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Why You Should Travel to New Zealand in Peak Off-Season

Now is the perfect time to hit Queenstown and beyond.

A Heliworks excursion.

By Liza Corsillo, Condé Nast

It may be a traveler’s cliché to step off a plane in a new country and declare the quality of the foreign air delicious. But if this is true anywhere, it’s true in New Zealand, especially if you are visiting in the last throes of summer—a.k.a. Kiwi winter—when LA is on fire and New York’s sticky air is still ripe. A trip to Queenstown, the south island’s destination for outdoor adventure, by way of Auckland, the north island’s harbor city, is a damn good trade: late summer heat and humidity for crisp mountain, lake, and sea breezes.

New Zealand sits on a belt of active volcanoes (ever heard of The Ring of Fire?) making the soil rich, the terrain dramatic, and the flavors of everything from fennel to butter sublimely intense. “Cooking here is so different to cooking at home, which is New York now,” says Kiwi transplant and Michelin star chef Matt Lambert. “For one thing, the dairy tastes remarkably stronger in New Zealand.” Breathe deep, open your eyes wide, make friends with your bartender, and tour the diverse culinary landscape—from the candy aisle of any grocery store to the award-winning tasting menu at the restaurant overlooking Lake Wakatipu.

How to fly

There’s no international flight into Queenstown—and that’s a good thing, because it means you’ll be forced to enjoy not one but two of New Zealand’s cities. Book your travel so that you spend time in Auckland on the tail end of your trip. That way you get the longest arm of your journey out of the way first. Because the flight home is always harder with work and an overflowing inbox on the horizon.

Your very first view of Queenstown and the Southern Alps will be from the plane, so make sure you get an aisle seat. Once on the tarmac in Queenstown you’ll be surrounded by The Remarkables, a mountain range that lives up to its name. This is your moment to take a big whiff of Kiwi air.

Where to stay

Downtown Queenstown is a compact labyrinth of alleyways and walking streets centered around Lake Wakatipu which is, at 50 miles, New Zealand’s longest. For any Elisabeth Moss heads out there, it’s also the namesake body of water from the BBC series Top of the Lake.

For the best view in town look to Eichardt’s Private Hotel which spans the lakefront promenade affording its guests totally unobstructed views from sunup to sundown. Though its beginnings were rather modest, the hotel started out as a woolshed in 1859, it was later transformed thanks to the gold rush of the 1860s. Eichardt’s has since expanded and the buff colored main building with its traditional Victorian details is now grounded by a contemporary neighboring structure. Just a few hundred feet down Marine Parade are Eichardt’s apartments perfect for accommodating groups. Be sure to grab breakfast at The Grille where you’ll find local ingredients including Otago honey and apple porridge with native tamarillos. For the eggs and bacon set you’ll find protein-rich options with a Queenstown twist including poached eggs with hot-smoked Stewart Island salmon.

What to do

Queenstown is known for thrill-seeking activities (bungee jumping! Sky diving!) against a backdrop of dramatic peaks and gleaming turquoise rapids. But there’s something to do for everyone, regardless of whether you’re interested in jumping out of a plane.

Get your feet wet with a trip up the gondola, where you’ll be able to take in views for miles. Grab a drink at the bar up top, but save your appetite for later. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of the wild goats who chill in a little cemetery on your way back down. Once acclimated to the heights, and depending on your mood and the weather, you can choose between white water rafting, skiing, snowboarding, bungee jumping, or a pastoral stroll through Queenstown gardens where frisbee golf is oddly popular. But if you’re looking for thrills without getting wet or exerting much energy, chartering a helicopter should be at the top of your list. While it’s by no means a cheap thrill, the experience is one of a lifetime.

To get your adrenaline levels back to normal, browse the walking mall for everything from handmade merino wool (sometimes made from possums!) and native gemstones (just don’t buy greenstone for yourself, it’s bad luck) to outdoor gear and a new pair of boots or an extra jacket.

What to eat and drink

You will not find drip coffee anywhere in New Zealand, so save yourself the confusion and get used to ordering Americanos. On the upside: nearly anywhere you go the espresso is strong and tasty and the milk is extra creamy. Now that you’re appropriately buzzed, you’ll want to settle in at The Lodge Bar just next door to, and owned by, heritage Kiwi menswear brand Rodd & Gunn. Sturdy wooden tables and a shiny brass bar makes for a great people- and sunset-watching perch. When he’s not busy running his own restaurant—The Musket Room in Nolita—Chef Lambert heads back to New Zealand to design the Lodge Bar’s seasonal menus. If you’re feeling snacky, order one of the sweet and savory topped toasts. The sourdough, Lambert’s nostalgic nod to childhood level cooking, is made in house using water from Lake Wakatipu. For something more substantial, go for the Gunner’s Game Pie with rabbit and venison or the big and buttery braised beef cheek.

It wouldn’t be right to visit Queenstown without tasting the region’s local wines, and you can make an event of it by booking a table at Amisfield Winery’s rustic Bistro and Cellar Door just a twenty minute drive from downtown. (Get yourself a driver, please.) The schist stone restaurant and tasting bar with its central fireplace is a cozy spot to get heavily buzzed on central Otago’s world-renowned Pinots. Be sure to order a glass of the Pinot Blanc which, produced in very small quantities, is only sold on location. Pace yourself with chef Vaughan Mabee’s tasting menu inspired by the surrounding landscape using wild foraged ingredients or a board of rich local cheeses.

A Side Trip to Auckland

Winter on the north island isn’t very cold; in fact it’s more like a balmy spring. The city is sandwiched between two harbours giving visitors easy ferry access to Waiheke island, a Kiwi paradise known for its beaches, wine, and oysters. If you’re lucky you’ll go on a warm winter day when the temperature is in the mid to high fifties. Take a cab from the ferry to pick up some very local and very fresh Ta Matuku oysters for a seaside picnic or, if you can’t wait, to eat in the shop.

Back on the mainland you might want to pick up some New Zealand sweets (Perky Nanas and Pineapple Lumps are local favorites) or manuka honey to bring home and round out your trip by taste-testing a real New Zealand bagel (just trust us) at Best Ugly Bagels. Modeled after the Montreal style, they’re on the small side and hand-rolled before being tossed in a wood-fire oven. They’re just what you want in a bagel: crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and not overly dense. For one of your last whiffs of New Zealand air take a walk through The Auckland Domain, the city’s oldest park that includes botanical gardens, a volcanic explosion crater, and The Auckland War Memorial Museum home to both natural history and an extensive Maori wing. You’ll want to enjoy the fresh air as long as you can before getting on a plane and returning home.

See more at: Condé Nast


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dearJulius.com: Why You Should Travel to New Zealand in Peak Off-Season
Why You Should Travel to New Zealand in Peak Off-Season
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