New Zealand’s Queenstown could quite possibly be the action sports capital of the world!
This township on the South Island of New Zealand might have started out as a small gold mining village but has grown into a global tourism hub for those chasing any number of adrenaline rushes.
If you are looking for a rapid-fire introduction into everything that Queenstown has to offer, then Skyline Queenstown should be your first stop.
Located on Bob’s Peak, Skyline Queenstown not only offers panoramic views over the township that are worth the trip for the photos alone but is also a destination all of its own.
The iconic Skyline Gondola is going to be the quickest and easiest way to get to the top. It is worthwhile if you would like to sit back and enjoy the view on the way up.
However, you are feeling a little more adventurous, or just looking to save some money, then you can hike the Tiki Trail (which is accessible from the base of the gondola) up to the Skyline complex at the top of Bob’s Peak.
The trek will take you roughly about an hour depending on your fitness level. Just don’t use up all of your energy to get up to the gondola station as there are several other hikes you can take once you get to the top.
If hiking isn’t your thing, you’ll still be able to get the heart racing with a couple of runs on the Skyline Luge. There are also 30 world-class downhill mountain bike trails if you are so inclined.
Otherwise, for something a bit more low-key and relaxed there is also a choice of the buffet restaurant or cafe.
In terms of adrenaline rushes, the Shotover Jet just might the ultimate experience that Queenstown has to offer.
If you haven’t seen it, the Shotover River snakes its way down the mountains through a narrow gorge, in some places extremely narrow, to eventually feed into Lake Wakatipu.
So it makes perfect sense that the best way to take it all in would be at a very high-speed in a jet boat.
You’ll definitely find other jet boat experiences in and around Queenstown, but the Shotover Jet has exclusive access to the Shotover River and that part of the experience just can’t be replicated elsewhere.
If that sounds a little too extreme for you then there is an observation deck (and a narrow bridge if you are game enough) on which you can watch the jet boats fly up and down the river to get a feel for what it might be like. You can also get some cool photos.
If you want to get out and stretch the legs on one of the more sedate hikes that Queenstown has to offer, then why not take on Time Walk hike up Queenstown Hill.
Easily accessible from the center of town, just off Belfast Terrace to be exact, this two hour (return)/2.5 kilometres (up 500 metres in elevation) climb is a great way to warm up if you are planning on taking on the much longer hikes that Queenstown has to offer.
At the top, you’ll find the ‘Basket of Dreams’ sculpture which is interesting, but the star attraction as always is the stunning views over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.
Planning your trip to Queenstown in the winter? Don’t worry this is one of the hikes that you can do year-round without too much preparation. I’ve even done it in snow, just bring a good pair of waterproof shoes.
If you are chasing a change of pace, or just looking to relax after an action-packed few days in and around Queenstown, then it might be time to head to the Onsen.
Probably better known for the Instagram photos taken from its hot tubs overlooking the Shotover River. This spa experience is a fantastic way to help your muscles recover after any number of days of hiking, snowboarding, skiing or mountain biking.
Or you know, you could just book a tub for the Instagram content. Entirely up to you.
Kiwi Birdlife Park
Your Queenstown experience doesn’t need to be all action sports and adventures.
You could take a little time to visit the Kiwi Birdlife Park and get to know more about New Zealand, in particular, some wildlife unique to the country like the Kiwi.
An ever-elusive nocturnal creature it is particularly difficult to just stumble across the Kiwi in the wild let alone in wandering around town so a visit to the Kiwi Birdlife Park is you best bet for seeing one of the national emblems of New Zealand in person.
They also have a number of other bird and reptile species local to the area if that grabs your interest.
Ben Lomond Track
As you may have gathered, there are many (many, many) hikes around Queenstown, but the Ben Lomond Track would easily be the most popular and most achievable.
Starting from the Skyline Queenstown Gondola (top or bottom depending if you’d like to do the Tiki Trail as well) this 4-6 hours 11 kilometre (6-7 if you add the Tiki Trail) trek will take you all the way to the summit where your efforts will be rewarded with stunning panoramic views.
You are definitely going to need a degree of fitness to take on the Ben Lomond Track and it some places it can be challenging. But in terms of being able to reach the peak, it’s your best option.
Just keep in mind that this trek will need some preparation, and probably best avoided in changeable conditions as it is quite exposed. But on a clear day very rewarding.
Pro Tip: I would highly recommend that the embark on this hike early in the morning (at least before 8am) so you are in front of the crowds.
Surrounded by majestic peaks, Lake Wakatipu is the central focus of Queenstown and at 84 kilometres long, it’s the longest lake in New Zealand (as well as being the third-largest behind Lake Taupo and Lake Te Anau).
Sure you can enjoy the views across Lake Wakatipu from the Queenstown shoreline or any number of the lookouts and hikes that surround it. But getting out on the water, particularly during the summer, is the best way to take it all in.
My first suggestion to you would be to take a scenic cruise on the TSS Earnslaw. Affectionately known as the “Lady of the Lake” this over 100-year-old vintage steamship is a unique way to take in both the views and history of Queenstown and the lake.
If that’s a little too laid back for you, then Hydro Attack will certainly change it up. All I can really say to explain the experience is that it is like being strapped into a submersible fighter jet. You’ll see it in person and understand what I mean.
Alternatively, there are a couple of other scenic cruises and jet boats you can take as well as renting either a kayak or paddleboard to explore the lake at your own pace. You’ll easily find plenty of options down by the Queenstown waterfront.
Perhaps you’d like to know a little bit more about the history of the region? Just 20 minutes outside of Queenstown is the historic gold mining town of Arrowtown.
Home to more than 60 historic buildings and mining cottages built during the gold rush, Arrowtown fascinating throwback to what life what like in the region in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Buckingham Street will plunge you back into the time period with a procession of heritage buildings that make up the small town and amazing to witness first hand.
Then if you’ve like to get a bit more of an understanding of what life was like during the gold rush then a quick visit to the Lakes District Museum will be very informative.
You could even hire a gold pan and try your own luck on the Arrow River.
Home to the worlds first commercial bungy jumping operation, New Zealand and Queenstown, in particular, is now famous for this adrenalin-fueled leap of faith.
As you can imagine there are several bungy jumps to choose from in and around Queenstown, all offering slightly different jump experiences.
That all said, if you are chasing the original experience, you’ll have to head to the Kawarau Bridge Bungy where the very first commercial bungy jump was offered and still runs to this day.
AJ Hackett’s also offer a Zip Line at their Kawarau location as well as getting creative with the bungy experience at their other locations.
While you are in Queenstown, do yourself a favour by renting a car and driving out to Glenorchy.
Don’t get me wrong, the small settlement Glenorchy on the northern end of Lake Wakatipu is a quaint little town with a couple of walks a few things to see and do, making it well worth the day trip.
But the real star of the show is the drive. Queenstown-Glenorchy Rd follows the lake for the entire scheduled 45-minute drive.
However, you’ll find it takes much longer because you will want to stop to take in the stunning views at literally every lookout you come across.
There are tours that will take you out to Glenorchy, stopping in a few vantage points along the way, but really you’ll want to do things in your own time and explore at your own pace. You’ll have no shortage of places to stop to take in views that take you fancy on the way there.
Once you’ve done it you’ll appreciate the recommendation.
No doubt the number one reason to visit Queenstown in the winter is the world-class snow resorts on the neighbouring mountains.
Queenstown has four snow resorts to choose from, Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, Cardrona Alpine Resort and Treble Cone all with their own unique offerings and high enough up in the mountains to ensure good snow coverage throughout the season.
Coronet Peak is the closest of the resort to Queenstown, just a 20-minute drive from the center of town, offering six lifts and varied terrain to cater for all ski and snowboarding abilities all across the mountain. Coronet Peak really stands out is when they light up the mountain face for night sessions 3 times a week.
The Remarkables are truly as the name implies, remarkable. About 30 minutes out of Queenstown, they offer seven lifts with two distinct areas. The face caters for the beginner to intermediate level riders (but still fun) while the basin is definitely for the advanced guys and girls with steeper off-piste terrain perfect on powder days.
You can buy multi-day lift tickets that cover both Coronet Peak and The Remarkables (and Mount Hutt if you are also planning to spend some time in Christchurch) to save a bit of money.
Cardrona Alpine Resort, about an hour outside of Queenstown, caters more towards beginners and intermediates at least in terms of runs. That said, the key attraction for Cardrona are the four terrain parks, two half-pipes and a snowboardcross course. This resort has five lifts.
Treble Cone boasts the largest skiable terrain on the New Zealand South Island about an hour and a half outside of Queenstown, just past Wanaka. With four lifts this resort features a lot of off-piste terrain and plenty of room to get away from the crowds.
Much like the other two resorts, you can buy multi-day lift passes that cover both Cardrona and Treble Cone so you share your time across multiple resorts.
Pro Tip: Both pairings of resorts don’t require you to spend consecutive days at their resort on their respective multi-day passes. So buy passes for both and try all the resorts to find your favourite/favourites.
If you’d like to get some more information to help in planning your trip to New Zealand… I’ve got a whole series of blog posts with all sorts of tips and advice to you.
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