Friday, March 16, 2012

Queenstown: a town for all seasons and appetites

Gold first bought European settlers to Queenstown in the 1860’s, 150 years on the rush continues. This time the precious commodity is tourism and the southern New Zealand town has hit on a formula for all seasons and almost every kind of traveller. It’s extraordinary to find an area that can equally satisfies both backpackers and well coiffed retirees, offering high adrenaline activities alongside more sedate ways of taking in the scenery.

We were a motley lot of mostly Kiwis and Aussies, not exactly in the flush of youth, looking for a different kind of experience; a six-day stroll through the beach forests and a hike over the mountains. Like the backpackers we wanted physical adventures but like the latte set, also craved some semblance of comfort after a day of rock hopping down steep inclines in pouring rain. Ultimate Hikes managed to deliver both, through it’s guided tramp on the Greenstone and Routeburn tracks.

A walk like that creates quite an appetite. Back in Queenstown we ate with gusto. Understandably we gave lauded eateries like the Botswana Butchery and Flame a wide berth. Our favourites included:

Kappa (Upstairs, 36 The Mall): A small, authentic Japanese restaurant that’s been serving the locals for over 10 years. The sushi is fresh and varied; tempura crisp and light. The Born Again Vegan managed to find enough to satisfy (not always easy with this type of cuisine) including an excellent soba salad (it’s bigger than it looks in this photo). In kiwi dollars this place is reasonably priced, even cheaper with the current exchange rate.

AtThai (Upstairs, 24 Beach Street): Another local recommendation that’s stood the test of time. A good range of specials and the usual Thai fare. Here “hot” will mean just that, so be aware when ordering. We had the added bonus of a window seat with a view of the backpackers hostel opposite, watching the sweet young things preening for a night out on the town. In Queenstown, every night is party night!

Halo Café (1 Earl St): served us a hearty bowl of porridge at 7am and the last city espresso before the tramp. Both hit the spot. We also enjoyed another late lunch in the sunny courtyard, eating burgers (fish and vegan options included). Better than average daytime food, in a quiet, comfortable setting.

Vudo Café (23 Beach St): This place felt like home, except for the NZ café culture that tends to lack table service. The retro décor, great stack of interesting magazines to browse through, a sunny corner table, the best cup of coffee in town and hearty, even vegan-friendly, breakfasts made this place a winner. A steady stream of locals poured in to grab a tasty sweet treat from the cabinet and a takeaway coffee. Vudo’s generosity extends to a computer with free internet access and giving away their trade secrets with monthly recipes on the website.


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