Adventures in Central Otago

If you visit Queenstown in the Central Otago region of New Zealand, you can’t help but feel small. The town is surrounded by spectacular mountain ranges that thrust skywards, their peaks often obscured by a ceiling of cloud which lends to the feeling that these mountains could climb skywards forever. At the feet of the mountains are a series of azure lakes and rivers and of course, the town of Queenstown itself.


I happened to be visiting New Zealand at the same time as the worst weather in living memory the so-called “Polar Blast” also visited itself upon the country. Thus while I was supposed to be with some of my travelling companions who had made it to Queenstown from Christchurch earlier in the day, I found myself stranded in Christchurch.

It wasn’t the grandest of starts to our adventure but by the time the weather had cleared and we arrived in Queenstown three days later, the place really put on a show for us.

Queenstown is known mainly for its skiing and adventure sports but its location in Central Otago means that it is also close to some of the top Pinot Noir producing wineries in the world.

The abbreviated nature of our trip meant that we didn’t get to explore as much of the area as we’d have liked to, but we still managed to have some great experiences in our time there. Here are some of the highlights.

The Skyline Gondola carves its way up a mountainside on Queenstown’s western side. The view from the top is spectacular and for those with an adventurous spirit, a ride on the luge is a must, although from personal experience gloves in winter are strongly recommended!

Fergberger in the heart of Queenstown is something of an institution. Founded in 2001 to provide burgers to late night revellers, it is now a magnet for families and revellers alike. What began as a hole in the wall outfit in a back alley way is now a thriving restaurant and kitchen which encompasses a bakery where the pies are just as outstanding as the burgers (Try the diced lamb shoulder with kumera and Moroccan spices.)

Southern Swine Burger

The burger I tried was called the Southern Swine (all the burgers follow an eccentric naming convention) which had a prime NZ beef pattie, American streaky bacon, lettuce, tomato avocado, red onion, aioli and tomato relish. The ingredients are deceptively simple but the combination is pure alchemy. Don’t expect to get a seat at the restaurant, the seating consists of two outdoor tables, long benches set against the back wall and 3 seats looking out the window onto the street. Not enough for the ravenous hoards that pass through its doors daily, but don’t let that put you off. I’m going to go as far as to say it was the best burger I’ve ever eaten and I’ve tried a few. While the fan club is international, sadly the only place you’re going to get your hands on one of these burgers is in Queenstown.

A few minutes out of town near the picturesque Lake Hayes is the Amisfield Winery cellar door and restaurant. Stop in for lunch or dinner. The best way to enjoy the menu is to select the ‘Trust the Chef’ option and allow a selection of dishes and matching wines to be brought out for you. The beetroot and goats cheese bruschetta was a great way to start the meal and the subsequent dishes featured beautiful New Zealand produce such as Aoraki Salmon and Canterbury beef. Wines to try include the Amisfield Pinot Noir 2007 and if you can get your hands on some, their stunning 1999 Amisfield Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine.

Beetroot & Goats Cheese Bruschetta

Further out of town is the Gibbston Valley Winery. They produce some fantastic single vineyard wines including my personal favourite from their range, the China Terrace Pinot Noir. They also have a purpose built wine cave which has been blasted into the rock behind the cellar door. A tour of the wine cave includes tastings and even an opportunity to taste wine straight from the barrel.

There are plenty more fantastic wineries in the region and lots of other amazing activities to do. Queenstown is also close to Milford Sound, which is worthy of a day trip. For adrenalin junkies there is no shortage of activities to take part in from bungie jumping (which was pioneered in Queenstown 23 years ago by local hero A.J. Hackett) to heli-skiing. If you have deep pockets, the options are limitless.  Allow at least a week (weather permitting) for your visit. I know I’m looking forward to heading back!

Do you have any favourite Queenstown or Central Otago experiences you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments section below.

Skyline Queenstown
Brecon St,
+64 3 441 0101

42 Shotover St,
+64 3 441 1232

Amisfield Winery
10 Lake Hayes Road
+64 3 442 0556

Gibbston Valley Winery
1820 State Highway 6
+64 3 442 6910

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Author:Jeremy Bowell

Jeremy Bowell is the founder and editor of Taste Explorer. He also writes for,, and has featured in the Sydney Morning Herald's Good Living section. He is an avid connoisseur of all things food and drink related.