Arthurs Point: Soakers and swingers

By Justine Tyerman

Justine Tyerman's wish for snow is granted during a pilgrimage to her spiritual home.

The Modern Family holiday home, cocooned in the mountains at Arthurs Point.
The Modern Family holiday home, cocooned in the mountains at Arthurs Point.

When my ice-encrusted eyelashes began to freeze together and frostings in my hair took on a literal meaning, I knew it was probably time to get out of the spa pool ... but I was so mesmerised by the sight of the fat snowflakes drifting silently down from the slate-grey sky, I couldn't move.

And the two-metre dash across the frozen deck from the pool to the house acted as a powerful disincentive to getting out, so in I stayed, immersed in effervescence up to my chin.

Family members plopped in and out to reminisce about holidays in Central Otago and skiing at Coronet Peak, but the roaring log fire inside the gorgeous Arthurs Point holiday house seemed to hold more attraction for them than the fallout from a celestial pillow fight that was so intriguing to me. The gluwein helped too.

I love a good Central Otago snow storm and had missed out completely last winter by removing myself to the Northern Hemisphere at prime blizzard time.

So when I saw the severe weather warning for Queenstown at Labour Weekend, I wished for snow. Not only was my heart's desire granted, but we were treated to a magnificent two-day storm delivering heavy snow to lake level and blanketing Coronet Peak and the Remarkables.

This was a bizarre weather event, a full-on blizzard in late October, shocking the pink and white puffballs of blossom and the new lambs that had a day earlier been rejoicing in mild spring temperatures under sunny skies.

Our pilgrimage south to my spiritual home and childhood holiday area coincided with one of the busiest holiday weekends of the year, but we managed to find superb accommodation a few minutes' drive from Queenstown through Amazing Accom.

We arrived in the evening to a beautifully-prepared house at Arthurs Point, cocooned in the mountains on a plateau above the Shotover River.

Rich in history, Arthurs Point was named after Thomas Arthur who, in November 1862, discovered four ounces of gold in the Shotover River in just three hours, triggering one of the greatest gold rushes of the decade.

Today, when not in the grip of a freak blizzard, the Point is an idyllic sheltered haven of all-day sun: far enough away from the Queenstown tourist hordes and endless stream of buses to feel the peace of the mountains and river, but close enough to easily access all of the district's attractions.

The world-famous Shotover Jet experience is just three minutes' walk away, while the world's highest cliff jump is a short 4WD-drive up the spectacular Shotover Canyon.

Annika, the Shotover Canyon Swing PR girl, did her best to entice me to become a swinger but I assured her I could get all the thrills I needed vicariously, watching someone else freefall 60 metres at 150kmh and then swing in a 200-metre arc above the sheer-sided rocky gorge.

The Shotover Canyon Swing, the world's highest cliff jump.
The Shotover Canyon Swing, the world's highest cliff jump.

Between snow flurries, we hiked up the nearby Moonlight Track to a vantage point directly across the canyon from the swing site, where we watched as the brave, the foolhardy and the crazy hurtled - screaming - from the 109m-high cliff-mounted platform.

We congratulated ourselves on not needing to do it and then continued on up the dramatic canyon until the sleet and snow defeated us.

The full-day Moonlight Track, ending in Queenstown, is a stunning scenic wonder we will hopefully explore in the summer.

The Shotover jets have fired three million passengers up the jagged barrel of the canyon since they started running in 1970, but the big red machines were not operating due to the storm which had flooded the river - sparing me the humiliation of talking my way out of another Queenstown must-do.

For decades, I've watched those grunty jet boats roar up the narrow canyon, my hands over my eyes as the drivers head straight for the rocks, swerving at the last second and thrilling the living daylights out of their shrieking passengers.

I'll do it one day when I grow tired of my comfort zone ... meantime, the mad dash from spa pool to the house was a sufficient adrenaline rush for me.

A Shotover jet roars up the canyon towards the Edith Cavell Bridge.
A Shotover jet roars up the canyon towards the Edith Cavell Bridge.

For those who don't want to dice with death, Arthurs Point's Strike Bowl 10-pin bowling alley, is a fun family activity for all ages with cool glow-in-the-dark lanes.

Over the road, you can soak in one of six lovely private hot pools at the Onsen spa complex overlooking the Shotover River. The walls and roof roll back allowing guests to luxuriate in the sun (or snow) by day, or star-gaze by candlelight at night. Bliss.

Our accommodation at Arthurs Point turned out to be as spectacular as the landscape.

Titled "Modern Family" on the Luxury Holiday Houses website, (the label comes from the popular American television show), the place lived up to its name and is perfect for large groups and entertaining.

The architecturally-designed two-storey house is nestled among a cluster of upmarket Arthurs Point properties in a quiet cul-de-sac. It accommodates 14 in six sumptuous bedrooms, with three bathrooms including an exceedingly comfortable, cosy sleep-out and a private hideaway for couples who wish to be alone ... or snorers.

An elegant recliner in the upstairs master bedroom became a favourite quiet spot of mine, with dazzling views from the floor-to-ceiling windows of Coronet Peak, where I learned to ski many years ago.

The upstairs rooms look out over the lounge roof, which is covered in a layer of silvery river schist, giving the feeling of being at a beach by the Shotover.

Having stayed in many holiday houses where the facilities are minimal and even stingy, this place over-delivered in every way, with drawers and shelves full of quality homewares, two large flat-screen TVs, a well-stocked pantry and even a complimentary bottle of 2007 Central Otago pinot noir.

With the blizzard raging outside, two heat pumps provided a quick source of warmth but once the log fire was roaring, the whole house was warm, thanks to double glazing on all the doors and windows.

You know a holiday house has made an impression when you run a mental measuring tape over the design features and stand motionless in the huge tiled walk-in shower, plotting how to remodel your own bathroom.

And my foodie husband's eyes were dangling out of their sockets when he saw the brilliantly-designed galley-style kitchen, anchored by a massive bench-top of charcoal concrete with barstool-seating for five.

Matai floorboards added a warm, mellow glow to the kitchen-living area which was so spacious, there was ample room for a pool table.

Luxurious it may be, but when you divide the nightly rate by the number of people you can sleep at Modern Family, it's on par with, or even cheaper than, a backpacker establishment.

When the storm cleared, the panorama was utterly breathtaking, with Coronet Peak a vision of pure white, gleaming in the morning sun, the rugged snow-dusted Queenstown Hill and Ben Lomond towering above us and the Shotover Canyon, misty in the distance.

The grown-up kids were so happy to be outside in the sun, they reverted to childhood and played on the swings, slide and trampoline in the garden.

Delighting in the blue skies, we took a short walk across the Edith Cavell Bridge to the historic 170m Oxenbridge Tunnel, part of an ambitious but doomed mining scheme to divert water from the Shotover to recover gold from the riverbed.

Then it was back to the house for some more serious soaking and mountain- gazing, this time in bright warm sunshine with silver filaments of spring snow still dancing in the air.

IF YOU GO

Accommodation: See luxuryholidayhouses.com.

Activities: Shotover Jet, Shotover Canyon Swing, The Moonlight and Oxenbridge Tunnel tracks, Strike Bowl, Onsen Hot Pools.

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