We arrived at Queenstown International Airport to a busy terminal, and followed the signs to the bag claim. For an international airport the terminal is quite small [map], but that said, there appeared to be some construction underway to improve some areas, and it was easy to find our way around with the facilities well signposted.
While waiting for our bag to come out onto the carousel, I made a call to the rental company to confirm our pickup by the shuttle to the depot, and was given directions to the pickup point just a short walk from the terminal exit. It was a short 2-3 min drive to the About New Zealand Rental Cars depot, where we signed off the paperwork for our rental car. I had managed to book a pretty cheap deal for our 4 day stay at $42/day, $168 in total. There are varying rental options available, but this was the cheapest for the type of car we wanted.
Now usually I have some form of credit card (usually to earn Airpoints and Status Points 😉 ) but due to recent changes with Miss. Kiwi Globetrotter and I buying a small abode just recently, I’d decided to change to using a Debit Mastercard for a while – Which, as I learned, can potentially have issues when renting a car, namely in the form of a $1,500 bond (each rental car company has their own requirements). Most people don’t have that much spare cash readily available, but luckily I did anticipate this possible predicament and brought with me a credit card used for emergencies, in case of such incidentals. Strangely, we did also experience some issues using EFTPOS when trying to pay the rental fee, but for some reason the debit function on my MasterCard (same card) worked – Anyway, eventually we had the keys to the car and were ready to go.
Here’s a photo of our beautiful vehicle for the weekend:
Miss. Kiwi Globetrotter summed it up quite nicely when she saw it: “Well, as least we won’t have any trouble finding it..”
Interestingly, the rental car check and sign off was done when they gave us the keys, and I have to say, the girl that did the check was incredibly thorough. So much to the point of wiping the windscreen to ensure there were no cracks, etc were on the vehicle. Although I have no issue with this, and it was good to know exactly what car we had and any issues before we took possession, it did take a good 5-10+ min to perform the check.. luckily we had plenty of time!
The car we were given was a 2006 Ford Focus, a good compact car (automatic), and what was advertised and guaranteed when we booked it via. their website. A feature that I like to have when renting a vehicle is either an AUX port or sound system with bluetooth capability, so that I can connect my iPhone for GPS navigation and of course, road trip music.
As we soon found, this car unfortunately had neither of these two functions – Funny, as 2006 *seems* like it’s pretty recent… For the price of the rental, however, it was hard to complain. Luckily, I do prepare for situations like this, so I had my trusty Belkin CarAudio Connect FM (with Bluetooth), which is effectively an FM transmitter that uses Bluetooth to connect to my phone, and also has a spare USB port for charging.
With this all set up and mounted, we were ready to go – We decided to head straight to the hotel to check in, and go from there.
The Hotel St. Moritz is located on Brunswick Street, and provides an elevated view of Lake Wakatipu towards The Remarkables mountain range. We were checking in early, but I had given a call to the hotel in advance the day before on the off chance that they would be able to accommodate us early.
Although the hotel looks nice from the outside, it is the interior that is really beautiful and stands out, giving that ‘mountain chalet’ type of look and feel:
The staff at reception and the concierge Carlos gave us a warm welcome upon our arrival, however unfortunately our room was still not available. Carlos made a call through to housekeeping to find our how long our room would be, and took down my number to give us a call when our room would be ready. We decided to drop by a nearby supermarket to pick up supplies for our trip the following day, and Carlos helpfully gave us some directions to the closest supermarket – Even though it was reasonably close, we decided to drive there in case we wanted to go somewhere else afterwards.
As we found when we got there, the local ‘Fresh Choice’ supermarket was closed, due to ANZAC Day trading laws. We ended up stopping at the Caltex across the road for a bit of lunch (as there wasn’t much nearby that was open) and bought a couple of paninis to eat. One of the more interesting items available (and that we bought to try) was a fish and chip panini – which, although looking a bit out of the norm, actually tasted alright:
Seeing as we had some time to kill, we decided to head into town to have a look around – Being a resort town, Queenstown is always open to an extent, and we decided to try and find Patagonia Chocolates, which we had been recommended by various friends to visit, and particularly their hot chocolates, which were supposed to be legendary.
Through FourSquare, we managed to find the little chocolate store and cafe right by the lakefront:
When we stepped into the store, a pretty full line and two big glass freezers showcasing a selection of award-winning gelatos were there to welcome us:
Various hot chocolate drinks are available, including lavender, ginger and mexican (chilli); along with a variety of add-on toppings for that next-level of decadence (cream & nuts perhaps) – We opted for the standard ‘classic’ hot chocolate along with some macadamia and rice bubble dark chocolate mini ‘blocks’ to go with it.
There is limited seating available in the cafe itself, as it is quite small and appeared to be quite busy pretty much the entire time we were there. Little booths are available to share with other visitors, and it seemed like quite a good place to meet new people, enjoy something sweet and have a casual chat, if that’s your thing.
The hot chocolates are the rich and ‘creamy’ kind, as opposed to the ‘italian style’, thicker hot chocolates such as you can get at Scopa in Wellington. Personally I prefer this type of hot chocolate, but coupled with the mini chocolate bars, it was probably a little bit much for one sitting – Those looking for chocolate will certainly find it here!
After Patagonia we decided to go for a little drive to the larger New World supermarket (almost all the way back at the airport) to grab some supplies (including a couple of 1.5 litre bottles of mineral water – Always a must have on a road trip) for the trip tomorrow. On the way there, we received a call from Carlos informing us our room was ready, so we drove back to the hotel afterwards to get our keys and go to our room.
We were allocated Room #425, a Guest Room with a Lakeview, which is on the same floor as the the hotel lobby and reception.
Each of the guest rooms features a massive Super King bed and plenty of bedding – After the early start, it was nice to lie down and relax – Especially as by this time, it had started to rain outside, putting a bit of a halt on our plans to visit the Skyline Gondola to do some luging.
The lakeside views certainly were as described, however there were a fair bit of cloud cover at this time, so it was a bit difficult to see the mountains:
The bathroom was modern, with a large shower area that featured a standard shower rose and – my favourite – a rain shower. For the ladies, an illuminated make up mirror is close at hand, and Aigner bathroom amenities were nicely arranged in the corner of the vanity unit.
For those guests that *really* like those robes and just would not be able to leave Queenstown without them (perhaps to remind you of your visit?), I’m happy to advise that they are available for purchase, at the bargain price of just $100 each..
Not long after, we received a knock on the door, and one of the hotel staff delivered a note and a small gift. A handwritten note by Carlos welcomed us to the St. Moritz and to Queenstown, which is always a nice touch.
Inside the sealed little ‘chinese takeaway’ box were some cookies, a nice little snack for afternoon tea.
We took a little rest and waited for the rain to ease, before jumping in the car and driving the short distance to the Skyline Gondola and Restaurant (and lets not forget Luge!)
Before the trip, we had planned a general itinerary of things to do, with riding the Luge and a meal at the Skyline restaurant high on the agenda.
It’s no secret that Queenstown is not the cheapest place in the World, so I’d been looking for a few ways to save money on the trip. Over the years, I’d been earning FlyBuys points (mainly on grocery shops) and only cashed them in occasionally, mainly towards Airpoints once there was enough built up; but I hadn’t done this for a while. One of the awards I found FlyBuys offers is a ‘Family Pass‘ for the Gondola and Luge, which allows for 2 adults and up to 3 children to ride the gondola, and a 10-ride luge ticket to share between the family. Even though there were only two of us and it seemed a bit of overkill, I figured we weren’t going to use these points for anything useful anytime soon, to decided it was a great way to use some points and save effectively $100 – Plus between Miss. Kiwi Globetrotter and I, we’d easily be able to ride the luge 5x each, if not more.. 😀
The issue was that I didn’t actually have enough points in my FlyBuys account, but as I learned, it is possible to link accounts together, so after a nice chat with Mum and Dad, I was able to link their accounts to mine and redeem the points over the phone with the FlyBuys call center to get the reward. Everything is electronic, so shortly after the redemption was put though, I received an E-Mail with the ticket details, which you just print out and bring to the ticket desk. Easy as that!
What we found out once we got to the ticket desk, was that the reward that the call centre put through was for the Rotorua Skyline and Gondola, but after a bit of awkwardness and a call to a supervisor, we were shortly given a 10-ride luge ticket and a some gondola tickets. Phew – Small crisis averted!
Be sure to take a breath and enjoy the views going up the gondola – It was nice to see more and more of Queenstown and the surrounding lake/mountain area as the ride went higher up the mountain.
Along the way, we passed the AJ Hackett Bungy (for those adrenaline seekers – What better way to enjoy the view than perhaps from upside down, suspended in the air off a mountain by a giant rubber band tied to your feet?) 😉
Once we had arrived at the Skyline complex, we stopped by the reception desk to see if it was time to ‘check in’ for the dinner at the restaurant.
A couple of days beforehand, I had made a reservation for dinner over the phone and did ask for a good table – interestingly the table allocations are made on the day of dining, so for the 5:45pm dining session (which we had opted for to enjoy the sunset) diners could check in from 4:15pm to be allocated a number, which would then (generally) correspond to seats (effectively from best to worst).
We had arrived a little bit before 4:15pm, so we decided to check out the luge and enjoy the view before returning back to the restaurant about 5min before the check in time. Soph was sure to wait close to the check in desk to start the queue – her perseverance paid off as we were allocated a remote dongle that would flash and beep when the restaurant was able to seat us – Our dongle had #1 tagged on it, which gave us a good chance of grabbing a seat with the decent view.
We paid for the dinner at the time of check in at the restaurant as opposed to online or at the ticket desk, as all the advertised prices I’d seen were for dinner and the gondola ride and cost $78 per person; as we already had a gondola ticket we didn’t need another one. We were charged $61 per person for the dinner at the restaurant. Needless to say, we were looking forward to the Skyline’s Taste of New Zealand buffet and it’s scrumptious menu.
With dinner all sorted, it was time to enjoy the next highlight of the day: The luge!
For those that haven’t tried luge before, it’s a little bit different to the olympic sport version with the same name – This luge is something like a mix between a go-kart and a toboggan, which run on specially designed tracks with differing skill levels to suit the most adventurous of riders. These 3-wheeled carts were invented in New Zealand and the end result is somewhat of a unique (and incredibly fun!) experience.
A special gondola ride ferries riders and luge carts between the end and beginning of the course:
The first ride taken is kind of like an ‘induction’ course, where instructors check safety gear and teach riders how to use the luge cart and… the main control on the cart: the brakes!
Once you have demonstrated you know how to use the cart (by starting and stopping a few times) riders are given a stamp and they are given the all clear to go on their first ride.
The first ride is usually a beginners course, which is a little bit tame, it is the other courses that are usually more interesting, with more bends and steeper slopes (and in some cases, jumps) which makes for a lot of fun.
We found that the Rotorua Luge tracks are probably a bit better (a memorable moment from our last trip there was when Miss Kiwi Globetrotter got a decent amount of air on a hill/hump on one of the advanced tracks) and there are more tracks there – 3 as opposed to Queenstown’s two.
This all said, we had no difficulty going through our 5x rides each, and I think this photo pretty much sums up my views on the luge:
We broke up the rides by taking in the incredible view:
… and by watching a bungy jumper take the plunge:
Just before dinner, we stopped by the dedicated viewing platform, which is a balcony/roof area on top of the complex:
After all the excitement, we were pretty hungry – We had timed everything pretty well so we were back down at the restaurant with about 10 min before the dining session started.
The place has started to pick up, but there is a well-placed bar nearby and a toasty warm fire:
Before long, our dongle started to make noises and begin flashing, and we presented it to the counter to a friendly waiter who introduced herself and took us to our table. As we had hoped, our dongle was the first to go off, and our waiter showed us to what she said she thought was pretty much the best seat in the house:
I’m not going to go into all the food on offer at the buffet at the Skyline Restaurant; all I will say is that the selection is incredible – and even though it’s a rather pricey meal, the views and food is worth it. There was also some live music during dinner, adding to the atmosphere.
I’ll let some photos speak for themselves:
This is the view from the restaurant as sunset began to take hold:
Afterwards, I made my way up to the roof to attempt to take a couple of night time photos while Miss. Kiwi Globetrotter took a look around the gift shop.
Surprisingly, there were a number of tourists and photographers who obviously shared similar thoughts and were braving the cold to try and take that perfect photo – Many of them had tripods and remote shutters and other fancy gear, but I only had my trusty DSLR.
I did manage to get one reasonably decent photo out of the number of shaky and average shots though:
We decided to retire pretty early once we got back to the hotel – After all, there was a big day ahead of us road tripping to the Milford Sound.
What a way to start off first day on our Queenstown trip! – Stay posted for Day Two..