My family and I recently returned from a trip to Queenstown and Wanaka where I was product testing a couple of properties and activities, I thought I would share the experience with you.
Where we stayed We split our time between two wonderful properties, the amazing Azur Lodge and The Rees Hotel.
Azur Lodge remains one of my personal favourites in Queenstown so a return visit was eagerly anticipated. We were warmly greeted by Tania and Elvis the lodge dog and shown around the main lodge, where there is a spacious and relaxing lounge with fire place and views out across Lake Wakatipu and the mountains, (chiefly Walter and Cecil Peak) as well as dining room and kitchen. Tania explains that there are no firm rules at Azur, breakfast can be taken in your private villa or you can choose to dine with the other lodge guests in the main dining room, breakfast can also be eaten when ever you like. So whether you have an early start or would like a lie in and eat breakfast at 1:00pm the choice is yours! As with the menu… there is no menu, there is a choice of cereals, fresh fruit, juices, and baked goods, and Maria the lodge chef is happy to make what ever you desire, from eggs and bacon to her delicious homemade waffles, (highly recommended!). More about Azur Lodge can be found here in a previous blog entry.
We did have plans to explore Queenstown in the afternoon, but once the family had seen the luxurious villa we decided to stay put and enjoy. The views from the villa and the deck are stunning, uninterrupted views of the lake and snow capped mountains. The furnishings are plush and comfortable with possum pillows and warm throws, a fire place for the winter and spacious decks for the summer time. There is a complimentary mini bar with soft drinks and beer, tea and coffee, and also free WiFi. The Azur’s well photographed bathroom has to be mentioned – I have to admit I made full use of the spa bath with a view, lots of bubbles and pulled back the bi-fold window, enjoyed the view with a glass of Acadia cuvee from Amisfield Winery.
Afternoon tea is also complimentary and should not be missed! Maria is a legend, we were told all about her wonderful tarts and cakes before we even arrived at the lodge, and were not let down, she also makes the best homemade cookies and yoyo biscuits. Azur lodge offers complimentary transfers into Queenstown and the staff are happy to recommend restaurants and make reservations for you. You can also choose to dine in your villa and choose from take outs or local restaurants, one of the lovely lodge staff will pop and pick it up for you and set it up in your villa. We chose the famous Queenstown Fergburger, not to be missed!
The rest of our stay was at The Rees Hotel, located on Frankton Road half way between the airport and Queenstown centre, it’s ideally situated. The hotel also offers complimentary transfers into town, these shared shuttle buses run every hour to and from town, or you could also choose to book a water taxi direct from the hotels private jetty. The Rees has a mixture of hotel rooms and self contained apartments, which are great family options. Our 2 bedroom apartment was very spacious with a well equipped kitchen, dining room to seat 6, lounge and private deck. The children’s bedroom with own bathroom is located on the lower level, whilst the larger than average master suite again with en suite is on a second level. Much like Azur the views from the apartment are stunning, and with the terraced design of the hotel totally uninterrupted. There is a flat walking track that runs directly in front of the hotel into Queenstown, a steady 30 minutes scenic stroll along the lake front, or the hotel also has a supply of mountain bikes if you feel like a different mode of transport. The Rees in house restaurant True South is award winning and I recommend that you dine here at least one night of your stay. The staff at The Rees are friendly and attentive, from the reception staff, housekeeping and shuttle bus driver they all bend over backwards to help guests relax and enjoy their stay! Read further information about The Rees Hotel here.
What we did… or should I say what didn’t we do! Queenstown and Wanaka offer so much choice on what to do its hard to fit it all in. We chose a couple of organised activities and enjoyed some down time, exploring the shops, cafes and restaurants and great walks in the area. We just managed to catch the last of the snow and enjoyed an afternoon snowboarding on Coronet Peak. There are several ski fields in the area, Coronet Peak is the closest to town and more accessible, we were on the top of the mountain within 20 minutes from leaving Azur lodge. The Remarkable’s ski field is around 30 minutes drive from town and then further out towards Wanaka you have Cardrona and Treble Cone. There are regular shuttle buses from Queenstown to any of these fields.
On day 3 of our trip we had arranged a snow shoeing trip with Peter from NZ Walks. Peter collected us from The Rees Hotel at 8:00am, and drove out to The Remarkables mountain range, where he kitted us out with snow shoes and poles, and extra warm jackets. The snow shoeing was a really cool and fun day, we walked steadily up getting used to the show shoes, the altitude and walking in the snow. The views were absolutely stunning, clear blue skies, and snow capped mountains, and across to the township of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. We stopped to explore some snow caves, and have a snow ball fight. We had a tea break in a snow cave, such a surreal experience in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by blankets of snow. Very close to the top of Remarkables Peter our guide pops out a flask and cookies which we enjoyed inside the snow cave or igloo! We walked past a frozen lake which appears in the Lord of The Rings movies and frozen waterfalls, it was a truly memorable day, and something all the family can enjoy, from younger members of your family to the oldest. I am told the oldest person to don snow shoes with Peter was 84! Snowshoeing is a great way to access to the spectacular mountains and peaceful nature around Queenstown, and a great winter walk. Peter the owner of NZ Walks is extremely passionate about his job and the area – not only is he an experienced guide but also very informative and entertaining with his stories, I thoroughly recommend it! NZ Walks also offer guided day walks on some of the best tracks in the area such as The Routeburn Track and Rob Roy Glacier, and shorter walks closer to Queenstown for those on a tighter itinerary. You can read more about New Zealand’s Great Walks in a previous Luxury Adventures post. For further ideas about what to do you can read our top 10 New Zealand experiences post.
Day 4 we drove over to Wanaka, stopping at Arrowtown along the way, we explored the old Chinese mining settlement here and walked down the main street, browsing though the shops and back along the river. Arrowtown is only a 10 minute drive from Queenstown, and a further 40 minutes to Wanaka. The drive from Queenstown to Wanaka across the Crown Range is in itself time well spent, the scenery is fantastic. You could also stop at the Cardrona Hotel which was built in the 1870’s and one of New Zealands oldest hotels, there is a bar and restaurant there, if nothing else its worth stopping for a photo opportunity! In Wanaka we met with Mark from Ridgeline Adventures, once comfortably seated in Marks Land Rover Defender 110 vehicle we headed out along the lake shore on Mt Aspiring Road. Mark pointed out lots of points of interest along the way, and made a couple of stops to take photos and talk about the flora and fauna of the region. We headed into a private high country station, where deer, sheep and cattle roam happily together. Mark is lucky enough to be the only guide allowed access to this truly magnificent piece of land. He takes you well off the beaten track to experience what can only be described as true and pure New Zealand, not a soul to be seen for miles, only the dear and sheep with views stretching over Lake Wanaka and beyond to the Treble Cone Mountain Ranges and Mt Aspiring, across the Tukituki River. We stopped on a point over looking the lake and had a coffee and snacks, then headed down by foot to a private beach on the lake shore. This beach was where early settlers landed in the 1800’s and made a home. Mark showed us ruins of the house and outbuildings and talked knowledgeably about the history of the area, information you wouldn’t learn from a book. We stood on the beach and looked at an old black and white photo taken over a 100 years and compared it to the backdrop, not one thing had changed, and it was picture postcard real New Zealand! We spent a half day exploring with Mark and could have spent much longer, he truly is very passionate about Wanaka, the nature, wildlife and history of the area, and truly loves his job. Who could blame him with an office like that! Luxury Adventures have a long standing relationship with Mark and many clients have enjoyed his 4wD safaris around Wanaka, he also offers photography tours, nature tours and wine tours all of which can be taken as part of a small group or privately. Its a fantastic way to get off the beaten track and experience “real” New Zealand! You can read more about Mark’s Ridgeline Adventures operation here in a previous post.