Queenstown: Top 10 Things to See, Do and Experience

DestinationThe Motutapu Track near Queenstown, New Zealand

Why is Queenstown called Southern Hemisphere’s adventure hotspot? New Zealand by itself is a world-famous destination; but what makes this little town as renowned? Well, we started counting 10 of our favourite activities and experiences to soak in when in Queenstown – and let us be honest, we had to chop a fair few to keep it to 10. Let’s go…

Skyline Gondola: A Bird’s Eye View of Queenstown!

The Skyline Gondola in Queenstown
The Skyline Gondola in Queenstown

For first timers, it’s an excellent way to get a lay of the land and marvel at the beauty of this hill town. The snow-covered tips of the Remarkables mountain range, Walter and Cecil Peaks, forest-covered slopes and the glittering lake Wakatipu below make for a jaw-dropping sight every time, regardless if you’ve come here once or the 10th time. Whether you’re going as a solo tourist, family with kids (which is particularly great!), adventurer to scope out the next peak to conquer or as a couple; as the cable car climbs up, the feeling of je ne sais quoi is just priceless. Then, half the fun of going up is sliding down – on luge! We don’t know about you, but once isn’t just enough for us. After a few car-rides up and a few super-fun slide downs, there’s nothing which hits the spot as good as the restaurant at the top of the mountain, called Stratosfare. We thoroughly approve the pun! Oh, true blue adventure aficionados have the choice of paragliding down. 

Arrowtown: New Zealand’s Town o’ Gold!

The River Arrow and its walking trails.
The River Arrow and its walking trails.

A day spent at the old gold mining town of Arrowtown is a great glimpse into how the old-timey prospectors and adventurers struck it rich with gold under the Otago hills. Arrowtown was built to service the prospectors; but when the mine ran out, the prospectors went away, leaving the husk of a vibrant, colourful town. Now, time, nature, and the people(!) have restored the historic town’s beauty. Travellers can check out the stores, the houses, the old mining trails, the tussocky hillsides and beauty of the Arrow River over a day. Or days. 

Bungy jumping!

'Canyon swinging' over the Shotover River.
‘Canyon swinging’ over the Shotover River.

As some experienced locals like to point out, New Zealand is one of the rarest countries where the most excellent hospitality is mixed with activities like throwing tourists off mountains and bridges. Yes, still true.

This is where modern, commercial bungy jumping was first conceptualised and executed. In fact, adventure lovers can go jump from the exact same bridge where the sport all started – the Kawarau Bungy Bridge! And it’s just a hop and a skip away from Queenstown. We’re not going to write much about it as it’s better experienced than explained – not that there is much explaining required, either. Tie rope to waist, jump, repeat as required. There are plenty more spots even more scenic (and daring!) than Kawarau, but as a historical point, this is where it all started. It’s kind of a big deal, y’know…

Visit the Lakes District Museum

Argued to be New Zealand’s best small museum, the Lakes District Museum offers travellers an insight into the social and cultural history of the Wakatipu region. From shining a light into the life of the original Maori inhabitants to the hardships faced by the New World pioneers, it’s an engrossing kaleidoscope of colour, historical titbits, artwork, and archives. Not to be missed. We believe that visiting a new country is more than getting the old passport stamped and ‘grams, like knowing how a culture got shaped.

Hiking: Tramping along to discover 

Who wouldn’t go for a tramp here, really? Pic: Nick Wall/ Tourism New Zealand

Queenstown has several excellent hiking and cycling trails, ranging from easy, walk in the park level all the way to only-trained-mountaineers skill level. One of the most popular trails would be the Queenstown cycling trail which takes travellers over 120 km – through countryside, past lakes, traversing routes taken by the pioneers over two centuries ago and plenty of modern-day wineries and cafes because eating and drinking well is important while on a holiday! But our personal favourite would be the Mount Crichton Loop Circuit hike, which can be done in just 2-4 hours. It will take travellers into the forests, visiting one of the authentic prospector huts, past the gold mining trail and the beautiful Arrow River. Oh oh oh, and you can pan for gold along the Arrow river! All you need is a panning tray, which is available for rent at an absurd rate of $3 for an hour or a day, and some luck. The latter you got to bring along with you, they don’t rent it out.

Melt into an Onsen Hot Pool

Hot water tub at Onsen pools, Queenstown.
The hot water tub, the view… all you need are some tea-lights and a pot of stepping herbal tea.

Because after all that tramping and cycling, we need to clean off and smell nice. And what better way to do all that and pamper ourselves with a hot soak at the Onsen Hot Pool. We think it’s a positively sinful experience – hot tub, fantastic views of the mountain before your eyes and a cuppa of hot herb-infused tea within easy reach. Filled and refilled, of course. 

LOTR Tours

Yes, Lord of the Rings was shot here. Big whoop, everybody knows it… but would you give up a chance to visit Ithilien, Isengard or Amon Hen? Or the Lothlorien Forest? Yeah, we thought so too. It’s better to give in and tick off the bucket list.

Fine dining and gourmet spreads

What holiday would be complete without a tummy-busting array of good food and drinks? And Queenstown does the country proud, you’ll see. Within easy reach of wineries who’re ready to take travellers on a wine tasting tour of world-class Rieslings, Pinot Grigios, Pinot Noir and Chards, along with a groan-inducing complement of cheeses, travellers will realise eating and drinking well in Queenstown comes with serious control issues. There are restaurants dedicated to gourmet burgers, iconic fish-n-chips joints, where simple meals of veggies and meats are made epic with a sinful smothering of raclette goodness. Oh, we can go on, but you’d hate us or start chewing the screen.

Take a leisurely cruise across Lake Wakatipu 

The Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, New Zealand
The Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, New Zealand

Why not? It’s right there, an azure pool of shimmering waters surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It’s a no-stress, chill experience and we’d recommend it for all travellers. 

Queenstown: New Zealand’s Wild Child!

Jet-boating at Shotover River.
Where jet-boating all started – at Shotover River. This is the OG daddy of them all!

Let’s not forget what’s the biggest draw of this beautiful town. Well, the above is true too, but… Queenstown is this country’s Valhalla for adrenaline-junkies. Adventure is what runs in this town’s veins and there’s a tonne of half of activities to indulge in for thrill-seekers from all over the world. Besides bungy-jumping, there is jetboating which was also started here as a sport and a travel attraction. Slaloming down the Shotover River’s rocky canyons in a very red, jet-powered boat is a thrill like no other. Then, skydiving is a major draw, too. Floating over the Remarkables is a treat for the eyes and the soul. There’s gliding/ soaring too, besides rock-climbing, snowboarding, heli-skiing, quad-bike tours, off-road safaris, white water rafting, mountain biking and more!

So, there you go. A small list of reasons why Queenstown is a must-visit on anyone’s New Zealand holiday. Whether you’re a first-time traveller, honeymooning in New Zealand, a silver generational tour of this country or just soloing your way across – Queenstown is South Hemisphere’s heart of adventure.

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