Not generally one for shiny pre-packaged tours, we made an exception while visiting Queenstown. With so many possibilities and such limited time, taking advantage of a pre-set combo package was our best option. It allowed us to experience two highlights of the area in a single day with zero personal stress. For our only full day in the adrenaline capital of the world we opted for a little speed in the morning and a relaxing afternoon sipping wine.
Enter Queenstown Combos.
If you are headed to Queenstown, don’t plan a thing. Literally the minute you set foot on the main town drag, you will be bombarded with opportunities to experience everything on offer. Strolling along the waterfront after an early morning coffee? There’s a massive booth of brochures manned by two 20-somethings with desktops eager to make a commission on your bungee jumping booking. Hankering for some sugar after that massive adrenaline boost? Grab an ice cream and book your afternoon white water rafting adventure at Patagonia Chocolates. And of course, when you’re completely knackered after your action-packed day and all you need is a new wifi code from reception, you can go ahead and book your gondola ride and paraglide down the mountain for tomorrow morning.
This is an overly exaggerated case, but I think it makes the point. It was extremely easy for us to book into a combo the night before and it made things so easy the next day.
Jet Boating in the Morning.
Beyond bungee jumping, I think jet boating might be the next most recognizably “Queenstown” activity. Every Youtube video I’ve ever watched featuring this town had a jetboating sequence. The two rivers that meet and feed into Lake Wakatipu are simply perfect for this activity. Which is why there are several operators of jet boat tours around the area. None beat KJet on location, however.
A bit before our expected departure time, we simply walked into town from our holiday park. The KJet pickup is right on the waterfront. We checked in, then enjoyed a few moments in their underwater observatory before hopping on board with the rest of our group. Speeding across the lake to meet up with the river, our driver got in a few of the classic pinpoint turns to get our blood rushing.
As soon as we transitioned to the Kawarau River, I was alarmed at the depth of the water, or lack of it. The water was so crystal clear that day, there was no mistaking where the bottom was… sometimes only a few inches from the surface. No matter to the jet boat, with a steel-plated, flat-bottomed hull and two powerful jet engines, it glides along without any hesitation, somehow anthropomorphically yearning to go faster and faster.
KJet switches part way through the tour to the Shotover River and continues gunning forward (and around and around) till it’s time to turn back. So there you have it, an hour-long ride speeding through the canyon with whiplash inducing, 360 degree pivot turns and occasional stops for a bit of commentary from the guide and brief moments to soak up the scenery.
What else can I say except that I’m pretty sure all 12 of us departed the boat that day with grins as wide as our faces allow.
With adrenaline still pumping through my veins, we headed onward to the meeting point for our wine and food tour. It was just the four of us plus one Chilean student, visiting Queenstown on a break from studying English in Auckland. We had a pleasant, if a bit longer than expected, drive out to our first stop, Wild Earth.
Wild Earth Winery’s vineyards are a bit further afield, so they built a restaurant and tasting room in Gibbston Valley. We had a tasting flight of five wines each paired with a coinciding dish. These would turn out to be my favorite wines of the day. J and I enjoyed the – I can’t remember the year – Pinot Noir so much we bought a bottle to take with us.
The food was lovely overall – although a bit under seasoned. I imagine a la carte it is a fantastic restaurant to visit. The chef has been very innovative and turned old wine barrels into smokers. All the proteins on our degustation platter had been prepared this way. A nice little full circle moment.
After lunch we turned back towards Queenstown to stop at the namesake winery of the area, Gibbston Valley Winery. Established in the 1980’s, Gibbston Valley was one of the founding wineries of the region. We were treated to a brief tour of the vineyard before heading into their wine cave for a tasting.
The final stop of our food and wine tour landed us in a boutique cheese shop where we tasted a variety of local cheeses.
If I could do it over again.
With the amount of time we had in Queenstown, combining these two activities with a single provider was a no brainer. If we’d had more time, I think a self-guided trip around the Gibbston Valley wineries would be an amazing experience, especially if grabbing dinner and staying a night in Arrowtown – an absolutely precious gold rush town roughly half an hour outside Queenstown. There is simply so much to do in the area, you can’t go wrong.
Any wine drinkers reading this? What’s your favorite winery? I’m also looking for recommendations so I don’t have to pick solely on the label. Let me know in the comments!