The long awaited LUMA Southern Light Project rolled into town two weeks ago and I was first in line to see what all the hype was about. Only in its second year, LUMA is relatively new to the QT festival scene but the promise of glowing artwork transforming the humble Queenstown Gardens certainly brought in the masses.
After a suitable feed at Bombay Palace to warm me up, I braved the cold and followed the crowds towards the gardens. Despite the chilly temperature, the atmosphere was buzzing and the festival was full of young and old alike. The featured pieces of art were contributed by local artists from Otago and around New Zealand. 26 bright sculptures made up the walk which winded its way through the gardens. There was also live music and food carts on offer, as well as a few lit-up fairies along the way. The different colours and patterns the lights created on the water and in the sky was really something special and the night of culture provided a welcome break from the adrenaline-based activities for which Queenstown is renowned.
I have to say that I have never been to anything like LUMA festival before and I really enjoyed not only the amazing light shows on offer but also the community atmosphere. It’s a place you can go with your friends, with your family or even by yourself and with mulled wine on offer I certainly was a fan! It was also a pleasant reminder that art is cool! Far removed from boring art classes spent failing at sketching an apple, I really enjoyed reading about each of the sculptures and the inspiration behind them. I also noticed that one of the pieces was contributed by a class at Wakatipu High School. It was great to see how young people were getting involved in LUMA and from the number of kids I saw enjoying the lights, the night was definitely a hit with all the family!
It’s fair to say that the three-day festival of lights was a roaring success and a night enjoyed by many! So thanks LUMA, we can’t wait for next year!
New Zealand is known for its outstanding scenery and out of this world landscapes. All of you have to do is step out of your front door and you will find yourself mesmerised by the beauty to be found at every turn! And we get to call this place home – lucky us! Situated in the Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound is one of two glacier-carved fiords and since arriving in Queenstown, it has been at the top of my bucket list. Finally last weekend I got the chance to go there, and boy did I arrive in style!
There are many ways to access Milford Sound and over half a million people make the journey every year. Most people choose to either self-drive or take a coach but with only one road in and one road out the journey can be long and slow. The quickest, and arguably the best, way to get to Milford Sound is by using one of the flight companies. Most will offer a package deal of flight and cruise with the choice of flying either one-way or return. If you’re strapped for cash the coach is definitely worth it as you still get to see all the beautiful things the National Park has to offer. But the view from above is hard to top!
I arrived at the Air Milford base around 9.30am one Saturday morning after calling beforehand to make sure the flight was going ahead. I had previously been booked onto other flights which had been cancelled due to poor weather conditions and the risk of cancellation is always high. If there is too much wind or poor visibility the planes will not be authorised to fly. Whilst it’s annoying to be cancelled last minute, it’s better to be safe than sorry! After meeting our pilot and being given a quick briefing of what the day would entail we headed off to our plane. Now, I would consider myself a ‘frequent flyer’, however I wasn’t quite prepared for the size of the plane we were about to board. With only 7 other people plus the pilot I literally felt like I was in a glorified taxi and admittedly, I was nervous. Of course I had nothing to be worried about as Air Milford has a 100% safety record! The nerves faded into insignificance as soon as we took off though as I was able to see Queenstown as I had never seen it before. Seated at the back of the plane, not only did we have plenty of legroom (score!), we also had uninterrupted views of the landscape below. Throughout the flight our pilot kept us informed about where we were and what we were looking at but to be honest I was too busy taking in the scenery to pay much attention – sorry!
The flight lasted for around 35 minutes and the highlight for me was flying over the snow-capped mountains. I was overwhelmingly humbled at the chance to see such a pure, untouched part of the world and the sight of the bright sun reflecting off the white snow was something I will never forget. After we landed, some obligatory plane selfies were snapped and then we headed to the dock to wait for the cruise section of our trip. Air Milford works with Southern Discoveries and therefore it was their boat which we would be boarding. However if you want a smaller, boutique cruise, you also have the Cruise Milford option which is rated as the #1 activity in Milford according to Trip Advisor! For anyone not flying with Air Milford, you will have the choice of many other cruise companies. I can’t comment on the others but they all take the same route and vary in terms of price so there is something for every budget! At the dock we had twenty minutes to kill before the next departure so we took the opportunity to try and sneak a glance at the beautiful Milford Sound.
Southern Discoveries cruises have the option for a buffet lunch which was included in our Air Milford ticket. As a vegan, the word buffet doesn’t always fill me with optimism but before I got on the boat I checked with the ticket office staff who assured me there were some options available. The food was as you would expect from a boat catering for 150+ guests but the fresh fruit was a nice touch and I was also informed that the noodles were vegan. I would suggest either bringing your own lunch or skipping food altogether though as it only takes up time which could be better spent outside making the most of the scenery! We headed up to the top deck as soon as possible to take photos and even the bitterly cold wind couldn’t dampen our spirits! The cruise takes around 45 minutes in total and the highlight for me was seeing the fur seals taking a nap on some rocks beside a waterfall! Apparently on good days you can also see dolphins and penguins so I will be back for that! Insider tip – the waterfall is magnificent and they steer the boat really close which makes it a great photo opportunity but you will be up against stiff competition to get the perfect shot so head out to the lower front deck early and claim your selfie spot!
Once the cruise was over we headed back to the plane for our return trip. The pilot took a different route which gave us the opportunity to see some different terrain. On the way back we were in different seats, a few rows further up. Whilst the views are still amazing, it’s harder to get a good shot due to the position of the wing so if you want to get those outstanding pics try to request a back row seat!
Whatever way you look at it, the flight option to Milford Sound is expensive, but for this experience I would urge everyone to consider splashing out – at least for a one-way flight. It was truly one of the best things I have ever done. The views were next to none and I couldn’t help but feel I was getting a sneak peek of the true beauty of nature in an untouched pocket of the world. And, if the flying isn’t for you, rest assured that the views from the cruise will not disappoint! Happy flying!
Since arriving in Queenstown I have been waiting impatiently to try out the Onsen Hot Pools. Not only do I love a good bath, but looking at images of the views from the pools over the Shotover River had left me green with envy. After 3 months here today was finally the day and it was easy to see why the demand is so high for this unique experience!
Waking up to -2 degrees I literally had to drag myself out of bed. I drove to the hot pools with the air con turned up full only to be met with a pathetic stream of semi-warm air (Queenstown second hand cars … enough said). When we arrived at the hot pools we saw some work going on outside which we found out was the construction of two new massage rooms. There was a little noise from the drill but as soon as we got downstairs it wasn’t noticeable. We were given a jug of water on arrival, which turned out to be a life saver so I urge you to accept the offer, and the most amazing passion fruit scented candle! We then headed to the pools. You get your own private pool with a maximum of 4 people per room. There are benches and hooks to hang up your clothes and a shower in the corner. The first thing you notice when you walk in is, without a doubt, the view. The Shotover River once again left me enchanted!
Luckily by the time we had arrived the weather had picked up and although it was still freezing, the sky was clear and the view outstanding. The water was hot but not uncomfortably so and there is an option to add cold water as well as a button which controls the retractable roof. Once we had settled in and opened up the roof we were able to really appreciate the views. The snow-capped mountains, crystal blue water and occasional jet boat whizzing past coupled with a silence interrupted only by the sounds of nature, made for a truly unforgettable experience. When I first arrived, I thought I could stay there for hours but in hindsight I think the 60 minute slots are just perfect. Before we knew it, our buzzer was ringing which signalled the end of the most relaxing bath I have ever taken.
I am so glad to have finally gotten to experience all the Onsen Hot Pools have to offer. The concept is simple and it is executed so well. The staff were friendly and welcoming, the pool area was clean and tidy and the whole experience was top notch! I would highly recommend this activity to singles, couples, friends or families – but be sure to book in advance so you don’t miss out!
Queenstown, like most of New Zealand, is spoilt for choice when it comes to beautiful walks and hiking trails. Living right beside the lake I often take a dander down to the Frankton Trail to walk beside the water. A few weeks ago, I was feeling more adventurous so I did a quick search for Queenstown walks and happened upon the Tiki Trail. Now, whilst I would say I enjoy the odd walk or two, I’m certainly no avid rambler. According to the website the Tiki Trail is moderately difficulty and should take around one hour all in. Spoiler alert – it was neither moderate nor one hour in duration. In saying that though it’s worth doing and you’ll soon see why!
The trail starts at the bottom of the Skyline Gondola. The incline is steep from the get go and the first 20 minutes or so are probably the most difficult. Despite my lungs feeling like they were going to burst and my heart literally beating a mile a minute, the hike through the forest was very refreshing. We passed some other people along the way but for the most part it was just ourselves, the trees and probably hundreds of possums. About half way up we came to a clearing with the most breath-taking views of Queenstown I have seen to date. From this awesome vantage point you can see Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables and we were lucky enough to have the autumn sun on our side which made the view like a postcard.
After an impromptu photo shoot we headed back into the forest and continued uphill. The Tiki Trail winds upwards criss-crossing with the Queenstown Track used by mountain bikers. Take a minute to watch them fly past at top speed but watch your step to avoid a collision! Eventually we arrived at the top of the trail, red-faced and out of breath but feeling very accomplished. At the top we were greeted with the smiling faces of the cool, calm and collected gondola goers who had raced up the hill in 5 minutes and I can only imagine what they were thinking when they saw me emerge from the bushes.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to give luging a go so we just spent some time taking in the view. After a quick 5 minute debate on the merits of walking back down rather than taking the easy option of the gondola, we began our descent. The views from the top are still outstanding but if you’re after amazing photos of Lake Wakatipu I recommend hiking up to the first vantage where there are infinitely less people around. The walk down was of course much more pleasant and as it was getting towards mid-day we passed a lot more people. Throughout the whole descent we were asked ‘how far to the top?’ and my response remained the same ‘not too much further’. Something tells me the guy in the car park wasn’t convinced by my answer…
All in all it took us around two hours to get up and down the trail, with a 20 minute rest at the top. If you’re after a moderate hike, and I’m using this term loosely, with great views of Queenstown then this is the one for you! And if the ascent sounds a bit too challenging then you can always take the gondola up and walk back down. Despite the fact that my calves, knees and ankles would disagree, I have to say that Tiki is definitely a trail worth tackling!
I’ve always been a massive lover of rock-climbing so when I heard about Via Ferrata in Queenstown I was intrigued. Last Saturday when I went to their office on Camp Street to get kitted out, I admittedly didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. Thankfully the front office girls and our guide, ML, were really informative and explained exactly what we would be doing. Via ferrata means iron road in Italian and apparently, it originated in Europe as a way for farmers to easily traverse the rocky terrain. It consists of iron ‘steps’ which are fixed into the rock – basically a huge ladder up the mountain!
The starting point of the climb is a car park about 5 minutes outside of town but even there the views are amazing. When ML pointed out the spot we would be climbing I remained sceptical. Staring up at a vertical cliff face I was wondering if it was too late to change my mind! ML went over some safety points with us and before we knew it we were off the ground. Via Ferrata offers a variety of different routes to suit every ability. Our group only had 3 people (I think the max is 4), and we chose to do one of the harder routes – or rather, my group chose and I responded with an uncertain nodding / shaking head manoeuvre. I have to say that throughout the climb I felt very safe. You are strapped into your harness and are always attached to a safety cable that runs beside the steps. There is also a third carabiner which you can use to attach yourself to a step and take the weight off your arms if you need a rest.
The day alternated between climbing and walking which was good as it gave you a chance to place your feet back on solid ground and catch your breath. I wouldn’t say that our climb was easy but rather it was just the right amount of a challenge. On our way up I saw some of the easier routes and they would be perfect for younger or less experienced climbers. The highlight for me was the views. Even from ground level the Queenstown mountains don’t disappoint but the higher you climb the more breath-taking it becomes. Given that I would have undoubtedly dropped my phone, ML was happy to keep it and take loads of photos. By the top of the climb we had reached 300m and I was absolutely knackered. Thankfully, the descent was just a 15 minute walk down the other side of the mountain which joins with the Queenstown Hill track. The trip lasts around 3 hours in total and it flies by! I would highly recommend this to anyone who loves climbing or wants to give it a go. I would say the climbing is easier physically than normal rock climbing and a great alternative if you want to try something a bit different! A huge thanks once again to ML for being such a great guide and to all the team at Via Ferrata for providing a great day out!
It seems fitting that my inaugural restaurant review for Girl About Queenstown should be the café I frequent on a weekly basis! Bespoke Kitchen was one of the first eateries I visited when I moved to Queenstown and it remains a firm favourite. It’s located just outside the main hustle and bustle of town and if you didn’t know what to look for you’d probably miss it. The exterior of the building is unimposing and the décor itself is rustic but this allows the outstanding food to shine through. Voted Best Café in New Zealand in 2015, the creators of Vudu Café have truly outdone themselves with Bespoke Kitchen – they do brunch the right way.
If you look up vegan restaurants in Queenstown, Bespoke is one of the first hits and, in my opinion, one of the best. Their vegan options are varied with sweet, savoury and everything in between. Whilst their main menu remains the same, their cabinet filled with desserts, sandwiches and salads changes on a daily basis – and I’ve never been disappointed! In terms of savoury options, the best thing I’ve had to date has undoubtedly been the vegan roulade which I opted for today and, whilst I’m going purely off appearances for non-vegan options, my boyfriend assures me their eggs benedict are out of this world. When it comes to Bespoke though, the proof is most definitely in the pudding. Their vegan spiced orange pancakes are heaven on a plate. When I say it’s the best vegan dish I’ve ever had, I’m really not exaggerating (anyone who knows me will roll their eyes at this statement, but I promise… they’re unreal!). I’ll let the photo speak for itself…
The service is quick, the food well-priced and the portions huge. I’ve learnt from my mistakes and now avoid wearing jeans when I go to Bespoke because with treats that good my eyes are always bigger than my stomach! If you’re looking for the best café in Queenstown CBD, look no further.
Try it out for yourself at 9 Isle Street, Queenstown.
Welcome to my first official post on Girl About Queenstown! I thought I’d kick things off with an activity review of the bike tour company Around The Basin. On a sunny April morning a few weeks ago I decided to try a bike tour which, considering I hadn’t ridden a bike in literally years, could have ended in tears. However, I had nothing to worry about because I had an awesome day and was very well looked after by the Around The Basin team! I decided to do their half day Arrow River Trail which lasts around 4 hours and covers 15km. The day before the tour I gave my measurements to Lisa, one of the operations managers, so they could pick a bike for me. The following morning I turned up ready to go at 9am at the Around The Basin headquarters in central Queenstown. Our guide, Hamish, introduced himself and we set off for Arrowtown in a mini-bus – bikes in tow. On our drive, Hamish was very chatty and gave us lots of interesting facts about the area. Around 20 minutes later we had arrived in Arrowtown and were shown a quick safety video which stated the obvious – how to change gears etc. I evidently wasn’t paying enough attention as I realised 15 minutes into the cycle that I was attempting steep hills in 9th gear but we won’t dwell on that! Hamish also gave us helmets, bar bags, maps, and bottles of water which all came in handy.
We were a group of 10 or so people but once we were given our maps we were free to do the tour independently. I really liked this aspect as it meant everyone could take things at their own pace and it also gave us the opportunity to stop when we wanted to take photos (or in my case, catch your breath!). From our starting point on the Arrow River Trail we headed along the track beside the Kawarau River. Our first pit stop was one of the suspension bridges and the view from here was spectacular. I took full advantage of the photo op as you’ll see below! At the far side of the bridge Hamish was there to see how we were getting on and to give us a pep talk. I thought this was a nice touch as it gave the option to drop off any unnecessary possessions, or, if the going was too tough, to stop the cycling part of the tour and take the van to the finish point. I’m glad I persevered however as we got to cross another suspension bridge and eventually reached our next pit stop at the Kawarau Bridge. I should add at this point that the actual tour itself is not that physically demanding, I may have just been embracing the Queenstown lifestyle a bit too much over recent months and admittedly have become a bit of a couch potato – I blame 6$ Domino’s! The Kawarau Bridge was an awesome place to stop as it also acts as the location for the world’s first bungee jump! There are steps where you can stand to get a better view of people launching themselves off the bridge and I spent around 20 minutes here with my heart in my throat! When we met Hamish on the other side of the bridge he told us we were on the home stretch straight to our final destination – Gibbston Valley Winery. The promise of free tastings had my legs doing a mile a minute and before long I had reached the wine!
Granted we had lovely, sunny weather the day of our tour, but even on a gloomy day the winery would be a great place to finish up. We were able to choose three wines which were brought out to us in tasting portions and we had around half an hour to sit in the sun and enjoy them before we were driven back to Queenstown. The Around The Basin staff were amazing and the whole day from start to finish was well organised and well thought out so thank you team! I highly recommend anyone with a spare morning / afternoon to give this company a go and I will definitely be back to try their full day options – my only criticism is I wish the wine had been in full portions!