Australia would be the best country in the world if it wasn’t starved of one thing – a perfect winter playground.
For years I’ve chased snow in the farthest-flung corners of the globe at the expense of a heavy hit to the bank account and a large chunk of precious time lopped off my annual leave. And, as with any time you play Battleship with something so weather dependent, sometimes it’s a hit and sometimes it’s a miss.
It makes sense, then, to roll the dice a little closer to home (and I’m not talking about an eight hour overnight road trip to Thredbo, f*ck thaaat).
After we closed a successful campaign with Destination Queenstown to encourage you loyal BH readers to consider New Zealand’s adventure capital this winter, a short time later we found ourselves dropping below the scattered clouds on approach into Queenstown airport, giddy with excitement and keen to put our money where our mouth was.
The agenda? Possibly the coolest 72 hours I’ve ever seen written down in an itinerary. Our HQ for the madness ahead was The Rees Hotel, an apartment-style lakeside residence that was a hybrid between a Swiss ski chalet and an American mid-west resort. I was initially hesitant towards its location tucked away on the shores of Frankton Arm (rather than smack bang in the middle of the town) but the free 5-minute shuttle or $10 taxi was never a headache at any point during our trip.
The biggest concern on my mind was actually the weather, and funnily enough, not the snow. Luckily, my prayers for the snow gods weren’t needed as a huge cold front had dumped metres of the white stuff on the entire South Island just days before our arrival.
I was, however, worried about the cloud cover. Why? Put simply, helicopters can’t fly when they can’t see.
And of course, it wouldn’t be a weekend in QTown without a helicopter, or more specifically, heli-skiing. But even as we sipped our morning coffee by the lakeside window at first light on day one, the clouds were still billowing over the mountains in front of our eyes, making our airborne adventure seem less and less likely by the minute.
Then the phone buzzed violently on the breakfast table.
Heli-skiing was ON.
Against the odds, we were going anyway. Heli-skiing is something I’ve been chomping at for a while now, but even as we strapped ourselves into the Eurocopter and heard the turbines whine into life, it was still very much touch ‘n’ go.
Then, with one final thumbs up from the weather scouts on the other side of the mountains, it was a go.
If you can tackle most resort terrain (with or without powder skiing experience), you can have a solid crack at heli-skiing. It’s really not as daunting or challenging as you may think. Of the operators in the area, Harris Mountain Heli-Skiing was our tour of choice. To put your mind at ease, know that no matter who you chose, all operators running out of Queenstown also put on a mean feast after a fast-paced morning in and out of the choppers.
We didn’t have the luxury with such a jammed schedule, but our advice would be to book your heli-skiing trip for the first day of your stay in Queenstown. The good folks at Harris Mountain are more than happy to rearrange your allocated day based on the weather should space be available. And good weather is essential.
If you’re not absolutely knackered after a hectic day cutting S’s in fresh snow, follow our lead and give the rooftop hangout Sundeck a little nudge for a few post-heli frothies. With open fireplaces and awesome sunset views of the town and its glacial-fed lake, this can be your ground zero for both a quiet dinner or a big night on the town.
If you opt for the latter, like we did, the only way to shake a hangover without throwing it back up has to be the KJet boating experience. Let the freezing air slice through your clothes while the ultra-experienced drivers thrash the V8-powered jetboats through ankle-deep water with expert precision and speed.
We kept rolling with the punches, not allowing our queasy stomachs a chance to catch up with reality by backing up the jetboat with a spot of clay shooting (which I’d never previously done before, but thoroughly enjoyed).
Each shotgun pellet is packed with 400 tiny ballbearings, but you’ll be pleased to know that just four of them are required to hit their mark in order to break a flying clay target. Known as the ‘Maverick’ combo, both the jet boat and clay shooting experience can be bundled together for one helluva fun morning when you’re not on the slopes.
If the hangover is still lingering by the time you get to the afternoon, well, nothing can help you at this point. Thankfully, ours was brushed off by a quick pit stop at the world-famous Fergburger prior to ending the day in true Queenstown style – by throwing ourselves off a sensibly secure structure.
The AJ Hackett facility just outside of Queenstown was our one-stop thrill shop for topping off our already incredible day. Whether it’s on your bucket list or not, I’d encourage everyone to bungy jump at least once in your life. It’s a sensation that can’t possibly be articulated to anyone who hasn’t tried it. Ask yourself, when’s the last time you did something for the first time?
While you’re there, you may as well propel yourself at 3.2G’s out into the same gorge strapped into the Nevis Catapult. You’re already halfway there, why not hey?
I know what you’re thinking – and relax, we’ll get to some skiing chat in a very short minute. But before we can do that, you’ll need some fuel just like we did before you tear up the slopes. For the sake of a researched story, we obviously had to digest all the so-called ‘best eats’ in town to deliver you a realistic verdict. Tough job, isn’t it?
Just back from the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Botswana Butchery is perched inside a boutique setting for either an intimate indoor or alfresco lakeside dining experience. This would be our surefire pick on a sunny winter’s day, but don’t expect huge portions for the prices.
After some heartier, low-key grub? The Cow, tucked away on none other than Cow Lane, is an authentic Queenstown institution with a splash of rustic ambience and sizeable meals that have made it a favourite of locals and visitors alike for over 40 years.
Our last suggestion is one you’ll have to work for. Hidden around the side of Coronet Peak ski resort is Heidi’s Hut, a classic dining chalet that hosts intimate dinners on Friday and Saturday evenings in August at the base of Rocky Gully T-bar.
Sit back and relax after a hard day on the slopes while you’re plied with a never-ending selection of classic French cuisine combined with local produce. Kick it all off with a glass of Veuve Clicquot for a collective price of $135 per person, but be warned, you’ll need to ski hard during the day to feel like you deserve it.
Within an easy half-hour or so drive out of town, no brief jaunt in Queenstown would be complete without a few turns at either Coronet Peak or The Remarkables. The latter would be our pick, nestled in an impressive mountain range and flaunting incredible views. Better yet? The airport is pretty much at the base of the mountain, meaning you can zip down after lunch and jump on your afternoon flight home to Aus – all in a day’s work. Let the boys over at Nomad Safaris put your mind at ease for the icy drive up the hill and back with their OG Landcruisers.
We realise that all this might bit late for a South Island jaunt this winter season. No matter, as you can get an easy head start on summer by hitting up the good folks at Pacific Jemm for a luxury yacht charter on the trout-filled waters of Lake Wakatipu. Essentially, it’s the summer equivalent to a heli-skiing charter (you heard that here first).
For a play-by-play of our weekend in paradise, check out our Instagram Story highlight over on @bhofficial.
The BH boys were a guest of Destination Queenstown – a big thanks goes to their team for arranging the best weekend of the year.