It is something that should be on all North Islanders’ bucket list, to visit Central Otago in the autumn. Catch nature’s seasonal palette swathed across the landscape, sniff the fresh autumn air, reach up and almost touch the Southern Cross in the night sky, pick wild mushrooms for breakfast, sample the bulging pinot noir grapes on the vine the day before harvest – thanks to Amazing Accom, this pre winter three day treat is something to rave about.
For starters, the taxi van driver that we press-ganged at Queenstown airport on arrival, settled on a fixed fee and then gave us the “North Islanders 101” guide to Queenstown sights on the way to our digs, probably an extra 45 minutes ride as part of the set fee. Digs? Well not quite. Assuming the Shotover gold diggers lived in “digs” is fair enough but not this time. The Amazing Accom house at Arthur’s Point near Queenstown was of house-of-the-year sophistication with ample room for 12 and socializing areas that pivoted on a huge open fire with heaps of dry wood on the side.
A middle aged social trip for a group is light years from the away weekends of footy trips of year’s gone by but it is still the same principles ensuring the right skills are allocated to the right tasks. Wine meister, head chef, bbq chef, fire stoker, driver, games director, research analyst, tour leader – every role has serious, competitive responsibilities and our group had candidates with Michelin Star-like skills.
We took the approach of doing our own thing as they say, with daily outings planned around the use of the seven seater Volvo supplied with the house, and maximizing the local produce in the kitchen, treats like high country lamb, Tuatapere sausages and the sweet Southland parsnip. Market fresh produce is surprisingly easy to find in Queenstown which is the ideal counter to dining out with the tourists, who even in April, were like free-range mobs of Romney’s across the hotspots.
There was plenty to see and do especially when most of us had not been to Queenstown for more than a decade. We started with a look at the traditional: a ride on the refurbished gondola and luge, visit to Coronet Peak pre snow just for the amazing views, amble beside the lake, coffee and cake in Arrowtown, winery visits to Amisfield and Gibbston Valley.
It was the wider catchment that took our hearts. On one day, we had a vineyard picnic at Kingsmill Vineyard at Bannockburn, about 40 kms from Queenstown, amongst the luscious point noir vines covered and ready for harvest. Hosts, ex-Wellingtonians Donna Abrams and Phil Horn, have built up a niche with their Tippett’s Dam pinot which has won medals at the Sydney wine show.
Tippett’s Dam is front and centre at the vineyard, though dry these days, but had a crucial role in the 1870s aggregating water for the gold sluicing from 50 miles away. Now the only gold nuggets that need sluicing are those almost black coloured, mini cannon balls of red nectar that are fed a drop at a time we were told, to regulate the signature flavour of Central pinot.
Drops of knowledge are a dangerous thing to wine buffs like us and we left there in the balmy autumn sun seriously discussing the best methods to counter the vine demons of waxeyes and wasps as though we had walked every step of the way with Donna and Phil over their last ten years of development - as you do on tour when all your knowledge of wine is concentrated at the drinking, not growing end of the chain.
Our next day’s adventure required blind faith in our research analyst. Mountain bike riding. Plenty has been written about the Central Otago Rail Trail from Middlemarch to Clyde, some 150kms, Well, we were not geared up for that but to our surprise a mini ride from Clyde to Alexandra and back to Clyde on a formed track on the south side of the Clutha River was the go, about 25kms.
The mountain biking fad has certainly rejuvenated some of the small towns in Central and we were all easily equipped with brand new hire bikes for the job at a very helpful local bike shop in Clyde. It was like a childhood Famous Five adventure jauntily riding our twenty seven geared, twenty nine inch state–of-the-art bikes with all mod cons, in and out of the drooping leaves of the multi coloured trees lining the return route. Only one of us crashed, but bruises were easily healed after the first glass of Kingsmill pinot fireside, an hour or so later.
Here are the highlights to show how enjoyable the trip turned out. Try it out for yourself.