkables (45 minutes). You can still ski in spring (the snow season ends in October) but the weather warms up and the days become long again.

No matter what time of year, Queenstown is known for its outdoor pursuits - snowboarding, mountain biking, bungee jumping, canyon swinging and horse riding. However, it's more than a resort town catering to adrenalin junkies. And you certainly don't have to ski the nearby slopes or race around in a jet boat to enjoy it.

Queenstown is quaint yet sophisticated, oozing charm and lacking pretension. It perfectly caters to adventurous souls and those of us who prefer to keep our feet on the ground, our bellies full of fine food and our glass topped up with wine.

Further information: See queenstownnz.co.nz.

- AAP

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