Queenstown home to world’s best hot chocolate

As well as the scenery, Queenstown now boasts the best hot chocolate in the world, finds Delaney Mes.

Queenstown's spectacular scenery and snow-covered mountains make it the ultimate winter destination. But there is so much more, especially when the weather is sizzling rather than severe. With an array of fabulous wineries, great cafes, and picturesque scenery featuring mountains and lakes, there is a lot to love. And right now, it's something that will turn chocolate likers into chocolate lovers.

Koko Black, a boutique chocolate company from Australia, opened its first offshore chocolate salon in Queenstown late last year. Owner and founder Shane Yardley chose the picturesque location for a number of reasons.

Koko Black Chocolates
Koko Black Chocolates

Anyone who has ever flown in among those remarkable mountains will most likely have had their breath taken away, and it is clearly a thriving little city, complete with holiday makers who - in cooler months - would look equally at home in a ski resort commercial.

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Travellers and adventurers from all over the world descend on it for its natural beauty. Now they have another reason: they can get what is quite possibly the best hot chocolate in the world.

I am lucky enough to spend the morning with this Australian Willy Wonka and hear first-hand about his chocolate obsession.

Before we meet though, my breakfast stop is Vudu, the iconic Queenstown cafe on the town's main strip, where I devour haloumi and poached eggs on sourdough.

Its coffee is good and its cabinet is laden with colourful produce and baking, making it well worth a stop.

A few doors down is the Koko Black chocolate salon - Yardley didn't think calling it a cafe was appropriate, and wanted to evoke the idea of the old-fashioned chocolate salon. The moment I walk in I almost regret tucking into breakfast.

The shop is beautifully fitted out with mirrors and white tiles, but even more breathtaking are the rows of handcrafted chocolates beneath the cabinet, reminiscent of chocolatiers found across Europe.

Yardley uprooted his family from Australia for the first six months of Koko Black Queenstown, and I chat with him over hot chocolate about his move from a corporate career to this chocolate-coated life.

To say he is passionate is an understatement. People love chocolate, but Yardley felt there was nothing capturing its true essence. He felt the market was flooded with products that compromised too much on quality. So he completed a chocolate course in Germany, hired one of the world's best chocolatiers and set about bringing a sensory experience to the enjoyment of chocolate through his salons.

Staff make everything by hand, and attention to detail is paramount. The award-winning hot chocolate is brewed for hours on a stove top. It tastes creamy and rich and is unlike any I've ever tasted.

The salon also offers dessert tasting menus, as well as coffee and a couple of savoury options. It is a beautiful space overlooking the Queenstown streets and I get the feeling this town is lucky to have such a passionate operator.

After all that chocolate, a stroll along the lake front is the perfect excuse to get some fresh air and soak up the scenery. My next stop, the Blue Kanu, is a tropical Pacifika tiki bar-meets-Asian restaurant, and a pork bun with a glass of local wine while perched at the bar hits the spot.

My dinner destination is in the centre of town, near the waterfront. After the successful opening of his upmarket Rata in Queenstown, Auckland-based chef Josh Emett took a more casual approach with his Malaysian restaurant, Madame Woo.

It is the perfect kind of on-holiday eating - plenty to share, fantastic punchy flavours, and great drinks. It is busy and bustling, and is a perfect introduction to Malaysian food, thanks to head chef Jane Leong.

The hawker rolls are something to behold - almost like a taco or a wrap made with roti and stuffed with pork, chilli and fresh herbs. Equally as good are the squid, the pork belly, and the rich, unctuous curries. Madame Woo also has a good selection of Hallertau beer on tap to wash it all down.

The next morning I am off to nearby Arrowtown but on the way I detour to the award-winning - and utterly stunning - winery restaurant Amisfield, and the Lake Hayes Estate development where I find Graze, a restaurant, bar and boutique grocer, which grows much of what goes on its menu.

Arrowtown's gorgeous main street is jam-packed with quaint buildings and beautiful old trees. You definitely get a sense of the gold-rush times.

The Chop Shop Food Merchants cafe serves fantastic brunch fare - try the corn fritters (crispy and round, more like doughnuts) with a chilli caramel, or the brioche fresh from their oven.

The Arrowtown bakery is famed for its pies and I am told I'm not allowed to leave without a sticky bun at Provisions, which I enjoy in its picket-fenced garden looking up to the mountains.

For food-lovers, Queenstown and its surrounds have some delicious hidden gems, and for those who choose to ditch the skis but still enjoy the scenery, there's plenty to eat and enjoy.

It's a stunning part of the world, and I'll be returning soon for the hot chocolate, if nothing else.

Delaney Mes was a guest of Be Know Agency.