July 13, 2024

Adventure Awaits Journeyers

Discovering the World Anew

The Top Foods to Eat in Queenstown and Where to Find Them

10 min read

Queenstown, New Zealand likes to call itself the “adventure capital of the world.” There’s ample credibility to the claim. Both bungee jumping and jetboating were originally invented in this remarkable stretch of the South Island. You can ski several slopes here in winter or shoot down the world’s steepest zipline during summer. Hang gliders hover above the hills throughout the shoulder seasons, and Heli-hiking is a popular activity year-round. 

Heck, merely craning your neck upward from anywhere downtown feels adventurous. Because as you do, you sit sandwiched between the cerulean freshwater of Lake Wakatipu and glacier-carved crags towering overhead. Speaking of sandwiches, the greater Queenstown area is also something of a global culinary destination. In fact, it might just be the food and drink capital of New Zealand.

After all, this is the beating heart of the country’s proud Pinot Noir industry. Where there’s fine wine, there’s usually great grub to match. In the vineyards surrounding Queenstown, that equals innovative Michelin-caliber outposts. There’s also an abundance of luxury lodging peppering the landscape. And these properties perpetually attract talented tastemakers. You can even have your adventure and eat it, too, with a seaside fish-and-chips lunch fetched by helicopter. After you’ve been carried up and over the Southern Alps, of course.

And we haven’t even mentioned the notorious Fergburger, which tourists happily queue in hours for — almost as a rite of passage — before departing town. Not much more needs to be written there; it’s the most famous hamburger in the Southern Hemisphere. Instead we’re going to concentrate on stuff that’s, well, a little more adventurous. Feast your eyes on the ultimate Queenstown food and drink guide. 

The Bunker

The Bunker

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Downtown Pub and Grub 

The year-round population of Queenstown is less than 30,000. But you’d never know it judging by the breadth of bar and restaurant options strewn about its compact streets. This is a place that punches way above its weight class when it comes to eclectic culinary options. Arrive downtown and you’ll stroll past dozens of them in short order. 

It would be easy to miss the offerings on Cow Lane, though. It’s an alleyway set off from the main thoroughfare, holding several cherished mainstays. The Bunker is chief among them — a cozy two-story affair, plating elegant proteins downstairs and craft cocktails one floor up. Directly next door is The Cow, which takes its aesthetic cues from a Swiss mountain hut, while specializing in Italian selections no less iconic than spaghetti and thin crust pizza.  

Many of Queenstown’s most popular pubs are located lakeside. But there’s only one that sits actually on Lake Wakatipu. In fact, Perky’s exists as the only floating bar in all of New Zealand. And it’s a vibe. Don’t come here expecting molecular mixology. Instead, savor something simpler, like, say, an adequately prepared vodka-soda, or gin and tonic. Or, better yet, one of several local beers available on draft or in the can. 

As there’s no kitchen on this craft, Perky’s allows you to BYO pub grub. Which is fortunate, since Bombay Palace is only a block away. It’s a reasonably priced and insanely flavorful naan and curry-focused eatery run by Indian expats. Their warm and inviting environ is well worth a dedicated dine-in, but they’re also more than happy to provide takeaway tikka to pair naturally against New Zealand’s legendary IPAs.

If you’re interested less in nighttime hijinks and more in mindful midday snacking, the cafe scene in Queenstown is popping. Bespoke Kitchen is a notable example. The boisterous locale boasts a seasonal menu skewing towards vegetarian and vegan-friendly options. But you can still add salmon or bacon to that potato, leek and spinach hash without incurring any shade — aside from that provided naturally by Bob’s Peak, which this partially alfresco establishment sits directly beneath. 

Ayrburn

Ayrburn

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Wine and Dine 

Queenstown’s backyard opens up to the world’s southernmost commercial wine region, an area known as Central Otago. Pinot Noir dominates the production, which began in earnest back in the mid-1980s. Today the region counts roughly 133 wineries, many of which maintain cellar doors which can be visited by online appointment. By New Zealand law, if they’re tasting you on wine, they must also provide some sort of aliment. Though for many of them, this means not much more than charcuterie or cheese toasties. 

Unless you’re talking about Amisfield, that is. Since 2005, the 200-acre vineyard has maintained an ambitious restaurant within the stone-masoned walls of its elegant tasting room. The operation is helmed by Vaughan Mabee, who cut his teeth in three Michelin star kitchens in Copenhagen and San Sebastien. Across more than two dozen courses — and several settings — his tasting menu reveals dramatic renderings of native fare: a cone of greenbone stuffed into the mouth of the fish it was filleted from, cured proteins crafted and seasoned into bright green saucisson, birchwood smoked elk hang fired before your very eyes. The $440 NZD spectacle is paired alongside a curated collection of the winery’s single estate organic wines. Theatrical, yes. Delectable, even more so. 

For a slightly more approachable wine dinner, reserve a table at the Woolshed, a rustic eatery with a flair for fire-roasted fare. It exists within Ayrburn, a new multi-venue “food and wine playground” unfurling across several acres of refurbished 19th Century barns and stables. The grounds include a polished speakeasy, a wine tasting room converted from a former sheep manure store and the cutest standalone ice cream parlor in all the land. The roasted flavors on serve at the restaurant are not to be missed. Highlights include coffee-rubbed seared venison, charred cauliflower with sunflower seed tahini and an assortment of creatively topped pizzas baked over stone. 

From a dock in downtown, you can set sail for Queenstown’s most memorable multi-faceted dining affair. At 5 p.m. each evening, the TSS Earnslaw — a historic Edwardian steamship — takes paying guests across Lake Wakatipu to a working sheep station under the shadows of rugged Walter Peak. There, they’re met with an impressive buffet, anchored by locally sourced surf and turf, along with some of New Zealand’s finest vino. After an hour’s worth of access to the all-you-can-eat spread, they are led to a neighboring amphitheater for a live sheep-sheering/dog-herding demo, before embarking on a leisurely cruise back to town. The entire experience lasts around 3.5 hours and costs about $189 NZD, inclusive of everything aside from the wine. 

If you prefer to pedal your way to a lunchtime wine and dine, book a $295 NZD guided e-bike tour with Ride to the Sky. The excursion begins in the Victorian gold-mining village of Arrowtown, and follows the scenic Kawarau river for nearly 20 miles on a well-maintained path. During the journey, you cross four suspension bridges, including the legendary stone-masoned crossing which was the birthplace of (and still very active home to) bungee jumping. Once the cycling ends, the sipping can start — at a trio of Gibbston’s finest tasting rooms, including Mt. Rosa Wines, where heaping piles of meat and cheese await. A van returns you back to town so you don’t have to worry about being an over-served biker. 

The Craypot

The Craypot

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Fish and Chips…and Glaciers 

Although undeniably delicious, fish and chips are often viewed as pedestrian cuisine. One prominent Queenstown adventure company is determined to make sure you never see it as such. The Helicopter Line is New Zealand’s leading aerial outfitter, offering a wide range of sightseeing tours above eminently popular destinations including Milford Sound, Mt. Cook and Franz Josef Glacier. Its West Coast Fish and Chips outing might be its most unique offering — and certainly its tastiest. 

The four-hour jaunt begins at the local airport, where you’re lifted up and onto a glacier, amidst the Southern Alps at an elevation of around 10,000 feet. There you’re treated to a tulip-full of Vueve Cliquot to help drink in the scenery. But that merely whets your appetite for what’s soon to follow: a stunning descent down the western face of the mountains, towards the Tasman Sea. 

Eventually you’re offloaded onto a secluded beach, where the most traditional of Kiwi seafood spreads awaits. It includes freshly fried fish and chips, crayfish tails and whitebait patties provided by The Craypot — an award-winning eatery in the secluded waterfront village of Jackson Bay. And yes, there’s plenty more champagne to pair it all with. The return flight is no less spectacular, and typically includes a stopover at a glacial lake before crossing the Crown Range back into Queenstown. 

The entire adventure will set you back $8,500 NZD, which sounds like a lot but it accommodates up to six passengers, which at the current exchange rate boils down to around $850 USD per head, and includes all the aforementioned food and fine wine. 

Blanket Bay

Blanket Bay

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Five-Star Feasts

For the luxury-minded traveler, the Queenstown area is quite literally an embarrassment of riches. If you have the budget to reserve a stay at one of these top-tier properties, you’ll be met with an experience that speaks with a uniquely South Island accent. That means stunning views, impeccable service, fabulous flavors native to New Zealand and probably a helicopter ride or two. 

Enjoy all of the above in spades at Blanket Bay — a freshly minted Relais & Chateaux property that sits along the northeastern terminus of Lake Wakatipu, just outside the quaint village of Glenorchy. It has the feel of some grand hunting lodge out of the American West, and many guests arrive here by helicopter, opting to land directly on the back lawn. But the 30-minute drive in from Queenstown traces the edges of the lake and stands apart as one of the country’s most scenic drives. 

However you arrive, the meticulous arrangements of chef Dan Reynolds await on your plate. His nightly tasting menu breaks the day’s incoming produce down, rendering it by way of land, sea, soil and lake. Kingfish with quince and vanilla; Matangi beef smothered in miso, hoisin and accompanied by daikon; all components are colorfully composed and varied enough from day-to-day to sustain the interests of the average lodger who stays for three to four nights.

About 20 minutes up the road, closer to Queenstown, is the Matakauri Lodge — now operated by Rosewood. Another lavish lakeside retreat, the spacious villas here are equipped with fireplaces and unobstructed views of calm water backed by serrated peaks. Chef Jonathan Rogers is saddled with the monumental task of creating cuisine befitting such a grand setting. But he does so with poise and a straightforward insistence on letting his primary ingredients shine. So whether it’s a farm-raised duck, adorned with stone fruit and wild thyme, or salmon under heirloom beans and quail eggs, there’s never too much happening on any one plate. Instead it’s the unbridled joy — and flavor — found in simplicity.

On the opposite end of the Queenstown region, Millbrook Resort is the go-to option for those who measure adventure by way of 18 holes on a golf course. The property unfurls over 650 acres of corrugated greenery, and includes standalone villas along with half a dozen dining venues. Of those, Millhouse mines separation as a hub for high-minded fare. It’s an elegant space, occupying a century-old flour mill, and emphasizing the hyper seasonal from within its open kitchen. Recent highlights included blue cod, dusted with saffron and pine nut crumbs, joined on the plate by crayfish and ricotta. A venison loin, roasted here with a nduja butter sauce, comes with burnt apricot and a salsa crafted from nasturtium. Skillful sommeliers find the optimal way to tame it using just the right juice. 

The Rees Hotel

The Rees Hotel

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Closer to the heart of Queenstown, the Rees Hotel serves direct views of the Remarkable Mountains to pair with its award-winning provincial cookery. True South Dining Room is renowned for its heartier supper selections: truffled bone marrow mac and cheese; backstrap of lamb; New Zealand’s own brand of wagyu beef, enlivened by a pickled horopito dry rub. The property also maintains one of the most expansive wine cellars in town. Come at sunset and savor a feast for all the senses. 

Back in the bucolic confines of Glenorchy, Headwaters Eco-Lodge has established itself as the preferred destination for those committed to regenerative tourism (a sustainable travel model, which Queenstown has helped spearhead). The entire operation was designed in accordance with the Living Building Challenge — the most stringent environmental building design certification in the world. It exists off-the-grid by way of solar energy and the property’s talented executive chef, Peter Gawron, maintains a massive fruit and vegetable garden on-site. There’s also a state-of-the-art greenhouse here, so Gawron and crew can cultivate food items not normally found in the region. 

Recent highlights included whole roasted chicken, studded with mushrooms and sautéed spinach followed by a homemade tarte au citron for dessert. The warm and inviting space features communal seating arranged around a fully open kitchen. You don’t have to stay at the lodge in order to secure a reservation. But you do have to find your way to this remote and magical corner of middle-earth in order to take a bite. Good luck taking it all down in just one journey.


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