Monday, July 25, 2011

Skyline Gondola Restaurant

The one thing that Queenstown has more of than mountains is restaurants and plenty of great ones to boot.  For the first time visitor, making the choice of where to satisfy the palate could leave one feeling a bit snowed under.  So for those who are trying to escape the avalanche of eateries, here is my utmost recommendation and in my opinion a ‘must do’ when visiting Queenstown.
Situated at the top of Bobs Peak and reached by a Gondola, the aptly named Skyline Restaurant boasts stunning views of Queenstown, the vast stretches of the Lake Wakatipu and grand mountain ranges.
When my partner Ben and I arrived for dinner, night had fallen and Queenstown twinkled prettily with multi-coloured lights. Having been told that the dinner was a sumptuous buffet where there was a fine line between ‘helping yourself’ and ‘gorging’, we’d spent the day starving ourselves and the smell of the wonderful food had our stomachs suddenly rumbling like freight trains. 
But before we ate we had something exciting to attend – The Kiwi Haka show!  Having been warned that we may be asked to get on stage to play with poi or help do the Haka, we headed first to the cosy bar and ordered a couple of strong vodkas to help with our confidence. When it was time, we were summoned to the show by haunting music echoed across the room.  After we were given a formal welcome by Maoris in traditional dress we were led into a small hall with tiered seating and began watching the wonderful show. Whilst the ladies performed mesmerising songs, the men performed fierce looking Hakas and demonstrated how to use their deadly primitive weapons from tribal days. After the spine tingling show and with my body all covered in goose bumps we finally headed off for a feed.
We began our delicious food journey at the starter buffet where I loaded my plate with fresh juicy prawns in pesto and hunks of cooked salmon with a side of olives and peppers. For the second course it was hard to choose between the succulent lamb, the venison curry and the moist looking pork, so I decided it would be best to have all three.  These were complemented by carrots with orange, pumpkin mash and crispy roast potatoes. After I’d finished, my stomach feeling rather full, Ben headed up for a second helping and I was slightly envious of his larger tum that had the ability to hold more than mine. I jealously watched him wolf down his seconds, looking like the cat who’d got the cream, which gave my food time to settle and make room for dessert. I returned from final trip to the buffet with a giant chunk of pavlova, a huge dollop of crème brulee and a soft chocolate mousse that was calling me to try it.
Although I was slightly tempted by the gigantic cheese board, I decided that even a mere sniff of food would make my stomach burst and made the wise decision to head home. I was quite surprised that the Gondola held our weight though I’m sure I heard the cable straining on the way down as we sat like two happy fat buddhas rubbing our bellies.
A visit to the Skyline Gondola is an eating experience rather than just a meal and with a choice of food to suit everybody is highly recommended to visitors and locals alike.
Skyline Gondola costs $25 return (YHA price). YHA offers $10 off Gondola, buffet dinner (so $66 for YHA) and $10 off Gondola, dinner and kiwi haka (so $100 for YHA). Book at either the YHA Queenstown Central or the YHA Queenstown Lakefront and receive a free glass of house wine or tap beer with your booking!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Surf, Sea, Sun and Fun.

Surf Sea Sun and Fun

Before this weekend I harboured a secret and irrational fear that the sea is a brooding menace, lying in waitto swallow me down into Davy Jones’s Locker for all eternity.

I also have the grace and poise of a chicken on roller skates, so the thought of embarking on a two day surf tour leaves me feeling slightly uneasy. The four of us, all beginners, are picked up from central Whangarei on Friday afternoon by Simon Clowes, our guide and the owner of Surfaris, a Northland surf school that offers everything from day lessons to week-long tours.

As we wind up through Northland I forget my reservations and start asking questions. Surfaris operates on the adage ‘The best surfer in the world is the one having the most fun.’ Accredited by Surfing NZ and based on the Tutukaka coast, they also pick up from Whangarei and the Bay of Islands. Such is the rich diversity of surf breaks in Northland they can sniff out suitable surf for all abilities on any given day, using years of local knowledge to avoid the overcrowded breaks.
We arrive at YHA Ahipara, set up camp and chill out on the beach with fish and chips, say goodbye to the day with a gorgeous Northland sunset. The next day it’s a fresh and sunny morning; we grab breakfast and head off to Ninety Mile Beach for our first lesson. On land we learn surf theory before being released into the waves, where surfing definitely does not seem as easy to put into practice as it is to explain. I spend a few brief seconds on my feet, more on my hands and knees, though the vast majority of the time I am face planting into the surf like a puppy chasing a stick. Then it’s time for a drive up the beach to Te Paki Stream for and boarding and lunch, followed by lesson number two at Rarawa, a beautiful and remote white sand beach on the East Coast of the Aupouri Peninsula.

We recap the morning lesson and are helped out with a few hints and tips here and there. Before you know it I am on my feet at last and flying down the wave, bling and weaving all over, but I’ve done it! It’s an amazing feeling, and all four of us are buoyed up and buzzing with the feeling of accomplishment as we head back down to YHA Ahipara, stopping off at the Kauri Kingdom on the way.

Over dinner and games I learn more about the history of Surfaris - why start a surf company? Originally from Cornwall in the UK, Simon surfed three continents before deciding on NZ as his favourite country. With three coasts, in Northland you are never more than 40km from a beach; it’s heaven for water babies. After a successful career in sales and marketing he finally gave in to the call of the surf and decided to put his 20 years of experience to use. All guides hold an International Surf Coach Certificate, and the emphasis of the company is on education, participation and fun. Surfaris commitment to sustainability is heartening, and the guides take steps at all times to ensure we take nothing but experience from the environment.

Day two and we’re back on 90 Mile Beach, all managing to surf and having a great time. There is now a sense of camaraderie within the group, lots of encouragement and laughter. So much so that I realise I’ve forgotten all about Davy Jones and his locker. After lunch we stop at picturesque Mangonui for a well deserved ice-cream before heading out to the wide and stunning expanse of Taupo Bay for lesson two.

Going south we stop off at Ake Ake Vineyard near Keri Keri for a taste of their sumptuous Chambourcin
Syrah before returning to Whangarei It’s hard to believe that the weekend is over already. Not only have I been reminded once more of the beauty and diversity of Northland, but I’ve had an amazing time learning to surf with some brilliant people. A truly unforgettable experience that comes highly recommended.