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Exploring Queenstown


With winter’s opening shots recasting our adventure capital’s offerings, the razored ridgeline of the Remarkables is sporting a decent coast of snow, accentuating the resort town’s cinematic good looks.

 

 

It’s worth the ride alone on the Skyline Gondola, to drink it all in. The gracious old lady of the lake, TSS Earnslaw, will resume faithfully plying Wakatipu’s waters in early July, but if you’re after a fresher scoop of floating pleasure, board Southern Discoveries’ gleaming catamaran.

They operate daily excursions to Mt. Nicholas Station, one of New Zealand’s most historic, family run merino sheep stations.

Spanning 100,000 acres of golden high country terrain, the 45-minute scenic cruise down Lake Wakatipu affords glorious vistas of Mt. Earnslaw, Cecil Peak, and the tucked away valley beneath Mt. Creighton, where the Hollywood set have previously purchased homes, including Arnie Schwarzenegger and John Travolta.

Arriving at Mt. Nicholas Station, you have a variety of add-on sightseeing options including a 4WD Safari, a two-hour high country walk or the Woolshed Experience.

I opted for the latter, which was a wonderfully hands-on exposition of merino wool’s journey from fresh fleece to top-end clothing. All Mt. Nicholas Station merino wool is sold to Icebreaker.

As a premium wine-growing region, swooned over for its pinot noir, a swirl of wine trail tours can whisk you across the vineyards of the Gibbston Valley and beyond.

I cheated and headed straight to The Winery, a one-stop-tasting shop in the heart of Queenstown and also Arrowtown (the Queenstown site is yet to reopen).

It’s indulgently effortless, where you can taste over 80 wines, including several dozen delicious pinot noirs, at the press of a button.

All of the industry’s rockstars are showcased, including Valli Bannockburn, Mt. Difficulty, Black Ridge and Amisfield.

Complement your wine sampling, by grazing from a flavourful platter of local cheese, salami and olives.

Speaking of food, if the billowing tangle of humanity, pre-Covid, spilling along the footpath of Shotover Street, outside Fergburger, turned you off from sampling the gourmet delights in buns – now’s your chance without the crowds.

One of my favourite noshing spots is Akarua Wines & Kitchen by Artisan, just up the road by Lake Hayes.

On Steamer Wharf, graze heartily from the share plates at Public Kitchen & Bar, a convivial celebration of local produce overlooking Lake Wakatipu and the gazillion dollar views.

Another recommended fuss-free experience is the Ballarat Trading Company, stunningly outfitted in the style of an 1850’s trading post, with lip-smacking gourmet food.

Walking options abound and heading east from the town centre, the Frankton Arm Walkway is a heart-stealer, with its unobstructed lake and mountain views.

A coffee stop beckoned at Boat Shed Café & Bistro. Its back-story is fascinating, set in the restored New Zealand Railways Shipping Office after beginning life as a store in the 1870s.

In 1936 it was bought by Frank Duncan, a Dunedin lawyer, who moved the building from the town centre to its current waterfront location.

From The Boat Shed, the gravel walkway wends its way along the shoreline to Frankton, passing a quaint parade of rustic Kiwi cribs – a laid-back world away from the pretence of some of Queenstown’s more recent glamour pad developments. They’re anything but flashy. It is such a great antidote to savour this unmolested vestige of old Queenstown.

Ten kilometres west of Queenstown, on the road to Glenorchy, I enjoyed a brisk hike in the Mt. Creighton Scenic Reserve. After a steady climb, the peaceful trail through native bush steeped in goldmining history leads to Lake Dispute.

There’s a variety of options, but this 90-minute loop circuit hits the sweet spot.

Not only does it give you the chance to gawp at some of the under-the-radar celebrity hideaway trophy houses, strung across the valley, but the elevated vistas across the lake to Cecil Peak and Walter Peak are supreme, delivering a fresh scoop of Queenstown’s unstoppable beauty.


 

Life and Limb


The Guinness Book of Records lists Sir Ranulph Fiennes as ‘The world’s greatest living explorer’ and there’s few of the harshest places in the world that he hasn’t conquered. His body – now 76-years of age – has been pushed to the absolute brink and, despite some missing fingertips, he is in remarkable condition.

 

 

He has run seven marathons on seven continents in seven days, just a few months after suffering an almost fatal heart attack; he was the first person to complete a surface circumnavigation via both the poles – a 56,000 kilometre track that took three years to complete; he has experienced the intense torture of prolonged exposure to minus 40-degree temperatures; and he’s climbed both Everest and the notorious north face of the Eiger despite suffering terribly from vertigo.

The missing fingers – self-amputated by hacksaw when he was suffering from frostbite – may be the only visible acknowledgement of this life well lived, other than a twinkle in his eye that hints of a confidence that can only be derived from mastering the world.

Despite doing just that, he remains humble, having spent a good portion of his life raising funds for charity and encouraging us to look after the world; after all, if anyone could recognise just how precious our world is and the importance of keeping it that way, it would be Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

He may be fitter than the average septuagenarian, but life in the fast lane has taken its toll; he has suffered several heart attacks, a double heart bypass, a cancer operation, diabetes and scoliosis – an abnormal curvature of the spine, but the effervescent charm and wit that make him such a good speaker are very much in tact.

“I do have an ability to suffer cold and hunger and not get nasty,” he admits, though he remains unconvinced when it’s suggested he has a particularly high threshold for pain.

Frostbite damage to his right foot once required him to cut a 7.5 centimetre slash in the side of his shoe to ease the pressure on his damaged flesh; one time he removed his balaclava and took with it a chunk of frozen flesh; then there was the time had to prise apart his scabbed lips to eat a bowl of porridge before looking down to see his oats had turned to “blood gravy”; and yet still, “a high pain threshold? Definitely not!”

His memoir, Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know, documents some of the horrific injuries (which he calls just part of the game) and the incredible achievements, but for an up close and personal account, he’s heading to New Zealand in May for a live show that offers a personal glimpse into the life of an adventurer.

Both light-hearted and strikingly poignant, the live show spans Sir Ranulph’s childhood and school misdemeanours, his army life and early expeditions, right through to the Transglobe Expedition to his current Global Reach Challenge – his goal to become the first person in the world to cross both polar ice caps and climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents.

An Evening with the World’s Greatest Living Explorer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes will be held at the Aurora Theatre in Christchurch on Saturday 23 May. Tickets are available from Ticketek.