You know as you descend into Queenstown airport between majestic mountains that New Zealand is going to be just a little bit spectacular.
Travel tip No.1 Check out Apex car rentals if you are road-tripping. They had the most competitive pricing and are just a few seconds from Queenstown airpot (they collect you and take you and your bags to your hire car). A 1 hr winding drive will take you to Wanaka and if you arrive in the afternoon I highly recommend enjoying the last rays of sunlight overlooking the lake at Lake Bar and drinking delicious local beer, Montieth.
Start day 1 with a hike up Mt Iron. It’s the perfect way to get a lovely overview of the area with beautiful views on a clear day. Bearings aside, the thigh burn on the way up will set you in good stead to enjoy some of the ridiculously good food in Wanaka, guilt free.
We chose lunch at Relishes Café which was so good we went back a few times over the next few days. Wholesome country style food (or is that the fireplace throwing me off) with a modern touch. Basically darn good flavours and a view that makes you feel like you’re on holiday, woohoo.
It is essential that on any trip to Wanaka you walk round the lake. An obligatory stop and photo of the famous Wanaka lake tree will get your tourist on big time but also set you on the path to a beautiful stroll past vineyards, lovely lakeside buildings and locals walking their cute dogs.
A new restaurant in town is winning over locals and tourists alike. Kika is an absolute must for a fantastic meal. They are serving up what they call Contemporary Italian sharing plates but I’ve decided to call it decent portion tapas meets middle eastern/Italian with wonderful New Zealand produce (short and sweet). We tried their Jerusalem artichokes w. black garlic and nettle aioli; grilled broccoli w. smokey eggplant dip; ricotta and spinach gnudi in a sage butter sauce; slow roasted lamb shoulder w. preserved lemon, chili and rosemary (wow) and last but not least tea smoked duck w. caramalised nashi pear and hazelnuts. Triple yum for this place!
Breakfast at Ritual is another must. This buzzing local café will offer rare sightings of many people all at once (something you don’t really get much of in the quiet tranquility that is Wanaka). They do great breakfast and have a list of every local and their coffee order on the wall, pretty cute.
Take a scenic drive past Lake Hawea to The Blue Pool track. It’s a very easy walk to pristine blue pools (the name is nice and Australian like that). Worth packing some sandfly repellant for this one which is a bit rainforesty at times (we covered up to avoid bites).
You’ve got to have a cheeseboard to sample some of the incredible local cheeses while in NZ.
If you’d like to create your own (like we did) visit Wanaka’s Mediterranean Market for incredible local produce and some pretty fun imported ingredients too. It’s more pricey than New World but their local cheese selection is much more extensive and there are some truly delicious things to try.
Our Cheeseboard clockwise from top: Telegraph Hill Manuka Smoked Olives; 180° Lavosh Black & white sesame seed; Damson Plum Paste; Kapiti Kikorangi Blue (Moon Wedge); Manchego; Kapiti Pakari aged Cheddar; Bridge Hill dried cherries; Whitestone Windsor Blue Cheese
A trip to Wanaka is incomplete without a visit to Cinema Paradiso. This is the coziest cinematic experience you will have outside of your own home. It’s a step back in time to when all movies had intermissions and going out to the cinema was an evening out on the town. When intermission rolls over head straight to the front desk to pick up a freshly baked, still toasty from the oven, cookie (and don’t forget to ask for as glass of milk too). It’s a fabulously quirky cinema which will make you feel wonderful.
After that sizeable cookie you’ll be needing another walk. The Diamond Lake Rocky Mountain Trail is a fabulous one. This trail provides varied scenery on the way up and incredible views from the top. You will feel like you’re the only person on earth when you’re up there, so bask in the tranquility.
You can easily spend an afternoon (or many) shopping for fantastic warm weather gear and active gear in Wanaka but my favourite shop to check out is surprisingly the Newsagent. Paperplus has a surprisingly fantastic collection of cookbooks. We bought a stack and I can’t wait to make all the beautiful recipes in the new books. Addiction is a mild term when it comes to cookbooks.
After a couple of days in Wanaka you might want to do a little road trip to Arrowtown since you may be getting a bit used to the peace and tranquility and it might be worrying you slightly (city people problems). Pass through Cromwell on the way and pick up some fresh fruit in Summer.
Arrowtown is a quaint little picture book town filled with restaurants, shops and the cutest old buildings. It’s busy for it’s size and feels like a real life Hogsmeade. They filmed a bit of The Lord of the Rings there which is reason enough to get excited about visiting. Walk down to the stream and picture “if you want him, come and claim him” and a whole heap of special effects, fantasy nerd heaven, loved it.
You have to visit Saffron while in Arrowtown and have the best lunch of your New Zealand trip. We tried some wonderful dishes this time including: Mt. Cook Salmon, flat rice noodles, broccoli, cashews, shitake mushrooms & oyster sauce; Chargrilled Southland beef rump, duck fat potatoes, crisp Brussel Sprouts and capers with smoked tomato dressing; Cassoulet of braised duck, lamb shoulder, cured meats, pork belly, haricot beans, cooked slowly with tomato and Riesling; Olive oil & honey Sorbet, olive paste, Cromwell Honeycomb & rosemary shortbread. If you only get to try one dessert, make sure it’s Jilly’s warm chocolate cake. It is chocolate cake perfection and hits the proverbial spot so nicely you will want to go back every day just for that. You might also crave it when you are in other parts of the world from then on, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
You will, no doubt, be full when you leave Saffron but this will help control you at The Remarkable Sweet Shop which is overflowing with the most colourful, fun and sugar fuelled treat bags. Even though your head will think the better of it, try the fudge, YOLO and it’s out of this world.
My favourite walk in Wanaka was the Outlet track. Despite reading that it is a spectacularly scenic walk, I was still blown away by how beautiful it was. Crystal blue water, mountain views, tree lined paths and a little bit of magic that can only be experienced. A must.
If you want to finish your trip in style there is no greater way to do that than with a meal at Bistro Gentil. This fine French restaurant serves dishes that look too beautiful to eat but don’t let that stop you because the flavours are out of this world. Refined, beautiful food that shows off New Zealand’s incredible produce.
We stayed in a really spectacular self catering apartment while in Wanaka, which had fabulous kitchen facilities (and the most incredible shower pressure I think I’ve ever experienced, unrelated but worth noting) so we were able to cook at home quite a bit. Check out Peak Apartments if you are looking for a beautiful, clean, modern space with all the comforts of home. We stayed in the Dungarvon St. Apartments and loved that we could walk to the shops and restaurants in just 1 minute. Our closeness to the supermarket saw us buying up local ingredients and trying out new things, a part of our trip that I just loved. Here are a couple of our NZ recipes incase you find yourself there any time soon. Luckily they can also be made anywhere in the world so you can just whip them up, close your eyes and imagine the epic mountains surrounding you while you eat.
Honey Roasted Yams w. yoghurt lime dressing
Adapted from Gjelina
• 6-8 small red yams, quartered
• 1 Tbsp olive oil
• 1 Tbsp honey (we used local Arataki manuka honey)
• 1 lime, juiced
• ½ cup Greek style yoghurt
• 1-2 spring onions, thinly sliced diagonally
Preheat oven to 220°C.
Add yams, olive oil, salt and honey to a roasting tray lined with greaseproof paper. Mix through and roast in the oven for 30 minutes or until sticky and crunchy
Mix yoghurt with lime juice and set aside
Remove yams from roasting pan and place on plate
Top with yoghurt dressing and sprinkle over sliced spring onions
We had a great Webber BBQ at the apartement so we placed the yams, honey and olive oil in a stainless steel pan and cooked them on the bbq with the lid closed. Absolutely delicious!
Chargrilled Vegetable Salad w. Ferry Rd Halloumi & Harissa Cous Cous
• 1 broccoli
• 1 red capsicum
• 1 small eggplant
• 2 zucchinis, sliced lengthways, 1 cm thick
• 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
• olive oil
• mixed lettuce leaves
• 4 slices halloumi, 1 inch thick (we used local: Whitestone Cheese Co. “Artisan Cheese from Omaru” Ferry Road Halloumi)
• 1 cup Israeli cous cous (we used local: Eseente Israeli style cous cous)
• 1 Tbsp harissa spice mix
• salt flakes
Bring a pot of water to the boil. Blanch broccoli in the boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Transfer to an ice bath until cool. Set aside
Place capsicum, eggplant, blanched broccoli and zucchinis on bbq
Cook eggplant until it is soft and the skin is charred. Cook zucchini strips until they have softened and charred, Char the broccoli and cook the capsicum till the skin is blackened and charred
Peel and discard charred eggplant and capsicum skin. Place flesh in a flat bowl.
Place zucchini and broccoli in the same bowl
Scatter over garlic and pour enough olive oil to marinate the vegetables. Season with salt flakes . Set aside for about 1 hr
Place cous cous, Harissa spice mix and 2 cups water in a pot. Bring to boil and cover. Stir every now and then until fully absorbed (watch for sticking on the base). Transfer to a bowl to cool before adding to salad.
In a stainless steel pan, add 1 Tbsp olive oil on medium heat. Fry haloumi on one side until well coloured. Flip halloumi and fry until coloured and soft. Set aside.
Assemble salad layering lettuce leaves, cous cous and mixed vegetables. Top with halloumi. There should be enough oil on the vegetables but you can use some of the marinade as dressing if desired.
This is not a sponsored post. All the opinions here are my own and haven’t been bought, so I hope you enjoyed the personal recommendations from our little trip. It is the most peaceful and scenic holiday spot, so definitely escape there sometime soon.