There's a magic spot a few minutes out of Queenstown, off the spectacular road to Glenorchy, where Lake Wakatipu forms into a calm, natural harbour with waters said to be bluer than anywhere else in the lake.

Bob's Cove - Te Punatapu (The Sacred Waters) - is named for Captain Bob Fortune, who sheltered in the harbour in bad weather when shipping timber between Queenstown and Glenorchy in the early 19th century; before that it was used by Maori as a campsite on the pounamu trail to the head of the lake. It is historic, spiritual and, like many places in this part of New Zealand, so beautiful it takes your breath away.

It makes sense then that this is where we head during a day-long Soul Journeys' mini-retreat in early autumn to reconnect with nature. The idea is to unplug from our everyday lives for a little self-reflection and nourishment of the soul in a bid to find our "missing peace". And yes, that means switching off your mobile for a few hours.

Central Otago turns a beautiful palette of colours in autumn. Photo / Destination Queenstown
Central Otago turns a beautiful palette of colours in autumn. Photo / Destination Queenstown

Our day had started with an hour of gentle vinyasa flow yoga led by Nadi Wellness Centre owner and Soul Journeys founder Sandi Murphy before she and co-founder Amanda Woolridge drove us out to Bob's Cove. For the next few hours we'd walk along its tracks learning mindfulness techniques we could incorporate into our everyday lives.


That's as simple as concentrating on engaging your senses - smelling the air rich with the scent of damp earth, admiring the strength of the red beech and gum trees surrounding you, listening to the native birdsong and chirping crickets, letting those swirling thoughts pass you by, and being present in the moment. Not as easy as you'd think, but rewarding when the effort pays off.

The day is a mixture of practical and spiritual - there is reflective journal-writing and some wise advice, alongside breath connection exercises and having a good chat.

Best of all is having the time and encouragement to fully appreciate the glorious landscape. On a lunch stop atop a hill high above the cove, surrounded by those majestic mountains, we looked down on the famous lake. Bob's Cove might have the deepest blues, but beauty is spread evenly across this canvas.

The day before, I'd nourished my soul in a more tangible but less wholesome fashion, on a half-day private wine tour of the Gibbston Valley with Black ZQN.

Yes, I've seen how the other half live and I want in. The good news is that mere mortals like you and I can get a taste of the VIP treatment without breaking the bank. And we deserve it. At least, it's easy to convince yourself of that as you sink into the comfortable back seat of one of Black ZQN's luxury European vehicles, and let the knowledgeable driver take over. The company offers all manner of high-end guided tours, from wine, art, adventure, hiking, gold rush experiences, photographic safaris, high country experiences, and the intriguingly named "Snow Virgins Non Ski Tour".

On the half-day guided wine tour guests have the flexibility to choose which four or so vineyards they want to visit or can put their trust in the personable guide. In our case this was Grant Banhidi, who after collecting us from our hotel proceeded to entertain us with amusing stories and interesting information about the area and local wine industry as we drove to our first cellar door, the famous Amisfield at Lake Hayes.

Housed in a strong, solid structure made from local materials including Glenorchy schist, recycled hardwood and sand sheet copper, Amisfield is almost as well known for its excellent bistro as its award-winning wine. Chef Vaughan Mabee has continued the winery's dedication towards using local produce; he and his chefs regularly forage for wild ingredients such as elderflower, miners' lettuce, watercress and different types of mushrooms. There are special relationships with local suppliers - Mabee's "fish guy" calls him from the wharf in Bluff to tell him what he's caught, then drives it straight to Queenstown, ready for the day's menu. As much of the food as possible is made from scratch, including the daily batch of sourdough bread (using a 15-year-old starter), the charcuterie and the excellent cheese.

Banhidi took us next to Brennan Wines, a smaller operation that punches well above its weight, with a large range of varieties and several international wine awards under its belt. The 10-year-old winery makes 95 per cent of its sales via its cellar door, accessed down a pretty driveway flanked with grapevines - in late March the precious fruit is nearly ready for harvest and the vines are covered with nets to discourage birds and minimise the risks of any early frosts.

Charming cellar master Dave Laurent talked us through a tasting of the varieties - some, such as the pinot gris and the pinot grigio side by side to compare - before we headed for another local institution, Chard Farm, whose distinctive pink buildings are accessed via a spectacular (and somewhat hairy) winding road running parallel to the Kawerau River.

Chard is the area's highest vineyard and the poplars lining the road to reach it were on the cusp of turning their full autumnal colours, with a dappled palette of green and gold leaves.

Beautiful in every season, there's something about the crisp alpine air of autumn in Queenstown, unlike anywhere else in New Zealand, which invigorates your senses - all the better washed down with a glass or two of one of its finest products.



Air New Zealand operates up to seven daily return flights from Auckland to Queenstown. One-way fares start from $83.


Soul Journeys' Mini Retreat - The Missing Peace runs from 9am-3.30pm and costs $395pp.

Black ZQN's Half-Day Gibbston Wine Tour visits at least four wineries, takes four to five hours and costs $399pp.