You don't need snow to appreciate the magnificence of Queenstown, especially when hunkered down at a luxury resort overlooking Lake Wakatipu.
The mountain tops are bare and brown as we descend towards Lake Wakatipu and tall green trees give way to impressive shades of yellow and red. By now the peaks will be covered with a healthy dusting of snow. Buskers fill the streets with expectant student travellers and retired couples alike. Bemused onlookers crowd the open spaces to catch a glimpse of "Mullet Man's" unicycling, pyrotechnic antics. And, as usual, a steady stream of foot traffic comes to rest outside student takeaway hangout Fergburger.
Rustic and steeped in Queenstown's history, the walls of The Rees Hotel, True South are built of that beautiful iconic grey river rock schist. Named after early settler and surveyor to the area William Gilbert Rees the hotel is an ode to the lake district's history, with paintings and maps adorning the otherwise cosy dark, minimalist lobby.
The open space, clean lines, contemporary colours and breath-taking views of the executive level-seven suite impress me on the spot. The cheeky automatic bathroom blind, which lets you marvel at the view while enjoying a spa bath is first to grab my eye. The under-floor heating, adjusted with the suite's temperature controller, is an opulent second. The apartment-style rooms are tucked away from each other, providing a feeling of intimacy. Meandering out to the balcony overlooking the water, I visualise myself popping a bottle of good locally produced apricot wine and willing the sun's rays to find me. We know we are in for a good weekend, regardless of the weather.
The king bed and soft pillows lull us into a deep, early night. But a din outside disturbs us, despite the unspoken promise of respite from the bustle of the youth-soaked clubs in town. There are late night diners returning to their rooms whose chatter we can hear from our bed. One particularly vocal neighbour is having an overly enthusiastic phone conversation in a foreign language that seems to last 20 minutes. But perhaps we are being unreasonable for a Saturday night. You might need to put your door sign up earlier in the day when changing, too, unless you want to risk intrusion by the eager hotel staff who enter three times shortly after we arrive - perhaps we're early? But they come bearing gifts, so how can we complain? First there's our bags, then there's complimentary chocolate and then there's fruit.
White napkins are thrown over our laps, fine dining is alive at True South Dining Room. The setting is dimly lit and intimate. The staff are gorgeously foreign. The food is delicious and delivered in elegant small servings - not that we mind, we want to try everything. But while the food exceeds our standards in flavour, it is a little late in arriving. The entree of salmon, pumpkin glass, ginger and bean sprouts tastes as intriguing as it looks. My husband's and my mains of pork belly and salmon go down a treat but the sweet tooth in us is most impressed by the dessert of green tea lamington, yogurt icecream and strawberries. That is, until we try the deconstructed apple crumple with rhubarb, apple sorbet, pear and cinnamon jelly and elderflower creamed rice. The textures and flavours are a match made in sugary heaven. But unfortunately, we don't know if it's the salmon or bad timing, but my husband is ill later that night. The manager and head chef are quick to respond when we raise concerns. They tell us ours was one of six salmon dishes served on the night, with no other complaints of sickness, though there was a 24 hour bug reported in the town. We are pleased to be thanked for our feedback and apologised to regardless.
Worth stepping out for
Not wanting to exert ourselves on this foodie weekend, we hire a couple of electric bicycles from local business Charge About, and are stunned at the ease with which you can ride these things. We make a good distance around the lake, hooning down the hills and relishing the minimal pedalling power required to get back up them. On the way we stop for lunch at secluded waterside spot The Boat Shed, where we enjoy rustic onion and leek and potato soups with a side of cheese toasted bread sticks.
In town you can't go past Joe's Garage for a quick coffee and "sweetie", a sweet warm roll filled with streaky bacon and egg any style.
For something a little more fancy, Sasso Italian restaurant is worth a go. The cosy brick-and-wood establishment boasts a pizza oven and complimentary glasses of wine for Rees guests.
We start our evening with beef tartare with grated beetroot and horseradish dressing, before cleaning up a prosciutto and cheese pizza with a side of broccoli, chilli, spinach and olive oil.
For dessert we devour an elegant cocktail glass of moscato poached pears, pineapple and a hokey pokey like honey crunch. There's a hint of something savoury in there, with mint and biscotti balancing the dish. It's really easy to eat.
Our waiter is also good at up-selling and my husband's arm is twisted into ordering a delicious local Limoncello liqueur.
The most opulent of our weekend activities is mountain-top golf. Even the most useless putters will still get a thrill out of hitting a few balls over breathtaking vistas on Cecil Peak where it's a nippy four degrees when we visit.
We go with Over the Top Golf, choppering up in a four-seater Robinson R44 and hit at four tees on the way down. It's exhilarating and over all too quickly in my mind. The activity is the newest out of a range of adventures including peak-top picnics and snow landings.
Queenstown is the ultimate holiday spot, whether you want to hit the slopes, the cycle track, chopper around or just eat and drink. The service and location at The Rees was top-notch but I think next time it would be nice to check out The Hilton on the other, sunnier side of the lake, for that reason alone. Much of Queenstown has the same problem in that it was built on the wrong side of the lake.
How to get there
The Rees Hotel, True South is on the banks of Lake Wakatipu's Frankton Arm, about five kilometres or eight minutes drive in light traffic. It's a beautiful 30-minute lakeside walk to the Queenstown Gardens and township or a quick water taxi or shuttle ride, the latter complimentary for guests.
The Rees Hotel, True South's rooms range in price from around $195 a night for two people for an executive, non-lakeview hotel room right up to $850 for an executive lakeview penthouse. The prices can jump between $30 to $50 if the hotel is full.
We spent about $30 on soup and drinks at The Boat Shed and the same again on coffee and buns at Joe's Garage.
Dinner at True South Dining Room cost around $150 for two and $80 for Sasso.
Charge About's mountain bikes cost $79 to hire each for a half day or $119 for a full day.
The extravagant activity of mountain golf cost about $325 per person and took about 45 minutes.
- Sunday Star Times