Tales of {NZ} Travel: Queenstown

Tales of NZ TravelQueenstown. Adventure capital of New Zealand. The place high on every tourist’s ‘Must Visit’ list, and well-worth this status. It is a place I have visited often, as a child when my grandparents had an old cabin at the camping ground, and now with our own children. Living just over three hours away makes Queenstown – and indeed all of Central Otago – a regular haunt. Lucky? I think so 🙂

Lake Wakatipu
Queenstown is nestled on the shores of this bitterly-cold lake; various boat tours operate throughout the year, with the most famous being the TSS Earnslaw.


Gondola and Luge
A ride in the gondola affords stunning views of Queenstown and her mountains, while the views from the top of the hill are breath-taking. There’s a luge track which is hugely popular; Tiny went on a couple of runs with his daddy and liked it, but I imagine he will LOVE it in a few more years.

1980  Queenstown  January (14)

The gondolas have changed a little since 1980…

Queenstown is best known for being an outdoor playground; the skiing is fantastic, the whitewater rafting is thrilling, and the bungy-jumping is still going strong. There are walking tracks of varying levels, most within a short drive of the township. On a more sedate level, the Queenstown Gardens are pretty to wander through (or play frisbee-golf in), and the shopping is good.

Wine Touring
The Gibbston Valley is home to a number of very good wineries and vineyards; Chard Farm, Peregrine and Amisfield are among my favourites. You can pick up a wine map at any information centre in Central Otago and do your own tour, or book yourself onto one of many organised tours.
A short drive from Queenstown, this gorgeous little settlement is a highlight of visiting the area. A former gold-mining village, Arrowtown has retained its quaint charm and slow pace. The breakfasts and pastries at Bonjour are divine, and there are some lovely galleries to visit. My favourite time of year to visit Arrowtown is autumn; the colours are so beautiful, and a walk around the Arrow River is lovely with the golden leaves fluttering down on your head or crunching underfoot.



The Kingston Flyer
If, like us, you have a train-obsessed child, it is worth driving to Kingston and buying tickets for The Kingston Flyer (warmer months only). This beautiful old steam train chugs along from Kingston to Fairlight; the mountains loom high above, and the sheep graze alongside. It’s not a cheap outing, but the look on Tiny’s face when he saw the train was priceless, and therefore it was worth every penny.

IMG_0444IMG_0451We’re heading back to Queenstown for a holiday soon (our wine stocks are terrifyingly low!); it’s a great spot in which to recharge the batteries and forget about “real life” for a while.


Tales of Travel: Mendoza

From Santa Cruz, we stopped off in Santiago for two nights before heading back into Argentina again. We managed to find some pretty cheap flights from to Mendoza, so instead of a 7-hour bus ride, we enjoyed a 50-minute flight directly over the Andes – and it definitely was worth it for the views of the mountains.

Flying over the Andes

We had high hopes for Mendoza, and certainly weren’t disappointed. For a city with a population of about one million, it had a relaxed, small town feel to it that was a nice surprise. Most Mendocinos enjoy a long siesta in the afternoon, which means the streets are virtually deserted from 1-6pm. It appeared that only crazy gringos venture out at that time of day.

We spent a hot afternoon wandering to and around Parque General San Martin, a huge inner-city park that is home to a stadium, a school, a pool, a zoo, tennis courts and a golf course, a lake and an observatory. After a couple of hours we’d only covered a third of the area! It was a popular place for families to picnic, and we spent time lazing on the grass, listening to the far-off sounds of the city mingling with birdsong.

Parque General San Martin

Of an evening, we wandered to the Christmas markets, and listened to buskers. There are four main squares in Mendoza, each decorated and tiled in a different way, so we had fun navigating our way to each corner.

A tiled square

We chose to go on an organised wine tour due to the sheer number of wineries in the area – doing it ourselves seemed too much a daunting task! Our tour had 14 people on it…and half of them (us?) were kiwis! The first winery had Aconcagua (the highest peak in the Andes) as its backdrop, but the wine was unfortunately not the best. The next was an organic winery which had been operating for 50 or so years, and while the wine was just okay, it was really interesting to hear how they use fruit trees to attract the birds and insects, olive trees as a natural barrier, and how all of the harvest gets used – from wine to compost. The third winery was smaller again, and was the only place we got to try a malbec which we found quite strange, considering Mendoza is famous for this variety!

Cecchin Organic Winery

We finished with lunch at Cava de Cano. When we walked in, everyone’s jaws dropped – the table was heaving with food, and our guide said, “Take it easy, this is only the starter…”. The food was amazing (served tapas-style, with an array of traditional and local dishes) and seemed never-ending, and the wine flowed. Needless to say, it was a very quiet bus trip back as everyone nursed full bellies and the beginnings of wine headaches (not me, obviously).

The starters!

Tall was satisfied after finally going to a football match in South America – a local Mendoza team played a visiting team from Buenos Aires and he said the atmosphere was brilliant, despite the end result being a draw.

Mendoza certainly lived up to our high expectations, and was a great place to finish our visit to Argentina.

Tales of Travel: Santa Cruz

From Pucon, we took another lengthy bus ride into wine country and Santa Cruz, where we spent $76,000 on two bottles of wine. Tall drank most of the $6,000 bottle in one night and then tipped the rest down the sink*.

Our guide book referred to Santa Cruz as an “attractive little town”, but unless we blinked and missed a some of it, we didn’t think it was anything special. The main reason you’d go there is to visit a winery or two in the Colchagua Valley. There’s a cross at the entrance to the town, which in itself is not unusual in a country where the church plays a such a huge part in everyday life – but this one is made from wine barrels. In Santa Cruz, you definitely have God’s approval to drink and be merry!

We were only in Santa Cruz for one full day, and chose to visit Casa Lapostolle, a beautiful boutique winery owned by the great-granddaughter of the guy who started making Grand Marnier. She has a larger, more “industrial” winery further down the valley, where they produce their mainstream (but still very, very good) wines, and this one, where they only produce two high-end varieties. While the vines themselves are 40-80 years old, the winery itself was built in 2003, and no expense has been spared. Every detail has been carefully planned and it is absolutely stunning.

(Photo courtesy of Casa Lapostolle)

The spiralling staircase was designed to emulate the swirling of wine in a glass; the ceiling of the tasting room is shaped like the inside of a french oak barrel; the cellar where the grapes spend the first year after fermentation has been lit to resemble and honour the Southern Cross constellation; the blasted granite rock forms a feature wall that runs the height of the building; the table in the tasting room has a glass top and you can sip your vino while looking longingly at the private wine cellar of the owner, which houses about 6000 wines and has room for 4000 more. If you pay for the US$900/night accommodation, you’re one of the lucky few who gets to enter the cellar….unfortunately, our budget didn’t quite allow us that luxury!

(Photo courtesy of Casa Lapostolle)

We tasted a delicious, crisp chardonnay (and I don’t usually like chardonnay, but this one was lovely), a smooth-but-peppery merlot, and a limited release merlot/carmenere blend which was DIVINE. The 2005 vintage was elected World’s Number One Wine by Wine Spectator Magazine in 2008, so we have high hopes for the 2007 vintage we purchased, which is “cellared” in our spare room for now.

Our sole purpose for visiting this part of Chile was for the wineries, and we weren’t disappointed. If I hadn’t been pregnant, I’m sure we would have taken the time to visit a few more, but Casa Lapostolle certainly made the trip worthwhile.

* That’s Chilean pesos, not dollars. For the entire time we were in Chile, we never tired of saying, “I’ve only got $20,000 in my wallet, do you think we should get some more cash?”

(December 2009)

Weekend in Pictures

What a brilliant weekend we’ve just had! Here are a few pictures to prove it…

It was hot and sunny and we got to spend most of the weekend outside.

Waiting for Graham Henry's call...

We made a fort...

...and read stories.

We took the train to the inaugural Port Chalmers Seafood Festival. The train ride was great, the seafood was delicious and from the number of people there, I’d say the whole event was a huge success.

On the train

Arriving at the port

Checking out the boats and looking for fish

Hot smoked salmon + Mt Difficulty riesling = divine!

Tall and I went to Otago Stadium for the Ireland vs. Italy Rugby World Cup game. One word: spectacular! You’d be forgiven if you thought you’d suddenly developed the ability to teleport – we were amongst a sea of green, and it was as though we were deep in the heartland of Ireland. The atmosphere was electric, and at times, the sound was deafening. Brian O’Driscoll said he didn’t think he’d ever played in front of such a huge crowd of Irish supporters, outside of Ireland. It was amazing….even though we were cheering for Italy and they lost.

NZ Army Band's awesome haka

Italy vs Ireland

The powerful scrum

A sea of campervans

Next weekend, we’re off to Auckland to meet up with Tall’s dad and sister, so they can go to the quarter-final matches….having been to last night’s game, I’m now a bit jealous that I’m not going to Eden Park!

Tales of Travel: Melbourne

Melbourne has always been one of my favourite cities. It forms a bit of a “triangle” with Dunedin and Wellington, in that if you’re from one of these three cities, you’re likely to feel quite at home in the other two. This is certainly true for me – love Wellington, love Melbourne…could quite happily live in either!

Anyone visiting Melbourne should be aware of the following:
~ the shopping really IS as good as you’ve heard;
~ your taste buds will think you’ve taken them higher than heaven; and
~ a small part of your heart will forever remain there.

You could spend days getting lost in the CBD, wandering up and down the main streets and straying into narrow alleyways which offer up hidden cafes, bars and little boutiques. The CBD is incredibly east to navigate, with a grid-like street system. You’ll also find that Little Collins Street comes after Collins Street, making for a simple, albeit unimaginative, way of getting your bearings.

A visit to the world-famous Queen Victoria Markets is a must; you’ll know you’re getting close when you start to smell the fare. The crowds haggling and jostling for the best products at the best price are a sight – and sound – to behold.

See if you can wrangle a ticket to an exhibition opening at the National Gallery, and make sure you visit one of the many modern art galleries in and around the city. Watch the world go by in Federation Square – the lunchtime rush near Flinders Street Station is an interesting spectacle.

Old Melbourne Gaol
is a gloomy but interesting attraction, with a particular focus on hangings, Ned Kelly and his gang. I found the history behind the gang and their capture fascinating, but the deathmasks made for eerie viewing, and I didn’t feel wholly comfortable there.

Wine fans should head an hour south to Mornington Peninsula and Sorrento – the drive is lovely and the wine is definitely worth the trip! There are lots of wineries, galleries and cute seaside villages to explore.

Sovereign Hill, in Ballarat (an hour-and-a-half to the west) is an interactive open-air museum which makes for a fun day trip – although I’d recommend taking a picnic lunch as the restaurant is highly overpriced.

Healesville Sanctuary
, just over an hour to the north-east, is a fantastic place to take kids. It’s home to native Australian animals that have been rescued and rehabilitated, and the bird show is a highlight.

There’s also Melbourne Zoo, with its awesome orangutan enclosure; in March of this year we were lucky enough to see a teeny tiny baby with spindly little arms and a mop of sticky-uppy hair.

Many of Melbourne’s suburbs are worth exploring too – hop on a train and see where you end up! Wander through Albert Park and watch the radio-controlled boats racing on the lake; take in the tacky splendour of St Kilda or wander around Cherry Lake and try to spot the pelicans. Visit Williamstown for more galleries, boutiques and antique stores.

I’ve been to Melbourne four times, and every visit, I find something new to love about the city. There’s so much to see and do, and it has such a vibrant, friendly atmosphere. Now that my sister and her family are based there, I’m sure we’ll back as often as we can!