Known around the world for its stunning natural beauty, Queenstown is a lively and exciting destination all year long.
Some stay for a few days to get up into the mountains, venture out onto the lake or go cycling. For many this is the place to splurge on that bungy jump, skydive, white water rafting or jet boat ride. Others will be happy visiting wineries, shopping and enjoying the huge range of dining opportunities.
At times you’ll wonder if you’re still in New Zealand, as the makeup of Queenstown is so different to anywhere else in the country, with many Brits, Europeans and South Americans coming to work, live and party alongside their new Kiwi friends. Regardless of how long you stay, Queenstown will get under your skin, and have you itching for your next visit to this most beautiful of places.
Queenstown airport is serviced by domestic flights from Christchurch, Wellington, Rotorua and Auckland. International arrivals come from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, with some schedule variations depending on the time of year.
The airport is located in the suburb of Frankton, 7km from the centre of town. Orbus runs a regular bus service and will drop off to some hotels. A taxi will cost around $20.
If you arrive into Queenstown by car, chances are you’ll enter via Frankton as well and make your way along the lakeshore into town. Roads that spur off the roundabout at Frankton junction lead south to Invercargill and east to Cromwell, Alexandra and ultimately Dunedin, or to the West Coast via Wanaka.
There is no train line into Queenstown; in terms of public transport you are limited to taking a bus, with InterCity offering regular services.
Skiing, The Remarkables
Queenstown-Lakes District has a permanent population of around 38,000 that can swell way beyond this with visitors during peak holiday times, and sits alongside Lake Wakatipu, with the dramatic Remarkables mountain range rising vertically from the water behind it.
The centre of Queenstown is bordered by the lakeshore, Queenstown Gardens and the main thoroughfares of Stanley and Shotover Streets. The entire town’s shopping, dining and nightlife is located within this compact grid.
It’s worth venturing down the numerous lanes, arcades and alleyways in Queenstown as some of the best places to eat and drink are hidden away off the main streets.
The main large-scale backpacker hostels, such as Nomads and Base are also located here, whilst the majority of the town’s 3 – 5 star accommodation fans out from this grid, with a seemingly endless sprawl of hotels and apartments stretching along the lakeshore to Frankton and again in the other direction towards Sunshine Bay. Older style motels are found on the slope leading up to Queenstown Hill. The main camping ground is situated only 100m from town on Upper Brecon Street, not far from the base of the gondola. There is another camping ground 10 minutes from town at Arthur’s Point.
WALKING AND CYCLING
The mountains that provide visitors with their snowboarding and skiing fix during winter offer ample opportunities for hiking and mountain biking in the warmer months.
Easy walks close to town include the walkway that runs along the lake all the way to Frankton, and Queenstown Gardens, a narrow finger of land pointing out into the lake, which is a beautiful spot for a leisurely stroll. More challenging is the walk up Queenstown Hill, providing stunning 360 degree views from its summit, and Ben Lomond; where those wanting an easier walk can catch the Skyline Gondola up before descending down the track, an option also popular with mountain bikers. Another popular mountain biking option is 7 Mile, as the name suggests 7 miles from town along the Glenorchy road, where the local MTB club has built an excellent trail system for riders of all levels. Bike hire is available in town, at a couple of places on and around Shotover Street.
Cycling is also a popular way to see the picturesque Gibbston Valley, where the 8.5km River Trail winds between vineyards above the Kawarau River. Nearby the Manse Road Trail takes in historic Arrowtown and its well-preserved Chinese village, and the 6km loop around Lake Hayes is popular with walkers and cyclists alike. Also recently opened to both foot and pedal traffic is the 110km Queenstown Trail which links the above mentioned trails together in a way that makes it easy to undertake the entire trail over a few days. Southern Discoveries offer a unique ‘Station 2 Station’ cycle tour between two high country farms on the western shores of Lake Wakatipu. Take in the panoramic alpine views looking towards the Southern Alps and Glenorchy, and The Remarkables mountain range.
THE SCENIC ROUTE
The craggy mountains, crystal clear lakes and fast flowing rivers of the area around Queenstown provide for enjoyable outings by car.
A popular loop takes drivers out of town on Gorge Road, passing across the Shotover River Gorge before continuing along the foot of Coronet Peak to historic Arrowtown. After a stroll through the old gold mining town’s narrow lanes, historic Chinese village or along the Arrow river, return via Lake Hayes and Frankton to Queenstown. Those without a car can make this same journey with Orbus. Venturing further in this direction, drive up and over the Crown Range to Cardrona and Wanaka or down the Gibbston Valley and its wineries to the lakeside town of Cromwell, another wine producing area.
In the opposite direction, the 45km drive to Glenorchy takes you along the upper reaches of Lake Wakatipu to the small township. Glenorchy’s scenic beauty was made famous by the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, and the township has a pub, cafes and shops. Dart River Adventures offer gentle horse rides through the Dart Valley, choose a 1 or 2 hour experience.
If you want to drive up into the mountains there are well-maintained roads thanks to the development of Queenstown’s ski fields. The road up to Coronet Peak is sealed all the way and the summit can be reached within half an hour from town. The road to the Remarkables ski field begins across the Kawarau River past the airport, is unsealed, and has a sheer drop on one side that is not recommended for vertigo sufferers, but again the alpine views are worth the effort.
IN THE AIR
For the ultimate in views right across the Southern Alps and Queenstown Lakes, take to the sky. Glenorchy Air offer a range of sightseeing flights in fixed wing aircraft, or The Helicopter Line offers scenic flights and access to the mountains for heli-skiing, hunting, fishing or a gourmet picnic high above the world. Both operators are located at Queenstown Airport and provide a free shuttle service from town. If motorised flight is not your thing, fly like a bird with Skytrek who offer tandem paragliding and hang-gliding from Coronet Peak. Or enjoy discovering the night sky from high above Queenstown on a Skyline Stargazing Tours. Top-of-the line telescopes give stargazers the chance to view an array of stunning sights, from the iconic Southern Cross, to nebula, planets, the Milky Way and other galaxies.
ON THE WATER
Southern Discoveries’ new luxury catamaran ‘Spirit of Queenstown’ transports visitors to the previously inaccessible Mt Nicholas High Country Farm, a working high country farm with over 30,000 sheep. Experiences on offer include a scenic cruise, farm experience and cycle trails.
Mt Nicholas Farm Experience
The iconic steamship TSS Earnslaw, operated by Real Journeys, celebrated 100 years of service in 2012 and is believed to be the oldest coal fired steamship in the southern hemisphere. Cruising on the “Lady of the Lake”, as she is affectionately known, is a great way to see the Wakatipu’s dramatic alpine scenery from lake level. She cruises several times daily across the lake to the Walter Peak High Country Farm, a working sheep station, where you can join a Farm Tour that includes home baked morning or afternoon tea. You can also enjoy a delicious gourmet BBQ lunch or dinner lakeside at the Colonel’s Homestead Restaurant at Walter Peak, the chefs cook your food on a wood fired barbecue while you soak in the views.
Dart River Funyak
For those preferring ‘donuts’ to scones, KJet, Queenstown's first commercial jet boat operator, offer a thrilling 60 minute ride out onto the lake and down the Kawarau and Shotover rivers in a ridiculously powerful jet boat. KJet’s bright yellow vessels depart from the lakeshore right in the town centre and each trip comes with a free entry to Queenstown’s Underwater Observatory. Shotover Jet runs the impossibly narrow and treacherous Shotover Gorge, 10 minutes drive from town, where their jet pilots manoeuvre knee-shakingly close to sheer rock faces and partially submerged boulders.
For a white water adventure requiring elbow grease rather than engine oil, Go Orange take groups further up the Shotover River for half day adventure. Go Orange also raft the Kawarau River or for the ultimate wilderness experience take a multi-day white water journey on the Landsborough.
Dart River Adventures offer Wilderness Jet and Funyak trips; the quickest and easiest way to get into the heart of Mount Aspiring National Park and Te Waipounamu, one of New Zealand’s three world heritage areas. Choose between half day or full day adventures, where you can finish off with a back-country drive and immerse yourself in scenes and backdrops from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies.
The Hills golf course is the home of the NZ PGA Championship, and is equally famous for the modern architecture of its clubhouse and sculpture park as it is for its excellent links-style course. The championship course at Jacks Point is wedged between the lake and the mountains, a challenging course with incredible views to compensate if your round isn’t going as well as you’d like.
Near Arrowtown, Millbrook is a resort style community with a 27 hole golf course complete with accommodation and restaurants, while Queenstown’s original golf course is located at Kelvin Heights, a few hundred metres from Queenstown as the crow flies, but 15km by road, sticking out of a narrow peninsula surrounded by water on all sides.
As the adventure capital of New Zealand, you’d expect Queenstown to have some pretty good outdoor equipment stores. Outside Sports, R&R Sports and numerous smaller operators sell and often rent outdoor equipment – skis and snowboards in winter, mountain bikes and climbing gear in summer, and outdoor clothing all year round.
Queenstown is large enough to have many high street fashion labels represented, and has not one but two Global Culture stores for those must have Kiwi t-shirts and hoodies, while the more upmarket Untouched World sells merino wool based fashion. There are plenty of tourist shops so you can stock up on your toy kiwis and sheep’s lanolin, or for those wanting something made in New Zealand there are some good galleries at the Shotover end of Rees Street, including the excellent Kapa, Artbay and Waka Gallery.
The nearest large supermarket to town is Fresh Choice, 500m up Gorge Road, or the smaller but right in town Alpine Supermarket on Shotover Street. Foodies will enjoy the ‘local market’ vibe of Raeward Fresh, tucked away on Robins Road.
FOOD AND DRINK
In addition to the excellent wining and dining available at the nearby vineyards, Queenstown has a staggering array of eateries, ranging from cafes and takeaways, through to fine dining. Every imaginable cuisine is on offer: Thai, Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Italian and good old Kiwi Fish and Chips. There are also great cafes serving breakfast, lunch and good coffee. Favourites include Vudu, Bob’s Weigh, and Joe’s Garage.
Queenstown’s most famous and rightly popular fast food joint is Ferg Burger on Shotover Street. The queues are out the door all day and all night, but the service is surprisingly quick and the burgers are definitely worth the wait. The title of best pizzas in town is shared between Winnies, with their roof that opens to the stars, and The Cow, tucked away down Cow Lane. Craft beer lovers should seek out Atlas at the far end of the Steamer Wharf building, where good value tapas-style food is also available.
Stratosfare Restaurant, Skyline
For fine dining, the Botswana Butchery set in a small historic cottage on the waterfront is renowned for succulent meats cooked on the grill, whilst the Steamer Wharf building contains a number of good restaurants including Public Kitchen & Bar, Pier 19, and Bardeaux; serving eclectic cocktails and cheeseboards in intimate surroundings. Queenstown’s hottest dining ticket is Rātā, fronted by Josh Emett of NZ Masterchef fame, showcasing innovative New Zealand cuisine.
For a table with a view, the restaurant at the top of the Skyline Gondola cannot be rivalled, and the buffet dinner is great value.
Rainy Day Activities
Although the skies are usually clear, if you do find yourself wondering what to do on a drizzly day in Queenstown, we’ve got you covered.
- Take a 100% pure flight with NZ's first and only indoor skydive company - iFly Queenstown, allowing you to experience the thrill of flight no matter what the weather.
- Fly through the trees on ziplines, sheltered by the forest canopy with Ziptrek Ecotours.
- Who said mud wasn't fun! The wetter the better, check out ATV Quad biking with Nomads Safari, experiencing epic views whilst you race along rugged and varied terrain.
- It’s a one stop shop for fun as you either race around an indoor Go Karting track or have an epic laser tag battle, all available under one roof at Game Over Queenstown
- For the ultimate in a spine-tingling suspense, enter if you dare the Fear Factory, located in central Queenstown.