A Weekend Guide to New Zealand's Wine Country
Breakfast of Champions
Start the day in the charming gold-mining village of Arrowtown, about 20 minutes from Queenstown and home to the area’s greatest breakfast joint, The Chop Shop. Tucked among the old buildings and museums, the restaurant offers a seasonally changing menu from its airy, open kitchen. But regardless of the time of year, the fluffy ricotta hotcakes and Turkish eggs (served over thick yogurt with burnt chile and dill butter) are always top-notch, and the coffee is the best for miles. facebook.com/thechopshopfoodmerchants.
The Coolest Wines Around
Head to Gibbston Valley and the winery of the same name, founded by esteemed local winemaker Alan Brady. Because Gibbston has the coolest microclimate in Central Otago, its Pinot Noirs tend to be the region’s most delicate and nuanced. Stop by the Home Block vineyard—planted in 1983, it’s one of the oldest parcels of Pinot in New Zealand—then head into the winery’s cave, dug into the schist hillside. There, try the limited 2015 Le Maitre Pinot Noir, made with grapes from the old (for New Zealand) vines you just walked through. gibbstonvalleynz.com.
Biodynamics by the Lake
A gorgeous, winding drive over the dramatic Crown Range brings you to Rippon Vineyard. With rows of biodynamically farmed vines stretching down to the pristine Lake Wanaka, it has what’s arguably Otago’s most beautiful view—and that’s in a region known for its spectacular scenery. Rolfe Mills first planted here in 1982, though the property has been in the family since 1912. These days, Mills’s son Nick oversees the estate with his wife, Jo. Their subtly complex wines, like the seductive 2013 “Mature Vine” Pinot Noir, are among New Zealand’s greatest. rippon.co.nz.
Lunch via Helicopter
Strap in for a wild ride and some equally wild food with the New Zealand Adventure Company. At Wanaka airport, you’ll be met with a picnic basket of local seafood (crayfish, paua, whitebait—the works), venison, antipasto and wine, loaded into a helicopter, and flown over the lakes, forests and sheer cliffs of the South Island’s west coast. Where to eat? On one of Mt. Aspiring’s high-altitude glaciers? Or on a remote beach looking out over the Tasman Sea? It’s your helicopter, so it’s your call. Tours from $750; nzadventurecompany.co.nz.
Check In and Head Out
Drop your bags at the iconic Cardrona Hotel, on curvy Crown Range Road between Queenstown and Wanaka. Built in 1863 during the gold rush, its historic facade looks frozen in time, though the 16 guest rooms have been renovated (and the pub no longer restricts men headed over the mountains to just one drink). Then get in a quick adventure before dinner—why not? The hotel staff will happily set you up for a horseback ride along the Cardrona River, or give you maps to local hiking trails if you prefer walking. Rooms from $150 per night; cardronahotel.co.nz.
Hang with the Winemaking Crowd
The blue-trimmed, stucco White House, a 23-year-old institution known for its chill vibes, Mediterranean menu and extensive wine list, is a popular destination for local winemakers (and everyone else in Wanaka for that matter). Order the sardine-and-tomato bruschetta and a bottle of crisp Prophet’s Rock Dry Riesling—possibly, since the summer sun sets so late, out in the restaurant’s lovely courtyard. 011-64-3443-9595.
Day 2: Straight Off the Farm
First stop: the Federal Diner, locally loved for its flat whites (lattes, Down Under) and “world-famous in Wanaka” cheese or date scones. They’ll sustain you for the scenic 45-minute drive to Bannockburn through Otago’s fruit-growing territory. Stop at a few roadside stalls for peaches, apricots and plump cherries, and keep an eye out for the Wooing Tree Vineyard’s namesake tree, which rises up in the middle of the vineyard and is Central Otago’s version of Makeout Point. federaldiner.co.nz.
World-Class Pinot Noir
Fruit trees give way to vines as you drive up to Bannockburn’s Felton Road, home of New Zealand’s most sought-after Pinot Noirs. Englishman Nigel Greening, a self-confessed Pinot Noir addict, bought the property in 2000; visits are by appointment only, so be sure to call ahead. The sit-down, tutored tasting of old and new vintages offers both a detailed lesson on the Bannockburn region and the chance to sample some of the country’s best wines. Next, you’ll visit various sites on the property—including a shed known as the Voodoo Lounge—to learn about biodynamic winemaking and viticulture. feltonroad.com.
For lunch, relax on the restaurant terrace at Mt. Difficulty (or Mt. D, as the winery is affectionately called by locals). Order a glass of the crisp 2016 Bannockburn Pinot Gris and take in the sweeping views of the Cromwell basin, a glacial valley framed by Lake Dunstan, the Kawarau River and the Pisa Range. The simple, excellent menu offers everything from antipasti platters with aged serrano ham and local cheeses to wild red tussock Fiordland venison served with smoked parsnip puree. Plus, the restaurant list offers a range of older, single-release and other one-off cuvées you won’t find anywhere else. mtdifficulty.co.nz.
Bikes, Boats & Automobiles
On the 19-mile drive from Bannockburn to Clyde, stop at the Bruce Jackson Lookout for picture-postcard vistas of Lake Dunstan. But once you arrive, ditch the car: Bike It Now! will outfit you for a five-mile ride along the Otago Rail Trail, wrapping up in Alexandra. From there, Clutha River Cruises will take you (and your bikes) back to your starting point. The largest river by volume in New Zealand, the Clutha was a vital thoroughfare during the gold rush: Picturesque buildings and old mines from that era line the riverbanks. Bike rentals from $40 for three hours; bikeitnow.co.nz.
Spend a Night in the 1800s
Back in Clyde, check into the impeccably renovated Olivers Lodge—ask for one of the “stables” rooms, which preserve the building’s original 1860s schist walls and rough-hewn timber beams (albeit with some distinctly non-1860s touches like Wi-Fi). Have dinner in the rustically beautiful restaurant with stone floors, wooden tables and an open kitchen, which occupies the original trading store where miners once bought their provisions. These days, though, the menu runs toward dishes like pork filet stuffed with black pudding and fennel slaw, or smoked rabbit and pearl barley risotto. Like the entire Central Otago region, it’s come a long way. Rooms from $166 per night; oliverscentralotago.co.nz.