Sheltered among mountains in an astonishingly beautiful alpine landscape, Queenstown, in the southwest corner of New Zealand’s South Island, punches well above its weight in every respect. We know there are excellent winter sports, heart-thudding adventure thrills and ridiculously dramatic scenery here on the shores of the pristine Lake Wakatipu – but we wanted more. So we went to some in-the-know locals to devise an insider’s itinerary to showcase the region’s finest. Here’s what they told us.
Start here >>> The Boat Shed Cafe & Bistro
The Boat Shed Cafe & Bistro wasn’t always a boat shed. In fact, it wasn’t always here, perched on the waterfront overlooking flawless Lake Wakatipu, where it’s a welcome pit stop for walkers and cyclists traversing the Frankton Track.
Instead, the restored circa-1869 building once served as the New Zealand Railways Shipping Office and was located in central Queenstown before a lawyer called Frank G. Duncan purchased it in 1936 and moved the building to its current idyllic locale.
“It’s the most beautiful workplace in the world,” says Jimmy Nicholson, one of The Boat Shed’s current owners. “And we’re part of a real community here in Queenstown. It’s incredibly supportive and loyal – we welcome locals every day who make the most of the lakeside track.”
The menu, a melange of cafe classics and artfully presented brunch and lunch dishes, such as quinoa granola with rhubarb-and-passionfruit breakfast panna cotta or pan-fried local salmon with crispy capers, is updated seasonally, but Nicholson knows what his customers like.
“We change our menu depending on what’s fresh and seasonal, but we always keep our regulars’ favourites on there. If you’ve never been to The Boat Shed before, order chorizo scrambled eggs on crispy potatoes or our blueberry French toast with thyme-and-honey mascarpone. You won’t be disappointed.”
The Boat Shed >>> Amisfield Bistro
There are plenty of excellent spots around Queenstown for wine tasting, but if you’re after a long, boozy lunch, there’s one place that takes things to the next level. “If I want to step it up a notch, I do an Amisfield long lunch,” says Nicholson. “It takes a whole afternoon to do it properly, especially if you go with the ‘Trust the Chef’ option with matching wines – which you definitely should. Vaughan Mabee, the executive chef, makes incredible food and I love the relaxed, grazing-over-a few-hours style of dining. If there’s a paua [abalone] pie you’re in luck – it’s delicious – and all the charcuterie is made in-house.”
Amisfield is about 15 minutes out of central Queenstown. The winery has been turning out region-defining pinot noir and fragrant whites since it was established in 1988. Grapevines hem the picturesque stone building on the shore of Lake Hayes, where the cellar door and Amisfield Bistro are housed.
“I love the building but if the weather is nice, a table outside gives you killer views of Coronet Peak and The Remarkables,” says Nicholson.
Richard Birkby, Amisfield’s marketing manager, says Nicholson is right about the relaxed dining style. “We’re the first stop on the Gibbston Valley wine trail, but if you’re coming for lunch you might not get much further!” he says.
“Our chef, New Zealand chef of the year for 2019 Vaughan Mabee, works with a small group of local fisherman, hunters, gatherers and farmers. We think our approach, highlighting the relationship between the raw produce and the finished product, is a dining experience that helps define New Zealand cuisine to the world.”
Birkby says it’s not all about the food though: “I’d recommend visitors try Amisfield’s Fumé Blanc. It’s a very different interpretation of sauvignon blanc in which the wine matures in oak for 15 months which imparts a richer, creamy mouth-feel and a flinty, toasty note alongside some of the classic sauvignon blanc flavours. It’s sauvignon blanc, but not as you know it.”
Amisfield Bistro >>> Walter Peak Farm Tours
Image credit: Real Journeys
It’s not all big brunches and long lunches in Queenstown. This is, after all, New Zealand’s action capital, the spiritual home of bungee-jumping, the pilgrimage place for snow bunnies and adventure junkies.
On a full stomach, though, you might prefer something a little less strenuous. Birkby recommends a Walker Peak Farm Tour, which allows visitors to witness the New Zealand High Country farming way of life.
The trip involves a magical journey aboard the 109-year-old TSS Earnslaw steamship from Queenstown across to the southwestern shore of Lake Wakatipu to the working Walter Peak Farm.
“You could be in the fiords,” says Birkby. “You’ll see sheepdogs working, tour the farm, enjoy just-baked cakes and scones for morning or afternoon tea and experience what life is like on a Kiwi High Country sheep station. You’re just across the lake from bustling Queenstown but you could be a world away.”
Walter Peak Farm Tours >>> Sherwood Restaurant
“My tip for dinner is Sherwood,” says Tsehai Tiffin of Walter Peak Farm Tours.
“Choose the ‘Leave It to Us’ option and a series of perfectly balanced dishes such as Bluff oysters with watermelon, chardonnay vinegar and wood sorrel, and fire-blistered sourdough flatbreads – the artichoke one is next-level delicious – will arrive at your table unbidden. I get a real hankering from their twice-cooked potatoes too..”
Taking a somewhat naff 1980s mock-Tudor roadside motel and transforming it into a hip hotel and excellent restaurant with a focus on local, seasonal ingredients and clever, simple cooking was a smart move. Sherwood, with its spectacular views to the Remarkables across Lake Wakatipu, has become a real hub in the tiny town of Goldfield Heights, under 10 minutes from Queenstown’s centre.
“We love it not just because it has beautiful seasonal food, but because we at the farm appreciate its sustainability ethos,” says Tiffin. “The produce is grown in Sherwood’s biodynamic kitchen garden or locally sourced and all the organic waste is composted. They use solar energy and are heavily involved in the community, running wellbeing and yoga workshops. If you looked at it from the outside you’d think it was just another hotel – but it’s definitely not.”
The hotel has 78 rooms, a dedicated ski-repair workshop and a busy events calendar that includes everything from album launches to yoga, but the restaurant is its raison d’etre, as evidenced by its inventive menu full of local delicacies. The newest addition is the aforementioned flatbreads (the word ‘pizza’, loaded with tradition and expectation, was deliberately avoided), cooked to puffy perfection in the woodfired oven in the open kitchen; other possibilities include housemade duck sausages with blackcurrants and blackfoot paua pasta with karengo (a local seaweed) and purslane.
“Our restaurant is the heart of the property,” says Sherwood’s general manager of marketing and operations, Hayley Scott.
“We work with a full-time horticulturalist to plan, plant and harvest organic vegetables for the menu. The garden is only a few metres from the kitchen door; in the spring/summer season we harvest twice a day – this means that our menu changes regularly to reflect the best seasonal produce.”
The wine offering is equally thoughtful. “Our wine list is 100 per cent natural,” says Scott. “We work with local winemakers to showcase their wines through our Bottled In-House program. The wine comes to us in kegs and we have seven wine taps in the bar, where we decant the wine and serve it to our guests.”
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Top image credit: Real Journeys