Enveloped in majestic mountains and set on the banks of crystal clear Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown in the Otago region truly is nature’s playground. The natural beauty of the town and the warm, welcoming atmosphere creates the perfect backdrop for a weekend getaway or extended holiday.
Modern Queenstown owes its rich culture to its fascinating past. The city’s Māori influence emerges everywhere. In fact, in Māori mythology, Lake Wakatipu materialised when the imprint of a sleeping giant was flooded.
During the 19th century, gold miners flocked to Queenstown, bringing a spirit of adventure and entrepreneurship with them. Clearly, their sense of adventure remains firmly intact in Queenstown. The world’s first bungy jumper launched a worldwide craze when he jumped off Kawarau Bridge and converted a new generation of adrenalin junkies.
Today, Queenstown is a friendly, history-rich, adventure land – the perfect place to play, rejuvenate and relax.
Must-visit towns around Queenstown
Glimpse Queenstown’s fascinating yesteryear with a visit to charming Arrowtown, a living history settlement along the gold-rich Arrow River. Though the gold rush days are long gone, visitors can wander around the restored cottages built by prospectors in the 1860s. More than 60 cottages remain, and you can even try your hand at panning for gold in the crisp, cold waters of the Arrow River.
Nestled on the pristine shores of northern Lake Wakatipu, Glenorchy resembles a fantasy land. Perhaps that’s why it has served as the spectacular backdrop for scenes shot for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Chronicles of Narnia film series. Escape the hustle and bustle of Queenstown, and spend your time in magical “Middle Earth” exploring scenic hiking trails and the banks of the Dart River.
Just a 50-minute drive from Queenstown, Wanaka is set against the exhilarating backdrop of Mount Aspiring National Park. Visit in winter to chase powder at Cardrona or Treble Cone, some of the country’s best ski resorts. Visit in summer to hike or bike the many beautiful trails that envelop the town. Prefer to sit back and relax? Wanaka is teeming with excellent eateries and has a boutique cinema where you can catch a movie sat inside a Morris Minor.
Milford Sound is up there with one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and the scenic 2-hour journey from Te Anau will take your breath away! Book a cruise to explore the fjords and discover dolphins, seals, cascading waterfalls, towering peaks and the country’s most awe-inspiring scenery. Remember to take a waterproof jacket, its also one of the wettest areas of New Zealand and the weather can be unpredictable. This doesn’t usually deter a cruise from setting off – some say it’s even more magical beneath a shower of rain.
Festivals and events
Plan your next holiday to Queenstown around one of its many events or festivals.
Rhythm and Alps Music Festival (December-January)
Join thousands of other music enthusiasts at the annual Rhythm and Alps Music Festival over New Year’s Eve. This growing event brings local, national and international talent to the stage. Music fans have the double pleasure of listening to their favourite tunes while soaking up the ambience of the gorgeous Cardrona Valley surrounded by the Southern Alps.
Wanaka A&P Show (March)
For the very best of town and country, pay a visit to the Wanaka A&P Show. In the shadow of the majestic Southern Alps, the show features farming, animals, delicious local cuisine, equestrian exhibitions, and abundant wines and boutique beers. It’s a family-friendly festival with plenty of live entertainment for all.
Akarua Arrowtown Autumn Festival (April)
For more than 30 years, the Akarua Arrowtown Autumn Festival has brought people together for old-fashioned fun, including an entertaining dog show, the colourful parade and market day, an art exhibition, and the iconic gold panning championship. Don’t forget to buy a ticket for the duck race and watch it float down the river, hopefully securing you the trophy!
What to pack
Queenstown tends to enjoy a temperate climate, with moderate rainfall and plenty of sunshine, but temperatures can drop below freezing, so it’s important to pack seasonally. Here are some of the essentials you’ll need:
- Sunscreen, sunglasses, a sunhat and lip protection for the warmer months
- A raincoat and umbrella for the cooler months
- Full snow gear if visiting in winter (June-August)
- Bug spray (especially if you’ll be hiking or camping)
- Layers of clothing to cope with the variety of temperatures
- A comfy pair of walking shoes/hiking boots for exploring the trails
- A refillable water bottle – the summer sun can be very dehydrating
- A bathing suit if you plan to brave the lake or warm up in the hot pools
- A comfortable backpack for day trips
- A camera to capture all your outdoor adventures
So many sights, so much to do. But how will you get from place to place?
Flying into Queenstown from Auckland
The flight from Auckland to Queenstown is one of the most scenic trips you can take! For the best views, select a seat on the left-hand side of the plane. On a clear day you’ll be able to take in Mount Taranaki, the incredible views across the Southern Alps, the glaciers along the South Island’s west coast, and the magic of Queenstown as you make the descent.
Renting a car
For those who prefer to explore Queenstown’s unmatched scenery on their own terms, renting a vehicle may suit you best. With the airport right on the edge of the city’s centre, there are multiple options for car hire. Many companies will collect visitors from the airport and shuttle them over to the rental offices to pick up the vehicle. It’s important to read up on road conditions and have the necessary equipment in the boot (such as snow chains), if you’re visiting in the winter months.
Public bus network
To use Queenstown’s handy public bus network, purchase a Go card and then top up your balance as needed. If you have cash, you can buy your card directly from your coach driver. Otherwise, purchase your card at the Camp Street station kiosk.
Cycle on the Queenstown Trail
If you would prefer to explore Queenstown on two wheels, hire a bike and hop on the Queenstown Trail network. Download the Great Rides app for elevation profiles, photos, maps and offline tracking using mobile GPS.
There are several shuttle buses that transport visitors from the airport to various destinations every day. Whether you’re headed to Wanaka, Glenorchy or another incredible destination, you can probably find a shuttle to suit your needs.
- Book accommodation early during the peak seasons (summer and winter)
- If you plan to visit the Onsen Hot Pools, book these a few months in advance to avoid disappointment
- Dining out in Queenstown isn’t always cheap, so if you’re travelling on a budget, consider renting accommodation with cooking facilities
- There is free Wi-Fi available in downtown Queenstown (specifically The Mall, Earnslaw Park, Beach Street and The Village Green)
- Buy comprehensive travel insurance to protect yourself from unexpected events
- Central Otago has little light pollution, making it an incredible place for star gazing, so make the most of clear nights and head outside to spot shooting stars
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