Many know Queenstown as New Zealand's skiing hub, but it has much more to offer as Jane Jeffries finds.
With spring in the air, my daughter and I decided we needed some girl-time, so set off to Queenstown for a long weekend.
We were staying at Millbrook Resort and I had not appreciated how much history surrounds this New Zealand landmark. Millbrook was originally a wheat farm. In the 1860s, French brothers John and Peter Butel arrived from Normandy and established a successful farm feeding the hungry miners during the gold rush. The rustic remains of their gatehouse, the homestead and the old mill remained on the property and were incorporated into Millbrook after Eiichi Ishii bought the land in 1993. Today, the homestead is the Millbrook's reception and the mill, the Millhouse restaurant.
Twenty-five years on the resort is well established, with a 27-hole golf course - an integral part of the New Zealand Open.
Ishii is passionate about the land. He has nurtured its natural beauty referring to it as "paradise on Earth". From its inception he wanted to create a lifestyle resort people could enjoy. He was recently recognised in the New Year's Honours List for his services to New Zealand-Japanese relations, golf and tourism and his involvement in the multi award-winning resort.
Just down the road is another of the Arrowtown area's institutions, Amisfield Bistro and Cellar door. We booked to eat at 3pm - a late lunch/early dinner. It's a little like having brunch, but at the other end of the day.
Up until recently Amisfield has offered an a la carte menu or the "Trust the Chef" option.
However, front-of-house manager David Morrison and executive chef Vaughan Mabee decided to do away with their a la carte menu as 80 per cent of their clientele were opting to trust the chef. The joys of not making decisions about food is liberating. It's a shared dining experience and all you need to do is voice any dislikes or allergies, or - in my daughter's case - tell them she was vegan. Amisfield's vegan plates were all as tantalising and as delicious as mine.
No amount of likes, dislikes or dietary requirements seem to faze the cleaver Amisfield team. With their passion for sourcing local, seasonal food, they can produce fare for everyone's palate, making it all from scratch, including their moreish bread and butter.
Relaxing outside, looking up to Coronet Peak through vines and blossom, it's not hard to just sit back and enjoy the theatre of Amisfield's food.
My palate was teased with three amuse-bouches: crispy whitebait, chargrilled octopus and fruit paste. Not only were they divine and served with matched wines, but the presentation was inspired. The fruit paste leaves were nestled on a mossy, leafy log that looked like something from The Hobbit.
My favourite dish was the frozen tamarillo. When I smashed it with my spoon, on instruction, it shattered and the blood-red tamarillo flowed out. They have taken the food experience to a new level with intrigue and suspense.
Up early the next morning, we headed off to the Onsen Hot Pools at Arthur's Point to watch the sunrise. We soaked in the pristine mountain water in the half-light, the window and roof retracted, leaving us cantilevered over the Shotover River. The experience of looking up to the snow-capped mountains with the steam rising around us was magical. I think the Kiwi owner had done a wonderful job offering a Kiwi twist to a Japanese tradition.
Still early, we decided on a walk before breakfast. The Arrowtown river walk is near the Chinese Settlement established during the gold rush in the 1860s. It is one of many camps in Otago that housed more than 8000 goldminers, but by the turn of the century most had been abandoned.
Before starting the 45-minute walk, we looked at the restored miners' homes. They offer a glimpse of the tough life the first Chinese immigrants had. Most did not plan to become settlers, but came to make money and return home. However, many did not leave New Zealand and had lonely existence. Ah Gum was the last of the Chinese Arrowtown inhabitants and died in 1932. His pall bearers were Arrowtown's five religious clergymen.
Jacks' Point is another fabulous destination restaurant for a long lunch. The restaurant is part of the golf clubhouse, where there was a significant fire last year but the damaged section is due to reopen soon. Despite the disruption, executive chef, Chris Scott and his team have continued to create extraordinary food. Crisp and succulent calamari with kimchi, ponzu mayo and a duck liver mousse with verjus jelly were two dishes we tried before the most divine chicken I've ever eaten. Cooked by the sous-vide method, the chicken is vacuum-sealed and immersed in a water bath, cooking at a consistent temperature for a much longer period than normal. Sensational.
We had planned to fly down to Milford Sound and cruise through the fiords for a few hours, however, the spring weather was ferocious and didn't let up. So instead we explored the Dart River at the northern tip of the Lake Wakatipu.
It is no surprise many movies, including The Lord of the Rings, have been filmed in the area as the clouds hang around the mountains giving an ethereal feel. Our jet boat captain, Craig, seemed to have the expertise of a Formula 1 driver, as he took us through the braided river into Mt Aspiring National Park.
Hard as it was to believe our three days were coming to an end, but not before a much anticipated lunch at Bespoke in Queenstown. Owner Michelle Freeman says it is all about good home-made food, made from scratch using the best ingredients. The pancakes were excellent and they cater to gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free diets, so there is something for everyone.
flies from Auckland to Queenstown, with one-way Seat fares from $83.