Queenstown and Central Otago, New Zealand travel guide and things to do: 20 reasons to visit

From the vibrant cafe and restaurant scene in Queenstown, to delicious dining options in Wanaka and world-class wineries, there are many compelling reasons to visit Central Otago.

1 EAT RATA, QUEENSTOWN

Rata, on Ballarat Street, is the must-visit restaurant in these parts. Chef Josh Emett's food is contemporary and clever, with a focus on slow cooking and robust flavours, and the sleek dining room is set off by the striking back-lit photograph of a forest of rata trees. The shared Feast menu represents great value with dishes such as seared Wakanui sirloin with shitake, ginger and soy. The two- and three-course lunches are a bargain, too. See ratadining.co.nz

2 TASTE FELTON ROAD, BANNOCKBURN

Felton Road winery sets the benchmark for Central Otago pinot poir, although its chardonnay and riesling are also highly regarded. Under the tutelage of talented winemaker Blair Walter, Felton Road specialises in matching grape varieties to soil types, which vary in the vineyards from heavy clays to free-draining schist: the grey, slate-like stone used extensively in buildings in Queenstown and Wanaka. The vineyard is run on organic and biodynamic principles and the lavender-swathed cellar door is manned by friendly, knowledgeable staff. See feltonroad.com.

3 STAY MATAKAURI LODGE, QUEENSTOWN

There are few settings more dramatic than that of Matakauri Lodge, perched on the edge of Lake Wakatipu. Acclaimed New Zealand designer Virginia Fisher, whose ability to combine cosiness with luxury is unparalleled, has created elegant but welcoming interiors in the communal areas and 12 guest rooms. A separate Owner's Cottage features four suites with private jacuzzi, kitchen and courtyard. There's also a spa, infinity pool and fully equipped fitness centre. Rates from $595 a person, a night, twin share. See matakaurilodge.com.

4 SHOP THE REMARKABLES MARKET, QUEENSTOWN

Held every Saturday from late October to mid April, this market at Remarkables Park Red Barn is the gathering point for local growers and farmers selling seasonal fruit and vegetables, including organics, meat, fish, cheese and free-range eggs, as well as stallholders with artisan crafts, fresh flowers, coffee, snacks and more. There's also a children's sandpit to keep little ones occupied. See remarkablespark.com/community/remarkables-market

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5 EAT FERGBURGER, QUEENSTOWN

This former hole-in-the-wall burger joint in central Shotover Street has earned cult status in Queenstown food circles. Its burgers are as tasty as they are cleverly named and include the Southern Swine (Kiwi beef with American streaky bacon, lettuce, tomato, aioli and relish); the Cockadoodle Oink (crumbed chicken with bacon and trimmings); and Holier than Thou (tempura tofu with satay sauce). It's open 21 hours a day, but expect to queue. See fergburger.com

6 DO CENTRAL OTAGO RAIL TRAIL

If you're not skiing or snowboarding, then you'll have to do something to work off all this gastronomic and enological indulgence. The Central Otago Rail Trail is a cycling and walking track built on former railway lines, that runs from Clyde (just over an hour's drive south-east of Queenstown) to Middlemarch. This is one of the best trails you can explore, passing historic mining towns, and the spectacularly beautiful, rugged scenery for which New Zealand is renowned. There is good accommodation along the trail and a choice of operators who will take the organisational headaches out of the whole exercise. All you need to do is pedal. See otagocentralrailtrail.co.nz

7 STAY EICHHARDT'S LAKEFRONT APARTMENTS, QUEENSTOWN

Eichhardt's Private Hotel, on Marine Parade, has long been one of the most popular luxury stays in Queenstown. In addition to the hotel suites in the main building there are four self-contained, two-bedroom apartments with stunning lake and mountain views and flexible configurations for families and larger groups. Both hotel and apartments have been designed by Virginia Fisher with nothing spared in the pursuit of absolute luxury and comfort. Guests also have access to the hotel facilities. See eichardts.com/lake-front-apartments/

8 TASTE MT DIFFICULTY, BANNOCKBURN

The evocatively named Mt Difficulty winery, restaurant and cellar door on Felton Road is set in a commanding position atop a steep gravel drive, with a magnificent view over the Carrick Range. Like its neighbours (including Felton Road, literally next door), Mt Difficulty is known for its pinot noir. The perennially popular Roaring Meg Pinot Noir is an easy-drinking wine, currently in the 2013 vintage, a mix of dark berry flavours and hints of herb and spice. Its aromatic whites are also a specialty. There are gorgeous views from the restaurant, tables on the balcony when the weather's kind, and cosy fires inside when it's not. Graze on an antipasti platter or mains such as wild Fiordland venison with baby carrots, smoked paprika, chickpeas and scallops – with a glass of Mt Difficulty, of course. Reservations recommended. See mtdifficulty.co.nz.

9 EAT MADAM WOO, QUEENSTOWN

Chinese and Malay street food are the stars here at this vibrant eatery in The Mall, on Lower Ballarat Street, run by award-winning restaurateurs Josh Emett and Fleur Caulton (of Rata fame) in collaboration with Jane Leong. Among the crowd-pleasers on the menu are classic Malay satays, beef rendang, nonya chicken curry and roti canai-style "hawker rolls" full of pulled sticky pork or sweet and sour fish. See madamwoo.co.nz.

10 TASTE RIPPON VINEYARD, WANAKA

Winery settings don't get much more picturesque than Rippon's, on Mount Aspiring Road. Neat rows of vines run down to Lake Wanaka, with Mount Aspiring and the Southern Alps the chocolate-box backdrop. When founder Rolfe Mills planted his first commercial vines here in 1981 he was told the microclimate was best suited to aromatic German white grapes – riesling and gewurztraminer are two of the popular drops – but he planted pinot noir anyway, and it's the wine for which Rippon is most renowned. See rippon.co.nz.

11 EAT AGAVE, ARROWTOWN

One of Arrowtown's newest eateries, in Buckingham Street, Agave brings authentic Mexican flavours to the quaint goldmining village, using fresh local produce. It's the latest project from restaurateurs Pete Gawron and Melanie Hill, owners of Saffron and The Blue Door. The menu features sharing plates of soft-shell tacos, enchiladas and fajitas, plus daily specials and a killer margarita made with Central Otago stone fruit. See saffronrestaurant.co.nz/agave.

12 DO QUEENSTOWN WINTER FESTIVAL

Queenstown celebrates winter every year with this annual festival, featuring everything from ice skating to all-star snowboarding and dog derbies. It began in 1975 when a group of locals decided that the start of winter was a good excuse for a party. These days it's a 10-day celebration of Queenstown's culture and community, with mountain races, street parties, fireworks, international and local acts, jazz and comedy, mardi gras, family fun, and plenty of quirky action on the region's ski slopes. Some call it the biggest winter party in the southern hemisphere. See winterfestival.co.nz.

13 SHOP PATAGONIA CHOCOLATES, QUEENSTOWN

The delicate chocolates, chocolate-covered biscuits and chocolate-themed cakes displayed here are nothing short of exquisite. It's a popular little cafe, too, located on Beach Street. Come for excellent coffee or rich hot chocolate (the real deal) and piping hot churros dunked in indulgent salted caramel or intense dark-chocolate sauce. See patagoniachocolates.co.nz.

14 TASTE CHARD FARM, GIBBSTON VALLEY

Located on a spectacular terrace above the Kawarau River Gorge, the original farm on the site supplied vegetables to miners in the area in the 19th century. Today Chard Farm is a thriving vineyard and cellar door. Among the notable aromatics, the pinot gris and gewurztraminer are standouts, but it's the multiple tiers of pinot noir, made from single-vineyard grapes grown in several locations, for which Chard Farm maintains its reputation. See chardfarm.co.nz.

15 STAY POUNAMU APARTMENTS, QUEENSTOWN

These well-equipped apartments on Frankton Road are spacious and family-friendly, with glorious views of the Remarkables; gas fires and a heated outdoor jacuzzi help soothe apres-ski aches. It's a short drive or easy 10-minute walk to the centre of town, and the ski fields shuttle buses stop directly outside if you want to avoid driving to the slopes. Two-bedroom apartments, $655 a night, with seasonal deals. See pounamuapartments.co.nz.

16 TASTE AMISFIELD WINERY, QUEENSTOWN

Amisfield is just 14 kilometres out of Queenstown, so an easy place to come for a late lunch or early dinner after a busy day on the slopes.  At this architect-designed schist stone cellar door and restaurant on Lake Hayes Road you can  taste Amisfield's aromatic whites and pinot noir, or linger in the acclaimed bistro, matching seasonal dishes with Amisfield wines. See amisfield.co.nz.

17 TASTE CARRICK WINES

This organic vineyard, winery, restaurant and cellar door on Cairnmuir Road, overlooking Bannockburn Inlet, is known for its quality pinot noir, as well as chardonnay, riesling, pinot gris and sauvignon blanc. Book in advance for a table at the popular restaurant, which focuses on seasonal local produce, including game and vegetables from their own garden. Sharing platters are perfect for a quick nibble as you sample the Carrick drops. Things get more serious with the a la carte menu, with dishes such as potato gnocchi with Otago lamb ragout and autumn greens matched with Carrick's Crown & Cross Pinot Noir. See carrick.co.nz.

18 EAT CHOP SHOP FOOD MERCHANTS

The ever-changing menu keeps things fresh at this newish Arrowtown cafe in the former Joe's Garage site. Open for breakfast and lunch, it's a quirky place, decorated with recycled and vintage wares, books for table legs, and tea cups like nana's. Their sweet specialty is a take on the traditional Kiwi dish of Southland sushi – a slice of French toast spread with peanut butter and jam, rolled up, deep-fried and then dusted in sugar. A perfect accompaniment for a cup of boutique eighthirty coffee. See facebook.com/pages/The-Chop-Shop-Food-Merchants.

19 EAT FRANCESCA'S ITALIAN KITCHEN, WANAKA

Arguably Wanaka's most popular eatery, Francesca's, just off  Ardmore Street, offers a Kiwi take on Italian fare. The wood-fired oven at one end of the high-ceilinged, family-friendly space turns out flatbread heady with garlic and oil and pizzas with a New Zealand twist such as venison pepperoni with red onion, chilli and mozzarella. Keep the wolf from the door with small bites including moreish polenta fries and cheese-filled arancini before tucking into rib-sticking pasta dishes such as house-made potato gnocchi with braised beef cheek, pecorino and gremolata. See fransitalian.co.nz.

20 STAY WHARE KEA LODGE, WANAKA

With a stunning setting on the shores of Lake Wanaka about five kilometres out of town and with uninterrupted views of Mount Aspiring and its neighbouring peaks, Whare Kea is New Zealand luxury at its understated best. A recent change in management structure allows private groups to take the entire lodge for exclusive use. Guests and others also have access (through Mount Aspiring Helicopters) to overnight stays at the private chalet at 1750 metres on the edge of Mount Aspiring National Park. Exclusive use for five nights for up to 12 people, self-catering, from $12,500. See wharekealodge.com.

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