In the heart of the South Island of New Zealand lies the small town of Queenstown. Relatively secluded from the rest of the world, this humble borough holds a secret identity: the title of Adventure Capital of the World.
Queenstown is located roughly 500km due south of Christchurch and roughly 300km due west of Dunedin, making it a slightly isolated “town-in-the-mountains”. Boasting some of the most outlandish and adrenaline-pumping pursuits one could ever need, Queenstown really is the outdoorsman’s paradise.
The allure of this little hovel comes not only from within the town itself, but also from its proximity to nearby landmarks and other smaller towns. Queenstown acts as the gateway to Fiordland, one of New Zealand’s most frequented natural landmarks.
The miles and miles of ocean inlets and enormous mountains are but part and parcel of the Otago region.
This is but the beginning. Here is our list for some of the best things to do in Queenstown.
Queenstown: Things to do for the adventurer and adrenaline junky
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Queenstown’s attractions can vary from hiking to bungee jumping, with sightseeing in between. Does hearing the roar of a speedboat make your heart beat fast? The smell of the crisp mountain air lighten your soul? Then you will be thrilled to know that these are but some of the things this dynamite of a town has to offer.
#1: The Remarkables
As one gets off the plane at Queenstown International Airport and opens their eyes to the surrounding landscape, they are met first and foremost by The Remarkables.
Spanning the entirety of Lake Wakatipu, these volcanic mountains make for the most awe-inspiring backdrop for your time in Queenstown. Not only are they beautiful to look at, but they’re hike-able as well!
Snow-capped peaks and a 360-degree view to live for, it may be worth your while adding “brave the Mountains of Mordor” to your Queenstown to-do list. Even if just to know you followed in the footsteps of Frodo and Sam.
#2: The Milford Sound
A couple of hours outside of Queenstown lies the “Sounds of the South”, also known as Fiordland.
A beautiful collection of fiords that span the bottom of the South Island, Fiordland hosts the king of them all: The Milford Sound.
Hop on to one of the many bus tours that leave from Queenstown Station early morning and begin your journey through the southern landscapes of New Zealand. Stopping at small towns such as Te Anau where one can get the authentic southern cultural experience.
Arrive at Fiordland, and be prepared to take in the vastness of your surroundings. From the crystal blue water to the towering peaks of the mountains that surround you, travelling along the Milford Sound will be one of the most unforgettable experiences of your life.
Note: If you don’t come back wet from a rainy day on the Sound then you haven’t experienced it at its most beautiful. Make sure to stand on the front deck of your boat when the captain takes you under the waterfall!
#3: Zipline Tour
Take part in the steepest tree-to-tree zipline in the world, beginning at the top of the Tiki Trail and the Skyline Gondola, and finishing at its base in the town itself.
This is one of THE things to do whilst in Queenstown. Not just because of the opportunity to ride the gondola up, nor the thrill of getting your blood pumping on the way down, but rather the unique view you are given of the town.
Not only do you get to see the beauty of Lake Wakatipu from end to end, but you get a bird’s eye view of Queenstown in a way only the zipline can offer. It will leave a lasting impression, of this, there can be no doubt.
#4: The Jet Boats
Water as shallow as 10cm. 360-degree spins at 90 kilometres an hour. For what feels like a very short 25 minutes. This is what it means to take part in the Jet Boats of Queenstown.
The choice is yours to either go on Lake Wakatipu or in the Shotover River/Canyons. Either way, you’re getting speed and wall-to-wall stunts. Where the lake offers the freedom of space, this only gives the driver more room to twist and turn.
In the canyons, you’ll experience what it means to be a hair’s breadth from something, where the driver takes you at high speeds through its narrow twists and turns.
When done, you will scarcely believe that in just 25 minutes you were able to take in any of what just happened. But as they say down in Queenstown, “It’s not what you see, it’s what you feel”.
#5: Lake Wakatipu
Welcome to New Zealand’s 3rd largest lake! 379m deep, 80km long, 291 km squared, and with one of the cleanest waters in the world (watermarked at 99.9% purity).
Lake Wakatipu is one of your best Queenstown kayaking options! You’d be well sorted for clean water to drink so pack the essentials foods.
New Zealand wants the best for you and would prefer to not have any accidents happen to their guests. With this in mind, laws to exist enforcing the wearing of life jackets for any boat under 6m (including kayaks). This only to protect you from the 10 °C water!
But, donned with the appropriate snacks and clothing, you can find yourself skimming the water of one New Zealand’s ideal kayaking spots. Traversing a lake any Instagram influencer would pay to see!
#6: Coronet Peak Ski Area
Probably one of, if not the, most popular skiing mountain range in the area. Coronet Peak plays host to the ski resort of the same name. Finding itself 20km outside of Queenstown central, Coronet is blessed with a long snow season and fantastic weather. A skier’s dream!
What makes Coronet so popular? Well, other than its close proximity to Queenstown and ideal conditions, it offers a multitude of quality facilities. These can range from their high-speed quad chairlift, high-speed six-seater chairlift and, as of 2010, their new high-speed beginner chairlift.
Why is this important? It shows Coronet’s variety and opportunity for those from all walks of life and experience levels. First time? They have your back. Experienced? They’ve got your back too. Skiing not your thing? They’ve got views to spare!
#7: Skippers Road/Canyon
Maybe it’s not the individual action that you’re after on your Queenstown to-do list. Maybe you prefer being in the passenger seat as someone else takes you into the wild, off the beaten track. As much as the Shotover Jet Boat is fast-paced and wildly mental, Skippers Canyon Road is daunting, narrow and high.
Warning! If you have a fear of heights and slim roads, this may be your worst nightmare. However, if you can bear looking out your window directly into a canyon, then hop into your rental and give it go.
Just know that there’s a good chance your rental car insurance probably won’t be getting involved if you do…
#8: Hollyford Track
Another Queenstown must-do directly from the beautiful Fiordlands. This one is for all those advent hikers out there. The Hollyford Track finds itself on the opposite side of the Milford Sound’s Darran Mountain Range.
A multi-day hike (3 days at most), the Hollyford Hiking Trail begins its journey at Road’s End (appropriately named, all things considered), going head-first into the mountains of Darran and Bryneira, later into Skippers Range.
Tree-covered paths and the Hollyford river for company, the hike starts with a trek across the land, through the Whakatipu Ka Tuka Valley. This then opens out into Lake McKerrow and a boat ride to Martins Bay Lodge, ending the second day
Finally, closing with a helicopter trip that brings you into the Milford Sound. This 3-day adventure lands you back on a bus to Queenstown exhausted, satisfied, and glad you decided to follow this article list of things to do!
Land, sea, and sky. The perfect trifecta.
#9: Kawarau Bridge Bungy Jump
Does the idea of throwing yourself off a 141ft bridge excite you? No? Us neither. But why not live a little!
The Kawarau Bridge Bungy Jump boasts one of the best safety records in New Zealand, with one of the most experienced crews in the world when it comes to the art of diving off of high places.
Want to be dunked in freezing cold water? They can do it. Want to just skim the water with the locks of your hair? They can do that too! Maybe you’re less wild and would prefer bobbing above the water. When it comes to variety, Kawarau Bridge offers you many choices when it comes to how you would like to dive off their bridge. Just make sure to remind them of your choice before you get the scare of your life!
All jokes aside, the scenery and availability of choice make for an experience you’ll never forget. You get a complimentary t-shirt just to ensure that doesn’t happen. Yay!
#10: Lord of the Rings-themed 4×4 Drive
As a Lord of the Rings fan, this was one of our favorite opportunities Queenstown afforded me. The opportunity to explore the wilder lands of Middle-earth and see where the many sets of Peter Jackson’s epic took place.
There are a variety of safari service providers available for use, but a universal trait amongst all of them is the chance to see the key film sites from the movies, such as:
- Misty Mountains
- The Pillars of the Kings
- and so many more!
With other adventures on the itinerary such as gold panning and cosplaying, this 4×4 drive is sure to bring out the inner “Strider” in all of us!
Bonus Attraction: Amisfield Bistro & Cellar Door
Who said adventure was restricted solely to jumping off a bridge or going for a 3-day hike into the wild? Maybe to some, “adventure” means going to a restaurant looking for that life-changing meal experience capable of changing your view on food forever.
Now, we aren’t saying that Amisfield will give you that. We’re only saying that if food is your passion, and eating in a styled-up farmstead in the mountains sounds like a fun experience, then why not give it a chance?
Not only will you get an exquisite fine-dining experience with a New Zealand spin, but you’ll also receive a unique and solely Amisfield environment designed to make it feel like you’re going back to your roots. Prepare to be impressed!
And it doesn’t stop here…
Queenstown is more than just “things to do”. Being there is an attraction in and of itself. These are but a taste of what the “Queenstown attraction” can offer. Whether you are a hiker, an adrenaline junky, or just a sightseer. Maybe an outdoorsman or simply a connoisseur of culture? Either way Queenstown has that little something for everyone.
If you had to ask us, we’d tell you that it’s easy to list off all the many many activities Queenstown has to offer. We’ve shown you how obviously beautiful the landscapes are and how amazingly quaint the town is.
But, what the images and stories don’t (and can’t) tell you is how it felt to stand on top of the Remarkables. What the salty air tasted like aboard the Milford Sound cruise or how awe-inspiring it was to see the Darran Mountains loom over you like giant behemoths from the folk tales.
The recounts don’t bring the atmosphere of walking through the cobbled park, overlooking Wakatipu Lake, watching the jet boats go out for another run. The feeling of being around like-minded tourists who all just came to be a part of what this little town and its surroundings had to offer.
And nor should they…
As the cliche goes, “You’d need to be there.”