[Published in Zoom in Business Magazine 2017]
It was the perfect mix of business and a winter escape when we zoomed across the Tasman to New Zealand’s beautiful Queenstown.
Sitting magnificently in the shadow of the snow-capped Remarkables on the bank of Lake Wakatipu, there was no better haunt than Queenstown for three bungee-jumping adrenaline-junkie, ski-bunnies to help me celebrate my 40th birthday.
Anyone who has ever flown into the windy corridor of Queenstown will sympathize with me when I say that the jaw-clenching experience of our 747 bumbling through the strong gusts of wind on descent was my first taste of fear. The moment my feet hit the tarmac, the minus degree wind chilled my veins. I was finally on holidays, and it was time to breathe in this crisp alpine air and “let go”.
It was just after midday when we zoomed up Fernhill Road and arrived at our luxurious Platinum Villa penthouse with a stunning schist stone gas fireplace blazing to warm our frozen bones. There was no time to waste, so we rugged up and headed for some action.
The town was surprisingly trendy and every second door was either a restaurant or bar. Business was booming, but I reminded myself that this was a seasonal town, and when the snow melts so will most of these businesses. With that in mind, there was no holding us back for the experience.
The first stop was the funky Havana Rum Bar on Searle Lane, with a sign saying “even Australians are welcome!”. Good to see some healthy cross-Tasman rivalry still in play! We strolled to the famous Speights Ale House for a hearty schooner of beer while watching the footy and then across the street to the Pig N Whistle for a bite to eat, washed down by an appropriately matched beer and some stargazing.
Before we knew it, it was already morning and much to do. Firstly, it was a ride on the Gondola to reach the Queenstown Skyline complex where we had spectacular panoramic, breath taking views of Coronet Peak, the Remakables mountain range, across Lake Wakatipu to Cecil and Walter Peaks. Unfortunately, the wind was too strong for our first adrenalin-filled activity of hang gliding off the side of a mountain, but we got a rush catching the chairlift to the Luge where us three grown professional women had an 800m blast of what I consider bloody dangerous, downhill fun.
Then it was off on a Sunday drive to the nonchalant streets of Arrowtown. My sister Justine insisted we visit The Chop Shop Food Merchants, so that was our first stop. It did not disappoint. On arrival, the headwaiter Rex welcomed us and was accustomed to letting his patrons know “we currently don’t have a table available. Would you mind taking a seat?”. This place was packed with diners. So, we nestled into an old leather couch, giving us time to drink in the charming fit out of recycled and upcycled wares such as chandeliers made from bike wheels and chains and door weights made from shifter spanners. This place oozed a vintage-industrial charm – just what we were looking for.
After a short wait, we were ushered to the outdoor terrace overlooking Arrow Lane, and although it was chilly we toasted with a bottle of top shelf French Champagne, poured by a vibrant, free-spirited, quirky waitress. “Do you own this place”, I asked to which she replied, “well, yes I do. My name is Fiona Whiting”, she pulled up a chair and began telling us how it all started. It’s business moments like this that I want to bottle. Fiona passionately shared her story about how both her and husband (Chris) decided to bite the bullet and start their own business. Yes, it’s true – the entrepreneurial spirit can capture just about anyone. And like most entrepreneurs, this young couple started with a bright idea, bunch of hope, burning passion, teeny-tiny budget and also a baby on the way. But despite the challenges, the couple have created a recipe for success. The Chop Shop Food Merchants now have a 5-star rating on Trip Advisor and show no signs of slowing down. After the obligatory “selfie”, Fiona steered us to the menu which was bursting with clean, fresh and healthy food. The Turkish Eggs sent me into a food coma and I can’t recall what the girls chose. This place was that good – it started with a recommendation from my sister, that lead us to a warm welcome, great service, friendly convos and heart-warming food. That’s business at its best.
We then decided to take a drive to Coronet Peak for sunset. The snow season was late this year, so we were lucky enough to be able to drive without chains up to the resort and get a taste of the snow. Even though the three of us were exhausted, we had plans… and those plans involved living the last day as a 30-something to the limit. So, we frocked up and dined at the Crown Plaza and then migrated, as many do, to the Botswana Butchery for dessert. Needless to say, the roaring log fires on the entrance to this luxurious restaurant offered a decadent farewell to my 30’s.
We stuffed the following day with as much birthday adventure as possible – Jet Boat ride on the Shotover River, Flying Fox and Bungee Jumping. Later in the afternoon, we made for the Amisfield Winery, for a nerve-steadying beverage. It was there that we paid it forward to a young couple on holiday, and told them they must visit The Chop Shop in Arrowtown. And there you have it – we inadvertently became salespeople for Fiona! In the end, though, we ended up hopping around six restaurants before a plump for Winnies Niteclub where we danced the night away.
On our final day in Queenstown, we enjoyed some downtime in the Hilton Day Spa, dawdled around the Black Cat Bookshop, Fergburger and ended up in the Gibbston Valley Winery and Terra Mia Café. The world suddenly became very small when I said to the waitress “you sound like an Aussie”, begging us to realise that her parents had recently sold their business on Magnetic Island (where we lived) and opened Terra Mia Café. More ironically, the waitress went to school with one of our daughters. The world is a small place indeed.
It took us 4 days to tuck into the top shelf wine, amazing breakfasts, hangover food and the best coffee on the planet. To my surprise I found that the real danger was not my appetite for adventure, but the indulgent culinary seduction at every turn.