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Queenstown — A Song for the Soul

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Queenstown — A Song for the Soul
Exploring the pristine wilderness surrounding Queenstown with High Country Horses.

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It was April, autumn’s middle child, and already Queenstown’s mountainous cloak was blanketed in snow. It was the perfect weekend to visit.

So there I was, beholding New Zealand’s most iconic natural masterpiece in full panorama mode right there on the tarmac. With one small carry-on bag by my side, I had granted my own genie wish and arrived for a weekend of adventure, health and entertainment. Basically, I had come for three days of ‘living well’, happy in whichever form it came. My daily unread email list was substituted for organic wine lists, and magical views of Lake Wakatipu made much grander alternatives to those found on my computer screen.

Lake Wakatipu at dawn. Photo by Robin Kamp
Lake Wakatipu at dawn. Photo by Robin Kamp

In my pursuit of a full, start to finish itinerary, it turns out I wasn’t the only genie responsible for how well my weekend panned out. During planning stages, I had stumbled across a new hospitality player in town. One with a rustically charred edge, an enthusiastic heart and a moody soul. One that has enhanced its conventional roots by planting new contemporary seeds — giving touches of old a vision of new. A player who shoots sparks of rock’n’roll from entertaining corners, offers handfuls of wellness in an eco-friendly fashion and walks to the beat of a community drum. That player was Sherwood.

I loved the hotel the minute I saw it. Only a 5-minute drive from town lining the northern, central edge of Lake Wakatipu, one can’t help but discover Sherwood or the distinctive teepee adorning its hilltop. Previously known to travellers and locals as The Sherwood Lodge, its new owners have crafted a form of modern-day reservation, a quirky adaptation to suit the tastes of various characters that pass through and a healthy support mechanism for the locals who surround it. Post-facelift, the all-new Sherwood is definitely worth the visit.

Sleeping snugly beneath 100 per cent New Zealand merino wool blankets and atop locally made wooden bed frames, it was here I found myself based for the next two nights. Among Sherwood’s 78 rooms, I was housed in a self-contained, cosy lakeside studio — and boy, did I have a view. Behind curtains fashioned from old heavy army blankets, the evening light gave way to an artificial form, emerging from solar-powered industrial light fittings that creatively snaked across the walls. All features found here are beautifully unique, from carpet woven with 60 per cent fishing line, furniture made from recycled metals right through to bespoke art pieces, locally made and available for sale.

With a strong philosophy of reflecting local ingredients and flavours through their food and beverage offerings, it was no wonder that Sherwood’s enthusiastic Head Chef Ainsley Thompson had me up and out on the roadside picking fresh wild thyme, elderberry and rosehip on my first day — it is true that things do not travel far before they are eaten at Sherwood. I have never encountered anyone more passionate about his or her chosen art than Miss Ainsley. Having successfully honed her culinary skills and wholefoods cooking practices over the years, it is clear she is a true believer that our precious little nation really is our own fresh produce treasure-chest. As locals, we are aware that New Zealand produces some of the best ingredients in the world. However, at Sherwood the kitchen team strives to promote the exceptional, showcasing a higher level of menu offering and championing each season’s harvest in the very best light.

After foraging the roadside and clambering tree trunks, we took our fingers full of prickles and fresh bounty to visit Duncan, the mad scientist behind the biodynamic cellar door of Mount Edward Vineyard. What Duncan characterises as a ‘big-small’ winery, Mount Edward is in no way pretentious. Visitors won’t see its name flashing in neon on the main road, but they will find its doors wide open, welcoming anyone who wishes to stop by and ask a few questions or taste a few drops — Duncan is always happy to discuss the literal fruits of his labour. Located in the beautiful Gibbston Valley approximately 25 kilometres from Queenstown, Mount Edward operates on certified organic practices and focuses on growing small batch premium single vineyard wines that reflect site and season. Since its birth in 1997, Mt Edward now produces around 10,000 cases a year, satisfying a very ripe bunch of the local market plus plenty of appreciative wine enthusiasts off shore. Using minimal intervention and traditional practice, consumers are not only drawn to the beautiful range of wine varieties found here, but also to the endless wit of the curator himself.

Inside the cellar of Mt. Edward Vineyard. Photo by Jacqui Dickson.
Inside the cellar of Mt. Edward Vineyard. Photo by Jacqui Dickson.

Queenstown is filled with unique experiences and is the perfect place to delve deep into one’s thrill-seeker spirit. It was at the top of Queenstown’s Gondola that I found myself up close and personal with nature, hanging upside down with my feet in the air, zip-lining from tree to tree hundreds of feet above Lake Wakatipu. A world leader in eco-tourism, ZipTrek Ecotours have been operating in New Zealand for 5 years and hold claim to the world’s steepest zip-line. Offering visitors the chance to experience this new, efficient form of travel, all business components are fully sustainable and environmentally friendly. Using only solar power for its minimal electrical requirements, this multi award-winning business combines natural architecture with outdoor education – providing awareness, appreciation and information on how to protect and conserve its local surrounds. Each tree-top platform not only flaunts breath-taking scenic views, but on each are found informative plaques that guides will explain and use to inspire visitors to partake in a new world of sustainable thinking and practice.

The thrill of zip-lining. Photo courtesy of ZipTrek Ecotours
The thrill of zip-lining. Photo courtesy of ZipTrek Ecotours

Adventure aficionados will be pleased to know that even during autumn and spring, Queenstown’s quieter months, there are still plenty of exciting events and activities to engage in. From a heart-pounding bungy jump at one end of the spectrum to indulgent spa treatments at the other, there really is something for everyone. After playing monkey in the trees, and with a desire for something a little more peaceful, I headed off to my next adventure — located approximately 45 minutes out of town in the old farming and mining town of Glenorchy, population 360.

As the longest running horse trek company in the region, High Country Horses offers guests the chance to take half or full day horse treks, overnight rides and multi-day trips amidst some of the most tranquil and pristine countryside in the South. With over 50 horses catering for all abilities and those over the age of seven, guests will embark on a unforgettable ride across glacier-fed rivers and beneath craggy, mountainous ranges so beautiful even Peter Jackson had them feature in his Lord of the Rings series. Our four-legged modes of transport were trained to follow our friendly and professional guide in sequence along well-hooved tracks, ensuring beginner riders felt comfortable at all times. It was a truly surreal experience — breathing in the fresh snow air, beholding the 360 degree stretch of natural wonder — I can’t recall a time I felt as much appreciation for what we New Zealanders are lucky enough to call home.

Famished and excited to dine at Sherwood’s chef’s table for dinner, I joined Chef Ainsley and her team, who whipped up more wholesome goodness than I could have imagined. For taste buds on the road to retribution after years of abuse from driving under the golden arches or visiting the poultry Colonel, slates can definitely be wiped clean here. With a large organic vegetable garden right out back, Sherwood has a strong focus on natural nourishment, which is showcased in the aesthetically atmospheric, state-of-the-art wholefoods restaurant. There is some seriously powerful appreciation for what the earth has to offer here and the staff that man these trenches have undoubtedly learnt the art of harnessing natural organic power.

With a wide open pass one can watch the Einsteins of food science at work, producing their seasonal menu offerings that have been designed to not only fuel but nourish the body. The same philosophy extends to their wine list — a handpicked selection of New Zealand producers who have been expertly pinpointed on what can only be described as a map for wine selection. Giving customers a journey through the seasons, wine can be chosen based on a preference of skins or no skins, dry or sweet and a selection of floral, fruit, wood or leafy essence. Spirit drinkers will find rows of rare artisan liquors from around the world lining the bar racks. If questions arise, be sure to ask Fraser, the restaurant manager. Undoubtedly the friendliest, most knowledgeable beverage extraordinaire in town, his Scottish humour and experience will not only help to suggest the perfect food accompaniment or after-work drop, but will share the tales of their existence.

At Sherwood, the health of guests is not only maintained within the restaurant, but spreads upstairs to their yoga and Pilates studio. Guests and nearby residents are welcome to attend a range of classes, each designed to awaken the body and revive the mind. And after an afternoon riding horseback, hanging from a harness or simply walking the beautiful streets of Queenstown, a good yoga stretch followed by a visit to a trained masseuse is a must, allowing a one hour full-body massage of pure indulgence to relieve those tired muscles and allow guests to fall into a deep state of relaxation.

The soothing experience of Onsen Hot Pools. Photo by Jacqui Dickson.
The soothing experience of Onsen Hot Pools. Photo by Jacqui Dickson.

To unwind even further, I suggest following up Sherwood’s therapeutic massage with the benefits of hydrotherapy — a traditional, yet favourable method for soaking any stresses or worries away — at Onsen Hot Pools. On the cliff-tops of Arthurs Point, the alpine views and famous Shotover River are hidden behind a retractable wall, waiting to greet visitors at the touch of a button. All six pools are privately housed in beautiful cedar-lined rooms, perfect for a daytime view or evening mood. With a choice of temperature, the pure, pristine water used at Onsen is a mixture of mountain spring, rain and lake water and is replaced every 24 hours. For years hydrotherapy has been known to rid the body of achy muscles and joints, encourage detoxification and boost the immune system thanks to the body’s reaction to hot and cold stimuli. Combine those benefits with the views from Onsen Hot Pools’ tranquil location and there’s no doubt of walking out with complete mind and body comfort.

The Shotover river by day. Photo by Tomas Vohryzka
The Shotover river by day. Photo by Tomas Vohryzka

From being educated to feeling invigorated, it is fair to say I succeeded on my journey to wellness in Queenstown. One thing I certainly learned is that two days is not enough. I scraped the surface of what this humble community has to offer but I am sure there are many secrets still to be shared, treasures still to be found and incredible people still to be met.

Published on April 26, 2015
Location: Queenstown
Country: New Zealand ›
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