You can't fault Queenstowners for claiming they live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Arguably the most picture-perfect place in New Zealand, Queenstown is a small town set in the shadows of snow-capped mountains and on the shores of the awe-inspiring Lake Wakatipu.
Stunning, impressive, remarkable, inspiring, unbelievable, beautiful, gorgeous and many more adjectives have been used to try and frame this South Island mountain town, but none of them will really ring true until you pull into town and set your own eyes on this perfect corner of the world.
Queenstown is a place where a simple walk around town will result in your jaw dropping. In one direction, you have the iconic Cecil and Walter Peaks rising up from Lake Wakatipu's clear blue waters. Behind you, the accessible Queenstown Hill with fantastic views from the hiking trail leading to its summt. Not to be left out, Ben Lomond is only a four hours walk from downtown Queenstown - yet we guarantee you'll feel on top of the world whilst having your lunch at its summit. And not to forget, the aptly named Remarkables just outside of town.
Queenstown is a small town with the energy of a small city. The "Adventure Capital of the World" that is constantly asking "how can we wow our visitors next?" Bungy jumping, jet boating, sky diving, canyon jumping, paragliding, downhill mountain biking and more are only a taste of the thrills on offer in this energized little town.
It's not all about thrills and shrills in Queenstown; with some of New Zealand's most spectacular mountain backdrops, you can rest assured knowing there are literally dozens of hikes begging to be experienced. So, pack your sense of adventure, your camera, and your wallet and get ready to experience one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand.
Don't forget to get your accommodation booked before your trip. Check out Wotif for the best deals on Queenstown accommodation.
Destination Queenstown: Getting There
Queenstown is one of the South Island's main entry points with New Zealand's most rapidly growing airport. There are a number of domestic and international flights arriving daily at what is repeatedly named one of the most unbelievable airports in the world. You'll understand why as you approach from NZ's Southern Alps and cruise in over Lake Wakatipu.
The Queenstown Airport is located in the neighboring suburb of Frankton - a 15 or 20 minute drive from Queenstown. The local Connectabus will take you straight into Queenstown for about $10 If you're on a budget, walk towards town for about 10 minutes and hitch from the Mobil station.
Nearly all buses on the South Island will get you into Queenstown in one way or another. Wanaka is an hour away, Dunedin is about 5 hours away and Christchurch is 7 or 8 hours away by bus from Queenstown.
Destination Queenstown: Orientation
Many guides include Wanaka
in their Queenstown section - as they are distinctly different places each with their own style, we've kept them separate. These are main population centres in the Queenstown Region.
- Queenstown :: Picturesque Queenstown sits on the Queenstown Bay. It's a compact little place, with all the tourist hot spots sitting within a quick walk of each other on one of the main streets - Shotover St, Beach St, The Mall or Church St.
- Frankton :: Frankton - home to the Queenstown Airport - is a suburb of Queenstown. There is a shopping centre with a grocery store and a Warehouse (good for everything you can't get at a grocery store) as well as a number of other shops. Frankton is also home to the Queenstown Events Centre - if you're keen for some indoor exercise, head to their excellent gym and pool.
- Arrowtown :: This historic gold mining community is a terrific place for a day-trip - more details below.
- Glenorchy :: A hamlet of a town, small Glenorchy is undoubtedly one of NZ's most scenic communities - more details below.
Destination Queenstown: Hot Spots
A trip to Queenstown doesn't have to break the bank. You really should throw yourself off or out of something whilst here, but be sure to mix in some chilled out activities that will allow you to soak up everything else Queenstown has to offer.
Adrenaline Inducing Activities Galore
There are no fewer than 10 or 15 ways to sample the adventure activities on offer in Queenstown. We won't review or even mention them all here, rather we'll point out some things to consider.
Bungy. New Zealand - and specifically Queenstown - is the home of commercial bungy. If you haven't thrown yourself off a bridge by the time you've arrived in Queenstown, now is the time to do it.AJ Hackett has three sites in town - The Ledge Bungy is 47 metres and the only place you can bungy after dark. The Kawarau Bridge Bungy is where it all began in 1988 and checks in at 43 metres - we reckon it's the most scenic of the lot. Lastly, the Nevis Bungy comes in at a jaw-dropping 134 metres. You can expect 8 seconds of sheer terror as you freefall into the Nevis Canyon; it will be one of the hardest things you'll ever do in your life. 3-2-1...do it.
This list could go on and on, yet what you do will depend on your interests and your budget. If jumps aren't your thing, consider jet boating through one of the rivers around Queenstown. If jets aren't your thing, consider white water rafting on one of the rivers. If rafts aren't your thing, check out river boarding where you, a guide and a small board will experience the rush of taking on the rapids on your own.
One of the best ways to experience Queenstown on a budget is to get out and explore the countryside on your own two feet. There is no shortage of walks around Queeenstown, with two fantastic ones leaving directly from town -- the Ben Lomond Summit Track and the walk to Queenstown Hill. These afford you jaw-dropping views of Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains and are a great way to work off that Fergburger you had last night.
Read about some of our favorite hikes around Queenstown here.
Wine Tasting in Gibbston Valley
The Gibbston Valley, also known as the 'Valley of the Vines', is a lovely wine growing area just outside of Queenstown. Vineyards stretch as far as the eye can see between craggy schist mountains and the rocky Kawarau River gorge. Gibbston's hot, dry summers with cool nights and even colder winters consistently produce world renowned wines in a stunning environment. These conditions are ideal for the pinot noir grape and Gibbston Pinot Noir is slowly gaining worldwide recognition. White wine lovers can expect a couple other varieties including pinot gris, riesling and chardonnay.
You can tour Gibbston on your own via a car as it's only 30 minutes away from Queenstown, however you'll be limited in the amount of wines you can sample. We suggest a guided or self-gudied tour with one of the companies in town that will set you up with a bike. Cruise between the vineyards on a recently built cycle trail and find out why this growing wine growing region is quickly gaining world-best status.
Queenstown Bike Trails
If you're after a budget friendly way to see Queenstown and surrounds, consider hiring a bike from one of the many shops in town. There are a huge variety of bike trails on offer - everything from white-knuckle downhill rides, to easy rides along Lake Wakatipu to cross country rides that will take you into the backcountry. We love the ride from Queenstown to Moke Lake - in only an hour or so you'll feel miles away from the crowds of Queenstown's Shotover Street. Read more about it and other mountain bike rides in New Zealand on NZByBike.com.
Chill Out in Lakeside Cafes
With an undeniably scenic location, you'd be right to expect lakeside bars and cafes on the Queenstown waterfront. There is a growing cafe scene around Queenstown that churns out some excellent coffee with better views. We suggest Vudu Cafe and Larder. These cafes all produce equally tasty lunches, however Queenstown is home a huge variety of $10 lunches found at restaurants around town. Check these out instead.
Day Trip to Arrowtown
The undeniably quaint and historic town of Arrowtown is a quick 30 minutes drive away from Queenstown. Its treelined streets are complimented by over 60 historic wood and stone buildings dating from the 1850s - the time when Arrowtown went off after the discovery of gold in the Arrow River. Arrowtown is surrounded by hills that are filled with trees whose leaves change every Autumn - arguably one of the best times to visit the historic community.
You're best off visiting later on in the afternoon when all of the tourist buses have left and the streets are only dotted with the odd Arrotown local. There are some excellent walking opportunities that leave right from town. If the weather isn't cooperating, check out the quaint Dorthy Browns cinema. Lastly, if you fancy a beer - head to the Arrowtown Brewery for some excellent locally brewed beer.
Day Trip to Glenorchy
After a couple days in busy Queenstown, you may well fancy getting a bit of a break from the crowds. Luckily, unbelievably scenic Glenorchy is only a short (and scenic) hours drive away along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. This small town is a reminder of what Queenstown might have been years ago before its adventure tourism roots began to take hold.
Glenorchy is a hamlet of a village, a place with a couple cafes, a restaurant, a pub and simply fantastic lake and mountain views. The often snow-capped Humbolts Range stands proud just across Lake Wakatipu, and the majestic mountains of Mt Aspiring National Park frame the view in the opposite direction.
Whilst there are plenty of activities on offer around Glenorchy (more jet boating, horse riding, Lord of the Rings Tours), you'd be right for just wanting to sit back and savor the views. The GY Cafe does excellent lunchs and their back garden is great spot to soak up the sun and million dollar views. If you fancy a hike, The Routeburn Track (a New Zealand Great Walk) leaves from just up the road and there are dozens of other tramping opportunities to consider.
Destination Queenstown: Final Thoughts & Recommendations
Queenstown is one of the South Islands most popular spots and a must on your trip to New Zealand. Whilst there is an undeniably outdoorsy and adventure tourism focus throughout Queenstown, slowly but surely another wave of passion is coming to town.
A diverse range of adopted Queenstown locals (inevitably drawn in by the aforementioned outdoorsy lifestyle and adventures on offer) are ensuring that Queenstown also offers a bit of culture otherwise missing in this small mountain town. In Arrowtown, there is the Film Society which meets each week over the winter months to view independent or foreign films at Dorthy Browns. In Queenstown, there are now monthly art exhibits featuring the work of Queenstown locals at local design shop come gallery Fluid. So, if you've had enough of the mountains and bungy jumps, consider checking one of these evenings out if they're on offer.