Queenstown: A Solo Adventure

I intently stared out of the window, camera in position as we descended out of the cloudbank and into view of the vast snow tipped mountains called the Remarkables. This landscape is absolutely extraordinary.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The plane began to shake as we entered the windy valley between the incredibly close mountain ranges, then all of the sudden, oomph. My head smacked the side of the window and my tray table unfastened itself from the locked position. Panic. We must have dropped a few feet before leveling out again. “Don’t worry,” said the flight attendant over the intercom. “It’s just the wind between the mountains, nothing to be alarmed about.”

Welcome to Queenstown! A buzzing town of snow bunnies crossed with adventure sports, breathtaking scenery and world-renowned pinot noir sipped against the backdrop of white capped peaks.

“Are you skiing?”  “Snowboarding then?” “So, what are you doing here?”  My reply was simple, I’m here to eat well and drink wine. Snow Sheep Queenstown In a town where every other backpacker, boys weekend or family vacation seem to hit the slopes or jump off either one of the tallest or oldest bungy’s in the world, is it possible to enjoy yourself as a single traveler not in the slightest interested in the above? Sure is. I’d even rate Queenstown as not only my number one favorite destination in New Zealand but at the top of my books all around. So what’s there to get up to?

The Bars:

I hung with the locals at Atlas Beer Café, deemed Queenstown’s home of craft beer including microbrew Emerson’s (go with the English Porter on the hand pump) along with some guest taps and locally sourced food, like the lick smacking steak with demi-glace and Café de Paris butter, served with a side salad and fries.

The Find, previously known as The World Bar, was a great place to go solo. Maybe it’s just because Queenstown, unlike many Aussie bars, actually have bar stools at the bar. There’s nothing better than saddling up at the bar for a snack staring up at the teapots which house cocktails for the backpackers who trickle in later in the evening.

And lastly, cozy, dimly lit places like The Bunker  and Bardauex offer extensive New Zealand wine collections and a soothing, chilled out atmosphere with big comfy sofas around outdoor fire pits or indoor blazes.

This is between all of the countless bars and nightclubs including Cowboy’s, Winnie’s and Searle Social Club amongst many other late night spots where you can find inebriated late teens and early twenty-something’s, and myself on one or two occasions, dancing the night away.

The Wine:

But then let’s not forget it was the wine I came for.

The Winery is a storefront that offers a taste of over 80 different New Zealand wines. Grouped by variety, the philosophy of this place is simple, yet expensive. Insert your “wine card” and choose from a taste, half glass, or full glass of some of the most desired wines in the region. At about an average of $5 a taste, I tried a few high-end Pinots then called it day.

This was after I went on my Queenstown Trail: Original Wine Tour just the day before. Lance, a 20 year wine-guide veteran led us to four different wineries in the Gibbston Valley, Central Otago. I’d rate them as such:

Best Tasting Room: Gibbston Valley Winery – set in New Zealand’s largest wine cave

Best Tasting Host: Waitiri Creek – Jason, the vineyard manager of this family owned winery passionately and simply broke down the chemistry of wine making into terms us normal-folk could understand

Best Wine: Remarkable Wines – only winery where I enjoyed the whole range; walked away with the 2009 Pinot Noir

Best Notoriety: Amisfield – while I can’t afford their both delicate and elegant vintages, Will and Kate famously made a stop here on their recent visit

The Food:

When in New Zealand it’s all about the lamb, oysters and prime cuts of beef.

I felt I was back in Melbourne while dining at Madame Woo, an eclectic modern Asian restaurant with delectable sticky pork belly dishes and thick curry’s set to tune of some of my favorite bands like the Kooks and Cold War Kids.

While Vudu Café is rated the number one brunch spot, you’d be lucky to score a seat. Instead, Bob’s Weigh Café was a smaller, simpler option serving great muesli and rumored the best coffee in town.

The Great Outdoors:

Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing aside, in town there are still a few options.

While the number one activity is to ride the Skyline Gondola up Bob’s Peak, I decided to take the bolder way up: my two feet. It took an hour from the base to zig zag through the forest up the mountain following the Tiki Trail. I’m not going to say it was easy, but nothing any reasonably fit person couldn’t handle with a few huff and puff’s in between Gatorade guzzling breaks. Even better, the trail was absolutely quiet. Only every so often I’d run into another hiker passing down on the trail. The best part was finally reaching the top and the breathtaking views over Lake Watakipu. Lake Wakatipu Once at the summit there are a few options from dining, bungying, zip-lining, more hiking or the luge. And while the luge came highly recommended from a charming traveler I met, after standing in line for an hour in freezing rain sandwiched between two families with small, irritating children, my ride down the ‘scenic track’ was more of an escape effort if anything. With the rain coming down too heavy to hike back down Bob’s Peak, I coughed up the steep fair of $19 for the Gondola ride back into town. Queenstown Luge The People:

And none of my above experiences would have been so great if I was truly alone in it all. There were kind, approachable people that I met along the way. From an impromptu pub-crawl to discover the town with a friendly Norwegian, to the American and Aussie girls from my wine tour who invited me along to dinner and the handsome Irish boy who bought me chocolate/chocolate-chip ice cream. It was only on the last day as I sat in a café to escape the cold and rain before flying back to Australia that I had a sense of being alone, but luckily a book and one last English Porter did the trick.

Could this be beer heaven?

We crawl through Hells Kitchen and down restaurant row. Although its cold outside, it’s not cold enough for us to see our breath. The glow of Christmas lights outside the boutique restaurants gives a sense of comfort, despite the holiday having gone. Onward, march.

Approaching 10th avenue there isn’t too much around except a vast Hess Station on the corner of 45th street. Taking up nearly a whole block, this immeasurable vicinity sticks out as awkwardly as your grandmother at a gay cabaret. But there is another defining characteristic to this street corner, The Pony Bar.

Stouts, hefeweizen, IPA…hops upon hops upon hops! Glorious days, I think to myself, this has to be the best place on earth. What makes this place so unique is that it serves only craft brews from across the US. That means you may try a Belgian ale or a delicious German wheat but its going to be grown domestically.

I feel like I’m on Family Feud when I scan the large board taking up the back wall behind the bar. Each listing depicts the brewery, beer, and alcohol content (ABV). No need to mention price because they’re all only $5. Try and find another steel like that in Manhattan. I dare ya.

I’m intrigued by the breweries and curious to learn more. Where is Goose Island and what’s their speciality? How about Sly Fox? I’m seeing a theme here that many brewers choose names from animals, uhum, Dog Fish Head.

I take notice of the clock on the wall. It’s permanently stalled at 4:20. I find it no coincidence then that their happy hour which earns patrons $1 off all drafts runs from 4:20-5:20 daily. I approach the bartender and ask for one of their large score sheets. This allows me to keep track of each beer I drink and give it a rating. Once I hit 100 I get a free t-shirt. Clearly obtaining this goal is my latest priority.

I now spend my days daydreaming about the next time I will be able to stop in the Pony Bar, grab a seat at one of their large picnic tables, and dabble with the thought of which beer will catch my fancy. For starters, I cannot get that Cappuccino Stout out of my mind!


Zack’s Oak Bar and Restaurant

Enter through plush, forest green curtains into this cozy eatery and there’s no doubt you’ll be greeted with warm smiles. Because of its size, Zack’s offers a feel of exclusivity without the pretentions. A honey-comb tiled floor, oak-panels, and long mirrors line the bar with pictures depicting Hoboken’s early days. Although located off the beaten path, Zack’s isn’t missed by the locals. Some even go as far as to call it Hoboken’s own version of “Cheers”.

With only ten small tables in the dining room there can be a wait on weekends but it sure is worth it. The intricate ceiling, painted blood-red, contrasts the warm walls and tea lit table-settings inviting couples to nestle against lush corner pillows and talk intimately over French wine.

Aside from the nonchalant ambience, the true reason to visit is the food. You could call it American with a twist of everything. Favorites include the Stuffed Chicken (stuffed with asparagus and a drizzled with a soy based 5-spices sauce), the Lentil Salad (with balsamic and topped with warm goat cheese), and the Turkey Burger (a local favorite). In addition to their standard menu, new specials are offered daily from hearty, healthy pastas to fresh fish and juicy steak. Choosing a special off of this menu never fails.

With funky, indie-rock music flowing softly from the speakers, Zack’s is divey enough to make you feel comfortable at the bar sipping a few pints (from light beer to imported Belgian drafts) or watching the game on one of their four TVs. Yet at the same time will make you feel elite snuggled in the tiny dining room amongst your closest friends – who most likely are soon to include the staff.

In the summer months al-fresco dining proposes a nice alternative for people watching and on the weekends brunch offers all the favorites. At Zack’s it’s a win-win. It won’t drain your wallet and will leave you feeling at home with a smile.

Zack's Bar on Urbanspoon

Beauty Shop (966 South Cooper)

Dining at this retro, eclectic restaurant in the heart of the Cooper-Young district in Memphis takes you back to the insides of a 1940’s barbershop. As the name suggests, the decor alone is worth a visit. The front dining room, which houses a few small tables and a bar showcases hand blown glass chandelier’s and lime green sinks from the days of this 1st unisex barbershop in Memphis where the men had their hair snipped in the front of the shop and ladies were expected to have their services in the all pink painted back.

Tables are wedged where the old dressing stations used to be – still in tact with the original ice cube-like glass separators, original shelving and accent lights. The sheik, white decor and leather booths adds a sense of 70’s sheik.

The food is a great mix of traditional American and international cuisine with an interesting twist. Many dishes offer a sweet alternative to the typical meal; for example, try the chicken wings and watermelon smothered in a sweet thai sauce or the highly recommended grilled peaches topped with blue cheese. One of the many highlights is the famous BS Grilled Romaine – smokey romaine doused in a semi-spicy dressing with bacon, tomatoes and blue cheese. All dishes are served on vintage plates.

For entrees, the seared snapper was very flavorful although overcooked with a crisp exterior – as is everything in Memphis. The salmon with a side of arugula salad was tasty yet a bit salty in addition to the fishy mussels.

The highlight – dessert. Known for their cakes, the strawberry and caramel are melt in your mouth, moist cakes topped with a thick frosting. I also recommend the crepes (banana and nutella as a favor to our pal Elvis) was extraordinary.

For a post dinner drink – stop by the Mollie Fontaine Lounge (679 Adams Ave) which is owned by the same management as Barbershop and used to be the owner’s personal residence. Set in an old Victorian house, experience what true Memphis has to offer as Mollie’s is a place for the locals. Stepping inside this massive Victorian, the aroma of musky smoke fills the air. With live music Thurs – Sat, grab a glass of wine from their extensive list of cocktails as you relax to the piano and blues.

The first floor is strictly non-smoking, with two rooms of unique decor, enlarged black and white photos from the 60’s, cow-skin carpets and antiques nestled in tiny corners. Upon climbing the old wooden staircase to the second floor, the vibe is a bit more lively, the air a bit more smoky, and the various couches, nooks and funky atmosphere enough for anyone to melt into the true heart of Memphis.