Queenstown is as much a verb as a noun, a place of doing that likes to spruik itself as the 'adventure capital of the world'. It's famously the birthplace of bungy jumping, and the list of adventures you can throw yourself into here is encyclopedic – from alpine heliskiing to zip-lining. It's rare that a visitor leaves without having tried something that ups their heart rate, but to pigeonhole Queenstown as just a playground is to overlook its cosmopolitan dining and arts scene, its fine vineyards, and the diverse range of bars that can make evenings as fun-filled as the days.
Leap, lunge or luge here, but also find time to simply sit at the lakeside and watch the ever-dynamic play of light on the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu, creating one of the most beautiful and dramatic natural scenes in NZ.
Expect big crowds, especially in summer and winter, but also big experiences.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Queenstown.
Set on its own tongue of land framing Queenstown Bay, this pretty park is the perfect city escape right within the city. Laid out in 1876, it features an 18-'hole' frisbee golf course, a skate park, lawn-bowls club, tennis courts, Queenstown Ice Arena, mature exotic trees (including large sequoias and some fab monkey puzzles by the rotunda) and a rose garden.
Shaped like a cartoon lightning bolt, Lake Wakatipu is NZ's third-largest lake. It reaches a depth of 372m, meaning the lake bed actually sits below sea level. Five rivers flow into it but only one (the Kawarau) flows out, making it prone to sometimes dramatic floods. The lake can be experienced at any number of speeds: the classic TSS Earnslaw steamboat trip, a spin with KJet, below decks in the Time Tripper, or a shark's-eye view with Hydro Attack.
Hop aboard for fantastic views as the gondola squeezes through pine forest to its grandstand location 400m above Queenstown. At the top there's the inevitable cafe, restaurant, souvenir shop and observation deck, as well as the Queenstown Bike Park, Skyline Luge, Ledge Bungy, Ledge Swing, GForce Paragliding and Ziptrek Ecotours. At night there are stargazing tours (including gondola, adult/child $99/54).
These 2 hectares are home to 10,000 native plants, geckos, skinks, tuatara (an endemic reptile) and scores of birds, including kiwi, kea (alpine parrots), kārearea (NZ falcons), kākāriki (parakeets) and the endangered whio (blue ducks). Stroll around the aviaries, watch the conservation show and tiptoe quietly into the darkened kiwi houses. Kiwi feedings take place five times a day.
Peregrine by name, peregrine by design…the award-winning construction of the cellar door, shaped a bit like a falcon's wing in flight, looks particularly modern sat beside the old Kawarau Station woolshed and shearers' quarters. There are free tastings of six wines, and you can take a stroll through the adjoining barrel room.
This pretty Anglican church, built in 1932 from local greywacke stone, has colourful stained glass and an impressive gilded and painted organ. Take a look at the eagle-shaped cedar lectern, carved and donated in 1874 by John Ah Tong, a Chinese immigrant.
Located in the old underwater observatory beneath the main pier, this 30-minute experience promises a journey back in time, explaining Lake Wakatipu's geology and mythology by way of a 30-minute animation, after which the screen lifts so that you can peer through the windows at the lake life. Large brown trout abound, and look out for freshwater eels and scaup ducks.