by James Ridenour
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Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown New Zealand (New Zealand is also known in Maori as Aoteroa, the land of the long white cloud) is one of world’s hot spots for skiers, adventure seekers and those who want to get away from it all.  Queenstown offers some of the world’s most incredible scenery and is a beautiful place to visit year round.  Queenstown was originally settled by graziers in the early 1800’s.  A gold rush in the 1860’s brought people from all over the world to this beautiful spot and the rest is golden history.  Queenstown now counts itself among the world’s greatest resorts and has a tiny permanent population of less than 20,000 which incredibly hosts over a million visitors per year.  Queenstown offers world-class skiing, mountain biking, hiking, four-wheel driving as well as New Zealand’s obligatory adrenaline sports.   You will also find a large choice of accommodation, wineries, restaurants, bars, clubs and shopping in this scenic destination.

I was in Queenstown for a Les Clefs d’Or concierge conference (Les Clefs d’Or is the worldwide professional association of hotel concierges) and my week consisted of a great mix of activities, social outings and meetings.  Our group of concierges travelled from all over the world to spend time networking and learning about what’s new in the hospitality industry and guest services.  We all had a marvellous time and we were treated to some true Kiwi hospitality by some of the most genuine and welcoming people anywhere in the world.  Everyone raved about the natural beauty of New Zealand and the genuine hospitality of our hosts from Les Clefs d’Or New Zealand.  Our  meetings in Queenstown afforded us time to unwind and to spend quality time with each other.  The week could not have been a better success.

QT 44I stayed at the magnificently located Crowne Plaza Queenstown.  The Crowne Plaza is situated right across the street from the main wharf in the town centre.  The hotel has views of the city, lake, botanic gardens and the Remarkables mountain range.  The hotel has the best concierge in the South Island; the Queen of Queenstown Miss Fiona Lawson.  Fiona relocated from Christchurch after the earthquake and now calls Queenstown home.  Her boundless enthusiasm and her exceptional local knowledge will ensure that your stay in Queenstown will be one you will remember for a lifetime.  Fiona can help you with everything from day trip plans, to the wildest adventures.  The Crowne Plaza Queenstown offers luxurious full service accommodation and conference facilities complete with 24 hour room service, restaurant and bar.  All rooms feature a balcony with the very best views in town (rooms have either a courtyard or lake view). My tip is to ensure you have a lake view room as the view is spectacular.  I spent many evenings out on my terrace enjoying a glass in New Zealand sauvignon blanc and taking in the majestic views of the city, mountains and Lake Wakatipu.

QT 10

During my stay I ventured out for a couple of excursions including a wonderful day in the nearby historic town of Arrowtown.  Established at the height of the gold rush Arrowtown now features several unique shops, art galleries, cafes and restaurants.  I dined in the historic Stables restaurant as well as the Postmaster’s Residence restaurant.  The highlight of Arrowtown was discovering the Provisions of Arrowtown Bakery and Cafe which serves the best cinnamon bun in the South Island.  When in Arrowtown you must give this place a try!

QT 4Our second outing was a winery tour of the surrounding area featuring a stop at one of the South Island’s most highly regarded wineries Peregrine Wines.   This winery has been forged from an old sheep station in the Otago region of New Zealand.  The Otago region is famous for Pinot and Cabernet wines as well as some wonderful sauvignon blancs.  Peregrine Wines have won several architectural and wine awards and is one of the most stunning wineries I have ever visited.  The winery features several old buildings harking back to its sheep station heritage.  The sheep shearing shed still includes the sheep chutes used to allow the sheep to exit the hut once shorn.  Add to the historic buildings the architectural masterpiece of a roof fashioned after the wing of a peregrine bird (a native hawk of New Zealand) and you have a complex that is sure to please.  The tasting room is equally as impressive with this dramatic room situated just in front of the barrel room.  This impressive venue is staffed with friendly and knowledgeable staff that will walk you through the award-winning line up of wines.  Wines can be shipped anywhere in the world and are available for sale in Melbourne at Vintage Cellars.  The reserve pinots are well worth seeking out and are sure to impress.

My last and most adventurous outing was a four-wheel driving adventure around the central Otago region with Off Road Queenstown.  Our guide was Hamish who is a fifth generation South Islander.  Hamish provided us with information that only a descendant of an original settler could do.  We learned of the resourcefulness of the early settles in New Zealand and of the many industries that helped to provide a living to its early inhabitants such as farming, fishing, cattle ranching and mining.  Hamish took us from mountain peaks to river beds in our Toyota four-wheel drive.  We were treated to vistas ranging from the Otago mountaintops to cliff-side wineries and the rolling hills of the Otago countryside.  We ventured into riverbeds which are still being panned for gold and to cliff sides to view river gorges filled with crystal blue waters.  The tour was one of the best days I spent in Queenstown and I would love to go out again on one of the other Off Road Queenstown tours.QT 29

One of my most pleasant and relaxing days in Queenstown was the day I took to wander around the scenic Botanic Gardens which are located on the peninsula near the town centre.  The Botanic Gardens features a skating rink (great for ice hockey and skating), skate board park, lawn bowls club, tennis courts and a rose garden.  The gardens provide the best views of the lake, mountains and township and a wander through the trails and gardens are a great way to spend a lazy afternoon.  I recommend taking a picnic lunch and bottle of New Zealand wine or craft beer so that you can just relax and contemplate how spectacular this amazing country is.

Our conference was held at the Queenstown Convention Centre and the Skyline Centre.  The conference centre is close to the international airport and can host large groups making Queenstown a unique and inspiring conference destination.  Participants can work and play to a world-class standard.  Our formal functions were held at the Skyline Centre.  Situated on top of Bob’s Peak in Queenstown your evening begins with the adventure of a gondola ride up to the observation deck at the top of the peak.  The centre is complete with banqueting and conference facilities.  The view was without a doubt one of the most spectacular you will see anywhere in the world and the Skyline Centre was the perfect location for our gala dinner.

QT 45Our group also had a cocktail reception at the AJ Hackett Bungy Centre at Kawarau which is the first bungy jump in the world.   The centre has a large indoor pavilion which was the prefect spot to set up a DJ and party the night away.  The night started with cocktails and one by one the more adventurous of our group flung themselves off the 47 metre drop to the gorge below only to be bounced back up by the bungy cord before again being hurled into the gorge below.  Our group watched with fear and delight as bungy fever overtook the masses of concierges!  Each concierge who dared to bungy was rewarded with a boisterous round of applause from the onlooking group of concierges.  I must admit that the girls well outdid the boys on the night.  Congratulations ladies you shone with the Kiwi spirit of adventure!

Queenstown offers a large variety of restaurants, bars and cafes to suit every taste and budget.  My favourites were the Motogrill which served up great coffee, inexpensive and delicious breakfasts and lunches, all with a local flair for hospitality.   The team at Motogrill were so much fun to interact with, no wonder this cafe is one of the local’s favourite haunts.  Fergburger is another famous stop that is not to be missed.  Pumping out burgers twenty hours a day this place rocks with energy and the burgers are well worth its famous reputation.  For something a little more up-market Bella Cucina is a great spot for a wood fired pizza (the oven was shipped in from Italy).  Bella Cucina serves up authentic Italian pastas and meals in addition to the pizza and I recommend you have your splurge night at this wonderful spot.  Bellisimo!

I find myself back in Melbourne dreaming of the tranquil versus the adventure days of Queenstown.  I am sure to return and enjoy this unique and world-class destination and I look forward to visiting my Kiwi friends again.  Kia Ora, until we meet again!


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