Queenstown is beginning the thaw after the tourism freeze of lockdown – and Annabel Herbison reviews the delights of The Rees Hotel.
Planning a great escape from lockdown? You're not the only one.
Level 2.5 flung the travel gates open and we bolted en masse – and for the second time in a mere couple of months, Queenstown is seeing a resurgence in domestic tourism from the north.
It's a signal that we're making the most of our domestic bubble, and seemingly all flocking to the Southern Lakes District.
One reason why is The Rees Hotel; warm, welcoming southern hospitality has always been a thing, but it seems even more apparent now. The hotel receptionist doesn't need to say anything when we ask how business has been, but it's obvious their arms are open wide to Kiwi travellers, no matter where they're from - a sentiment shared with the many other hotels and tourism operaters around Queenstown.
For a region down 18 per cent in annual international spend compared to last year, the border closures are definitely having an impact. However, from the moment you walk into the foyer of The Rees, with its roaring fireplace and people (socially distanced but enjoying an early evening vino), you'd never know.
We didn't travel far – we only live a few hundred meters down the road. But being a "local" (albeit one who moved from Auckland six months ago) it's easy to take Queenstown's dramatic landscapes for granted.
Residing in a luxurious lake view room for the night, local or not, brings with it a whole new appreciation for alpine scenery - if it wasn't for the slight swell rolling through, the vistas of Lake Wakatipu and surrounding mountains could be mistaken for an oil painting.
Kicking my shoes off, sprawling across the ever-so-pillowy-soft bed and gazing out the floor-to-ceiling windows, I was pleasantly reminded why I moved to this stunning part of the world in the first place.
When your room has the world's largest and most luxurious bed, it's no easy feat resisting the urge to melt into its comfort and never get back up. But with an early dinner booking at the True South Dining Room, a quick breath of crisp, mountain air on our large private balcony was enough to kick us into gear.
The dining room, with its panoramic views, provides an intimate setting to enjoy a glass of local bubbles and watch as the Remarkables blend into a silhouette of the night.
Another true south experience really starts when you open the wine list, it's an incredible showcase of Central Otago winemaking and with close to one million dollars' worth of wine in the hotel's award-winning cellar, you can count on the in-house sommelier to make a grand recommendation. The cellar is also worth a guided visit.
One thing you learn pretty quickly about The Rees is that everything is an experience. The staff are knowledgeable and perfectly attentive, a great combo for an indecisive guest. So when our waitress recommended the Wakanui beef with smoked bone marrow, the deed was done (and the other half let go a sigh of relief).
The open kitchen wafted delightful smells, taking us on a sensory journey of southern lakes' fine dining, as we waited in mouth-watering anticipation for what has to be one of the best eye fillets of my life – perfectly medium-rare, melt-in-the-mouth delicious.
With a deer-milk Crème Brûlée on the menu, dessert to follow was a no-brainer – its size made it hard to share but, when the waitress explained the deer can only be milked one hour a day, three months a year, we appreciated the rareness of the delicacy even more, and savoured every rich and creamy bite.
If you're an exercise-in-the-morning-even-on-holiday type, there's a fully equipped 24-hour gym, I never quite understood the 24-hour thing, but then again I'm also not one of the types aforementioned.
Another option is a stroll along the stunning Frankton lakefront track – and, after a quick chat with the concierge, score yourself a mountain bike or e-bike to do the dirty work for you.
If you're more intrigued by a bite to eat, the breakfast menu is full of classics: big brekkie, pancakes, eggs, all meticulously crafted in southern fine-dining style. I was impressed when the staff remembered my dietary requirements from the night before.
When it comes to exploring, there are endless options in Queenstown and next time I'd leave my full trust in The Rees to take care of everything – a private wine tour by helicopter, or a bespoke Milford Sound experience. Both are delightful, the options almost endless.
I'm also convinced there's little the staff wouldn't do in the name of hospitality to make the experience memorable.
For those that like to take the matter into their own hands, a five-minute complimentary shuttle, or scenic water taxi from the hotel's private jetty, will land you in the heart of town.
If you're making the most of the hotel's free parking, going further afield is well worth it – 25 minutes down the road you'll end up in quaintly beautiful Arrowtown, with its rich, gold-mining history.
Make sure you save room for brunch at The Chop Shop, followed by a slither of fudge from the iconic Remarkables Sweet Shop. On the way home stop in at Akarua, wrap up in one of their snuggly blankets and enjoy a winter warmer in their cobblestone courtyard – bliss.
Time to check out, and we really don't want to leave. Admiring the lobby, with its impressive collection of history novels (the do-not-touch-without-white-gloves kind), sculptures and artwork depicting William G Rees (Queenstown's pioneering explorer), provokes a new thought.
Over 100 years on from Rees' day, we still have an untouched slice of paradise in our back yard. While the alert levels continue to subside, Queenstown continues to show us all why it has so long been considered the crème de la crème of New Zealand tourism.
Book a three night stay at The Rees Hotel, Queenstown and receive:
•Three nights in a Lake View Hotel Room with a complimentary upgrade (subject to availability)
•Central Otago cheese platter and ½ bottle of Quartz Reef Methode Traditionnelle on arrival
•Late check out at 12 noon
For more information click here