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  • Mei Anne Foo

Life in NZ: Luxury Living In Queenstown

Many of the well-heeled may have overlooked New Zealand’s Queenstown as part of their holiday plans, but there’s a surprising wealth of fun activities and luxuries to indulge in. It’s even a city fit for royalty.

Mention ‘billionaire’s playground’ and what comes to mind? A private island in the Caribbean? Champagne powder slopes of Courchevel? Or is it the breezy Mediterranean coast of Monte Carlo? Perhaps unlikely to make the cut of your immediate answer is the vibrant city of Queenstown.

The name Queenstown was purportedly given by early gold prospectors, who not only had their eyes on earthly treasures but also on the surrounding knock-out beauty of grandiose mountains, lakes and rivers. “A town fit for a queen,” is what they would say.

Today, this lakefront oasis, set against a dramatic alpine backdrop, is predominantly popular among adrenaline junkies. After all, it is the birthplace of various commercially driven daring stunts. Tourists flock to the region for activities such as bungee jumping, heli-skiing, skydiving, mountain biking and white-water rafting.

It might not excite affluent travellers at first glance but the adventure capital of New Zealand actually offers plenty of luxury and culture. Rows of fine-dining establishments and art galleries are seen outlining the hilly streets that look out to Lake Wakatipu. For the ultimate bird’s eye view over some of the world’s best natural terrains, take a scenic helicopter ride or stay at a glorious cliff-side suite. Who knows, your heart might even skip a hedonistic beat.

Matt Lines, managing director and co-owner of Seasonz Travel, a luxury travel consultant based in New Zealand, said: “Queenstown continues to see strong growth in the luxury tourism sector for a variety of reasons. Air services continue to improve and become more frequent and accessible. This is seen through the recent opening of a jet terminal, where guests can fly in and out with anonymity. Also private investment in a world-class collection of small luxurious properties has catapulted New Zealand to the very cutting edge of luxury travel and into the consciousness of the discerning traveller.”

What to do When Prince William and Kate Middleton visited Queenstown in 2014, many onlookers witnessed their grin-filled ride that took them upstream through the narrow Shotover River. Located at a 10-minute drive from the city centre, the 700hp Shotover Jet provides the ultimate hands-off white-water rafting experience. Take a seat in the bright-red, almost dangerous-looking, watercraft and hold tight as the expert driver skims around crags and boulders at speeds of 85kph.

The views from the fast-moving boat are nothing short of spectacular — steep ancient rock walls alongside tonnes of gushing ultramarine river water. However, nothing tops the panoramic scenes you’ll see while on an ascending chopper.

Up in the air, Hollywood-worthy landscapes can be enjoyed, consisting of flat green lands that meet sudden swells of majestic mountains, some snow-capped, while a few are decked with frosty alpine lakes. Helicopter companies such as Over The Top take passengers onto remote sandy beaches, and within minutes, can land on age-old glaciers set high in the sky. Passengers can also opt to practice their swing on an exclusive par-3 golf course overlooking Queenstown, accessible only by helicopter.

For art lovers, there are several art galleries worth stopping by in central Queenstown. Artbay Gallery faces the lake and carries with it many works by local artists across the country, including a hair-raising hare sculpture that blends taxidermy and laser-cut steel, and paintings by Maria Kemp, who draws her inspiration from New Zealand’s fabric-like topographies. Another renowned Kiwi painter is Ivan Clarke. His gallery exhibits canvases of impressionistic natural surroundings. Yet, the true stars on show are his whimsical artworks from the much raved-about ‘Lonely Dog’ series.

Where to eat Queenstown’s food precinct on a lively lakefront setting is where you’ll find an eclectic mix of cuisines, ranging from Southeast Asian to African. Tasteful in style, Blue Kanu somehow disproves the fact that tiki houses are innately tawdry. Its menu combines hearty Maori, Pacifica and Asian flavours, bringing decadent seafood dishes such as whole wok-fried market fish served with chilli, crisp taro and ginger.

Those with a sweet tooth can pop into Patagonia for lip-smacking desserts of hot chocolate, churros or a cone of homemade dulce de leche ice cream. For lunch or teatime, Queenstown’s famous Fergburger is a hit with tourists, shown by the long line snaking into the restaurant. Be prepared to linger a while before getting your hands on a gigantic gourmet burger. Although, sister-shop Fergbaker next door bakes some tasty meat pies, and you won’t even need to wait.

Where to stay To fully sense the heartbeat of the city, stay at Eichardt’s Private Hotel. The hotel’s prime location sits opposite the more eventful side of the lake, among Queenstown’s cafés and bars. You can choose to watch the city go by from your lake-view suite with the warmth of the fireplace, or at the historic bar downstairs with a glass of specialty cocktail in hand. The owners of the hotel are now in the midst of constructing a NZ$10,000-per-night penthouse next to the main hotel, set for completion this year.

As you head further from the city centre, stays are quieter with unconstrained views of the mountain ranges and the far stretches of the reflective lake. Azur Lodge, tucked discreetly along the slopes of a hill, overlooks arguably the best views in Queenstown. The resort’s nine identical villas come with private waterfront sun decks, where you can sit idle and take in the ideally elevated surroundings. You can choose to dine in the villa or head to the main lodge for breakfast, afternoon tea, evening drinks and canapés. Floor-to-ceiling windows are the norm in Azur, giving you a feeling of being at one with the wilderness.

Joanne Ross, co-owner of Azur, sums it up nicely by saying: “I am captivated by Queenstown’s natural beauty. It is definitely ‘a town fit for a queen’. As a New Zealander who now lives abroad, whenever I come home to Queenstown, I am in awe — it is truly the most spectacular place on Earth for me.”

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