Queenstown | Adventure Capital of the World

shona hore

By Shona Hore

13 minute read

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Picture steam drifting up from your freshly brewed coffee, as you sit at a table on the waterfront of Lake Wakatipu. Snow glistens as the first sunlight touches the mountaintops, and your teeth tingle as you breathe in the crisp morning air. A winter’s day like this in Queenstown is the perfect time to sit and take in the spectacular alpine scenery, while you plan your next adventure. Known as the “Adventure Capital of the World” and home of adventure in New Zealand, if you can imagine it, you can do it in Queenstown.

With everything from incredible natural beauty and high-octane adventure to all the luxuries you could want in one place, Queenstown can cater to every want, need and pace of life. In winter Queenstown becomes a ski resort town with three epic ski fields just a short drive away and then transforms in summer to a giant playground for all ages and tastes. It's the place we call home and the starting point for many of our New Zealand hiking tours that explore our beautiful South Island. 

There are so many enticing opportunities on offer in Queenstown; here are a few ideas to get you started.

Getting Outdoors in the Queenstown Lakes Region

There are few better places to immerse yourself in nature than Queenstown. Regardless of if you’re just shaking off the jetlag or out for an adventure, there are plenty of places to explore.

Hiking Ben Lomond in Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown has some stunning views, just like this one.

For those that want to orientate themselves with Queenstown, a stroll along the lakefront and through the Queenstown Gardens is just the ticket. To stretch the legs a little more, then head up Queenstown Hill and make a wish in the Basket of Dreams sculpture located at the top. Want a bit more of a challenge? Hike up Ben Lomond, a walk to get the heart rate up and the reward of 360-degree panoramic views, and if you’re super lucky you might even get to meet the curious (and cheeky!) Kea – the only alpine parrot in the world.

If you are staying a little further out of town, or have a car, check out these nearby short walks:

Moke Lake Loop – a great short lakeside walk that only takes a couple of hours, with incredible views up to Ben Lomond. This is a fantastic location for night photography, especially for those chasing the Milky Way and Southern Lights.

Mt Crichton Loop – a trail that offers real variety. Follow a gently-flowing creek up through old gold mining remains and stunning native trees, and visit the historic Sam Summers hut. The trail then winds its way up to spectacular views over Lake Dispute and Lake Wakatipu. We love this trail so much we have included it in our Masterpiece tour.

Lake Hayes Loop – this 8km trail is perfect for an afternoon walk, a catch-up with friends or a fantastic run. The track circumnavigates Lake Hayes and is popular with Queenstown locals who tend to frequent it around 5pm after work time.

Routeburn Track – typically walked as a three-day/two night tramp (‘kiwi’ for backpacking hike/trek), to experience part of the trail without the commitment to carrying days’ worth of equipment, you can walk to Routeburn Falls and back again in a day. This trail will reward you with incredible mountain views, and waterfalls. Experience this walk for yourself on our Grand Explorer tour.

Eating Out in Queenstown

The cuisine in Queenstown is as eclectic as the people who frequent this alpine village. You can find food from just about every continent here. From Asian to South American flavours, throw in some fish and chips and the iconic Fergburger and you have something for every palate in Queenstown.

Grazing platter in Queenstown

If you're a foodie you'll be spoilt for choice in Queenstown.

If fine dining or a romantic atmosphere is what you’re after, you can’t go past restaurants like The Bunker that offer up contemporary cuisine alongside a roaring fire. Or, for more of a local flair head to Rata, owned by local celebrity chef Josh Emett. Emett has worked alongside Gordon Ramsey and Marcus Wareing at Michelin star restaurants and was named New York Rising Star Chef in 2008 amongst many other accolades.

For a meat fix along with a fine dining experience then head to Jervois Steak House or Botswana Butchery to satisfy carnivorous cravings.

Looking for some cheap eats in Queenstown? No worries, we have you covered. On a balmy evening head down and grab some fish ‘n’ chips from Eriks and eat them by the lake while watching the sun dip behind the mountaintops. For a more cosmopolitan taste sensation head to Caribe for a South American flavour hit or @Thai for deliciously fresh Thai food.

For the vegetarians and vegans out there, have no fear; you will be able to find some delicious treats to satisfy your hunger. Most restaurants in Queenstown have food to cater for nearly any dietary requirement, but some of our recommended hotspots are Vknow, Halo and Yonder, or for a bit of fast food hit up Habebes for Middle Eastern flavours or Rehab for healthy bowls of delicious, fresh and ethical food.

In New Zealand we are proud of our café culture, something which is alive and well in Queenstown. Head to some of our favourite cafés for great coffee and fresh local treats. Our top picks are Joe’s Garage for hearty breakfasts and hot coffee, Vudu Café and Larder for a variety of cabinet and menu food options and seating outside overlooking Lake Wakatipu, and Bespoke Kitchen for fresh local food and more indoor space for rainy days.

Here are some of our favourite spots for when you simply have to have a particular food:

Burgers – you can’t go past the uber famous Fergburger here, delicious and local, but be prepared to line up for a while at this popular fast food joint. Can’t handle the queue? Then head to Devil Burger, another local in town and arguably just as good as Fergburger, but usually without the wait time!

Pizza – stroll to either Fat Badger for incredible pizza or to Winnie’s for gourmet pizza and a pub-like atmosphere including a roaring fire.

Hot Chocolate – if you’ve ever watched the movie Chocolat, then you know what we mean when your mouth waters watching thick and creamy hot chocolate ladled into a cup, and it’s all just for you. Patagonia Chocolates on the waterfront offers a mix of flavours like dark chocolate, chilli, ginger or lavender which are sure to warm you to your soul.

Ice-cream – once again Patagonia Chocolates is a place to hit, with over 20 different flavours to choose from. Or wander over to Mrs. Ferg Gelataria for a cool treat to beat off the hot summer sun.

Most Scenic Spot – it’s hard to beat the Skyline Restaurant, Stratosfare, for incredible scenery while you dine. Perched at the top of the gondola, this restaurant has views over Queenstown, The Remarkables Mountains and Lake Wakatipu. With a buffet to rival those in Las Vegas, there are plenty of options for everyone. This restaurant is large and very popular, so perhaps not the spot for a quiet, intimate dining experience!

Wine - as one of New Zealand’s premier wine regions, sampling the local offerings is almost a must. Hop on a wine tour and head out to the Gibbston Valley to try some local flavours or if you want a greater cross-section of what New Zealand has to offer then pay a visit to The Winery, conveniently located in the heart of Queenstown. Here they have over 80 New Zealand wines to choose from, and a small selection of New Zealand Whiskey for those so inclined. Just pick up a card at the reception, pick a wine (this is the hardest part), choose a taste, half glass or full glass option and enjoy! For a wine and food experience, the award-winning Amisfield Winery and Bistro should be added to your list of Queenstown must-dos.

Top Tip for eating out in Queenstown – book days ahead for restaurants in Queenstown during the peak seasons (Dec – Feb, Jun - Aug). This is especially true for fine dining restaurants, which can be booked out up to a week in advance!

Arrowtown – Queenstown’s Sister Town

No visit to Queenstown is complete without exploring the charming, historical village of Arrowtown, where two very different gold rush mining communities came together. Wander through the streets of Arrowtown and step back in time to the European settlement that thrived off the backs of the gold rush, then stroll over to the more modest preserved Chinese village located down by the river.

Exploring the Arrowtown bike trails.

There are some incredible bike trails in Arrowtown.

Learn about the hardships of living in this arid landscape for different communities trying to eke out a life for themselves; with plenty of information panels and the Lakes District Museum at hand, this is a great place to explore for young and old. Autumn is a prime time to visit Arrowtown, with the leaves of its towering trees changing colour and falling to form a rich carpet of yellows and reds along the riverside trails. It’s a firm favourite for photographers and artists alike. Arrowtown is as enticing for visitors now as it was for the early settlers of the 1800’s. Want to try your hand at gold panning? You can hire gold pans at the museum; this makes for a fun day with the kids, and who knows, you may just strike it rich!

It’s easy to get to Arrowtown. There are public buses that have regular runs from central Queenstown to Arrowtown. A more expensive but flexible option is to take a taxi, or if you have your own car it’s a very scenic 25-minute drive from Queenstown. If you are feeling adventurous and would like to explore by bike, Arrowtown is on the Queenstown Bike Trail. These trails wind their way from Queenstown all the way out to the famous Gibbston Valley wine region, taking in Arrowtown and the historic Kawarau Bridge (home of the first commercial bungy jump in the world) along the way. Alternatively, hire a bike in Arrowtown and explore the riverbank trails around town. Arrowtown stole our hearts so much we have included this location in all of our South Island itineraries.

Queenstown’s Adrenaline Adventures

This wouldn’t be a blog about Queenstown without mentioning some of the adrenaline activities on offer across the region!

Summer is a great time for water sports – go rafting down Grade 5 rapids; jet boat at speed through canyons; parasail with spectacular views over Lake Wakatipu or climb, crawl and jump your way down a waterfall on a canyoning adventure.

Paraglide in Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world

There are plenty of options for paragliding and other adrenaline adventures in Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world.

Want that rush of falling? Being the home of the bungy jump, you can either ease your way in with a jump off the historic Kawarau Bridge or launch right in and sign up for the Thrillogy which includes all three major jumps (Kawarau Bridge, The Ledge and The Nevis). Want to play on an icon? The Nevis Swing is the most famous swing in the world with a 300m arc! To add a splash of humour to your jump then the Canyon Swing is the place for you, with a menu of jumps and “underpants ratings” for how scary it is – go all out and do the jump master’s choice! You could take the more scenic approach to adrenaline and jump out of a plane on a skydive, the panoramic mountain views are just the icing on the cake with this activity.

No quite feeling that adventurous, but would still like to feel the wind through your hair? Then head up to Skyline to start your Ziptrek, the ultimate eco-friendly adventure, making your way back down by zip lining through the trees with plenty of Queenstown views along the way. Or, for a higher thrill level there are several paragliding options around Queenstown; soar along a ridgeline off Coronet Peak or pull tricks over Queenstown itself.

There is something to satisfy the needs of any thrill-seeker out there – the only limits are the level of your appetite for action and perhaps budget!

Family Friendly Fun in Queenstown

Queenstown is the ultimate destination to pull the kids away from their technology and back into nature. With fun activities to entertain children both big and small, there is plenty to keep the family busy all day.

Many activities around Queenstown will have height/weight/age restrictions, so here are some family-friendly options.

Weka in Kiwi Birdlife Park

Check out beautiful birdlife such as this cheeky Weka at Kiwi Birdlife Park.

Go white water rafting. Yes, there is a family friendly option available. This activity rides down gentle grade 1 and 2 rapids and is suitable for kids aged 3 and up. The focus of the trip is fun, and with guides who know how to max it out, it’s an exciting (but not too exciting) day out for everyone. And as a bonus for Lord of the Rings fans, the start of the rafting is the filming location for "The Ford of Bruinen”.

A favourite of old and young alike is the Luge. Located at the top of the Skyline Gondola, this activity not only offers great views, but a chance to challenge each other to a race down the hill. Guaranteed laughter and fun for all.

Right next to the Skyline base building is the Kiwi Birdlife Park - this is a fantastic opportunity for youngsters to learn about and see some of New Zealand’s iconic wildlife, including the Kiwi. A fun interactive learning experience for the whole family.

Head out of town to the stunning Kawarau Gorge and its Goldfields Mining Centre – here they offer fully or self-guided tours through the gold mining process of old. From demonstrations of the sluice guns and a replica Chinese gold mining village, it’s a chance to step back in time and learn about the hardships of the early settlers of this region.

For some fun in town you can visit the underwater observatory, watch trout swimming by or ducks diving down. Or, for a bit more action, go ice-skating in the rink at the top of the Queenstown Gardens or try your hand at a round of Frisbee Golf. Frisbees can be hired from the ice rink for a small fee.

Out of the Box! Unusual things to do in Queenstown

If you’re after something a little quirky or different to do in Queenstown, then look no further than these crazy little gems.

Have you ever experienced a sensory maze? The Odyssey offers up fun for big and little kids; this family-friendly maze features physical obstacles, illusions, sound effects, scents & more.

For an adrenaline rush of a different kind, head into the Fear Factory for a thrilling walk through a haunted house. This is perfect for a group of friends, and if you want to up the thrill go at the back of the line!

It’s strange, but true. There have been shark sightings in Lake Wakatipu – fear not though, it’s just the Hydro Attack shark. You can climb into this shark-shaped submersible for a thrilling ride above and below the water.

Finish up your action-packed day with a cocktail in an Ice Bar – there are two options in town (Minus 5 and Below Zero) to choose from. These guys will kit you out with a warm jacket, boots and gloves, then lead you into a bar made completely from ice. This comes with a complimentary cocktail served in your very own ice cup.

Luxurious Leisure in Queenstown

What would a resort town be without a little touch of luxury? A holiday destination for the rich and famous alike, Queenstown still needs to cater for more discerning tastes or for those that would just like a little extra pampering after a long day of adventures.

For absolute luxury you can’t go past Eichardt's Private Hotel. Located right in the heart of Queenstown’s café and restaurant precinct, this iconic building is steeped in history from its initial incarnation as a woolshed turned hotel when gold was struck, through to the elegant landmark it is today. Eichardt’s Private Hotel now boasts New Zealand’s most expensive hotel room – the Penthouse Suite.

Arrowtown institution, Millbrook Resort is synonymous with luxury. Millbrook boasts its own gym, with classes and personal trainers; jacuzzi, sauna and hot pools; tennis court; petanque; indoor swimming pool and physiotherapist along with a spa to pamper you all over. Alongside these impressive amenities are several world-class eateries and an award-winning golf course that just happens to be Bill Clinton’s favourite!

Blanket Bay located on the road to Glenorchy is a quiet and secluded location that is a favourite for the wealthy and celebrities that want a little privacy. Blanket Bay has everything needed for a decadent escape, including their own airstrip, helicopter landing pad and jetty for the ultimate in privacy and luxury. Tucked away off the road, Blanket Bay is located right on the doorstep of the incredibly picturesque Mt Aspiring National Park and all the natural wonder that comes along with this mountainous region. With a variety of accommodation and activity packages available from spa to adventure, Blanket Bay can cater to anything.

Can’t afford the eye-watering prices of the hotels listed above? Then add your own little touch of luxury to a Queenstown experience by heading to the Onsen Hot Pools. Soak away the aches and pains of the day in your own private hot pool. Bathe in pure mountain water with views overlooking the glorious braided Shotover River below. Your own picture window can be opened and closed at your leisure. At night it’s the perfect time to slip away into a luxurious soak while watching the stars above in your own secluded hideaway.

Helicopter flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound

There are lots of awesome places to visit by helicopter in Queenstown New Zealand.

Adding a helicopter flight to anything just ups the luxe factor 10-fold. And in Queenstown they have taken this to the next level. You can do just about anything in a helicopter here. Listed below are some of the activities you can add a helicopter to:

Heli Fishing – head up to remote rivers in the mountains and fly fish the trout-rich waters with no one else around. This is the ultimate adventure for avid fishers.

Heli Skiing – want to hit the slopes on pristine, virgin snow? Then sign up for a heli-skiing package. Heli-skiing has taken off in New Zealand, with many epic slopes inaccessible other than by helicopter.

Heli Picnic – perfect for a honeymoon, proposal or just an incredible day out. There are packages on offer that can fly you to the top of a nearby mountain where you can sit and watch the sunset while sipping on bubbles and eating tasty local delicacies.

Heli Biking – for adventure junkies who love mountain biking, especially downhill, you can’t go past the thrill of flying in a helicopter to the top of a ridgeline and then speeding down on a mountain bike.

Heli Rafting – want to skip the long drive out to some of the most scenic rafting around? Then why not take a helicopter. Take a thrilling ride through the gorge you will be rafting down and land in style at the start of your rafting adventure.

Heli Hiking – get into some of the most remote alpine regions in New Zealand by helicopter and spend some time exploring the area, cutting out days of lugging a heavy pack up and down mountains.

Heli Surfing – yep, you heard right! There are some great big wave breaks a short flight away. If board sports are your thing, you could be surfing in the morning and snowboarding down a mountain in the afternoon.

Heli Hut – if you don’t mind roughing it a bit there is a great little hut tucked away on a mountain near Queenstown. This is a private hut and is pretty typical of a New Zealand hut with bunk style beds, fireplace, outside toilet and a cooking area. Pack your sleeping bag and your hiking gear, jump in a helicopter and you will be transported to your own little slice of hiking paradise.

Queenstown is a little alpine village with a big personality. A truly cosmopolitan mix of people frequent here from backpackers to the rich and famous. There is something truly special about Queenstown that draws people in and pushes them out of their comfort zone in the best way possible. With so many ways to experience Queenstown, it will take more than just one visit to really experience what this incredible area has to offer.

Check our trip schedules and availability on our availability page. To work out which trip suits you best, check out Which Trip is Right For Me.

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Updated: 22/06/23


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