15 things to do in Queenstown
You feel the unique energy straight off. Queenstown’s stunning scenery leads to an incredible array of activities for travellers and locals alike. Innovative entrepreneurs and unique topography have made this mountain town the ‘adventure capital of the world’.
A seemingly endless list of adventures await you in this paradise, from bungy jumping off bridges to relaxing in your own private hot pool with a spectacular view.
Everywhere you look, Queenstown overdelivers. The cliffs are higher, the boats are faster, and the slopes are world class. It’s a destination to covet. So don’t delay your visit to this New Zealand wonderland. And while you’re there, try out a few of these can’t-miss activities:
1. Scale a mountain peak at Ben Lomond
A hiker’s paradise by any measure, Queenstown can satisfy even the heartiest tramper’s appetite for challenge and breathtaking views. Take the Ben Lomond Track, for example. With spectacular 360 views of Queenstown and glistening Lake Wakatipu, this full-day hike climbs 1,428 metres on a track that winds through forests and fields of delicate wildflowers.
Insider tip: Pack warm clothes for the summit, even on a sunny day in January.
2. Slice down the Remarkables slopes
Whether you’re a world-class boarder or a first-time skier, you’ll find your perfect snow at the Remarkables. A quick 40-minute drive from central Queenstown, the Remarkables Ski Area reserves plenty of space for beginners but also dedicates hills for freestyle. If the sunny North faces and friendly atmosphere weren’t enough, the area offers some of the most spectacular alpine views in the world.
Insider tip: If you need to hire ski gear whilst you’re visiting, there are plenty of places in town that will deliver your equipment to your accommodation to save you waiting in queue at a store.
3. Zipline through the pristine mountain air
Feel the breeze on your face as you whoosh from tree to tree. Nothing beats a ride on a zipline through the sumptuous tree canopy. As you soar over beautiful Queenstown, marvel at sparkling Lake Wakatipu and the majestic Remarkables mountain range. Ziptrek Ecotour offer tours for all ages, confidence levels and abilities, providing a fun day out for the whole family.
Insider tip: Leave backpacks and personal items at your lodgings, as you won’t be able to take them with you on the tour. Alternatively, you can store your bags at their booking office in town.
4. Walk around photogenic Lake Wakatipu
Queenstown’s beauty and grandeur shine as you walk the shoreline of Lake Wakatipu. With the massive Remarkables mountain range standing guard, the lake reflects the exquisite sights on the path, such as the pristine beech forest and ever-present black-billed gulls. If you walk with a guide, ask about the Maori legend about how the lake was formed. Hint: the lake is shaped like a giant curled up on his side.
Insider tip: Start your walk either at Earnslaw Park or Queenstown Gardens, and follow the signs to the lake.
5. Take a Scenic Drive to Glenorchy
At the head of Lake Wakatipu sits a charming little town. It’s so scenic, in fact, that Peter Jackson used it as the backdrop to several dramatic scenes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Black swans and snow-covered peaks aside, you’ll love the overall harmony and solitude of the place. On a clear day, the mountains’ reflections create a heaven-and-earth view right there in front of you as you explore.
Insider tip: Continue your road trip to Paradise or Kinloch (or both!) for more breathtaking scenery.
6. Bungy over Queenstown
Home of the world’s first bungy, Queenstown is the quintessential place for adrenaline junkies. Back in 1988, a modest 43m jump off the Kawarau Bridge unleashed something magical, and Kiwis soon realised they’d started a worldwide phenomenon. Today, you can still bungy off Kawarau Bridge (including water touches and tandem jumps!), but the options have expanded enormously.
Insider tip: Double up on adrenaline by riding the world’s biggest swing after your jump.
7. Shotover jet boat ride up the river
Known as the Kimiākau to the Maori, the Shotover River twists and undulates through dramatic rocky canyons. Only the Ngāi Tahu, the Māori people of this land, have access to the spectacular Shotover Canyons, and they offer thrilling jet boat rides up the wild mountain river. Expect an adrenaline rush as you careen up the canyon and experience 360-degree spins.
Insider tip: Don’t wear anything (such as a hat or glasses) that could get blown off you.
8. Travel back in time with a visit to Arrowtown
The 1862 gold rush put Arrowtown on the map. Within weeks of the initial discovery, this picturesque mountain town was home to 1,000 miners. Today, hometown pubs and unique shops invite visitors and locals to slow down and reminisce about a simpler time. Soak in the rich historical ambience and pick up some quintessential New Zealand gifts.
Insider tip: Satisfy your sweet tooth at the Willy Wonka-esque Remarkable Sweet Shop for all your favourite lollies.
9. Take the gondola up the mountain and luge down
Ride Queenstown’s iconic gondola for magnificent panoramic views of the city and surrounding peaks. As if that weren’t enough, you can take the luge from the top, speeding through the downhill courses. Buy a multi-trip ticket so you can repeat the luge runs again and again.
Insider tip: Kids need to be at least six years old to ride the Luge, but younger ones can ride tandem with an adult so they don’t miss out on the fun.
10. Tour the local wineries
Queenstown’s microclimate is perfect for growing grapes, so vineyards and wineries have sprung up outside the city. One of the best-known wineries, Gibbston Valley offers information-rich tours and delicious samples. Stroll around the well-kept vineyards and remarkable wine cave. Collect handmade wares, wine-infused chocolates and custom glassware at the gift shop.
Insider tip: Make a day of winery-hopping with stops at Peregrine, Amisfield and Chard Farm as well.
11. Stay for a spell at the Cardrona Hotel
They say it’s the most photographed building in New Zealand, and it’s probably true. The Cardrona Hotel is one of just two remaining buildings from the valley’s gold rush era. Today, the hotel performs the same functions it did in the 1860s: travellers sleep in its comfortable rooms and feast on delicious pub food. The hotel is situated between Queenstown and Wanaka on the spectacular Crown Range Road.
Insider tip: Bring your swimsuit for the hot tub.
12. Soak in the Queenstown hot pools
With all the hiking, bungy jumping and ziplining in Queenstown, you may need a day to relax. Say hello to the Onsen Hot Pools. Set in a lofty valley over the Shotover riverbed, the hot pools command a view of the mountains and crystal clear water below. You can book a private hot tub with unbelievable vistas and soak your tired muscles while sipping bubbly and nibbling chips and chocolate.
Insider tip: Take the complimentary shuttle bus from town.
13. Dance the night away
With all the backpackers in Queenstown, the nightlife is pretty variable. You locate just about any vibe you’re looking for, from rock and hip hop to jazz and open mic. For gourmet pizza and a considerable crowd, try Winnies (located on The Mall). Catch local live music at the Vinyl Underground, or pump up the hip hop at Rhinos Ski Shack.
Insider tip: Stop in at one of Queenstown’s ice bars, but don’t forget your coat!
14. Cruise up the sound
Take a Milford Sound nature cruise to see untouched wilderness and crashing waterfalls, feel the spray of a waterfall on your face. Listen to the curious chirps of the Yellow-Crowned Kakariki. Marvel at the fiord’s incomprehensible sheer rock faces.
Cruises leave from Queenstown, Milford Sound and Te Anau every day.
Insider tip: Some of the cruise ships only accept cash for the purchase of food and drinks.
15. Eat a Fergburger
If you see a line of people anxiously waiting on Shotover Street in Queenstown, you know you’re getting close to Ferburger, the city’s favourite burger joint. And it’s worth the hype, with menu items including the ‘Chief Wiggum’, ‘Cockadoodle Oink’ and ‘Holier Than Thou’. Thanks to it’s popularity, it’s now open 21 hours a day, and the team behind it has expanded their brand to the Ferg Bakery (for pies and sweet treats) and Mrs Ferg (for gelato).
Insider tip: Ring up ahead of time, place your order, and then show up when they tell you to.
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