Queenstown in set on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. The lake is the third largest and the longest lake in New Zealand. The lake is 80 kilometres long, is 291 km2 and is also very deep, its floor being below sea level, with a maximum depth of 380 metres. It is at an altitude of 310 metres , towards the southern end of the Southern Alps. I also forgot to mention it is beautiful as well. While boating is a feature, swimming is not with a cool temperature of around 7-10 degrees all year around. (so the locals say)
We awoke on our first day in Queenstown and it is a glorious sunny day with a balmy 9 degrees temperature. The view from our window was stunning and we wanted to go for a drive around to get a feel for the surrounding area. We had intended to go to the ski fields but a conversation with Craig, the manager at Breakfree The Point where we were staying changed our mind.
A local and manager for 13 years Craig is a wealth of knowledge about the surrounding areas and where to go for the best sightseeing. He suggested a drive along the lake front to a town called Glenorchy and then if we had time and the right vehicle further on to Paradise and the forest beyond.
Now I had looked at the map and seen Glenorchy but decided that it wasn’t worth the effort and wanted to go to the ski fields. However again local knowledge from Craig pushed the Glenorchy option, then as he mentioned we could still fit in the ski field at Coronet Peak and then to the local historic town of Arrowtown, all in the one days easy driving. Local knowledge is always great so it pays to chat!
So off we headed through Queenstown to Glenorchy thinking it would be a pleasant drive. What we got as a drive has gone into my top ten scenic drives around the word. The drive was stunning!. The road alternated between hugging the lakefront and rising along the hillside to give panoramic and majestic views down the lake.
The road itself is a meandering drivers paradise with sharp twists and turns and the ever constant beauty of the lake or rugged mountains as a companion. Within 10 minutes I had a grin fixed on my face and was rapidly realising what a gem this was turning out to be. I had intended to video the drive but was way too engaged in the experience to stop or even get my passenger to do so.
There are stops along the way for photo opportunities and my advice is to stop and take them because they are worth it. I must admit that it was hard at times to stop because even though I was in a Toyota Prado, that isn’t known for its sporting handling the drive was still magical.
I can’t describe the drive any more than I have as it wouldn’t do it justice, but be assured that any motoring enthusiast should add it to your list of need to do’s.
We arrived at Glenorchy some 45-50 minutes later (with stops) and found it to be a charming quaint town. There is a lot of history here, a heap of walking tracks and jet boat excursions up the Dart river. In the main section of town is a great coffee shop with delicious food and HOT coffee all served with a variety of friendly accents from the staff who are obviously travelling.
Like Craig suggested we continued on towards a town called Paradise, which turned out to be more a region with a few farm houses and a road that seems like a farm track. It’s here we were thankful we had the Prado as the road turned to dirt, crossing many dry and wet creek beds towards the forest in the hills.
Again the scenery and the drive were splendid, the surrounding mountains gothic in their presence. Now as we were heading deep into the forest we pulled out the tourist foldaway map to make sure the dirt track we were on was in fact a road and not some farmers property.
It always pays to read the map before you head off (not something I am good at I admit). You see the gothic forests we were driving into were in fact used as part of the Lord of the Rings movies, no wonder!. Reading further it turns out that Glenorchy and surrounds have been used in a number of hit movies like Chronicles of Narnia, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the Hobbit movies.
The gothic forest was in fact the Forests of Lothlorien. Not having seen the Lord of the Rings or in fact any of the spin off movies it meant little to me but I was impressed just the same.
We headed back along the lake drive towards the ski field of Coronet Peak which is about 15-20 minutes from Queenstown.
It was closed obviously but the drive up was typically windy and the view was panoramic. On the road up we encountered a mob of sheep being moved along as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
The other ski field close is the Remarkables but the road was closed for maintenance.
After the obligatory selfie photos with the view in the background we headed down the mountain (not nearly as scary going down as up) and toward Arrowtown, a quaint historic village about another 15 minutes up the road.
The main beauty in Autumn is the streets lined with deciduous trees that all change colour. Beautiful! We drove the loop around Lake Hayes back to Queenstown ready for dinner and cocktails at the minus 5 Ice Bar