Queenstown offers an abundance of activities from adrenaline-charged sports to more casual and family-friendly adventures. Here is but a small selection of some of the things you may wish to do on your visit to Queenstown. For further information you can visit Queenstown’s official website.
Before you decide to go anywhere, make sure you use the local MetService to check up on the weather. It’s a great resource to learn about the weather forecast which also provides a variety of helpful tips – such as how many clothing layers you may need!
For the adrenaline junkies out there Queenstown is heaven on Earth. In fact, Queenstown is often referred to as “The Adrenaline Capital of The World.” If you’re keen, there’s the iconic Bungy jumping experience on offer. Otherwise, you could get the adrenaline flowing either up high in the air, on the water, or on land.
Adrenaline-charged air adventures include tandem paragliding over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu, tandem paragliding or hang gliding over Coronet Peak or jump out of a perfectly good plane and tandem sky dive over Queenstown.
Explore the Kawarau and Shotover Rivers at speed on an exhilarating jet boat ride (KJet, Skippers Canyon Jet) or physically challenge yourself with a white water rafting (Extreme Green, Queenstown Rafting) or river surf adventure. Sail high above Lake Wakatipu on a parasailing flight or speed across the lake and then dive deep into the water aboard the Shark Hydrocraft, a watercraft that is a cross between a fighter jet and a torpedo.
Explore high narrow-walled canyons, abseil and rappel down waterfalls, and wade through pools of clear water on a canyoning adventure through ancient beech forests located only 10 minutes form Queenstown.
For those who want to explore whilst staying on the land: rock climbing tours are available that cater to everyone, from the complete novice to the experienced climber. Quad (ATV) and dirt biking tours offer trailblazing rides in and around Queenstown or you can zip high through the trees on one of Zip Trek Ecotours’ zip lines.
For downhill mountain biking enthusiasts, Queenstown offers New Zealand’s first ever Gondola-assisted bike lift which provides direct access to the Queenstown Bike Park. The bike park offers more than 20 runs in a 30km+ trail network, with a number of double black diamond tracks for the seriously skilled rider (who may be a bit crazy!).
For those who wish fly or float rather than fall from the sky, there are a number of companies that offer ballooning tours, helicopter tours (Helitours, Heliworks) and fixed wing experiences to take in the stunning aerial views the Queenstown region has to offer.
With the recent completion of the Queenstown Trail, there is over 110km of superb biking trails to experience in and around Queenstown. The trail offers a variety of tracks to suit all abilities, giving everyone a chance to experience the joys of biking. Both hard tail and full suspension bikes can be hired (Around the Basin, Vertigo Bikes) for a few hours to a few weeks. Supported and guided tours are also available for those who may want to go further afield or indulge in a cycling wine tour.
Queenstown offers many family-friendly activities for those who travel with family. The Zipride and family-friendly rafting are a chance to experience Queenstown’s more adventurous past times but remain in a safe and inclusive environment.
If the adults decide they would like some time-out, a Kids club is available to entertain the kids for an hour or two or the whole day.
General Sight Seeing
For a spectacular 220-degree panoramic view of Queenstown and the Remarkables, a ride on the Skyline gondola is a must. Sit back and relax as you ride the Southern hemisphere’s steepest cable car lift to the top of Bob’s Peak. At the top you can take the time to enjoy the spectacular scenery from the viewing platforms or from the bar and restaurant. While at the top you can also experience some Maori culture and customs with Kiwi Haka, a showcase of traditional Maori songs, dances, and legends. Then ride the gondola back down; or if you’re feeling more adventurous, you could always take the luge down!
After dark, the Queenstown night sky comes alive and the Skyline Gondola is a great place to see the stars. Skyline Stargazing takes you on a tour of the Milky Way, nebulas, and galaxies with state of the art telescopes and knowledgeable staff.
For those who wish to experience New Zealand’s wildlife and bush without venturing too far afield, the Kiwi Birdlife Park is located by the base of the Skyline Gondola. At the Kiwi Birdlife Park you can get up close to native New Zealand icons such as kiwi and tuatara as well as learn about the ongoing conservation efforts within the region.
A great way to experience the beauty of Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains is aboard a lake cruise. Southern Discoveries offers cruises around the lake in its state of the art catamaran, with informative commentary from a local skipper on the lake and its stunning surroundings.
For those who like a bit of history, Lake Wakatipu is the home of the iconic vintage paddle steamer – the TSS Earnslaw. Operational since 1912, the TSS Earnslaw was designed to carry stock and passengers to high country stations along the lake. Following refurbishment, the TSS Earnslaw now runs tourist cruises across the lake to Walter Peak high country station where you may choose to explore via horse trek, guided walking tour or dine.
If you would like to explore the lake at your own leisure and under your own steam, kayaks, paddle boards, and aqua bikes are available for hire from the main beach. There are also many beaches along the lake front that offer great places for a swim for those who wish to brave the refreshing water (10°C/50°F). If you don’t want to get your feet wet, an underwater observatory located on the Main Town pier, offers a glimpse into the lives on the lake’s underwater inhabitants.
Lord of the Rings Tours
Lord of the Rings fans can take a journey deep into the real Middle Earth and experience the spectacular scenery that provided the perfect backdrop for the filming of the Trilogy. A number of companies offer specialize tours to specific film locations such as Amon Hen, Itilien Camp, Isengard, Lothorien forests, Minas Tirith, and the Misty Mountains.
Queenstown offers numerous walking and hiking tracks to suit all ages and abilities. For a comprehensive list of walking and hiking tracks see the Department of Conservation website.
Queenstown Gardens is nestled by lake in the Town Centre and is a great place for a leisurely stroll through formal, native and botanical gardens.
For more of a challenge, the Queenstown Hill Time walk is a 3 hour return walk which represents the past, present, and future of Queenstown. As you climb up through the forest, information plates tell of the history of the Lake and the development of Queenstown, from Maori settlement to present day. At the summit you are rewarded with stunning 360° views of Lake Wakatipu, the Remarkables and the Kawarau River.
The Mt Crichton Loop Track leads walkers through beautiful native bush and the remnants of old gold mining prospects to a ledge overlooking Lake Dispute. Allow 2-4 hours and a moderate level of fitness for this walk.
For the experienced walker the Ben Lomond Track is a must. The first part of the track leads you through native bush and pine forests before opening out into tussock and alpine flora. The summit can be reached in around 3 hours and the 360° view is well worth the effort. To the southeast are the Remarkables and Frankton arm, Lake Wakatipu and Walter and Cecil Peaks sit to the south, and to the north Mt Aspiring is visible on a clear day.
The Central Otago region is famous for its wine and in particular it’s Pinot Noir. Close to Queenstown along the Kawarau River gorge, is the Gibbston Valley which is home to numerous wineries and vineyards. Many offer tastings at the cellar door as well as restaurants and cafes showcasing perfect wine and local food matches.
A number of wine and combination tours are available including walk and wine, jet boat and wine, helicopter and wine, cycle and wine, food and wine and golf and wine.
There are a variety of day and multi-day trips for those who are keen to explore the surrounding Lakes Districts.
Just a 20 minute drive (20km) from Queenstown is the historic settlement of Arrowtown. The town was established in 1862 during the Otago gold rush and the remnants of its history are apparent in the historic buildings and restored Chinese mining village. Arrowtown is a popular day trip with many shopping and dining options. Arrowtown has a number of historical and recreational walking tracks that explore the town and surrounding areas. The Queenstown Bike Trail also has options for getting to, in, and around Arrowtown.
For more information visit the Arrowtown website.
Often described as New Zealand’s most scenic road, the 45km (45 minutes) drive north along the shores of Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy makes for an excellent day trip. Outdoor enthusiasts will be spoilt for choice with the multitude of day walks, horse riding, mountain biking tracks, and water activities offered in Glenorchy.
For those who are keen to take in a multi-day hike, Glenorchy is home to one of New Zealand’s Great Walks – The Routeburn Track, as well as Rees Dart and Greenstone/Caples tracks. For more information see the Department of Conservation website.
For more information visit the Glenorchy Info Centre website.
Described as the 8th wonder of the natural world by Rudyard Kipling, Milford Sound lies within the heart of the World Heritage Fiordland National Park. The 295km journey from Queenstown offers unbelievable views of mountains, glaciers, and rainforests with plenty of photo opportunities along the way.
Once in Milford Sound, a boat cruise around the majestic glacial-carved fiords is an ideal way to see the lush rainforest, abundant waterfalls, and marine life including dolphins, seals, and penguins. An underwater observatory in the Discovery Centre offers a glimpse into the unique underwater environment within the Sounds.
For more information visit the Milford Sound website.
A 60 minute drive (68km) over the stunning Crown Range and through the Cardrona Valley will take you to the beautiful town of Wanaka. Wanaka lies at the southern end of Lake Wanaka and is the gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park. Mt Aspiring National Park offers many mountains, rivers, and even glaciers that can be explored by walking, climbing, driving, or flying, depending on your preference. There are a lot of excellent walk/hikes in and around Lake Wanaka, as well as airborne adventures such as scenic flights, skydiving and paragliding, water activities such as cruises, jet boating, lake activities, canyoning and so much more. Wanaka has many excellent restaurants and cafes which showcase the excellent local produce of the region.
For more information visit the Lake Wanaka website.
Thanks to Jacqui Lee for putting this information together.