People flock from all over the world to enjoy the vast array of outdoor activities available on this amazing mountainous expanse. The town is located by Lake Wakatipu (77km long), the second largest in New Zealand, and rises up to the aptly named Remarkables. It is one of the most picturesque and exciting towns in the world, and only a complete halfwit would neglect to have Queenstown in their itinerary.
During the 1860s Queenstown was taken over by gold miners who had been lured to the area by the discovery of gold on the banks of the Shotover River. Digging further into local history, it is believed that the Maori once had a settlement in Queenstown before being forced off the land by the invading Europeans.
Today the town is a bustling treasure trove of excitement and action. Queenstown is right at the top of the backpacking canon and travellers often – rightly – spend a long time here, working hard and partying harder.
Queenstown is blessed by having its airport only a stone’s throw away from the centre of town – that’s if you can throw a stone six kilometres. You can catch the airport shuttle bus from right outside for just $5. Also pick up a copy of TNTMagazine New Zealand at the airport for information on accommodation, maps, tours and places of interest.
Shortly after arriving you’ll realise everything is in walking distance. With most adventure activities, the price will include transportation to and from town. The Queenstown Visitor Information Centre is located at 37 Shotover Street, Ph: +64 3 442 7935.
There are hostels-a-plenty in Queenstown, each with their own unique vibe. You should have no problem in finding a place to stay, as long as you book ahead in the busier times of year. TNTMagazine New Zealand lists a directory of hostels in Queenstown to choose from. If you’re looking for more long-term accommodation, pick up a free copy of Mountain Scene, which comes out every Thursday and has a property section.
Your adrenal glands won’t know what hit them after a visit to Queenstown. You’ll spend half your time wandering around nervously thinking about the next shit-scary activity you’re going to do, and the rest on a natural high about what you just did. Whatever you choose, you certainly won’t forget your time in Queenstown.
Bungy jumping: This is one of the most popular activities in town and one that’s sure to get your heart and pulse racing each other at very high speeds. The Kawarau suspension bridge was the world’s first commercial bungy site and dangles precariously some 43 metres above the river below. There’s an observation deck from which you can watch others risk life and limb and take the plunge. The Skippers Canyon bridge is a whopping 72 metres above the water and is located in one of the most beautiful sites in New Zealand. There’s also the Ledge, from the top of the gondola, with a great view over the town, and the Nevis, a 134-metre plunge from a suspended cable car. Anyone who says they’re not scared is a liar liar pants on fire.
Jet boating: A true New Zealand experience, hoon around on a jet-propelled boat, caressing the ragged mountainside and spinning around more often than Kylie in the process. There’s really nothing to compare to this white-knuckle ride where you thrash around at speeds up to 70kph along some beautiful scenery.
Skiing: Queenstown is a winter paradise and one of its main attractions is skiing – in winter that is. Just 28km out of town, The Remarkables are truly remarkable, with three lifts, ski hire and lessons. But the best run can be found at Coronet Peak (18km from town), a 600-metre freefall down a stainless steel toboggan track.
Skydiving: Queenstown is also a great place to indulge in one of New Zealand’s other favourite pump-action adrenaline activities – skydiving. Freefall thousands of feet over the Remarkables. It’s bloody spectacular.
Skyline Gondola and Luge: Head up the Remarkables – check out the sheep precariously positioned on the mountainside on the way up – and check out the stunning views. Head down the same way, or take the quick route, via the luge. Fast, furious and not for delicate sorts.
Shotover River Canyon: Take a speedy jetboat tour through the high-walled canyon, get your rocks off with a spot of bungy jumping, or have a go at the new canyon swing, 109m over the river.
Parabungy: One minute you’re hanging 180 metres up – the next you’re plunging rapidly towards the water. Screaming, probably.
Whitewater rafting: One of the best places to go rafting in Queenstown is on the powerful Kawarau River. All the rivers are graded from one to six, according to their level of difficulty, with one being easiest and six “unraftable”. Kawarau is a four, and the nearby Shotover River a five.
TSS Earnslaw cruise: On nearby Lake Wakatipu, the vintage TSS Earnslaw has been beautifully restored to its original condition and takes visitors on daily trips.
Vineyards: Close to Queenstown are the Gibbston Valley and Chard Farm vineyards. Don’t miss historic Arrowtown with its quaint, tree-lined streets, miners cottages and the High Street preserved as they were during the 19th Century gold rush era, just a 20 minutes drive away.
Walks: If the thought of adrenalin coursing through your veins is not your scene but you still want to catch the views on offer, then walk up Queenstown Hill or stroll along the banks of the lake. Just out of town is Glenorchy, which has some of the best walks in the area. The Greenstone Valley walk follows a trail marked out by the Maori and passes through some absolutely beautiful scenery. The Routeburn Walk is more of a challenge – three days long, locals say it outshines the Milford Track.
Out on the town
The only thing to match the rush during a day’s activities in Queenstown are the night time antics. Famed for its nightlife of drinking and dancing, you’ll find yourself drinking shots at 3am before you know what’s hit you. There are loads of backpacker bars with cheap drinks, pool tables and cheesy music and they get busier as the night goes on. The clubs carry on after the pubs close, with DJs spinning da wheels of steel ’til the early hours.
To get in the know as far as nightlife goes when you get to Queenstown, pick up a brochure called The Source. It has a weekly gig and venue listing.
From Queenstown kitchens waft the tantalising smells of Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Lebanese, Thai, Korean, American, and of course, Pacific Rim New Zealand cuisine. In summer, adding a distinctly continental ambience to the resort, streets and balconies are crowded with al fresco diners, catching the last of the day’s rays or enjoying the warm evening air. In winter many restaurants have log fires. There is a food court in O’Connell’s Shopping Centre where you will find international dishes to suit the backpacker budget. There is also a collection of fine dining establishments in The Steamer Wharf offering everything from cheap, quick snacks to full three-course meals. For more info on the area and activities, check out www.queenstown-nz.co.nz
A well-preserved little gold mining town which appears to be stuck in a time warp, Arrowtown is 20km north-east of Queenstown. The old sycamore trees dropping their leaves on the quaint little houses and shops on the main street are a picturesque sight in Autumn.
Don’t miss the former Chinese Settlement, at the western end of town featuring some of the Chinese miners’ preserved huts.