We arrived on a chilly, overcast Friday morning. After warming up with a big breakfast in front of the open fire at Old Man Rock we headed for the TSS Earnslaw, a 1912 Edwardian vintage twin screw steamer that travels up and down Lake Wakatipu, stopping at the picturesque Walter Peak High Country Farm. That evening we tackled the Taste of the South degustation menu at The Bunker, a cozy restaurant in Cow Lane. The six-course food marathon (plus wine match) showcased the best of the region's produce and was an excellent way to spend our first night in town.
The next day we quietly explored the historic gold mining town of Arrowtown. Our visit coincided with the end of the Motatapu off-road events, so we spent much of our time dodging muddy mountain bikers as well as other tourists and the odd shower. The Lakes District Museum and Gallery is an interesting mix of interactive displays and general historical exhibits detailing what life was like for the European and Chinese settlers during the gold rush. We finished our lazy day with a relaxing spa at the Onsen Hot Pools at Arthurs Point. Unfortunately it was too cloudy to see the stars from our open-air private room, but we enjoyed the view of the mountains nonetheless.
Sunday was our first and only day experiencing the outdoors adventure industry that draws so many people to Queenstown. The adrenaline was pumping right off the bat with a 45-minute drive along New Zealand's most dangerous road. Togged up in our wetsuits and teetering over the edge of a mountain pass that had been constructed by gold miners in the 1880s, this ended up being more nerve-wracking than the white-water rafting we had actually signed up for. The trip down the Shotover River was an exhilarating and at times violent one, but we managed to hold on and stay out of the cold water.
That afternoon we decided to take it a bit easier, catching the Skyline Gondola up Bob's Peak for a remarkable view of the town, the lake, and the surrounding mountain ranges. The weather was perfect, as attested to by the number of paragliders and bungee jumpers we saw throwing caution to wind both literally and figuratively. We capped it off with the culinary delights of the two largest burgers on the menu at Fergburger, Queenstown's famous fast-food restaurant, where the wait was only 30 minutes.
It was still dark when the bus picked us up at 6.40am for a full-day excursion to Milford Sound in the Fiordland National Park. Few sights are worth a ten-hour round-trip bus ride (complete with hungover American tourists in the seats in front), but this is one of them. The raw natural beauty of the fiord with its dolphins, seals, waterfalls and towering rock faces kept us out on the foredeck despite the wind and cold. Riding the waves coming in from the Tasman Sea is an epic experience that is hard to beat.
With a little time to kill on our last day we headed up to Caddyshack City, Queenstown's indoor mini golf course. The level of care and detail on display in the 18 elaborate holes was truly impressive, with sets including a working golf ball ski lift and other animated elements. The sun was shining as we emerged from the course and headed back down to catch a taxi to the airport, ending our holiday in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Please view the full photo album here.