Queenstown Area Guide
Queenstown on the shore of
Lake Wakatipu - © Naturespic.com
This year-round tourist resort is busy in summer with adventure-seeking travellers preparing for bungy jumps, jetboating or whitewater rafting on the Kawarau and Shotover Rivers and, in winter, with skiers and snowboarders heading for nearby ski areas.
There is no doubt Queenstown is in one of New Zealand's most spectacular locations, but this adventure-seeking town is not for the faint hearted. Born as an 1860s goldmining camp, today little remains of glitzy modern Queenstown's origins. The busy downtown area centres around the pedestrianized Mall and the streets around Shotover Street, where there are clusters of visitor centres and booking offices. The official Queenstown Visitor Centre is on the corner of Shotover and Camp Streets, and, for information on hiking and tramping, the Department of Conservation (DOC) office is at 37 Shotover Street.
Most of the adventure activities are located outside of town, but there is plenty to keep you occupied in the centre as well. Check out the chilly minus5° degree bar on the Steamer Wharf, where everything is made of ice - the walls, the bar, the sculptures, the seats, and even the glasses.
Next to minus5° is one of Queenstown's oldest attractions, the vintage steamship, the TSS Earnslaw, which has been operating on the lake since 1912, and was once part of a group of steamships which provided the area's major means of transport. The Earnslaw now offers pleasure cruises on the lake, or trips across to the Walter Peak High Country Sheep Station.
For some of the best views of Queenstown, travel up the Skyline Gondola, a cable-car ride to the top of Bob's Peak, where there are spectacular views of Coronet Peak, the Remarkables mountain range and across Lake Wakatipu. From here you can walk the summit loop track, ride the Luge, or use the peak as a platform for tandem paragliding or bungy jumping.
The Gondola platform is not the only place for bungy jumping locally, though, with Queenstown the original home of this mad activity which sees otherwise perfectly sane adults diving from a great height with a rubber band tied around their ankles. The world's first commercial bungy jumping platform is 23 kilometres to the east, at the historic 1880 Kawarau Bridge, 43 metres above the Kawarau River. Other bungy jumping sites in the area include the vertigo-inducing 134-metre Nevis Highwire Bungy and the 102-metre-high Pipeline Bungy over Skippers Canyon.
When all the adventure gets a bit much, there are peaceful walking tracks to explore. The climb to the top of the Queenstown Hill (three hours return) offers panoramic views of Coronet Peak, Lake Hayes and the Crown Range or, for a more leisurely stroll, take the pleasant five-kilometre Frankton Arm walk around the shores of the lake.
Queenstown's spectacular backdrops were widely used in the Lord of the Rings movies, with Lake Wakatipu used for scenes involving Lothlorien; the Kawarau River doubling as the River Anduin; and the Remarkables featuring as the slopes of Dimrill Dale. The sublime elevated vistas of Deer Park Heights were used for locations in all three Lord of the Rings films, and the park is an interesting place to visit in its own right, particularly for children, who can hand-feed red deer, bison, and llama here.
In winter, skiers and snowboarders gravitate to the ski areas of the Remarkables and Coronet Peak. The highlight of the season is the zany 10-day Queenstown Winter Festival from late June to early July, which has the conventional ski events, street parties and fireworks, as well as more madcap activities like downhill dog races, and Birdman competitions over (and into) the lake.
In summer, steam train enthusiasts should journey to Kingston, 45 kilometres to the south, to ride on the Kingston Flyer, a vintage steam train which travels up and down the 14-kilometre length of track to nearby Fairlight from October to April.