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Top 10 things to do in Queenstown
Situated in the southern region of the South Island at the edge of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is considered the adventure capital of New Zealand – some even say the world. As such, it offers nearly an overwhelming number of things to do. From more relaxing pursuits to heart-pounding thrills like sky diving and bungee diving, along with outstanding dining, a happening bar scene and a host of cultural attractions, the hardest part is deciding where to start. This city truly has it all – and, you’ll get to enjoy it among some of the most impressive scenery on the planet.
Take a walk through Queenstown’s past, present and future
Where: Belfast Street, Queenstown.
What: You don’t have to travel far to find a spectacular walk, with Queenstown surrounded by The Remarkables, an aptly named mountain range that rises dramatically, creating an awe-inspiring backdrop for the glistening waters of Lake Wakatipu. This three-hour out-and-back walk leaves right from the centre of town on Belfast Street, climbing some 1,640 feet to the summit of Te Tapuni, where hikers are rewarded with panoramic views from the top.
Highlights: This hike was created to showcase Queenstown’s past, present and future, and the area around Lake Wakatipu. Along the way, there are six informational displays that reveal the various epochs on the lake, including illustrations on the Maori settlements, the gold rush and Queenstown’s road to becoming the Adventure Capital of the World. At the top, you’ll discover the giant iron works sculpture, “Dream Basket,” creating the link into the future, as well as a 360-degree view of the area that includes the lake, the Kawarau River, Cecil Peak and The Remarkables.
Ride the Scenic Gondola for a bird’s-eye view and dine at the top of the world
Where: Brecon St, Queenstown.
What: Just five minutes from Central Queenstown and you can hop aboard the Skyline Queenstown Gondola, a mountain cable car that carries passengers high above the city to the Skyline complex where the very best views in the region await. Unfolding in a jaw-dropping panorama, you’ll see everything from The Remarkables Mountain Range and the Coronet, Cecil and Walter Peaks to Lake Wakatipu. And, while that’s worth the ride in itself, here, there’s even more to enjoy.
Highlights: At the top of the gondola ride is the Stratosfare Restaurant and Bar, which not only offers breathtaking panoramic views from each and every window, but a menu focused on iconic New Zealand fare with an international twist, as well as featuring an array of mouth-watering desserts.
Tee off on a world-class golf course surrounded by extraordinary scenery
Where: Various locations around Queenstown.
What: Queenstown is home to five world-class golf courses and its reputation as a year-round, global golf destination has been growing rapidly in recent years. Look forward to teeing off while being surrounded by majestic mountains that are framed by the crystal clear waters of Lake Wakatipu, on everything from family-friendly 9-hole golf courses to immaculately groomed 18-hole championship courses.
Highlights: While it’s hard to wrong one when choosing a course to play on in Queenstown, Jack’s Point is especially unforgettable, set along the edge of Lake Wakatipu. The glorious 18-hole course follows the natural contours of the landscape, featuring open grassland, striking rocky outcrops and precipitous bluffs that overlook the waters of the lake. This stunning terrain, combined with the impressive contemporary golf architecture, comes together to create the ultimate golf paradise.
Fill your appetite by going on a Queenstown food adventure
Where: Throughout Queenstown.
What: Queenstown boasts an increasingly popular foodie scene, with a wide range of eateries that will allow you to sample some of its best. You can dine on everything from national and local fare to a diverse array of ethnic cuisine, from French, Italian and Chinese, to Mexican, Chilean, Thai, Argentinian and more. Discover hidden gems like The Bunker, a tiny restaurant tucked into a secret alleyway behind an old wooden door, specialising in local delicacies, game and red meat, with log fires that add to the cosy ambiance. Or, step into the beautiful Lombardi at Hotel St. Moritz, which serves up astoundingly scenic views overlooking the lake and the mountains, along with local wines and delectable dishes.
Highlights: Combine a meal with an historic experience, by dining in a restaurant housed in one of the city’s historic buildings, like The Bathhouse, a former Victorian bathhouse lakeside eatery that dates to 1911. Here you can enjoy a fine meal and uninterrupted views of Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables in the original mill from a 1860's wheat farm, which was once tasked with providing nearby Arrowtown’s water and power supply. Today it serves as a setting for the award-winning Millhouse which features dishes utilising local farmers’ ingredients with a European influence, along with views over the Mill Pond.
Embark on an unforgettable guided day tour
Where: Queenstown and the Surrounding Area.
What: While there is more than enough to keep you busy in Queenstown for at least a week, there are numerous idyllic day trips throughout the surrounding area if you want to get out and explore. From the charming lakeside town of Wanaka, with its island, lake and mountain landscapes like something straight from Middle Earth, to the wine country of Central Otago and the magical scenery of Glenorchy, you’ll be spoiled for choice.
Highlights: Nestled on the northern shores of Lake Wakatipu, surrounded by imposing mountains and native beech forest, Glenorchy is just a 45-minute drive from Queenstown and serves as the ultimate paradise for outdoor enthusiasts as well as being the home of a number of settings for the “Lord of the Rings” films. One of the best experiences here is the tour of various filming locations, where you’ll see the spectacular landscapes chosen by director Peter Jackson. Seeing where those legendary scenes like the Forest of Amon Hen and the Fortress of Isengard were shot is incredibly surreal.
Cruise Lake Wakatipu
Where: Lake Wakatipu.
What: New Zealand’s third largest lake occupies a glacier-carved trench and is bordered on all sides by towering mountains, including the over 9,248-foot-hgih Mount Earnslaw. It has an unusual lightning bolt shape that results in the water rising and falling about four inches every 25 minutes or so. It’s this very phenomenon that ultimately led to the legend that the unique “tide” is actually the heartbeat of a giant monster, “Matau,” who is said to be sleeping at the lake’s bottom. One of the best ways to truly appreciate this unique lake, its striking scenery and its “monster,” is to cruise across the water, and there are a number of tours that will allow you to do just that.
Highlights: Cruising Lake Wakatipu in a restored steamship, complete with kauri timber decks, a vibrant red funnel and white hull, is an especially unforgettable way to cruise these waters and appreciate the stunning alpine scenery. Step back in time, reliving the elegance of yesteryear on the T.S.S. Earnslaw while delighting the senses, from the sounds of the steam engines hard at work to the feel of the heat from the boilers and the sight of the stokers fuelling the fire boxes, combined with the natural magnificent beauty of the region. During the excursion you can sip drinks from the bar, join in a sing-a-long around the piano and dine on a tasty meal or snack in the café.
Whiz through the forest on the world’s steepest tree-to-tree zipline
Where: Gondola Hill, Queenstown.
What: Humans have been obsessed with flight since the beginning of time – and, as we still haven’t figured out a way to grow those feathers, one of the ways to experience that sensation is by whizzing through spectacular landscapes on a zipline. This thrill really gets the heart-pounding, while providing a different perspective of the scenery and fulfilling the urge that Superman instilled in so many of us when we were young.
Highlights: For a unique ziplining experience, head to Gondola Hill and Zip Trek Ecotours, where you’ll take a ride on the mountain cable car before soaring through the forest on the world’s steepest tree-to-tree zipline. The 3-hour tour includes plummeting 30 stories down from the summit, breathing the pristine mountain air and taking in the incredible panorama of the lake and the snowy peaks of the Remarkables range. If that sounds a bit too intense, you can tone down the adrenaline a bit by choosing the two-hour course instead.
Check bungee jumping off of your adventure bucket list in the place it all began
Where: Gibbston Valley, Central Queenstown.
What: Queenstown is the place to experience bungee jumping, whether you’re a first-timer or have a long list of jumps under your belt, as this is the very place the sport was birthed. For nearly three decades now, visitors and locals alike have been have been hurling themselves off Kawarau Bridge, diving into the open space to experience the true freedom of flying while taking in some of New Zealand’s most mind-blowing views.
Highlights: The ultimate experience for any adventure bucket list, Kawarau Bridge Bungy Centre is considered The World Home of Bungee, providing the rare opportunity to take the world’s most famous leap where it all began back in 1988. Tucked within a rock face overlooking the Kawarau River, you’ll plunge more than 140 feet toward the water – and attached by your feet, you can get close enough to touch it, or even be fully dunked in if you choose to.
Experience the thrill of high speed jet boating
Where: Shotover River, Queenstown.
What: Jet boating got its start in New Zealand when it was developed to allow navigation of the shallow Canterbury rivers. Today, it offers an adventure like no other. Suitable for all levels of fitness and ages, embarking on a jet boat ride will bring you through breathtaking narrow river gorges, getting so close the watercraft nearly brushes against the sheer rock faces as you marvel at the remarkably scenic vistas.
Highlights: Less than 10 minutes from central Queenstown on an exclusive stretch of the Shotover River, the Shotover Jet provides the utmost jet boat experience, bringing passengers through the narrow canyons, taking 360-degree spins while battling against powerful currents at speeds of up to nearly 53 miles an hour in water that’s as shallow as only four inches deep. The excursion is sure to take your breath away, and the out-of-this-world scenery that looks as if it were straight from the “Lord of the Rings” is guaranteed to impress.
Soar through the Queenstown skies on a tandem skydive
Where: Shotover Street, Queenstown.
What: While bungee jumping and ziplining are a great way to experience the sensation of flight, there’s really nothing like sky diving for truly feeling like a bird. The rush is like no other and in New Zealand, you’ll get to enjoy all of that astounding scenery from a true bird’s-eye view, far above the ground, for a perspective you can only get if you’re high in the sky. From the moment that door is opened and you realise just where you are, to the initial plunge, and finally, floating among the clouds, the adventure is extraordinary.
Highlights: While skydiving itself is truly an unbeatable experience, skydiving in Queenstown arguably beats it all. NZONE Skydiving Queenstown offers this opportunity that begins with a scenic drive along Lake Wakatipu before taking participants to the drop zone, located on a working sheep farm in picturesque Jack’s Point. Just imagine free falling from 15,000 feet, embracing the fear in a tandem skydive as the plunge begins to slow, and you gaze down to see the grand peaks of the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu below.