Why does Queenstown appear at the very top of the list of the many and wonderful destinations to visit on a New Zealand vacation? The answer is probably because of the exceptional variety of attractions and activities available to suit all visitors. What are they exactly? In brief, stunning scenery, diverse outdoor activities, easy access to other interesting nearby places, excellent accommodation facilities, and so much more. Given its prime location and ideal setting, in the South Island, amidst some of the world’s best scenic beauty, it is easy to see why Queenstown is New Zealand’s most popular destination.
Queenstown is built around the crystal clear waters of Lake Wakatipu, and is surrounded by majestic mountains – the tallest being Mount Earnslaw at 2820 metres/9160 feet.
Cruising on Lake Wakatipu is a Must-Do
Just strolling around town can be satisfying. However, why not consider some of the following activities to really embrace what Queenstown has to offer. For the average visitor, the first thing to do would be to head to the lake and jump on the iconic steamship, the TSS Earnslaw, and take a cruise around the lake. This is not your usual cruise vessel. It was built in 1912 and looks like it. However, the “Lady of the Lake”, as it is known, is a long standing traditional way of viewing the spectacular Alpine scenery, which includes the unusual but aptly named The Remarkables – a mountain range and skifield in the area of Otago, as well as Walter Peak and Cecil Peak.
Queenstown Lake Cruise Dining (Dinner)
Want to be More Active?
Queenstown boasts over 200 adventure tourism activities. These include skiing and snowboarding, jet boating, whitewater rafting, bungy jumping, mountain biking, skateboarding, tramping, paragliding, sky diving, and fly fishing. Phew!
Let’s start with skiing. There are 4 main ski fields and cross country skiing is also available. The slopes cater to learners, families, and advanced skiers and snowboarders, with one of the longest seasons in the Southern Hemisphere, running from early June until early October.
Queenstown is known as the “World Home of Bungy Jumping”, and is actually the birthplace of this activity. If you want an adrenaline rush, try the country’s highest bungy jump here.
Let’s Slow Down a Bit
You can try a ride on the Skyline Queenstown, a gondola that takes you up to a restaurant perched on Bob’s Peak, where you can have a midday or evening meal, while enjoying amazing scenic views over Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables. Or, experience a literal, birds-eye view of the landscapes around Queenstown, on a scenic flight over mountains, fjords, and lakes. It would really give you a true perspective of the geographical layout of the region.
Interested in walking or hiking? Queenstown offers a wide range of walking tracks and trails for all levels of fitness. You can choose from a short, local, day-long, or even multi-day walking trek, a guided hike, or an independent walking trip. It’s all here. In short, Queenstown is a walker’s and hiker’s paradise, with its great diversity of natural beauty, river valleys, waterfalls, and mountains – all with numerous photographic opportunities. There are a number of outstanding walks in the area including the challenging Rees and Dart Track, which winds through river valleys and is enclosed by towering mountains. Within the beech forest part of this walk, chances are, you could be greeted by some of the local bird life such as the mohua, kaka, kakariki, or even the cheeky kea (mountain parrots).
The Moonlight Track is another great option if you would like something more challenging. It is a one day rugged hike which is 15 kilometres/9 miles long.
Lake Wakatipu offers year-round trout fishing. The mouths of the Greenstone and Lochy Rivers are particularly rewarding. In summer, the lake’s beaches are popular for swimming.
Let’s not forget the golfers. Queenstown’s six spectacular golf courses, all located within a 25 minute drive from the centre of town, make Queenstown a great golfing destination. Imagine playing a round with a backdrop of rugged mountain peaks.
Après Activity Activities
Queenstown lies close to the centre of a small wine producing region, reputed to be the world’s southernmost. Known in particular for its Pinot Noir, Queenstown, and nearby Gibbston Valley, are home to over 75 wineries producing a wide range of wine varieties.
Many Queenstown wineries have cellar door tastings and several have excellent winery restaurants, meaning you can drop in for a taste or enjoy a delicious meal with a glass of your favourite local wine. One such place is the Two Paddocks vineyard, owned by local actor, Sam Neill.
Shopping? You can view and purchase local arts and crafts at any of Queenstown’s galleries, studios, or weekly craft markets. Queenstown also boasts shopping on an international scale with luxury brands, iconic New Zealand design stores, souvenirs, clothing, and adventure equipment all available.
The Queenstown Winter Festival kicks off with a bang in June every year to celebrate the arrival of winter. Throughout the season, you will find world-class film festivals, ski and snowboard events including the biennial New Zealand Winter Games. There is a Bike Festival every March/April, and a Jazz Festival in October.
Milford Sound, one of New Zealand’s most popular day trip destinations, is a fiord found within Fjordland National Park. One of the best places to enjoy a New Zealand cruise, it offers wildlife and various water activities.
Nearby Arrowtown, 21 kilometres/13 miles from Queenstown, has a village feel and charming tree-lined streets. It sits alongside the gold-bearing Arrow River, and there are still several signs of its gold rush days. The town was established in 1862 during the height of the Otago Gold Rush. The settlement grew quickly as pioneers constructed cottages, shops, hotels, and churches – more than 60 of which can still be seen today. Arrowtown is also known for its trees and spectacular fall colours and activities. You could start your visit at the Lakes District Museum & Gallery, a treasure trove of stories and exhibits from the early Maori, through the early pioneering days to the exciting mining era of the late 1800s. There is the Arrowtown Chinese Village, which tells the story of the early Chinese miners who lived and worked here in the 19th century. Arrowtown is renowned for its café and restaurant scene.
Surrounded by magnificent snow-capped mountains, pristine lakes and rivers, ancient beech forests and national parks, the frontier town of Glenorchy is a popular tourist spot. It is a small settlement at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu, approximately 45 kilometres/29 miles from Queenstown, and lies near the borders of Mount Aspiring National Park and Fjordland National Park. Some of the activities that can be experienced in or near Glenorchy include canyoning, fly fishing, jet boating, horse riding, kayaking, mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, skydiving, and boating. The local scenery was used as one of the settings in the first of the Lord of the Rings films, The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).
Fresh clean air, dramatic scenery, and a wide range of activities to partake in… what more can be asked for on a visit to Queenstown?