Unfortunately, Queenstown belongs to the 20-somethings. It is a lovely town but unless you are slim, wearing a bikini and don’t know anything about grey hair or wrinkles you can feel a bit out of place. Personally, I found Arrowtown to be “more for grownups”.
This guest post is from a professional couple in their late 30s who were inspired by Sandal Road to take their own trip to New Zealand. In their second post on Sandal Road, they are talking about their experiences in and around Arrowtown. Enjoy!
Arrowtown is about 30 miles from Queenstown and since we were on a self-drive holiday we could drive into Queenstown for all of the adventure during the day but quietly excuse ourselves from Queenstown Party time (which appears to begin at 1700 in every pub in town). Younger folks (sub-35 years old) might find Arrowtown a bit twee and it is. It is very busy with “day trippers” and the best time to arrive is about 17.30 when most of the busses have left and the town returns to being a sleepy little village.
Where to stay in Arrowtown
We stayed at Manata Lodge in the El Trusco suite. This had a full service kitchen which came in very handy on Christmas Day when many restaurants were closed. Along with onsite tennis courts, bikes, golf clubs and numerous other sporting options for guests, it was very pleasantly located right between Queenstown and Arrowtown with a full view of Coronet Peak.
The Coronet Range drive to Arrowtown was extremely pleasant although not as fast as the main state highway, but having two options meant that we could vary our routes. Since we were in the area for six days, we spent many evenings in Arrowtown (even if we were in Queenstown during the day).
Where to eat in Arrowtown
For some reason, Arrowtown is the eating capital of this area. “Casual fine dining” is how I would describe it. Everything is fresh, seasonal and tastes amazing, but no need for a suit and tie. Some of our top picks are below:
Saffron – Saffron is a destination. You MUST book ahead. It is listed in the Conde Nast Top 100 tables in the world and deservedly so. I had this on my list as a “must do” and it did not disappoint. The food was divine – not good, not great, simply heaven sent. One point of caution, they serve big portion sizes. Either come hungry or share with your partner. We shared our starter and dessert and got our own mains – which was perfect.
There are a lot of complaints about the service at Saffron on TripAdvisor. They were great until they got busy but then they looked permanently short a waiter. It is expensive. I think we got away just under 200 NZ (but only two glasses of wine) so lots of people expect better service but it is all about the food here.
We started with Salad of crisp fried Pork, chargrilled Squid & Asian greens with a yellow Soy bean dressing which was perfectly balanced sweet, spicy, sour and salty. I followed with Stewart Island Blue Cod, with stir fried King Prawns, Tomato, Lemon grass & roasted coconut sambal which was the best fish dish I’ve ever eaten. The fish was so fresh and was perfectly cooked. I was afraid the sauce would overpower the fish and it didn’t. Somehow they found the perfect balance so that you could still taste the fish through the broth. It went perfectly with the local wine. My partner ordered Chargrilled Eye fillet of Southland Hereford Beef with Smoked brisket, Rocket & Mascarpone pesto, candied Shallots in brick pastry with a Pinot Jus. Which is a mouthful to say and an even bigger mouthful to eat. The smoked brisket was amazing coming in a little smoke container and the steak was perfectly cooked and the candied shallots really complemented the flavours in the steak. We only had room for one dessert and we played it safe with the Chocolate Cake served with Maple syrup ice cream. It was very good but we were out of room to eat any more.
Assume dinner will cost you a few hundred kiwi dollars and will take a couple of hours but this is a dining experience you won’t soon forget.
Pesto – Pesto is Saffron’s sister restaurant focussed on Italian food. Their waitress (I think her name was Carly) is a top notch. In fact, she’s the only waitress in the month that we were in New Zealand that I tipped for exceptional service. Why? She didn’t ask us where we were from. You know people who are “citizens of the world” – they have lived in multiple countries and visited even more. The idea of “from” doesn’t make sense anymore. She’s one of them and she knows how to spot them and skips the boring questions allowing her to jump right into how she can make your stay more enjoyable. She’s a wine goddess and not only recommended a brilliant white to go with my Spaghetti Aglio E Olio but she saw we were reviewing a local winery map and took the time to help us short list and give us great suggestions. Three days later, when we stepped into the Blue Door for a drink prior to our dinner at Saffron, she remembered us and we were immediately comparing notes on the local wines. The food here was just as good as anything we had in our 10 day Italian culinary tour a few years back. Highly recommended.
Arrow Thai – Arrow Thai gets mixed reviews and when they get busy they do fall apart a bit. However, it is great value, standard Thai. We ordered ours spicy and they did not disappoint. In fact, it was better to order “spicy, Thai style” as that got it “just right” from the kitchen. We stopped here twice. Both times, the food was competent but nothing special. However, once we waited 40 minutes for our mains and once 10 minutes so expect it to be a little hit and miss but you can’t beat it for a quick takeaway style meal.
Walking and Cycling around Arrowtown
Arrowtown has the most picturesque part of the Queenstown Trail in my opinion. There is a fantastic path from Arrowtown to Kawarau Bridge (the home of the Bungy Jump) that follows the Arrow River. We strolled part of the trail one night after dinner and then decided to ride the Arrow River Ride (gradient easy) the next day. We used Queenstown Cycle Rental based at the head of the trail in Arrowtown (next to Dudley Cottage). There is also free all day parking right outside Dudley Cottage.
They had bikes of all sizes and even a small frame, adult bike (small frame but adult tyres and no middle bar which fit perfectly for someone that barely scrapes five feet tall). We rented all of the gear and they set us off up the trial which takes 90 – 120 minutes to cycle and is gently downhill with some interesting uphills to keep you awake. The path is mostly gravel so it is “off road” but these are touring bikes, not mountain biking. The scenery is amazing and you can take the trail at your own pace with lots of places to stop for photos and it is essentially traffic free (there was about 10 minutes on a side road otherwise, it was a dedicated path).
There are two swing bridges to cross. The first one is fairly short and manageable. The second one, the Edgar Suspension Bridge, is not for anyone with a fear of heights as this will cause a full on anxiety attack. It was near the end of the ride but this 80m long bridge that hangs 100m over the river (on a day that had it swinging in the wind!) had me seriously considering an 80 minute ride back to base instead of crossing it. Pushing the bike with my eyes closed hanging on to the back of my partner’s shirt, I crossed (barely) and made it to the end of our ride at Kawarau Bridge.
We were planning on making the return trip but we had enough (which the nice chap at the bike rental place had thought might be the case). You just call the toll free number and the nice man from Queenstown Cycle Rental jumps into a van with a bike trailer and in 15-30 minutes is there to pick you up and take you back to the start. You can watch the bungy (or take a jump) while you wait. Indeed, a very pleasurable way to spend a day of holiday.