Few cities in the world can boast an unhurried pace and breathtaking natural beauty alongside a bustling downtown vibe but New Zealand's Queenstown alondside it's neighbour Lake Wanaka are such places. Adrenalin junkies and ski bunnies have long visited the South Island cities for their adventure sports, spectacular mountain vistas and proximity to some of the world's best slopes but these towns are quickly gaining a reputation for hedonistic pursuits nestled amidst their rural charm. From Michelin-starred chef Josh Emett's Rata restaurant to private, Onsen hot pools and intricately crafted liquor and wine, Queenstown and Lake Wanaka are far greater than simple ski villages. Read on for the where/what/why's of South Island's renaissance.
Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa
What: The world-renowned Hilton group offer an intimate, peaceful and cosy accommodation offering on Queenstown's Lake Wakatipu. Upscale but with heart.
Why: Inviting interiors, the Wakatipu Grill, (an in-hotel restaurant with arguably the best steak in town) a 'Pinot Pit' with an outdoor fireplace designed to be enjoyed at sunset with a glass of local wine and the most heavenly massages from the team at the Eforea spa.
Where: 79 Peninsula Rd, Kawarau Village, Queenstown. Hilton.com.au
Pro tip: Take the KJet, a speedy jet boat ride with a scenic view, to the door of the Hilton. It's a sort of local alternative to an airport transfer. Kjet.co.nz
Release Wanaka private luxury house
What: As the name suggests, a luxury home solely for you and your party - great for groups of friends travelling together.
Why: Choose from a hand-picked collection of seriously luxe homes, lodges and villas tucked into the Wanaka hills, each as plush and cosy as the next, set in the perfect starting point for the sight-seeing of the surrounding area.
Where: Lake Wanaka; ReleaseNZ.com
Whare Kea Lodge & Chalet
What: The most baller, OTT, incredible place to stay that Buro has ever visited; A lone, single chalet set in the peaks of Mount Aspiring National Park that can only be reached by helicopter.
Why: See video above. THAT'S your ride in. Plus, the opportunity to wake up in completely secluded surrounds is pretty ideal. The perfect place to propose or for a honeymoon - and for a nightly hire rate of NZ$4600, it's definitely a special occasion kinda place. So worth it.
Where: Mount Aspiring National Park, Wanaka; WhareKeaLodge.com
EAT & DRINK
What: One of Queenstown's slightly more upscale restaurants, though with a down-to-earth atmosphere, founded by New Zealand-born Michelin star chef Josh Emett who cut his teeth working under the likes of Gordon Ramsay.
Why: If the goat's cheese profiteroles with blossom honey and rosemary or the octopus a la plancha with saffron aioli don't tempt you, perhaps the crispy pork belly or the spiced Merino lamb shoulder will.
Where: Te Nuku, 43 Ballarat St, Queenstown. RataDining.co.nz
What: A bistro and cellar door set against the Remarkables mountain range - which is exactly as the name suggests - with a seasonal, a la carte menu as well as a famous, 'Trust the Chef' signature menu with dishes based on ingredients available on the day.
Why: Amisfield serves hearty, deliciously rustic fare beside a crackling fireplace, using fresh local produce alongside celebrated wines. It's little wonder the winery hosted the royal couple - Prince William and Kate Middleton - on their trip through NZ. Her majesty's favourite? The 2011 Amisfield Pinot Noir. (Ours too.)
Where: 10 Lake Hayes Rd, RD 1, Queenstown. Amisfield.co.nz
What: A family-run venture of signature gin, vodka and the world's southern-most whisky distillery in the secluded Cardrona Valley including a museum and barrel warehouse, Cardrona offers tours and a cocktail masterclass.
Why: The purity and remoteness of the distillery make for a perfect drop and the signature gin - The Source - made with local botanicals including juniper, coriander seed and rosehip - is the best we've ever tasted. (Pro tip: You can buy it online at their e-store.)
Where: 2125 Cardrona Vallery Rd, Cardrona in Lake Wanaka. CardronaDistillery.com
What: The newly-opened Queenstown Ugg store.
Why: Because it gets cold over there! And for anyone hanging out on the slopes in the cooler months, a pair of sheepskin-lined shoes by a beloved Antipodean brand are a non-negotiable. The boutique's location is right in the heart of Queenstown's shopping district and around the corner from the famous Ferg Burger. Boots and burgers? A match made in heaven.
Where: 27-31 Rees St, Queenstown. au.Ugg.com
What: A bustling ski resort by Winter, a must-do destination by Summer (move over Auckland and Wellington!)
Why: In the cooler months, Coronet peak bustles with skiiers of all levels (as ski-novices ourselves, an instructor-led tutorial had us swishing down the slopes, first go). In the warmer months, visitors go to sip espressos or schnapps and take in the spectacular views of the Remarkables, laid bare of their snow for a rare moment of greenery.
Onsen Hot Pool
What: Cedar hot tubs in private rooms with retractable windows that transform the room into an outdoor space with ridiculously picturesque views of Shotover Canyon.
Why: You know that beautiful melty feeling you get after a long week when you take a bath with a few tea candles and a glass of wine? It's that, but much, much better.
Where: 160 Arthurs Point Rd, Arthurs Point (just outside of Queenstown). Onsen.co.nz