Wanaka Mini-Break

Wanaka is one of those places that just has it all. I visited Wanaka over a bank holiday weekend in late September 2017 and I loved it so much, that by the end of my stay, I had booked a return mini-break in early November.

Where is Wanaka?

Wanaka is an hour’s drive from Queenstown in the South Island of New Zealand and is truly one of the most scenic places I have ever visited.  The town itself is set around Lake Wanaka,  New Zealand’s fourth-largest freshwater lake.  Even the drive from Queenstown over the Crown Ranges is stunning.

Activities

Walking

The obvious thing to do in Wanaka is ski with two good ski areas, Treble Cone and Cardrona, but notwithstanding that skiing is one of my biggest passions, I opted for more passive pursuits on my two trips.  In addition to just relaxing by the fire, I also enjoyed some lovely walks.  There are a lot of good walking tracks in the area including easy tracks along the edges of Lake Wanaka.

If glaciers are more your thing, then you can drive to the start of Rob Roy Glacier which can be reached via Rob Roy Track.  The carpark at the start of the Rob Roy Track is about an hour’s drive from Wanaka which includes 30 kilometres of unsealed road.  Rob Roy Track itself is 10 kilometres and depending on your level of fitness, can take up to 4 hours to navigate.  An easier option is to experience the glacier via helicopter.  There are a number of helicopter operators that can do glacier landings.  Disappointingly, I did not get out in a helicopter during either stay but this will on the list for next time.

Fly-fishing

There is also good fly fishing in the area which Husband enjoyed immensely but he was extremely lucky to be with a bestie who knows the area well but for the less fortunate, I would recommend arranging a guide.  There are a lot of fly-fishing guides that operate in the area but they tend to book up early so make sure you secure your guide before you arrive.  Your accommodation should be able to recommend a guide.  You will also need a fishing licence which you can buy on-line and be aware of the fly-fishing season for each waterway.  Information on applicable seasons is set out in the fact file below.  If you go fly-fishing early in the season, then you are likely to encounter a bit of traffic from fellow anglers so in addition to a professional guide, I would also recommend heli-fishing as you can be dropped into more remote areas.

Wineries

Wanaka is located in the Central Otago wine region which most famously produces cool climate pinot noir.  There are a few wineries in the immediate vicinity of Wanaka but others are a bit further afield.  What we did and something that I would recommend, is to stop at Amisfield Winery enroute to Wanaka.  It is about 10-15 minutes from Queenstown Airport.  They have a bistro which is open 7 days between 11:30am to 8:00pm and bookings are a must.  If you do miss out which we did, you can always enjoy a cheese platter and glass of wine (or bottle) in the garden.

The Central Otago wineries are quite spread out which was really surprising.  There are wine tour operators based in Wanaka that you can use but you may also consider taking State Highway 6 on your return trip to Queenstown.  This will take you through Cromwell, Bannockburn and Gibbston where most of the wineries are located.

My pick of wineries is Rippon in Wanaka which produces fairly good wines but go there just for the setting.  The winery is the most stunning winery I have ever visited with the vines sloping down to the edge of Lake Wanaka.  Unfortunately, they only have a cellar door but in the summer, it would be good to enjoy a picnic lunch with a bottle of wine.  I also liked this tiny organic producer called Aurum located in Cromwell.  Their pinots are to die for and their cellar door is set in a gorgeous cottage garden.  Gibbston Valley Wines, although highly commercial, have good pinots and although it irks me to pay for a tasting, it is worth paying the NZD$15.00 for their premium pinot range.  Gibbston Valley Wines also have a restaurant but my pick would be to eat at Amisfield as it is a classier establishment and just 10 minutes down the road.

One of the other places that I absolutely loved was the Distillery in Cardrona.  They produce a gin, a vodka and an orange liqueur.  They also offer a 75-90 minute tour which includes tasting which may be interesting to some but I like the immediate surrounds and in winter, they have a very welcome open fire where you can sit and enjoy a coffee and muffin.  Their raspberry and white chocolate muffins are to die for.

Horse riding and quad-biking

There are a few horse riding and quad-biking operators.  We went horse riding with Cardrona Horses.  We opted for a morning 2 hour ride through a Merino sheep station which was really relaxing.  They have other rides including a 3.5 hour tour which stops off at the Cardrona Hotel.

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Stay

On both trips, I stayed at Waiorau Homestead located in Cardrona which I could not rate highly enough.  Cardrona is a 20 minute drive from Wanaka.   Waiorau Homestead is like a home away from home.  Just think of incredible scenery, well appointed comfortable rooms, roaring fire, great food and amazing hosts.

Waiorau Homestead is run by Blyth Adams and Ann Lockhart.  Blyth and Ann are a wealth of information on the local area and can provide dining and activity suggestions.  Waiorau Homestead is a good base if you are skiing at Cardrona as it is located at the base of the ski park.  It so happened that it was Guy Fawkes night on my trip with Husband and Ann and Blyth indulged us by allowing Husband and I to light fireworks on their front lawn.

If money is no option and you are a mad keen fly fisher, then I would recommend staying at Minaret Alpine Station Lodge.  I personally have not stayed there but along my travels at other high-end lodges, guests have raved about this place.  It is only accessible by helicopter and the big attraction is the heli-fishing.

Eat

Blyth is a trained chef and in addition to a full gourmet breakfast, Blyth and Ann offer a three course dinner. Every opportunity that Blyth gave me to enjoy his cooking I eagerly took up as he produces the most scrumptous meals.  I have never tasted roast potatoes like Blyth’s.  We also enjoyed the Cardrona Hotel which is a couple of minutes’ drive away.  The pub meals were the best I have ever eaten and they had a well stocked cellar comprising a good seletion of New Zealand wines.  On both occasions, I ate the beef rib eye with Paris butter and hand-cut chips.  Blyth and Ann also gave us a few other dining suggestions for Wanaka but we were happy to eat in-house or at the pub.  If I was going to eat in Wanaka, I would try Kika which gets good reviews on Trip Advisor.

Across the road from the Cardrona Hotel is the General Store which is relatively new and they do lovely sandwiches, sweet treats, scones and coffee.  I quite enjoyed sitting outside in their chairs enjoying the spring sunshine.

We had a lateish return flight to Melbourne.  So I wanted to try Rata in Queenstown for a late lunch / early dinner.  There is nothing on their website to give you any indication, but their kitchen closes at 3pm for lunch.  I was quite disappointed to have missed out but I will be better prepared next time.  Also, I had booked Rata for dinner on my first trip thinking that we could do an early dinner and then drive to Wanaka.  We ended up cancelling as it is not really that safe to be driving from Queenstown to Wanaka over the Crown Ranges at night in early spring.

Fact file:

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The Pawfect Truffle Hunt

The months of July and August in Melbourne are usually pretty bleak and depressing but they are also a joyous occasion in our household as it is truffle season. Last July, we got to share our love of truffles with our much adored and pampered black Labrador, Peggy, by taking her on a Gourmet Paws truffle hunt in regional Victoria.

Our day started early at 8:30am with a doggie meet and greet at an off-leash beach in Port Melbourne.  After a good run and, in the case of our water loving Labrador, a swim all dogs and their owners boarded the Gourmet Paws bus.  Once settled, each dog was given a goodie bag comprising treats and vouchers which was a really nice touch and well received by Peggy.

Morning tea was organised at a park along the way where the dogs could get off the bus for a quick run whilst their owners enjoyed a coffee and a bite to eat.

The truffle hunt was organised at Black Cat Truffles near Creswick in regional Victoria (about 90 minutes’ from Melbourne).  Black Cat Truffles has a 1000 tree trufferie mostly comprising English and French oaks inoculated with black Perigord truffles (Tuber melanosporum).   Upon arrival, owners and dogs disembarked the bus and then proceeded to the Black Cat Truffles’ tasting and sales room where we were given the run down on truffles and the trufferie.  We also got to eat the most exquisite fromager d’Affinois with truffles which we washed down with a glass of sparkling wine.

Following our truffle introduction, we embarked on a truffle hunt with the resident truffle dog leaving our own dogs in the sales and tasting room in the hands of the Gourmet Paws carers.  The truffle hunt was very interesting as we not only got to see a trained truffle dog in action but we also got to see how truffles grow.  We each had the opportunity to dig the truffles from the earth and by the end of the hunt, we had quite an impressive bounty (available for purchase).  Our own dogs were not allowed to participate in the truffle hunt due to the potential to introduce disease but they had their own mock truffle hunt for treats infused with truffle.  Of course our Peggy was an expert in finding her treat in no time and maybe too willingly assisted others in finding theirs.  She is a Labrador after all!

After the doggie truffle hunt, we headed back to the tasting and sales room for a wine tasting and the opportunity to select and purchase the fresh black truffles.  Stocked with our purchases, we boarded the bus and headed to lunch at the Farmers Arms Hotel in Creswick.

Whilst we lunched, our dogs remained on the bus with the Gourmet Paws carers  and enjoyed a movie and massage.  Husband and I were extremely anxious about leaving Peggy but it was clear on our return that she was in excellent care and was happy to relax and take a nap.  After a quick walk, it was back on the bus for our return trip to Melbourne.

Fact File:

Gourmet Paws is a doggie based tour company based in Melbourne and operates truffle hunts in July and August each year.  Our truffle hunt cost AUD$475.90 for two adults and dog and included bus transport, morning tea, trained dog carers , truffle hunt including sparkling wine on arrival and wine tasting, mock doggie truffle hunt including doggie treat, doggie goodie bag and a three course lunch with glass of wine.  We loved the truffle hunt and thought it was very well organised.  Highly recommended.  If truffles are not your thing, Gourmet Paws also operates other doggie tours including winery tours.  Further information can be found at: https://gourmetpawprints.com.au

Black Cat Truffles: Located in Wattle Flat (near Creswick) about 90 minutes’ drive from Melbourne and is open to the public to purchase truffles and truffle products.  Further information can be found at: http://www.blackcattruffles.com.au

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Calling Lovers of Cabernet

Coonawarra Cabernets are my favourite Australian wine varietal.  So when Husband’s Friday wine club organised a weekend trip for the Coonawarra Cellar Dwellers we were extremely excited.  This event is held over the month of July each year and is the time when participating Coonawarra wineries showcase their back vintages.

Where is the Coonawarra?

The Coonawarra is a South Australian wine region comprising 32 wineries dotted across an area of approximately 30 square kilometres (15 kilometres long x 2 kilometres wide).  It happens to be located smack bang between Melbourne and Adelaide.  It is also one of Australia’s oldest wine regions mostly known for its cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon, however, they also produce good Shiraz, Chardonnay and Riesling.

How long does it take and how do you get there?

From Melbourne, the Coonawarra is ridiculously easy for a weekend.  We took the 6:45pm Regional Express flight from Melbourne Airport.  The flight takes just over an hour from Melbourne to Mt Gambier.  Upon arrival at Mt Gambier Airport, we collected our hire car and drove 35 minutes to our accommodation located between Penola and Coonawarra.    This had us arriving in Penola around 8:00pm just in time to join the Cellar Dweller event taking place at Raidis Winery.  They had three back vintages on offer by the glass with music and dancing which was a really fun start to the weekend.

Accommodation

Accommodation options in this region are very slim indeed and we did not love where we stayed so I am not going to disclose the name of it.  My recommendation would be to try the glamping option at Bellwether Winery but only in summer.  They have a number of tents dotted around a sheep property surrounded by the gorgeous old red gums synonymous with this part of Australia.  Better still, since our visit, Kerry and Simon Meares of Coonawarra Experiences have opened their gorgeous two bedroom apartment (refer to fact file below for contact details).

Where to eat?

There are also not a lot of restaurant options in the area and of those options, only two are winery restaurants: Upstairs at Hollicks and Fodder and Ottelia.  We lunched at Upstairs at Hollicks which is located at Hollicks Winery which was very pleasant and the staff were really lovely and very accommodating.  The other restaurant we wanted to try was Pipers of Penola but disappointedly, this was closed during our visit .  There are a few wineries that also do cellar door cheese platters including Balnaves, Rymil, Wynns and DiGiorgio.

 

Are there any recommendations for wine tour operators?

We would highly recommend Coonawarra Experiences which offer full and half day winery tours which can be tailored to your needs.  Full details can be found at: https://www.coonawarraexperiences.com.au/.

As for wineries, there are a lot to choose from and there is no need to worry about how you can get your purchases home as they can all arrange shipment within Australia.

 

 

Fact File:

  • Rental car vendors: Mt Gambier Airport has three hire car options: Avis, Hertz and Budget.
  • Cellar Dwellers: For the month of July each year, the Coonawarra wineries showcase their back vintages which you can taste and buy.  Details can be found at http://www.mountgambierpoint.com.au/events/coonawarra-cellar-dwellers/.  Each year the organisers publish a programme of participating wineries and events.
  • Wine tour operators: Coonawarra Experiences can be found at https://www.coonawarraexperiences.com.au/.
  • Accommodation: Kerry and Simon Meares of Coonawarra Experiences offer a fully self-contained 2 bedroom apartment located in Penola.  Details can be found on Air BNB by searching under ‘A Coonawarra Experience’ (https://www.airbnb.com.au/rooms/21729877).
  • Flights: Regional Express flys from Terminal 4 of Melbourne Airport and has flights every day to Mt Gambier.  Further details can be found at: http://www.rex.com.au
  • Travel tip: If driving from Mt Gambier Airport to the Coonawarra at night, you need to be vigilant for kangaroos as we had been warned by a number of people.