Things to Do in Queenstown
Dazzling Lake Wakatipu is New Zealand's longest lake. Shaped like an inverted "n" it is a highlight of a trip to Queenstown, which nestles against a curve near the middle of the lake. During the last ice age a huge glacier carved out the lake, which sinks to a depth of 1,300 feet (400 meters).The surrounding mountains that fed the glacier provide a dramatic backdrop to the crystal waters.
Atmospheric pressures cause the lake to rise and fall about 5 inches (12 centimeters) every 5 minutes. This gave rise to the Maori legend that the rise and fall of the water is the heartbeat of a giant who lies slumbering under the water.
The magnificent lake was the location for the Lothlorein scenes in The Lord of the Rings movie. If you’d like to get out on the water the most genteel way is to climb aboard the refurbished vintage steamship the TSS Earnslaw. Cruises across the lake will take you to Walter Peak where you can see a working high-country farm.
New Zealand’s outdoor playground, the Remarkables, located high in mountainous country, possesses a great sense of excitement for any visitor looking to rip-up the alpines. With fabulous skiing, hiking, snowboarding and opportunities to just hangout, the entire family will get a kick from these majestic reserves.
Cool jumps, tunnels, trails, and even a bouncy castle at the crèche are available for children of all ages, while snow-sports schools are waiting for adults who have put off the slopes for too long.
You can also have a look at how the pros do it, with international competitions that take place. See boarders go sky-high off the half-pipes, or see renowned skier’s flow between slaloms at immense speeds.
What was once gold-miners territory is now one of New Zealand’s most scenic tour destinations--with breathtaking mountain views and the always beautiful Shotover River, Skipper’s Canyon presents a great opportunity to splurge in fantastic sites of one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
Hop into a 4WD off-road vehicle available via one of the many guided tours and shoot photos to your hearts delight, while you are navigated through Skipper’s Road, being recited the canyons plentiful and rural history.
For a more romantic experience, Skipper’s wine tours are also a popular and fulfilling way to spend your time here. What could be better than enjoying Queenstown’s mouth-watering venison over a glass of locally made wine in the breadth of New Zealand?
Located only 25 minutes from the adventure capital of Queenstown, Coronet Peak is one of the most popular ski resorts on the entire South Island of New Zealand. This historic ski field is officially the nation’s oldest, and when it opened for business in 1947 there was only a single tow rope.
Today, however, Coronet Peak is a modern ski field on par with the best in the country. Aside from being the nation’s oldest, it’s also one of the last resorts in the country to watch its snow melt away. Given its southerly location, colder temperatures make for a longer season and better conditions for snowmaking. On most years, Coronet Peak will open its slopes sometime during the middle of June, and remain open throughout the winter until the mountain thaws in October. In addition to the long season, the resort offers views over Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding Southern Alps.
Spanning 141 feet above the waters of dramatic Kawarau Gorge, no attraction is more iconic to Queenstown than the historic Kawarau Suspension Bridge. Built in 1880, there was a once a time when this rustic bridge connected Queenstown with the Otago gold fields. With the construction of an asphalt highway, however, traffic moved away from the bridge and it became frequented by bikers and joggers.
Then, in 1988, adventure-seeker A.J. Hackett decided to strap a bungy cord around his ankles and throw himself off of the bridge. When his hands splashed down into the waters below and the cord bounced back towards the bridge, the extreme activity of Queenstown bungy jumping had officially found its start. Today, hundreds of visitors flock to the bridge to watch as thrill-seekers leap into the gorge. Shuffling out onto the wooden planks, the rush of the water cascading through the gorge drowns out whimpers of the timid and scared.
There’s no lack of beauty here, the Gondola skyline sits atop the steepest lift in the Southern Hemisphere on Bob’s Peak, with a top terminal reaching half-a-mile high. Sit and relax as you experience the best view in the city, revealing Queenstown for all its majesty. All breathtaking are the views of The Remarkables, Coronet Park, and of course Lake Wakatipu.
Considered by many to be one of the greatest views in the world, the Gondola skyline comes complete with a café and restaurant where you can enjoy a wonderful meal and if you’re lucky, a traditional Maori performance.
Add a little adventure by taking one of the spectacular luge rides once atop the peak, where you can choose between the scenic and easy ride down (easy for even the little ones), or a more adventurous and speedier trail down.
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.
More Things to Do in Queenstown
One of the pleasures of any trip to New Zealand is a step into the extraordinary. Here, where the wilderness is still wild, the coastline rocky and rugged, and the great outdoors still great, the locals have their own sense of splendor, and this can be seen in the artfully crafted curios on display at Queenstown's Arts and Crafts Market.
Set in a beautiful waterfront location in Earnslaw Park, in this vibrant arena, visual and performing arts meld together for the public to enjoy. Artisans, and craftsmen and women flock to the Market every Saturday from all around New Zealand’s South Island in order to give visitors a truly diverse and intricate display of what the Kiwis (locals) have been up to. And what a display it is. Here, there are not only unique performing arts taking place, but an astounding variety of arts and crafts.
One thing you won’t see when visiting Queenstown are snorkelers in Lake Wakatipu. Not only because the water is alarmingly cold (the average temperature is 48°F), but because the Underwater Observatory allows you to look beneath the lake without even getting your hair wet.
Located along Queenstown’s Main Town Pier, this KJet observatory boasts six large windows where trout, ducks, and 35-pound eels go swimming right past your face. Families with young children will love feeding the ducks and watching them dive for their food, or feeding the writhing schools of trout and watching the chaotic splashes.
In the late 1800s, the Shotover River was a storied outpost of gold, prospectors, and wilderness. Dust-covered panhandlers would camp in canyons in the foothills of the Southern Alps, and scour the raging, turquoise waters with the hope of striking it rich. Today, adrenaline and adventure have replaced sluicing and straining as the most popular pursuits on the river, as the Shotover has become the aquatic playground of visitors traveling to Queenstown.
Bounce down frothing, blue and white rapids while paddling a whitewater raft, or try not to smile as your cheeks flap wildly on a high-speed jetboat up the river. The Shotover drains into the Kawarau River beneath the famous Kawarau Bridge, and you can dip your hands in the cool waters after bungy-jumping from the historic trestle. Even the drive towards the Shotover River is an outdoor adventure in itself, as the road leading into Skipper’s Canyon is a winding, mountainous time portal.
If you’re a bungy enthusiast you’ll know that Kawarau River is the site of the world's first commercial bungy. It’s still possible to take a dive from the bridge that started it all. On your way down you’ll see the trademark sky-blue water and green cliffs of Kawarau River, you might even touch the water!
The river is extremely popular with thrill seekers who come for river surfing, riverboarding and jet boating. The white-water rafting is particularly excellent with rapids to suit beginners to experienced rafters and some calm stretches where you can rest and take in the spectacular scenery. More sedate history seekers come to check out the gold-miners huts and relics from the river’s gold-rush days.
Experience the tranquility of New Zealand’s South Island farm life with a visit to Walter Peak High Country Farm, a working sheep and cow station. The remote farm sits across Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown, along a section of lakeshore largely inaccessible by car. To get there, you’ll take a ride across the lake aboard the TSS Earnslaw, a beautifully restored Edwardian steamship. An open viewing area lets you watch the original steam engines as they power the ship across the lake.
Once you’ve reached the farm, a guided tour takes you among highland cattle, deer, goats and sheep. You’ll also watch skilled sheepdogs corralling the herds before meeting and feeding the sheep up close and learning how to shear and spin their wool. Take a stroll through the lush gardens along the lakeshore before stopping at the Colonel’s Homestead to sip tea and eat scones around a roaring fire.
To put in perspective just how high the Nevis Swing actually is, the launch deck from where the swing is released is higher than the highest elevation of three different US states. From a platform approximately 530 feet above the valley floor, drink in the panoramic view of the surrounding Southern Alps—and then fly at speeds over 70mph in a free fall down towards the ground. Unlike traditional bungy jumping (which is located right next door), the Nevis Swing is an enormous pendulum where travelers race across the sky in a high-speed, 300-meter arc. Also unlike bungy jumping, it’s possible to strap yourself into your harness in whichever position you choose—whether that’s backwards, upside down, facing forward, or tandem jumping with a friend. Since the Nevis Swing is operated jointly with the nearby Nevis Bungy, travelers can combine the pendulum swing with the highest bungy in New Zealand, and get a double dose of adrenaline in the adventure capital of the world.
In a nation which offers some of the world’s best trekking, the case could be made that the Hollyford Track is New Zealand’s most underrated hike. What’s better, given its relatively flat terrain and easily accessible route, you can hike the Hollyford during most times of the year and still find comfortable conditions.
Located two hours north of Te Anau on the road towards Milford Sound, the Hollyford Track is often overlooked in lieu of the Routeburn, Kepler, or Milford tracks. Whereas these more popular hikes weave their way through the mountains of the Southern Alps, the Hollyford meanders along the length of a valley which winds towards the Tasman Sea. It’s an area that Maori once used as a trade route for harvesting and selling pounamu (jade), and much of the wilderness remains entirely unchanged since the Maori once wandered this valley.
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