If forced to pick one word to describe Queenstown, it would have to be EXHILARATING. Considered by many to be the adventure-sports capital of the Southern Hemisphere, if you’re looking for an adrenaline fix, chances are you can get it one Queenstown. Wanna throw yourself out of a plane from 15,000 feet, the towering Remarkables mountain range and beautiful Lake Wakatipu the back-drop for a once-in-a-lifetime freefalling rush? No problem. How about hurling yourself off a platform suspended 440 feet above a ravine, nothing but a rubber band to stop you from splattering all over the rocks below? Queenstown’s got you covered. In fact, in addition to skydiving and bungee jumping, Queenstown’s got skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, canyoning, kayaking, hiking, river surfing, paragliding, luging, white-water rafting, jet-boating- anything and everything an adrenaline junkie and an outdoor lover could hope for. Add to this the seemingly non-stop party at the bars and pubs in town, throw in several top-notch restaurants and cafes, and set it all against majestic mountains and a crystal-clear lake, and you’ve almost got it. Honestly, there really is no other place in the world quite like Queenstown...
Queenstown has become such a popular tourist destination that domestic carriers now have numerous flights into and out of town every day. Some have even added a few international routes that go directly into Queenstown (Mostly to/from Australia). Every hop-on/hop-off route on the South Island includes a stop in Queenstown, and it can also be accessed from other cities via the national bus system. Finding a ride-share to Queenstown is easy as well- just check the message boards at the hostels in the city you are traveling from. However you do it- GET TO QUEENSTOWN. You’ll be glad you did...
Things to do in Queenstown
- Hit the ski fields- if you’re in town during the Kiwi Winter (June-Sept), the ski fields around Queenstown will be open and hopping with activity. People come from all over the world to ski the Southern Alps. Even if you’re a novice, hire some skis or a snowboard in town, catch the shuttle, and have a go.
- Get your adrenaline fix- and then some... Skydiving, bungy jumping, paragliding, jet-boating, white-water rafting, river surfing, extreme mountain biking- do something to get your blood pumping. That’s what Queenstown is all about.
- Get on your boots- Nestled in among the Remarkables mountain range, there are innumerable hiking trails all around Queenstown, of all types of terrain and difficulty. Half-day, full day, even multi-day hikes abound. Pick one that fits, and go for a walk you’ll never forget. A few notable hikes- Skyline Trail (half-day), Lake Rare Track (full day), Routeburn Trail (multi-day- must book in advance!).
- Check out the Skyline- the platforms surrounding the massive complex at the top of the Skyline gondola provide breath-taking views of Queenstown and the Wakatipu Basin. Hike up the Skyline Trail- or take the easy way up and ride the gondola- to get some amazing views of Queenstown and the valley below. The Ledge bungee platform and the Skyline Luge runs are also at the top of the gondola.
- Go for a cruise on the lake- The Earnslaw is an old coal-steamer that has daily trips across Lake Wakatipu, running from the Steamer Wharf in Queenstown to an old homestead on the far side of the lake. Even if you don’t get off at the homestead, the cruise on the lake is worth the trip, if only for the amazing scenery and the unique views of Queenstown from the water.
- Eat at Fergburger- a Queenstown institution, Fergburger is a made-to-order burger joint that seems to be busy 24-hours a day. Lunchtime on a Saturday, mid-afternoon on a Tuesday, 3am on a Thursday- this place is ALWAYS happening. Pick your burger, get some chips, and set up shop on the curb along Shotover Street. It’s the best burger in New Zealand, hands down.
- Check out Glenorchy- a quiet town about 30 minutes away from Queenstown, Glenorchy doesn’t get the mad tourism crush that Queenstown does (Although it has gained more notoriety recently due to it’s surrounds being featured in scenes from the Lord of the Rings movies). Quiet cafes, small restaurants, and amazing South Island scenery- Glenorchy is a great place to go for a change of pace from Queenstown.
- Visit Arrowtown- Similar to Glenorchy, Arrowtown is a small township about 30-45 minutes away from Queenstown. Arrowtown has a rich history and long tradition in the Wakatipu Basin, and is full of cool little shops, quaint cafes, and historical saloons. It is also easy to get to- just catch the right bus in Queenstown.
- Hit up the town- Aside from its plethora of heart-thumping activities, Queenstown is also world-renowned for its nightlife. Amazing restaurants, chic alley bars, classic Irish pubs, late night discos- there’s even a place where the entire roof opens up, letting the hot, steamy air out and the crisp mountain air in. Whether you’re into a 5-star dinner and a world-class bottle of wine, or downing cocktails out of teapots at an all night rave with hundreds of total strangers, Queenstown has something for every appetite.
- Hang out in the Gardens- The Queenstown Gardens provide a quiet place for a bit of respite from the mad pace typical to daily life in Queenstown. Pack a picnic, pick up sandwiches from a cafe or bakery, and lay back in the grass to soak it all in. The mountains, the lake, the clearest, bluest sky in all New Zealand- a great way to spend a quiet afternoon recovering from the previous evening’s festivities...
- Queenstown is typically the craziest during the winter season (June-Sept)- thousands flood in from all over the world for their ski holidays, and while they go hard on the mountains during the day, they go harder in the bars at night. If you’re planning on visiting Queenstown during the winter season, it’s a good idea to book accommodation, ski gear, and everything else well in advance.
- Summers in Queenstown are a bit slower, but still draw crowds of outdoor enthusiasts. Again, it’s a good idea to book accommodation well in advance.
- When you get into town, ask your accommodation’s activities desk to help you sort out everything you want to do. The booking agents in Queenstown are pros at setting up itineraries that will allow you to get everything in, and may be able to save you a few bucks in the process.
- Also, ask at your accommodation about what’s on during the time you’ll be in Queenstown. A lot of the bars and pubs have weekly ‘theme parties’, and these are always a good time.
- Queenstown can be pretty pricey- most of the activities are very expensive, and accommodation isn’t exactly ‘cheap’, esp. during peak season. If you’re on a tight budget, there are heaps of FREE things to do in Queenstown. Hit up the hiking trails, hang out in the Gardens, wander around town, sit down by the lakefront- honestly, just BEING in Queenstown is an experience. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy your time there.