A renowned winter playground that delights all year round
As the adventure capital, Queenstown offers no shortage of heart-pumping fun, but there is plenty more to this beautiful town, perfectly placed on the edge of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by the Southern Alps.
Across the lake, the Remarkables mountain range can be seen from the compact, walkable town. Cruises on the lake are popular, as are scenic flights for a prime vantage point. A quick ride up the gondola to Bob’s Peak delivers sweeping views of this landscape, especially at night – watching the sunset over the lake and then enjoying stargazing in these clear skies, far from major cities. Up top there’s a cafe, restaurant and even a Jelly Belly store.
Hitting the trails is a great way to explore, with a range of bike rides catering for different fitness levels. Many are part of the larger 130-km Queenstown Trail that runs all the way to the Gibbston Valley. It might be a relief to know that buses around here have bike racks!
The challenging Queenstown Hill Time Walk, a perennial favourite, traverses up Te Tapunui through pine forest before rewarding eager hikers with views over the Remarkables, some of Lake Wakatipu and Cecil Peak. It’s an elevation gain of 600 metres but well worth it to reach the iconic Basket of Dreams sculpture at the top. The 11-kilometre Ben Lomond track is a demanding full-day trek with a 1438m elevation gain, making for incredible panoramic views.
There’s a plethora of ways to chase thrills here, whether it’s whitewater rafting in the thrilling currents of the Shotover River, skydiving, quad biking, or ziplining through the forest canopy. Queenstown is the home of the bungee jump, with the first commercial jump location established at Kawarau Bridge in 1988 – still world-renowned and the only place around here to offer tandem jumps. The Nevis Valley bungee boasts the world’s biggest rope swing. Luge has really taken off: at the top of Bob’s Peak, take off in go-karts downhill on the track through tunnels, banked corners and dippers.
Of course, come ski season, this is New Zealand’s favourite winter playground. There are four ski areas within easy access, arguably among the country’s best.
In town, the sanctuary of Queenstown Gardens make for a pleasant stroll, with a two-km walking loop through the stunning gardens and along Lake Wakatipu’s shoreline. Or, a soak at the Onsen Hot Pools might be just the plan, having a drink while lapping up the views from the hot springs.
Queenstown is a jumping off point for beautiful drives and interesting towns to explore. A short drive away is the historic gold mining town of Arrowtown, with a quaint main street. The scenery is especially lovely in autumn. The road up to the Remarkables is not only necessary to access this very well-known ski resort, but stunning: a stop at the aptly-named ‘Epic Lookout’ is a must. Other road trip destinations from here that deliver maximum scenery in under an hour include the Crown Range Road to Wanaka, Glenorchy (especially for Lord of the Rings fans) and Kingston.
Queenstown’s notched up a top reputation for food and wine, along with a buzzing apres-ski scene. Whether it’s an amaretto hot toddy at cocktail bar Little Blackwood, a degustation at Amisfield or sampling cult favourite Fergburger, options are tasty and plentiful. Oh, and there’s no shortage of decent coffee and local craft beer.
New Zealand wine is revered – and the South Island’s vines are something special. Take a wine tour in the Gibbston Valley, about half an hour away, or in town The Winery is the perfect spot for a tasting of the finest drops from Central Otago and beyond.