Renowned as New Zealand's 'Adventure Capital', Queenstown attracts more than three million visitors a year, who come for everything from world-class skiing and snowboarding to unique thrills in the water, the air and on land, or the relaxed pace of the wine trail in Gibbston.
With about 220 different activities and attractions on offer, there’s never a shortage of options for visitors to Queenstown, whether they’re after mild or wild, during all four seasons – they could spend the morning walking amongst the mountains, the afternoon exploring forest trails by bike and the evening dining al fresco at the lakeside, soaking up the ever unfolding cosmopolitan atmosphere.
Summer pursuits include hiking, biking and fishing. Autumn’s crisp days and outrageous colours offer the perfect opportunity for a pre-winter break, where visitors can immerse themselves in the bright landscapes with walking and cycling on the trails around town, and the wine harvest brings the wineries to life for a few short weeks as the grapes are picked. In winter, skiers and snowboarders from around the world materialise for an action-packed season that lasts well into October. Spring’s longer warmer days mean you could ski in the morning and fit in a round of golf in the afternoon. Meanwhile, the alpine resort town's gourmet food and wines are an attraction in any season.
Māori searching for pounamu (New Zealand greenstone or nephrite jade) were the first people to visit the Queenstown region. Having discovered the valuable stone, they returned on regular expeditions.
According to Māori legend, Lake Wakatipu was formed by an evil giant who kidnapped a beautiful Māori maiden. Knocked down by the maiden’s rescuer, the giant now slumbers in the depths of the lake, where his beating heart causes the water to rise and fall.
When gold was discovered in the Arrow and Shotover rivers in 1862, "Canvas Town" (as Queenstown was originally known) became a boom town. But by 1865, an exodus for the Westland gold rush had emptied two-thirds of the town’s buildings.
Canvas Town was renamed Queenstown because it was said to be "fit for a queen". The phrase, so the story goes, was found stamped on an anvil in a local blacksmith’s shop.
Food and wine
Gibbston – the world’s southernmost wine-growing region – is famed for its Pinot Noir wines, and also produces Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc varietals.
The award-winning Gibbston Valley Vineyard is home to New Zealand’s biggest underground wine cave, as well as a restaurant. Other vineyards with fine dining establishments include Amisfield Winery Bistro and The Winehouse & Kitchen.
Adventure and indulgence go hand-in-hand in Queenstown, which boasts some of New Zealand’s best luxury accommodation, world-class golf courses and other alpine activities amid dramatic landscapes.
Queenstown has many five-star hotels, including the beautiful heritage Eichardt’s on the lakefront and the Hilton Hotel with expansive lake views. The world-class lodges Blanket Bay and Matakauri Lodge offer complete privacy and superb facilities in a stunning landscape. Hulbert House is a restored Victorian villa with six elegant suites, and there are also a growing collection of outstanding high-end private villas available for discerning travellers.
Visitors can hire a helicopter and fly to a remote alpine location for a champagne picnic, play golf on a range of world-class courses, or charter a private fishing yacht. Several luxury service providers tailor itineraries.
Adventure / outdoors
The world’s first commercial bungy site opened at Kawarau bridge near Queenstown in 1988. Inspired by the vine jumpers of Vanuatu, New Zealanders Henry van Asch and A J Hackett created this distinctly New Zealand tourism phenomenon that’s now known the world over. Queenstown’s three jump sites include an urban bungy with a "runway" that launches jumpers 400 metres (437 yards) above the town.
Queenstown was the birthplace of commercial jet boating. Visitors can "catch the canyons" on the famed Shotover River.
For leisure cyclists and mountain bikers, Queenstown has gentle tracks and challenging trails for all skill levels.
The region also offers some of the country’s best golfing experiences. Set amid stunning lake and alpine scenery, the courses are a must-do for keen golfers.
Coronet Peak is the oldest and best known of the Southern Lakes snowfields. With outstanding early morning and night skiing, Coronet Peak offers New Zealand’s longest on-snow hours. The Remarkables ski area has a wide range of terrain and is popular with snowboarders, freeskiers and families.
Queenstown Winter Festival in late June is New Zealand’s largest winter celebration, with more than 60 events over four days. Events on and off the mountain embrace sport, art, music, comedy, food, wine and everything in between.
The Akarua Arrowtown Autumn Festival has been running for more than 30 years and now hosts more than 50 events over five days in April. The festival is a highlight for the local community and visitors alike, with the seasonal change of colours across the landscape adding to the spectacle.
And by the way...
- Locations around Queenstown appeared in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy and in Disney’s Pete’s Dragon (released in 2016).
- At peak times, Queenstown visitors outnumber local residents by three to one.
- The oldest recorded bungy jumper is a 94-year-old who jumped at Kawarau bridge.