of New Zealand
- The Golden Triangle
The South Island of New Zealand is rapidly becoming a
favourite international travel destination, thanks to the stunning scenery made
famous in movies like Lord of the Rings. When you add the pristine snow-capped mountains easily reached
from the cute cities of Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin, you have
an exciting holiday that's certainly one of the world's best.
Photo of New Zealand's South Island Mountains.
Let's start this adventure in Christchurch, the
southern capital with a population of nearly 400,000. International airlines fly directly into
Christchurch, particularly from neighbouring Australia.
The international airport is only 10 minutes from
this historic city with a British background.
When you arrive in
Christchurch, it's obvious why this is the cultural centre of New
Zealand, with numerous arts centres, a new Art Gallery and a vibrant
Head to Cathedral Square for a taste of what to
expect, have a meal or a drink along the Avon River at any of the trendy
cafes and bars, or if you have a touch of romance in your soul, try
punting on the Avon River, complete with a guide who could have been
trained on the gondolas of Venice.
Photo of trendy cafes near the Avon River in Christchurch
ACCOMMODATION IN CHRISTCHURCH
Christchurch oozes class and charm and so does its
accommodation near many of the attractions.
If you want
to experience Christchurch's finest accommodation, stay at The Classic Villa, a five
star boutique hotel run by one of NZ's most experienced
hoteliers Peter Morrison, with Jan Clarke.
Photo of The Classic Villa Christchurch
The Classic Villa is in the heart of Christchurch on
Worcester Boulevard, near the Arts Centre and the Court
Theatre, and it's a quick walk or tram ride down the road into the
The Classic Villa itself is a delightful place to
stay - it's an Italian-style historic home converted into the nicest
boutique hotel in Christchurch. Why stay
here? It's just been voted New Zealand's best hotel - you'll find
12 gorgeous ensuite rooms and a gourmet Continental breakfast included.
The Classic Villa breakfast
The rooms at this award-winning luxury hotel are
beautifully decorated with timber floors and ceiling panels, wood
fire-effect heaters and flat screen LCD TVs while you snuggle up in the
very comfortable beds. The ceilings are high, the candelabras are grand.
The experience is memorable.
Peter Morrison's day starts at 5am and when guests arrive to
find the colourful feast awaiting, Peter happily hovers and attends to
every need, truly the perfect host. He's been in hospitality for many
years running restaurants, bars and even 120 room hotels.
Christchurch is the perfect starting point for your
southern New Zealand adventure. An hour's drive east out on the Banks Peninsula is
the French settlement of Akaroa, where to this day you will find the
French Tricouleur flag fluttering in the breeze.
This charming little town with its wooden buildings
is officially the oldest in New Zealand, settled in 1840, and is well
worth the scenic side trip.
BEST RESTAURANTS IN CHRISTCHURCH
Try Sezn Restaurant in Gloucester Street, a rustic,
almost Bohemian restaurant with a great atmosphere and menu featuring fresh local
Starters include seared salmon with green bean or marscapone tortellini for NZ$17.50.
For mains, try the venison rump with chocolate jus or the
pan-seared fresh daily fish with ratatouille for NZ$32.
The Bodhi Tree on Colombo Street is an unexpected treat because it's Burmese, but appeals to
travellers who love a good meal, atmosphere and good prices.
Queenstown is officially New Zealand's adventure
capital, and it's a six hour drive south from Christchurch through some
of the world's best scenery.
As you head south, you'll encounter snow-capped
mountains almost all the way down, from Mt Hutt just south of
Christchurch, down to NZ's
highest peak Mt Cook, where Sir Edmund Hillary trained before conquering
For much of the year, you'll encounter the thrill of
driving through the snow across mountain passes like the Lindis Pass.
Then as you near Queenstown, you'll see the famous Coronet
Peak towering over one side and the Remarkables ski fields guarding the
other entry to this exciting city.
Photo of Queenstown from St Moritz Hotel
You can take part in all manner of activity in
Queenstown. Take a walk
around the quaint Queenstown streets and take a ride on the historic
coal steamer Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu, which rises and falls like Lake
If you want an aerial view of it all, grab a gondola
cable car at the end of one Queenstown's main streets, taking you
virtually vertically up above it all.
Queenstown has 20,000 people well served by 150 bars, cafes and
restaurants around the volcanic lake at the base of the surrounding
mountains. These cafes and bars supply some of New Zealand's
freshest food and fine wine from the local Central Otago region.
Pinot noir is all the rage here, and there's nothing better than
pairing a pinot with some of the remarkable New Zealand food in front of
a cozy log fire.
Photo of Queenstown shops near accommodation
Summer is the best time to visit for hiking and
warmer temperatures, but it's the winter ski season that swells the
small city so much that it's hard to find hotel accommodation or a restaurant not
booked out. Queenstown has a two week festival to celebrate the start of
the ski season in June and it's a great time to visit.
You'll encounter street stalls offering all types of food, a
comedy festival and even a winter masquerade ball.
Near Queenstown, the Shotover Jet boat rides literally fly at narrow cliff entries on the Shotover
River and somehow
squeeze through the gaps.
Photo of Shotover Jet on the Shotover River near Queenstown
If you really feel adventurous, New Zealand invented
bungy-jumping and in Queenstown you can also plunge off a bridge with an
elasticised rope around your ankles.
And of course, the pinnacle of attractions in
Queenstown is the ski season, starting in late June. Snow skiing
near your Queenstown accommodation is some of the world's best on pristine slopes serviced by ski
lifts all over the mountains.
For something really adventurous, take a helicopter ride up to
one of the glaciers for a hair-raising ski down the mountain.
The Hotel St Moritz is a five star hotel near the centre
of Queenstown with stunning
mountain and lake views that is a favourite among international travellers because of its ambience, interior and affordability.
Photo of St Moritz Hotel lobby
Situated on Brunswick Street, the St Moritz Hotel has 140
low-rise suites including the rooftop Honeymoon Suite with an open air
hot tub that brings you closer to nature than anything else.
The hotel interior embodies understated luxury with a warm South
Island welcome from the professional - and genuinely happy - hotel staff.
The St Moritz Hotel suites are a very generous size, many with
separate lounge room and two big hi definition flat screen TVs,
including one at the end of your ultra-comfortable bed. But be warned -
you'll find it hard to watch TV when you have big glass windows
featuring that stunning view of the snow capped mountains and lake right
Room photo, St Moritz Hotel, Queenstown
The St Moritz suites are excellent value when you
consider they include a complete kitchenette with a washer/dryer combo
that will bring a smile to the face of many a weary traveller.
And the service here is simply superb.
Where else would you find a hotel that knows a bedside light bulb
has blown while you're there even though you haven't told them?
where else would you find the head chef hurrying out to give you some of
his home-made bread when he discovers you're taking off on a road trip?
And if you really have to check with the outside
world, how about this for cheap internet rates - NZ$5 (US$3) for half an
hour, or if you're quick, the Concierge may even let you use his
computer for free. These winning factors make the St Moritz Hotel, Queenstown experience here
worth every penny and more.
BEST CAFES & RESTAURANTS IN QUEENSTOWN
There are so many good cafes and restaurants in Queenstown, but two
of the cafes here deserve your custom before most others because of
their outstanding food quality and ambience.
The newly-opened Flame Bar and Grill in Beach Street is run by South
African couple Dawn and Grant. It has probably the best views in
Queenstown across the harbour but it’s the tenderness and taste of their
food that puts them ahead in the competitive Queenstown restaurant
Flame Bar and Grill - the best steak and ribs in New Zealand
Flame Bar and Grill only opened in December 2008 but
already it's a Queenstown favourite with locals and visitors alike. The
sign of a good restaurant is being booked out mid-week, and in this
restaurant, we encountered the happiest crowd you can imagine, from the
table of 12 young Queenstown locals to the table of older Australian
tourists celebrating a birthday.
The menu here includes tender New Zealand lamb cutlets, fresh
South Island seafood and pasta, but it's the steak and ribs done on the open char grill African-style that are simply superb.
Chef Grant won't tell what's in his stunning secret sauce but
suffice to say it's finger lick'n good.
Chef Grant at the Flame Grill
The huge steak and ribs combo
is NZ$37, the tender aged sirloin from NZ$22 and to finish, the
delicious chocolate mousse with berry compote is NZ$9.50. Very good
value with the rare combination of quality and quantity.
The other stand-out restaurant in Queenstown is
Fishbone Bar and Grill, specialising in fresh local seafood. This is a colourful restaurant at the top of Beach St
run by the cheerful Mark who obviously enjoys the fun atmosphere he's
created inside. The décor is
full of seafaring objects d'art and this restaurant is well-known across
Fishbone Bar and Grill
Fishbone Bar and Grill is popular for its good
quality, reasonably priced fare that can be enjoyed in booths that
encourage conversation. For starters, try the melt-in-your-mouth hot
smokehouse salmon, served on potato with horseradish and caper salad for
NZ$16.90. For mains, try the Chef's special of pan-roasted
fresh fillets of today's local catch - sometimes Gurnard, a deep water
slightly sweet white fish caught at the bottom of the South Island.
Another winner is the whole South Island flounder oven baked with
herb butter and aioli for NZ$27.
This can be washed down with one of New Zealands's most famous
sauvignon blancs Astrolabe or a local Central Otago Chard Valley
sauvignon blanc for NZ$9 a glass.
This is a quirky, colourful Queenstown restaurant with good food
Joe's Garage is also a fun place to start the day
with delicious fresh produce and fresh squeezed juices.
It's a local favourite for breakfast with a décor that reminds
you of your local mechanic's.
And if you want to find Queenstown's "coolest" bar,
try the Minus 5 Degrees bar on the Wharf, where everything inside
including the bar is made from 18 tonnes of ice. Even the glasses you
sip their famous vodka cocktails from are made of ice.
From the mountains of Queenstown, it's an interesting
3 1/2 hour drive east to the small coastal city of Dunedin, the third
point of the New Zealand South Island touring triangle.
The air is a little crisper in this southern
settlement, a university town enriched by thousands of enthusiastic
Dunedin's Scottish influence is obvious by the neat
buildings and countryside that reminded the original settlers of home.
Even Dunedin's name is a derivation of the Scotland's capital
One of the highlights of a trip to Dunedin is taking
the Taieri Gorge train from the historic Railway Station.
described as the coastal rail trip of a lifetime through the rugged Taieri River Gorge, across viaducts built of wrought iron and through
tunnels carved out by hand more than 100 years ago.
Dunedin's historic rail station
Dunedin's city centre revolves around the Octagon,
the grassy area surrounded by vibrant bars, cafes and shops and
dominated by a big bronze statue of Robbie Burns, the famous Scottish
writer. Why is he here?
Robbie Burns' uncle was one of the first church ministers in
Dunedin so the locals followed his life and writing closely. Unfortunately Robbie died at the relatively tender
age of 37, but he inspired the Dunedin locals across the world so much
that today you can find an Authors' Walk around the Octagon featuring
footpath plaques of New Zealand's famous authors.
Other tourist features of Dunedin include the World's
Steepest Street. It's fun to
drive straight up the steep 350 metre Baldwin Street, made of concrete
because tar would run downhill in warm weather.
If you want a really good workout, try walking up and down, but
be careful because it really is very steep.
Dunedin is the gateway to New Zealand's Otago Peninsula, home
to some of New Zealand's most luxurious lodges in pretty locations.
The top-ranked boutique accommodation in Dunedin is
the historic Claremont House, a five star Bed and Breakfast in an
elevated position on Melrose St.
It's only 5 minutes from the city, straight up the
hill in the trendy inner suburb of Roslyn.
Claremont House Dunedin
There are four beautiful suites at Claremont House
including the room at the top with stunning views over Dunedin's pretty
hills and coastline. The beds here are also very comfortable and in the
mornings you'll hear birdsong.
Claremont House is a luxury private guesthouse with
the homely, comfortable feel of a bed & breakfast, but the privacy and
luxury of an exclusive lodge or hotel.
Guest house rooms offer a private lounge furnished with
antiques and collectables, Queen bedroom and bathroom. The suites also
feature high ceilings, a decorative fire place, timber floors and even a
glass-encased library in some rooms. Because the weather in Dunedin can
be chilly, room heaters are included and it's fun to snuggle up and
watch the weather outside through big glass windows.
And if you're a family group, near the
courtyard is a self-contained cottage with a roomy lounge and spacious
Claremont House is owned by the hard-working Ingrid
and Adrian who've restored the elegant building to its former glory of
the early 20th century.
BEST RESTAURANTS IN DUNEDIN
Speight's Ale House in Dunedin is a fun café and bar
in the centre of of Dunedin that serves well-priced food and drinks that
are delicious. The dull
brick building on the outside belies what lies within...a warm interior
with log fires, plaster cut back from original old brickwork and brass
circular vats sticking out from walls behind the cheerful bar.
Try any number of Speight's ales to accompany hearty
meals like lamb shanks or fresh local fish.
The extensive wine list includes the ubiquitous local Otago pinot
noirs and the
world's best sauvignon blancs from the
wine region recognised internationally (see
World's Best Wine Holidays
Nearby Bennu Restaurant and Bar has delicious food
that will warm you up on even the freshest of days.
It's just around the corner from the central Octagon.
Try the tender home-made fettucine for NZ$12 or the oven-roasted
New Zealand lamb rump steak for NZ$28.50.
OTHER NEW ZEALAND
There are a number of other attractive towns to visit
near these cities, including Wanaka north of Queenstown
with its pretty mirror-like lake.
For the best view, go upstairs and see Chris at the iconic Reef
restaurant and try his lunch specials for NZ$12.50 or his dinner menu
Another quaint little town near Queenstown is the historic gold-mining settlement of Arrowtown which
has struck more gold recently with the number of tourists now visiting.
Photo of Arrowtown, near Queenstown
Go into the jeweller's on the main street to see the biggest gold
nuggets found in the area, and don't miss a visit to Fresh Fish
Brothers, where you just have to try the delicious, mouth-watering
The menu includes Cajun-dusted fresh fish burgers and
a variety of Arrowtown cold water fish. For a real taste treat, ask the
staff for an item not on the menu - a grilled fish burger made with
their hot smoked salmon, and you'll be in fresh produce heaven.
SOUTH ISLAND SUMMARY
New Zealand's South Island has it all, from the
scenic beauty on the rambling drives between Queenstown and Christchurch
to the stunning wines in the pristine
wine region north of
Queenstown certainly has everything the traveller on
a quest for the best wants, from snow-capped mountains to good wineries,
gourmet food and great hotel accommodation near the lake.
Christchurch is a quaint city with a lively cultural
scene, enriched by a pretty location and attractions including nearby Akaroa.
Dunedin is in its own southern world, still
visibly Scottish and home to a wild, natural landscape that is fresh and
Take your time to take a drive between these
attractive southern settlements, and you'll certainly enjoy another of
the World's Best Holidays.
* Thanks to St Moritz Hotel Queenstown, The Classic
Villa Christchurch and Claremont House Dunedin for looking after us.
Thanks also to Ace Car Rentals, New Zealand's largest independent
car hire company, who we admire for expanding from two secondhand Toyota
Starlets to a fleet of 1700 in 17 years.
Big Tourist Holiday
Map South Island New Zealand