Ayrburn: Queenstown's new wine-and-dine precinct is a must-do for visitors and locals alike

Composite of imagery of Ayrburn
Photo credit: Photo composite - Newshub; Images - Supplied

In 2023, Queenstown's reputation precedes it: a billionaire's bolthole, party playground, hospitality hotspot and Aotearoa's adventure tourism capital, the breathtaking township has something for every type of traveller.

But between the thrillseekers, outdoor enthusiasts, party-going yo-pros and family holidays, there's also the visitor looking for a weekend of R&R: a getaway of long al fresco lunches, evenings by the fire in cosy bars, and soaking up the crisp Otago air (and its famous vino).

While Queenstown itself is world-renowned for its wine, local produce and nightlife, venturing outside the 9300 postcode offers a wealth of wine-and-dine experiences beyond Ferg Burger and Bardeaux - including the new jewel in Arrowtown's crown, Ayrburn.

During a whirlwind 24-hour trip this month, I was given a sneak preview of the region's newest food-and-wine precinct alongside other select media, including a tasting of the venue's exclusive wine and a degustation lunch that showed off the stunning menu. We were also shown around the grounds, parts of which are still under construction, and met the characters who have brought the project to life.  

Here's a taste of what to expect at Ayrburn.

Ayrburn imagery
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What is Ayrburn?

Opening to the public on December 9, the highly anticipated dining and cellar door destination is nestled between Queenstown and the quaint, quirky charm of Arrowtown, a historic gold rush village a stone's throw from the Ayrburn precinct.

Promising a unique dining experience from dawn until dusk, the precinct will span five venues that hope to entertain guests both individually and collectively. Whether it be courtyard dining at The Woolshed, wine tastings in The Manure Room, whiskey sips in The Burr Bar, outdoor concerts at The Dell or a sweet treat at The Dairy, there's a little something for everyone - just like the region it's so proud to call home.

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Looking to the future while honouring the past is integral to the Ayrburn concept: the premises pay tribute to the land's 160-year heritage, featuring materials from the 1860s' homestead that once occupied the grounds. Established in 1864, Ayrburn was one of the first and most successful farms in the area; to respect its rich history, every building has been carefully restored, from preserving the sag of the barn rooftops to using the original timber.

Designed by local architect S.A Studio with interiors by Alexander & Co, Ayrburn has been meticulously curated to maintain its heritage character while emphasising innovation and modern comforts. The Manure Room, for example, was historically used by imbibers to evade authorities during the Prohibition: it is now a cellar door by day, wine bar by night. This theme was also drawn on for the 1920s-esque Burr Bar, which feels like a portal to the past with its speakeasy-style small tables and dimly lit ambience. 

Every detail has been carefully considered, nothing an afterthought; from a statement chandelier of leather scraps to plush custom furnishings, comfortable seating that encourages conversation and an extensive art collection, Ayrburn is just a little bit special.

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There's just as much to take in outside as there is inside: with breathtaking views to The Remarkables and Coronet Peak, Ayrburn's lush grounds are dotted with trees, manicured shrubbery and cobblestone paths, with a natural waterfall-fed stream tinkling past outdoor tables.

The venues will be overseen by industry leaders from across the motu. The culinary team is headed by respected executive chef Richard Highnam, while Ayrburn's award-winning vino - served exclusively on the premises - has been overseen by heavyweights Sophie Parker-Thompson and winemaker Jody Pagey.

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While newcomers are of course high on Ayrburn's hitlist, it's hoped the precinct will appeal to travellers and locals alike, said developer Chris Meehan - providing residents with a wine-and-dine experience without the clamour of Queenstown's central township. This will be emphasised with exclusive membership opportunities for its most loyal local clientele, with a private dining room, bar and terrace - The Vintners - situated in The Woolshed loft. There are also several other bookable, private areas throughout. 

"We wanted to create a destination where locals and visitors alike could spend the day with friends and family to simply enjoy being together over world-class food and wine. An incredible amount of time has gone into making sure Ayrburn will be a place for great times," Meehan said.

"It embodies our commitment to celebrating the stories of the past, by giving them a new future. It's not just a destination; it's an invitation to have fun and experience the best of New Zealand's food, wine, and hospitality in a place chosen 160 years ago for being one of the country's most naturally stunning locations."

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Ayrburn will expand further in 2024 with the unveiling of Billy's, its flagship restaurant named after the farm's founder, William Paterson, as well as the additions of The Bakehouse, RM's Butcher and The Barrel Room: an acoustically designed club for live entertainment and tipples until the early hours, complete with baby grand piano and hand-painted mural on its cave-like walls. The Bakehouse, meanwhile, will offer more casual, café-style dining with baked goods, pizzas, pasta and deli offerings for picknickers. 

At The Woolshed, punters can enjoy breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, whether it be an eggs benedict cosied up in a booth at 10am, a selection of cocktails with oysters or fish crudo in the late-afternoon sunshine, or deep chats over a bottle of Pinot Noir at 2am.

I can attest that the food at The Woolshed is simply delicious, with a seasonal à la carte menu and daily specials. We were treated to a degustation that showed off chef Highnam and his team's culinary expertise, from fork-tender lamb to risotto to market fish, teamed with a seemingly never-ending supply of expertly paired wine. Watch out for the Bloody Mary at breakfast: wine and beverage manager Henry de Salengre whips up a tasty but potent concoction.

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Ayrburn is a breathtaking destination that aims to please, catering to families to large groups to the discerning diner or wine connoisseur. With its indoor-outdoor flow, cosy al fresco fireplace and stunning setting, it encourages visitors to lean into the natural beauty of its surroundings - whether that be wandering the grounds, dining by the stream, or simply ambling between the bars, restaurants and live entertainment offerings.  

With more venues on the horizon, I certainly intend to be back.  

How to get there

About a 20-minute drive from Queenstown Airport (15 on a good run), 25 minutes from central Queenstown or a mere five minutes from Arrowtown, Ayrburn can be reached by car, taxi or bus: it's also accessible to keen cyclists or e-bike enthusiasts.

Where to stay

The beautiful Millbrook Resort, a mere five-minute drive away, is located on two world-class 18-hole golf courses which are home to the New Zealand Open. There are several accommodation options available, with on-site dining and sweeping views of Queenstown's dramatic alpine terrain.

Lana Andelane travelled to Queenstown, stayed at the Millbrook Resort and enjoyed the hospitality of Ayrburn as a guest of the precinct.