It’s finally time for the grand finale. The best place in New Zealand (in my view!). But before we announce the winner, mostly to build suspense, I’d like to pay homage to some honourable mentions:
Blenheim, Marlborough: The center of the wine region of New Zealand, and my hometown. Visit during the Wine and Food Festival in February to enjoy some of the best, locally grown, Sauvignon Blanc’s in the world.
Taupo, Waikato: A town next to a bloody large lake, there’s heaps of water-based activities to do here. Venture to the nearby Orakei Korako for a unique thermal experience, or the ever-popular Tongariro Crossing, an 8-hour hike that’s home to Mt. Doom.
Westport, West Coast: A quaint, but quiet, little town to the west of the south island, Westport is definitely a place to get in your car and go exploring. Venture out of town for the Old Ghost Road trail, for a fun little adventure.
Kaikoura, Canterbury: Harder to get to now that the main roads have been covered up by earthquake debris, Kaikoura is still a beautiful coastal town. Journey to the neaby Ohau Stream Walk for an up close experience with the local seals, or take a ship to see some whales.
Hamilton, Waikato: This is where Richard o’Brien watched his first drag show, proving to be a major inspiration behind his Rock Horror Picture Show (indeed, there’s even public toilets based on the film here). After your piss, drink some piss at House, a unique bar set inside an old-timey family house. Try the Feijoa cocktail!
Now, for the reveal of number one. Drum roll please…:
1. Queenstown, Otago
Call it a safe pick for top spot, but there’s never been a town or city in this country that has stunned me as much as Queenstown. As soon as you get off the plane it is incredibly picturesque. Every street you turn down is like walking through a photoshopped magazine. Every bar you visit is unique. The people are incredible.
In winter, the mountains are snow-capped and the lake freezes over, while in summer all the best activities come out. This place is adrenaline central, and one of the favourite places of ginger-tinged superstar Ed Sheeran!
THINGS TO DO:
Shotover Jet: Queenstown is full of crystal clear water. I can’t think of anything better than a thrill-seeking jetboat ride through some of the most beautiful views. World famous, the Shotover Jet takes you through the Shotover River, through the caves and crevices carved out over centuries, at a dizzying 80km/h. It’s not just for peasants, either! Some famous adrenaline junkies include Hugh Jackman, George Lucas and even royalty in the form of Prince William and Princess Kate!
Nevis Swing: Welcome to New Zealand, where – if it’s high enough – you can jump or swing off everything! The Nevis Swing boasts a 300m swing arch, 160m above a river, with a 120m rope (including an 80m freefall). That’s what I call a good way to soil your jocks! You can go at it alone, with a friend, forwards, or – in a moment of braveness – backwards (like I did, much to my chagrin!). This truly exhilarating experience is worth every single cent.
Bars and Pub Crawls: The alcohol scene in Queenstown is the best in the whole country, bar none. It helped inspire my career path into bartending, and there are some truly unique bars in this part of the world. To get the night started, ask for a Money-Shot in Barup; one of the best tasting shots I’ve ever tasted. After that you can venture to Below Zero, a bar that is made entirely out of ice, from the walls to the cocktail glasses!
Other great places include: Habana Rum Bar, where if I visited 3 days later I would have bumped into Ed Sheeran (I’m still gutted about that); the Zephyr, a bar made entirely from debris from the Christchurch earthquake; and the World Bar, where you can drink delicious cocktails straight from a teacup.
Cardrona Distillery: A short drive out of Queenstown takes you to the Cardrona Distillery, a new booze-maker in town. Just look for the bra-fence. Take a tour, learn how they make their products, and get an inside look at a company trying to spread its wings in the market. Afterwards, enjoy a taste test!
Winter Wonderland: Not only a great place for thrill-seekers and alcoholics, Queenstown boasts the best place in the country to go skiing or snowboard. With four ideal ski fields nearby, this is the perfect place to test your skills and hit the snow. Of course, if that’s too dull for you, Queenstown even offers HeliSkiing!
Skyline: Much like Rotorua, Queenstown offers you a chance to visit the Skyline resort. The big difference? Queenstown is a lot more beautiful than Rotorua. The views are 10x as stunning.
I was only in town for 3 days, but I absolutely fell in love with the place. Nothing compares to Queenstown. There’s a reason why this is the first place any tourist visits when they enter the country. I can’t wait to go back!
A huge thank you to AJ, for another brilliant Travel Thursday. Have you been to Queenstown? If so, what’s your favourite thing about it? Leave your comments down below, and we’ll get back to you.