I usually don’t like very touristy towns. You know those places, so well known and packed with international and local visitors that you begin to yearn for the peace and quiet of home.
Queenstown in the Otago region on the southern island of New Zealand is an exception. It is my pick for one of the most scenic towns in New Zealand, which is really saying something because New Zealand is packed with some of the most beautiful places on earth – you’ve all seen Lord of the Rings, haven’t you?
Queenstown is set on the shores of the expansive Lake Wakatipu – the second largest glacial Lake on the Southern Island and the third largest in NZ. And its backdrop is the magnificent Remarkable Mountain Range and other impressive peaks. Queenstown is a place not to be missed on a NZ trip, no matter how many times you’ve visited before.
A tourist website describes Queenstown as ‘epic’ – and believe me, it is! An epic colourful postcard picture come to life and you are right in the heart of it.
Queenstown is around a seven hour drive from Christchurch, and has its own international airport. Be warned – flying in and out of Queenstown between rugged NZ peaks and often inclement weather is an adventure adrenalin hit in itself!
New Zealanders call Queenstown the ‘Adventure Capital of the World’. I’m sure there are places that might contest that, but in Queenstown there’s definitely just about every type of adventure you’d ever want to experience from world class skiing and snowboarding in winter, mountain biking, mountain climbing, white water rafting, hiking, sky diving, paragliding, flying foxes, bunny jumping. In fact, name an ‘adventure’ and you will surely find it here.
Now, I’m not an adventure adrenalin junkie – each to their own. I’m more into soaking in the scenery, sampling the local cuisine and ‘easy’ adventures – like going up to the top of Bob’s Peak near the centre of Queenstown in a gondola. This is scary enough for me! As mentioned in some of my other blogs, I have no head for heights, so this was ‘brave’ territory for me. Supposedly, it’s the steepest cable car life in the Southern Hemisphere and I was very nervous.
I was assured it was very safe – and it was for me on that occasion! Went up, saw the magnificent view, and went safely down again with a sense of accomplishment. A few weeks later, there was a disaster with one of the cable cars plunging into the hillside, resulting in two deaths. When I read that, I vowed never to do it again if I revisited Queenstown!
Ha! So much for vows. I have been persuaded to go up on the Skyline Gondola cableway on two subsequent trips since with family to Queenstown. Am I getting braver – or just more stupid!
I have to admit that each time I’ve been glad I did it. The view – 480 metres above Queenstown – is worth summoning up your courage if you are not keen on gondola rides. Of course, you could hike up to the top of Bob’s peak, but it’s quite a haul! The Skyline has been upgraded since my first visit in the ’70’s, and it rewards you with a stunning 220 degree panorama of the surrounding mountains, with the town and Lake below. There’s an upmarket restaurant and bar at the top, along with a more casual ‘market kitchen’ cafe.
Oh – and a hair-raising bungy and swing jump! Not for me – but adrenaline junkies love them.
I was almost tempted by hang gliding in Queenstown – there were a few Grandma’s snuggled up in tandem glides with rugged handsome Kiwi instructors. But no .. the thought was fleeting. I was happy to watch others do it!
Riding the Gondola wasn’t my only repeat ‘adventure kick’ in Queenstown. Back in the 1970’s I did try the heart stopping jet ride in the nearby Shotover River. Shooting through canyons at warp speed and coming perilously close to cliff faces. And I’ve done it not once, but twice – the second time with my husband and young sons on a subsequent trip to Queenstown. Again, families can be persuasive!
The Shotover jet has carried some famous passengers including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. I wonder if they took back a souvenir – like the little rubber jet boat that I still have by my bath in place of a rubber ducky! It reminds me that, when needed, I can summon up my courage for a little adventure in life!
There are more sedate things to do in Queensland such as a variety of cruises on the Lake. One cruise that I did on my first visit to Queenstown took me to the Walter Peak High Country farm where you can see sheep dogs in action, feed animals and watch farm demonstrations. The cruise is still very popular today. And the town is chock a block full of fabulous restaurants, pubs, cafes and bars. Foodie and wine heaven!
You can also explore a little further afield on a half day or day trip from Queenstown. Take a 45 minute drive down to nearby Glenorchy that provided a backdrop for films such as Narnia, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Glenorchy is also the gateway to great hiking trails such as NZ’s famous Routeburn track.The drive between Queenstown and Glenorchy is spectacular, though I wouldn’t advise drivers to take their eyes off the road. There are a lot of bends, and plenty of tourists driving hire vehicles who are not familiar with the route.
On the day I visited, we had blue skies one minute and rain and wind the next! Be prepared for all sorts of weather, no matter what the season is!
A great favourite place of mine only 20 minutes from Queenstown is Arrowtown, an old gold mining town that has retained many of its original buildings. These days it is a major tourist hub, so be prepared for crowds. I’d suggest finding a bed and breakfast there so you can wander the tiny town in the evening or early morning before the tourist hordes arrive!
Queenstown is also a gateway to New Zealand’s famous Milford Sounds – but that’s another story for another day!