Boutique travel in New Zealand
JUST because you are a tourist in the sheep mecca of the modern world doesn't mean you have to travel like one.
New Zealand tourism is embracing a “boutique” style of travel, where you can break away from the flock to see both the popular and sometimes secret sights.
The friendly folk at the Sofitel Queenstown Hotel and Spa are more than happy to put guests in touch with Limousine Line, a family-run business which offers luxurious chauffeur-driven transport throughout the South Island.
Instead of squashing into a bus with the crying kid, the sullen teenager, the 500-word-a-minute uncle and the snap-happy retiree, you can ride shotgun in a roomy 4WD.
On a balmy summer morning, our personal guide Jonathan McNay arrives and whisks our small group away for a day of wine tasting.
First stop: the stunning central Otago wine valley. Here, I meet Grant Taylor, one of New Zealand's most awarded pinot noir makers.
He has the fine honour of twice winning the trophy for Best Pinot Noir at the world's largest wine competition, the London International Wine Challenge.
It is a feat achieved by no other winemaker in the world but he is humble, modest and unassuming.
After a morning of experiencing the delicious Valli range, I can't wait for our next stop: lunch.
Located high in the southern mountains, Gibbston Valley Cheese specialises in sheep, cow and goat milk cheeses hand-crafted in the European style.
The beautifully presented platter on our table was demolished in minutes. Drinking wine is hard work and you need to replenish all that expended energy.
A unique “boutique” evening experience that will make you the envy of all your friends and get you away from the flock again is a tour of Lake Wakatipu onboard the Pacific Jemm.
Watching the sunset over the mountains on the 24-metre luxury yacht is one of those picture-perfect moments.
You can enjoy a light dinner prepared by your own chef, snug inside or by candlelight on the deck.
Our host for the evening explains that the yacht can also be hired out during the day.
After a solid slumber back at the Sofitel, where I can select my pillow from a menu, it is time to explore Arrowtown, a former gold-mining town built on the banks of the Arrow River.
A range of activities is on offer, from gold-panning, teeing off on Millbrook's international golf course to shopping and dining.
The afternoon is spent exploring the many river rapids by 4WD.
If your tour company permits, ask if you can get behind the wheel for a quick test drive.
It is an experience you can brag about back home.
Some companies even have cameras mounted to the outside of the vehicle, so you can relive the thrills.
After the devastating earthquake that ravaged Christchurch, the Kiwi tourism industry has been feeling the effects of a drop-off in visitor numbers.
So, if you have been thinking of heading across the Tasman, now is the perfect time.
Not only will you enjoy the beautiful scenery, the heart-warming hospitality and the financial rewards of the strong Australian dollar but you also will be helping strengthen the economy of our sister country.
What you need to know
Getting there: Jetstar's everyday one-way fares between the Gold Coast and Queenstown start from $199 (JetSaver Light). Jetstar's A320 aircraft offers 177 all-leather seats in a single class.
Once in Queenstown, passengers can connect throughout Jetstar's domestic New Zealand network covering Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington. For more information, visit Jetstar.com or call 13 15 38.
Getting around: Limousine Line www.limousineline.co.nz. Contact Jonathan on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where to stay: Sofitel Hotel and Spa. The adjoining new-look Left Bank Cafe is part-French kitchen and part-tearoom, offering breakfast and lunch in elegant surrounds. For more information, visit www.sofitel.com.
Sights: Grant Taylor/Valli Wines: www.valliwine.com. Contact Jacqui Murphy at email@example.com.
Gibbston Valley Cheeses: Visit www.gvcheese.co.nz.
Pacific Jemm: www.pacificjemm.com.
Email David at firstname.lastname@example.org for bookings.