Central Otago: Off to see the Queen

By Helen van Berkel

Mantra Marina Apartments are eco-friendly and wonderfully relaxing. Photo / Supplied
Mantra Marina Apartments are eco-friendly and wonderfully relaxing. Photo / Supplied

Queenstown really is a region that lives up to its hype. The scenery is breathtaking. The aptly named Remarkables soar above the edge of town; a solid wall of granite sprinkled with snow and looking, well, remarkable.

And although Queenstown is famous as an adventure playground attracting adrenalin-junkie backpackers, ski-bunnies and wine buffs from all over the world, it's also a good spot to take the family at school-holiday time.

One of the newer accommodation options around town is Mantra Marina Apartments in Frankton, a half-hour walk from downtown Queenstown and on the bus route to town and the airport. These 26 apartments on the banks of Lake Wakatipu boast the sparkle and polish of a new development, and you can relax that your luxury is reasonably "green" - the development won the Qualmark Silver Enviro Award for its recycling and sustainability efforts.

Despite having opened just over 18 months ago, the Mantra Marina has been number one accommodation on Trip Advisor for six months solid. You really feel like you're on holiday when you're reading the newspaper as the sun rises, eating breakfast on your private deck, the only sound the subtle slapping of waves on the shores of the lake.

And, of course, apartment accommodation is great when you're travelling with kids. You can self-cater, saving cash, and in the evening the children are quietly tucked in their own rooms, allowing some quiet couple time.

The walk into Queenstown from the apartment is a pleasant amble along Lake Wakatipu. Once you're in town, there seem to be information centres on every corner, so there's no excuse for not finding something to do. If skiing isn't your thing, or the weather's not co-operating, bundle the kids on to the bus to Arrowtown.

My autumn visit meant the town was a riot of gold and red leaves, but at any time of the year it's hard to think of a place that beats this former gold-mining town, packed with old oaks, sycamores, elms and ashes for picturesque quaintness.

While you're here, it's worth paying a visit to the fascinating Chinese gold-mining settlement preserved on the outskirts of town. Chinese miners, invited from the Australian gold mines, were treated abominably when they got here. The men subsisted in little more than wooden shacks in Central Otago's freezing winters. They were isolated and lonely, with their persecution established in law. The New Zealand Government has since apologised for anti-Chinese tax measures and other treatment these men endured and, as part of that, put up the money to partially restore some of the shanties where the miners lived.

After that piece of sobering history, the grown-ups may feel the need to make a stop at Amisfield winery, which, as well as its own delicious wines, offers a daily-changing menu using organic vegetables from its own garden.

My taxi driver recommended the "trust the chef" option. It was a good decision, as dish after delicious dish arrived teamed with a glass of perfectly matched wine. First came Bluff oysters with balsamic dressing and sourdough bread baked that morning, followed by shallow-fried West Coast whitebait, all matched with an Amisfield rosé. Then came fresh figs, Serrano ham with buffalo mozzarella, and barely had I finished that when a pan-fried Marlborough salmon and salsa verde was put in front of me.

Somehow I found room for a chickpea salad with tahini sauce and tomatoes, then pork belly with red pepper sauce and creamy mashed potatoes. And to finish, a selection of New Zealand cheeses, fruit and nuts.

It was divine - and I wasn't the only one who thought so. The English couple at the next table were giddy with praise for the food and wine. They'd travelled the world, they said, and Amisfield was among the best of its kind. I had to agree.

Helen van Berkel stayed in Queenstown courtesy of Mantra Marina Apartments.

- NZ Herald

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