Queenstown has been dubbed the “Adventure Capital of the World” and the reputation is well earned. In close proximity are adrenaline-inducing activities such as bungee jumping, skydiving, jet boating, whitewater rafting, heli-biking, paragliding, and ziplining. If those weren’t enough, Queenstown boasts all the traditional outdoor sports with terrific hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and skiing. For the jet set crowd, Queenstown has one of New Zealand’s highest concentrations of luxury accommodations and amenities. For backpackers, the town center is a melting pot of young travelers, and a healthy number of establishments cater to this demographic. Queenstown has some of New Zealand’s best nightlife and most of the South Island’s popular excursions can be booked round-trip from there. If there are any knocks on Queenstown, they are that the prices are high and the town center feels touristy. With a little planning, however, Queenstown makes for one of the most memorable stopovers in New Zealand.
Things to Do in Queenstown
It wouldn’t be a proper trip to Queenstown without considering the myriad adrenaline activities. A good start is heading to the Kawarau Bridge 20 minutes east of town on Highway 6. This bridge is the site of the world’s first commercial bungy jump started by AJ Hackett and still going strong today. At the very least, it’s fun to watch others take the plunge. Queenstown also is known for jet boating and skydiving, both of which are offered extensively in the area. If you get the itch for adrenaline, simply inquire at your accommodation or head to the town center where all of the operators are located.
The surrounding hills and mountains offer wonderful perspectives of the Remarkables Mountains, Lake Wakatipu, and Queenstown itself. For a short hike, the Tiki Trail makes it way up to the famous Skyline Gondola viewing platform (1–2 hours return). For those looking for a tough full-day trek, the Ben Lomond Track (6–8 hours return) has some of the region's biggest views reaching Mt. Aspiring on clear days. Both depart from central Queenstown. For a longer list of options, see our article on Queenstown’s best hikes.
Queenstown is one of New Zealand’s top mountain biking destinations. For downhills and speed, the Queenstown Bike Park is one of the best in the region, dubbed the “Whistler of the Southern Hemisphere.” At the top are over 30 kilometers of biking trails ranging from beginner to expert with views over Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and the Remarkables Mountains. In terms of local trails, the Frankton Arm east of town connects with the Queenstown Trail and a number of biking tracks sprout off nearby. Longer rides in the area include Skippers Canyon, Moke Lake, Arrowtown, and the Gibbston Valley. Queenstown also is a jumping off point for the Central Otago Rail Trail, the historic 150-km route highly popular for biking and walking.
The Queenstown area (and Wanaka to the north) has some of New Zealand’s best downhill skiing terrain. Coronet Peak resort is 20 minutes from town with excellent intermediate runs. The Remarkables ski area is 40 minutes from town and known for good beginner and freestyle terrain. For those seeking the backcountry, there are a number of heli-skiing operations in Queenstown including Southern Lakes Heli-Ski. It’s worth noting that local ski resorts have relatively stable weather and great vistas but more snowfall and powder can be found north in Wanaka.
The tiny former gold settlement of Arrowtown (population 2,500) is located in the rolling hills twenty minutes outside Queenstown. Arrowtown is an ideal place to unwind and offers more tranquility and the area’s best dining. Savvy travelers head there for an evening out, or stay in Arrowtown and visit Queenstown as a day trip.
Central Otago Wineries
One the easiest and best activities from Queenstown is a visit to the Central Otago wineries. The region now has over thirty wineries and counting—the closest is Chard Farm only twenty minutes east of Queenstown. In a half-day or even less you can drive Central Otago’s scenic roads and visit the tasting rooms of a handful of the best vineyards. There also are guided wine tours departing from Queenstown that provide transportation and know Otago wine as well as anybody.
The Otago vineyards consist of a series of sub-regions, and the Gibbston Valley, the closest sub-region to Queenstown, is one of the most picturesque. Starting 25 kilometers east of the city, this stretch first put New Zealand Pinot Noir on the map in the 1980’s and has produced a number of highly regarded vintages since. The Gibbston Valley Winery is the most visited, but Chard Farm has a more personal feel and a spectacular setting alongside the Kawarau River Valley. Other vineyards down the road include Peregrine and Waitiri Creek. For more information, the Queenstown Visitor Center on Shootover Street can answer questions about the Otago wineries and has helpful information detailing the locations of the vineyards, tasting rooms, and hours of operation.
When to Go to Queenstown
The summer months from December to March are the most popular time of the year to visit Queenstown with warm days and crisp nights. The ski season generally runs from mid-June to October. Queenstown is one of New Zealand’s few four-season destinations, with striking colors and less crowds in the spring and fall.