Queenstown is a happening little ski town in the South Island of New Zealand. Pretty girls in ugg boots and cool boys with the unmistakeable flair of snowboarders walk the streets in the late afternoon after the slopes have closed, unless the lure of night skiing at Coronet Peak is too strong, in which case they walk the streets at about 2am (when fortunately local icon Fergburger is open for a little carb-loading).
However it’s not all about the ski culture – people flock to this small town, cradled amongst the spectacular alps at the Northern end of Lake Wakatipu simply because (a) it offers something for everyone and (b) the surrounding scenery is just breathtaking. The slopes are a bit of a drive- Coronet Peak and The Remarkables are 20 minutes or so from town, Cardrona about an hour or so and Treble Cone a little longer than that. But what a drive: each one so spectacular that you could fall to your knees and thank whatever deity you like that it’s not ski-in ski-out.
Can you stay closer to the slopes? Why yes. Wanaka is a tiny jewel on pellucid Lake Wanaka with some great little spots to eat and some friendly local accommodations. The only real place of note to stay is the gorgeously isolated lodge of Whare Kea, on the road to Treble Cone in one of the most stunning settings anywhere. And tiny heritage Arrowtown (which boasts some magnificent restaurants including Saffron, Agave and the highly decorated Amisfield Winery and, and the adorable arthouse cinema Dorothy Browns) is closer to both Coronet Peak and Cardrona. Personally however I like to stay in Queenstown, where it’s easy to take a frosty constitutional around the Botanic Gardens, to grab a rich hot chocolate from Koko Black, to have a meal at Josh Emmett’s urban locavore Rata which will surprise and delight, or to nip out for some woolly underthreads from Untouched World. Or, you know, jump on a jetboat and speed through a canyon you could nearly touch the walls of with both hands outstretched.
For my money, the best place to stay in town is Eichardt’s Private Hotel.
I have long patronised Eichardt’s den-like Bar, with fond but fuzzy memories of gold-leaf encrusted chocolate martinis but recently took advantage of a late winter birthday to head over for a few days. Eichardt’s has only five suites, with a new penthouse and a further two Lake View suites to be opened shortly. For families, Eichardt’s offers the equally lovely Lakefront Apartments, just a few doors down and able to be divided or opened up in a variety of configurations ranging from two to eight bedrooms.
We were sans offspring on this occasion and took a Lake View Suite which had everything you could want in a cosy alpine room: open fires, fur throws, a large alcove bathtub surrounded by oversized candles, homemade cookies, squashy sofas, and of course, a view straight out onto the lake. As if this weren’t enough, just down the hallway is the Whiskey Parlour, with equally squashy sofas, a card table, and plenty of the good stuff waiting in heavy decanters to put a fire in your belly.
Staff are multinational and unfailingly pleasant, and are shared with the lovely 10-room Spire Hotel just around the corner. Owned by the same crowd, The Spire is a contemporary luxury guesthouse (and at a slightly more wallet-friendly price point), and in house guests of either hotel are free to take advantage of the included apres-ski drink or breakfast at the other, which is a great idea for a change of scenery.
The food is excellent (the chowder is a favourite) and is served tapas style throughout the day. The cocktail and wine list is imaginative and well thought out too. As for that apres-ski cocktail, I now have a new favourite, The Gingerbread Old Fashioned: Remy Martin VSOP brandy, Domaine De Canton French ginger liqueur, cloves, root ginger, cinnamon and chocolate bitters. Now if that doesn’t get you across the ditch, I don’t know what will.