Things to Do in Queenstown
Surrounded by mountains and shrouded in legend, Lake Wakatipu and its crystal waters draw visitors as the longest lake on New Zealand's South Island. As a popular spot for adventure activities—from fishing to catamaran cruises—a day on Lake Wakatipu is arguably the highlight of any trip to Queenstown and the Otago region.
Coronet Peak is New Zealand’s oldest ski field and remains a popular choice for people heading to the slopes during the southern hemisphere’s ski season. Snow bunnies can take to one of the ski field’s many trails, while sightseers can enjoy the stunning views of the Wakatipu Basin and the Southern Alps from the summit of the peak.
Rising 141 feet (42 meters) above the turquoise waters of dramatic Kawarau Gorge, no attraction is more iconic to Queenstown than the historic Kawarau Suspension Bridge. Most thrill-seekers know that the bridge is the site of the world's first commercial bungee jump. It’s still possible to leap from a platform suspended from the bridge where it all began.
Looming over nearby Queenstown, the Remarkables are a formidable mountain range and one of New Zealand’s most popular ski fields. The Remarkables Ski Area has a wide range of exciting slopes and runs for skiers and snowboarders people of all ages and skill levels. Warm weather sees adventure here too, with hiking and biking trails galore.
Arguably one of Queenstown’s best hikes, Queenstown Hill is home to the popular Queenstown Hill Time Walk, where informative placards provides an overview of Queenstown’s fascinating history. To native Maori, this hill was known as Te Tapu Nui, or mountain of intense sacredness, which makes sense considering the epic views you’ll get from the top.
Climbing over 1,500 feet in only 1.5 miles, the steep climb is rewarded by views looking out over Lake Wakatipu, as well as The Remarkables and Southern Alps that are often snowcapped in the distance.
Aside from hiking, ATV and quad bike tours are a popular way to visit, which crisscross over 15 miles of off-road trails on the hill.
Hang on tight! Skyline Queenstown affords the city’s best views, but the gondola ride isn’t for the faint of heart. Zipping up 1,475 feet (450 meters) to the top of Bob’s Peak takes about 10 minutes aboard the steepest gondola in the southern hemisphere. En route, enjoy 220-degree vistas of Queenstown, the Remarkables, Coronet Peak, and Lake Wakatipu. At the top, dine at the mountaintop Stratosfare Restaurant and Bar amid panoramic views while the Skyline Luge track—with two steepness options, one easy enough for kids—sends adventurous riders screaming on their return trip to the mountain’s base.
Not far from Queenstown, Kawarau River offers a variety of thrill-seeking possibilities including jet boating, whitewater rafting, and riverboarding. Alternatively, visitors can go off-road into the surrounding hills during an all-terrain quad bike tour or try bungee jumping from the Kawarau Suspension Bridge. There’s something for history buffs too, who come to check out the gold-miners’ huts and relics from the river’s gold-rush days.
In a town that runs on non-stop adrenaline, sometimes it’s nice to simply slow down, relax, and catch your breath. Set minutes outside of downtown Queenstown, Queenstown Gardens is the perfect spot for a relaxing moment of tranquility, where walking paths hug the shore of the lake, and flowers burst with brilliant color from spring through early fall.
Horticulturists will appreciate the wealth of native and indigenous plants, and joggers will love the network of trails that weave across 36 acres. Even if it’s just stopping to play on the rope swings, or feed the ducks at the pond, Queenstown Gardens is a place where families can find some free entertainment. It’s also a popular place to spend an hour riding a bike, or visit as part of a Segway tour of central Queenstown sights. Of all the different flowers in the park, it’s easily the roses that get the most attention when they begin to bloom in the spring, engulfing whole hillsides in blankets of color as fountains splash in the distance. You’ll also find two memorials in the garden, one of which honors Robert Falcon Scott and his team that died in Antarctica, and the other commemorates the city’s first settlers, who arrived in 1860.
The Hollyford Track might not have the profile of Fiordland’s Great Walks, but it’s no less impressive. This low-altitude walk runs through the Hollyford Valley, part of the Te Wāhipounamu UNESCO World Heritage Area, and alongside the roaring Hollyford River, past towering mountains and crystal-clear lakes all the way to Martins Bay.
At the Odyssey Sensory Maze in central Queenstown, visitors navigate a course with obstacles, illusions, and strange lighting, sound effects, and smells. As the name suggests, this unusual attraction requires visitors to engage all their senses as they move through various rooms. The maze is just as popular with adults as it is with older kids and teens.
More Things to Do in Queenstown
There are two different ways to see a kiwi bird when traveling in Queenstown, New Zealand: Drive hours away to remote regions in the exceptionally slim hopes of spotting one, or drive two minutes from downtown Queenstown to Kiwi Birdlife Park. When visiting this 5-acre wildlife compound, visitors can spend time with—and even feed—New Zealand’s iconic birds, and also spot species such as alpine parrots and the rarely seen New Zealand falcon. When finished walking through the darkened hides that house the furry brown kiwis, gawk at the prehistoric tuatara that scientists claim has survived virtually unchanged for over 200 million years. Conservation is another key element of this informative and educational park, and funds from admission are used to rehabilitate and release birds back in the wild. Daily conservation shows discuss the programs in depth, and you’ll also find talks on Maori culture and the pounamu, or greenstone, that led the Maori to originally inhabit these hills.
Regarded as one of New Zealand’s best golf courses, Jack’s Point is not only known for the famously challenging course, but the phenomenally mind-bending, panoramic scenery that accompanies every hole. Just 20 minutes outside of Queenstown, Jack’s Point Golf Course is framed by the Remarkables and the shores of Lake Wakatipu, and in addition to views that include craggy pinnacles surrounded by alpine waters, rows of rolling, dry stone walls provide the feel of the Scottish highlands and a classic high country farm. Golfers consider it a “bucket list” course that you have to play once in your lifetime, though if you just want to see the remarkable scenery without even teeing up a ball, stop in for lunch at the Jack’s Point restaurant for either breakfast or lunch.
Experience rural life on the South Island with a visit to Walter Peak High Country Farm. This working sheep and cow ranch sits across Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown, along a section of lakeshore that is largely inaccessible by car. To get there, most passengers ride across the lake aboard the beautifully restored TSSEarnslaw, steamship.
The Shotover River, which drains into the Kawarau River beneath the famous Kawarau Bridge, is renowned as an aquatic playground for visitors traveling to Queenstown. Even the drive toward the Shotover River is an outdoor adventure in itself, as the road leading into Skippers Canyon is a winding, mountainous route.
Go beneath the surface of Lake Wakatipu and discover a marine ecosystem teeming with life just meters from the lakefront at the Underwater Observatory in Queenstown. Watch trout, ducks, and slippery eels swim and feed from the observatory’s large windows, and learn all about the history of Wakatipu’s underwater world.
Thrill-seeking travelers are never short of attractions in New Zealand, and Queenstown’s Nevis Swing is certainly one of the most thrilling. The jumping-off platform is located 524 feet (160 meters) above a river. After a 229 foot (70 meter) free-fall, you’ll swing in a 984-foot (300-meter) arc. Jump solo or tandem, forwards, backwards, or upside down.
Skippers Canyon, a short distance north of Queenstown, is nothing short of dramatic. The Shotover River winds through the canyon’s steep rock walls, topped with coarse alpine scrub, for nearly 14 miles (23 kilometers). Not the best place to go driving, it’s perfect for hiking, jet boating, white-water rafting, and other adventure activities.
Every Saturday in central Queenstown, artists and artisans from all over the South Island display their wares at the Queenstown Arts and Crafts Market. If you’re looking for unique souvenirs or gifts to take home, you’re bound to find something amidst the handcrafted jewelry, knitwear, bone carvings, pottery, paintings, and so much more.
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