This breathtaking region needs no introduction. Queenstown (Tāhuna) is already known as the adventure capital of New Zealand, dishing up more than 200 heart-pumping activities across dramatic alpine ranges, glacial lakes and everywhere in-between.
In the colder months snow adventures reign supreme, while bungy jumping, canyon swinging, jet boating, horse trekking and river rafting are just some of the year-round experiences on offer. Its rich gold mining history and position on the edge of Central Otago's famed wine region also means there's mountains of stimulation for those who would prefer to stay on solid ground.
See & Do
There's no shortage of things to do in the adventure capital, whether you'd prefer to ski under the stars, ride in a giant mechanical shark or soak in an open-air hot tub.
A beginner's guide to ski fields in Queenstown
Queenstown is New Zealand’s winter playground. Surrounded by a backdrop of spectacular mountains, the hardest decision is choosing which ski field to visit. They’ve all got their charm - some are better suited to advanced skiers and snowboarders, others are perfect for first-timers and families. One thing that’s consistent across them all is excellent snow coverage, top facilities, stunning views, and lots of fun to be had. Take your pick from groomed runs, off-piste terrain and after-dark sessions where the stars guide you down the mountain. Read more
Drive along the most spectacular road in New Zealand
You don't need to get physical to enjoy all of Queenstown’s thrills. It’s entirely possible to have some proper excitement while someone else does all the skilful stuff. Skippers Road is 22 exciting and spectacular kilometres of single-lane, deeply rutted, winding, unsealed track above dizzying drop-offs with few passing places. Rental car companies forbid their vehicles to be driven along it; so by far the wisest option is to go on a guided tour. Read more
The magical scenic flight every Kiwi should do
Flying with this little scenic airline might just be the most magical four hours you'll spend on Earth. You'll race down Queenstown Airport's short runway and launch into the sky near Lake Hayes, turn above Coronet Peak, then head into the glaciated heart of the Southern Alps. It's hard to appreciate the sheer scale of the mountains in this part of the world, without flying among hundreds of peaks. Read more
Soak in a candle-lit hot tub
Certainly one the best ways to enjoy some “me time” (or indeed “couple time”) is just a short 10-minute drive from downtown Queenstown. The Onsen Hot Pools opened in 2007 with a mission to bring Japanese bathing traditions to New Zealand. Since then, the pools and day spa have been catering to the weary muscles of skiers, hikers or just locals and tourists who need to get away from it all. There’s a range of indoor and outdoor cedar hot tubs, but the biggest decision you’ll have is whether to have a glass of still or sparkling wine. Read more
Ride inside a giant mechanical shark
If you've spent any time on Queenstown waterfront, you would have probably seen a sizeable mechanical shark flying around the lake. It's called Hydro Attack, described as a mix between a fighter jet and a torpedo. During the 20-minute trip, you'll skim along the surface of Lake Wakatipu up to 80 kilometres per hour. You'll do rolls, the shark will dive up to two metres underwater and then leap out up to six. Read more
The most iconic Queenstown adventure activities
You can't visit the adventure capital of the world without having an adventure. There’s something in the air in Queenstown that inspires visitors to not just step, but leap out of their comfort zones, with thrills to be had above the clouds, in the water, and on land. From zooming down one of the world’s steepest ziplines to throwing yourself off a ledge with nothing more than a piece of elastic around your ankles, many of these crazy experiences were dreamed up right here – and they’ve been doing it for ages. Read more
Insider tip: Hike the hour-long Tiki Trail. It’s steep, but if you buy a coffee at the top, you can sit out on the observation deck and enjoy the best views in town for $5.
New Zealand's most picturesque tiny town
When in Queenstown, there is one side trip you can't miss. A drive to Glenorchy, on the northern end of Lake Wakatipu, is a feast for the eyes. First, you get to enjoy the spectacular road that weaves along the lakeside with mountains on either side. When you make it to the town itself, your first stop is usually the lakeside red shed framed against the mountains. It is a social media star. But dig a little deeper, and the village is full of hidden gems that are just as worthy of a picture. Read more
The best times to be in and around Queenstown
There are few places in New Zealand which can truly claim to be pumping all year round, but Queenstown is certainly one of them. Whether rain, shine or snow, there is always something happening in Queenstown and the surrounding areas. Run past lakes and mountains in the "world’s most beautiful marathon", walk through a wonderland of light installations, and celebrate the rainbow community at one of New Zealand's premier LGBTQ+ events. Read more
FIVE OF THE BEST QUEENSTOWN WALKS
Queenstown Hill Time Walk
You don’t have to be a modern-day Sir Edmund Hillary in the making to get epic mountain views in Queenstown – just head up the hill behind the town centre. The 500-metre climb to the summit of Te Tapu-nui might prompt a few complaints from your calves, but the 360-degree views are remarkable.
With snow-capped peaks casting fuzzy reflections in a lagoon lined with pink and purple lupins in December, this 3.2km walk offers ample reward for very little effort. Ideal for kids and those keen for a gentle stroll with excellent photo opportunities, the walkway begins just to the right of the bright red shed every visitor and their dog gets their photo taken beside.
Gibbston River Trail
Walking and wine tasting make for a winning combo on this 11km trail alongside the hyper-blue Kawarau River. It’s also a history lesson on legs, telling the stories of 19th-century gold mining on the Gibbston Flats. Part of the Queenstown Trail ‘Great Ride’ network, the river trail begins at the Kawarau Suspension Bridge, where you can watch daredevils dive headfirst toward the raging river before winding your way through the “Valley of Vines”.
Ben Lomond Track
Beginning amid the Douglas firs of the Tiki Trail, on this 11km hike you’ll wind your way under ziplines to the top of the gondola, where you can catch your breath at the viewpoint before ascending into an alpine wonderland. The climb to Ben Lomond Saddle is a bit of a slog, but the even-more-amazing lake and mountain views should give the strength to keep going.
Among – if not the – greatest of the Great Walks, this 32km multi-day hike is on most serious Kiwi hikers’ bucket lists. And no wonder. A high-level mountain route taking in mirror-like tarns, waterfalls, ice-carved valleys, moss-covered groves that look like something out of a Grimm fairytale and awe-inspiring views of surrounding mountain ranges, it’s a walk that keeps on giving. Generously.
Soak up the spectacular terrain of Queenstown via monster truck, down remote walking tracks, or on an invention somewhere between skiing and tobogganing.
Screaming-good monster truck madness
If adrenaline runs through your veins, you can't miss Oxbow Adventures on your next trip to Queenstown. Here, visitors can push custom-made buggies to the limit across hilly desert-like landscape in Gibbston Valley and weave jet sprint boats around islands on a lake at lightning speed. The buggy rides start with a quick drag race, before a dipping into a drop bowl – almost like a massive sinkhole in the middle of the track. Read more
Slide around in NZ's only ice bumper cars
This crazy new ride can be found at the Queenstown Ice Arena. Kids will love them: they are controlled by two joysticks, and steering on ice is as hard as it sounds. You'll spend a lot of time spinning out and bumping into each other as you learn to control the slippery machines. The experience runs for ten minutes - it's the best fun you can have on four wheels. Read more
Go flying on an electric surfboard
One of the region's newest attractions sees riders fly on water. Fliteschool Queenstown will teach you how to use an e-foil; it's essentially an electric surfboard with a propeller that foils above water. A one-and-a-half-hour lesson will provide you with everything you need to know, and it's said to be easier than kiteboarding, snowboarding, or skiing to learn. Read more
Paraglide off the side of a mountain
Wherever you are in Queenstown you’re bound to enjoy some spectacular views, but the best perspective is definitely from above – which is why you should consider booking a paragliding flight. Coronet Peak Tandems offers the highest take-off points in Queenstown, from the famous Coronet Peak skifield. In summer, there are two take-off options to choose from. But in winter you can go up in the chairlift to reach the snow launch point at 5400ft. Read more
The spectacular zipline that feels like a rollercoaster
If there's one zipline to try anywhere in the country, this is it. It has an enormous cliff, stunning views of Mt Aspiring National Park, and zips that race down rivers. Near Glenorchy, on the lower slopes of a mountain, Paradise Ziplines' beautiful course sees seven lines zigzag down the valley. The 'Orc Chasm' is one of the most spectacular. The wire is in the centre of a fast-flowing river, encased in native bush. It's as if we've entered a tree tunnel, and will zoom down the rapids just a few metres above the water. Read more
The new craze hitting Queenstown's mountains
The Yooner is a blessing for those of us who don’t know how to ski or snowboard. At first, this slightly mysterious French invention looks like you're riding an elaborate broomstick down a mountain. But if you take a little closer look, this contraption is nothing but genius. Somewhere between sled and a single ski, it's a little like a bike to ride. Just lift your feet and start sliding down the hill. Steer by leaning to each side and brake by pulling back on your grip stick. Read more
The best hidden walks in and around Queenstown
Take the trails less travelled and you’ll get the full at one with nature experience: One undiluted by clicking cameras and countless pairs of activewear-clad legs. Some of our favourites include a trail once used by Māori settlers travelling to the West Coast, a mini version of the enormously popular Roys Peak Track, and a hike to a hidden glacial lake most visitors to Queenstown never see. The scenery is often just as remarkable as the likes of the actual Remarkables, and you’re far more likely to have it all – or almost all – to yourself. Read more
Insider tip: Drive along the Queenstown-Glenorchy Road to Seven Mile Recreation Reserve for stunning vistas of Lake Wakatipu and Cecil Peak. This grassy area has a carpark, picnic tables and access to a picturesque lakefront trail.
Eat & Drink
Satiate your hunger with world-famous burgers, stock up on handcrafted chocolates, or splash out at one the region's first-class winery restaurants.
Believe the hype about these world-famous burgers
You realise that this is not your regular burger bar when you see the queue clogging the pavement along Queenstown’s Shotover Street. In the 20 years since it began, Fergburger has become an institution, and for very good reason. Its wide range of burgers, from 3/4lb meat patties to tofu, are freshly prepared every day, well cooked, carefully assembled, and delicious. Read more
Where to dine in for a special night out
Whether you have a hot date, an anniversary or birthday to celebrate, or you just want to find somewhere for a good old-fashioned meal, these fine dining restaurants will give you and your guests a night to remember. Exquisite atmosphere, service and the country’s finest cuts of meat and seafood are all part of the package. How about sitting down for a gourmet Southland cheese roll, kina pappardelle or kūmara ravioli? Read more
Insider tip: If you've booked dinner in Aosta in Arrowtown, head there an hour earlier and stop by the Blue Door for a drink. This hidden gem is a speakeasy-style bar with live music on Wednesdays.
Where to eat and drink with the whole family
Wining and dining in Queenstown doesn’t need to start and end with winery restaurants, especially when the entire family is in tow. Between Glenorchy, Queenstown, Frankton and Arrowtown you can sit down at an Italian eatery for fresh pastries and pasta, enjoy cheap and cheerful tacos in the heart of the city, fill up on giant New York-style pizza, and visit a grassy beer garden with its own trampoline. Read more
The country's coolest pizzeria
While Cardrona might be one of the most recognisable ski fields in the country, few realise it's also home to one of the most spectacular pizza parlours. The only way to get to Captain's Pizzeria is by snowboarding or skiing down an intermediate level trail. Essentially, you need to earn the right to eat there. It's worth the effort, with one of the best pizza views in the world (we're a little biased, of course). Read more
Treat your taste buds at this chocolaterie
Walk into Patagonia Chocolates on the Queenstown lakefront and you'll see giant taps pouring out velvety smooth melted chocolate in white, milk and dark varieties. Customer favourites include the tramontana ice cream and dulce de leche, but you can’t visit without trying the Signature Hot Chocolate. Made from milk, cream and real chocolate, this decadent warming beverage is a family recipe from co-owner Lorena Giallonardo’s childhood in Buenos Aires. Read more
The cafe where cheese dreams come true
You don't really need an excuse to visit the historic village of Arrowtown, but if you are looking for one – let it be cheese. The beautiful town is home to the Gibbston Valley Cheese Cafe, which offers a delicious selection of cheese dishes. Don't go past the fresh baguette, warmed and stuffed with cheese, chorizo and local chutney. Or the double cream brie, oven-baked with caramelised onion and served with fresh bread. Read more
Insider tip: No visit to Queenstown is complete without lunch at the spectacular Amisfield, but it's an expensive cab ride from town. The Arrowtown bus will drop you at the winery's door and if you buy the local bus card the fare is only $2.
FIVE OF THE BEST GIBBSTON WINERIES
Come for the award-winning architecture, stay for the organic wines, and know you’re helping protect some of New Zealand’s rarest native birds in the process. Based in a bunker-style building beneath a canopy designed to evoke the wing of a peregrine falcon in flight, this family-owned winery focuses on the pinot noir so well suited to the region. Sample a selection from three distinct sub-regions in the tasting room and take an oak-and-maturing-wine-scented stroll through the adjoining barrel room.
A rosé-hued Tuscan-style building set on a vine-covered hillside above the bright blue Kawarau River, Chard Farm is among the most picturesque in the region. Believing the terroir was similar to that in famous European wine-growing regions such as Burgundy, Alsace and Champagne, founder Rob Hay set out to disprove the notion that Gibbston was better suited to farming than wine production. The proof has been in the pinot noir, which has gone down so well the estate now has five vineyards in Gibbston and Cromwell.
The region’s oldest commercial vineyard offers many ways to enjoy its award-winning tipples: in a tasting session in NZ’s largest wine cave, with a meal at the restaurant, or as fuel to ride a bike to nearby cellar doors. The winery’s handcrafted wines are made with grapes from its Gibbston and Bendigo vineyards under four different ranges. You can work out which you like best in the cosy cellar door. There’s so much to do, you might want to spend a night or few. Conveniently, there’s a lodge on-site complete with an exclusive wine cellar, movie theatre, and a spa.
Mt Rosa Wines
This family-owned winery’s woolshed-style tasting room reflects its heritage: The property was once a ram paddock for Kawarau Station. Nestled within the vines, the cellar door offers tastings and signature wines by the glass and bottle to enjoy indoors or on the covered courtyard or grass. Line your stomach with the local cheeses, cured meats, oak-smoked salmon and dips piled onto the platters and settle in for a lazy afternoon.
Keen to sample wines from multiple local wineries without moving a muscle? Visit this family-run 40-acre vineyard and you can do just that. Kinross is the official cellar door for five boutique Central Otago wineries – Coal Pit, Hawkeshead, Kinross, Valli and Wild Irishman – enabling you to sample wines from different subregions side by side.
Book into a luxury lodge right by the water, a boutique hotel on the hill or an eco-pod overlooking the Southern Alps.
A luxury Swiss-style escape
The five-star Hotel St Moritz sits a few hundred metres back from Lake Wakatipu, with uninterrupted views of The Remarkables. The hotel has the feel of an opulent ski chalet, which is apparent the moment you walk in, with large exposed beams, retro chandeliers, and a roaring fireplace. Aside from the view and grand setting, the hotel's best feature is its location. It also has a series of hot tubs nestled in the garden, which are the perfect way to unwind after a big day exploring. Read more
Scandinavian style on the Queenstown hillside
The magnificent view across Lake Wakatipu is just one of the highlights at this boutique hotel on the hillside, especially when sitting in one of the three private hot tubs. There’s a real Scandinavian feel to Kamana Lakehouse. The Space is a welcoming combination of bar, lounge and restaurant with comfortable seats around suspended fireplaces. Real birch trees in the lobby add to the Scandi vibe; and even the ski storage room is artfully designed. Read more
Quirky and modern alpine luxury
Luxury boutique hotel QT Queenstown sits along Lake Wakatipu’s shoreline and capitalises on the incredible views that the region is so famous for. Billed as the “peak of alpine luxury”, this artsy hotel manages to be quirky and modern, and cosy at the same time. The lobby impresses instantly with its pop-art style decor and a fireplace suspended from the ceiling, while the restaurant and bar are two of the best places to watch the sunset over the Remarkables. Read more
Insider tip: Room bookings made directly with The Sherwood come with bonus food and drink credit for the on-site restaurant.
This new luxury escape is big on the freebies
Guests receive the royal treatment and a whole lot of freebies at Stay of Queenstown. This luxurious seven-suite escape is a blend between a hotel and lodge and sits overlooking the lake and mountain ranges. It's run by an interior designer turned hotelier, who greets every guest with six-star attention to detail. The luxurious touches make this feel like a high-end lodge – just without the price tag. Read more
Stare at the Southern Alps from these luxury pods
Walking in to Glenorchy's EcoScapes, it's not immediately clear what all the fuss is about; you're greeted by a cute little kitchenette and couch. But when you turn into the bedroom, you can expect to utter one simple word: wow. The bedroom is designed like a cube, with an enormous window framing Lake Wakatipu and the snow-capped mountains that loom over her. And with the flick of a button, the room transforms into the country's coolest cinema – all to enjoy with just one other person. Read more
Queenstown accommodation for those on a budget
It may have a reputation for being a bit heavy on the wallet, but there are some reasonably priced places to crash in the adventure capital. Discerning budget travellers wanting to spend less on accommodation so they can spend more on activities can choose from self-contained pods which start as low as $29 a night to smart hotels accessible by the magic of technology. The best bit: Most of them situated very close to all the action. Read more
LUXURY QUEENSTOWN ESCAPES
Eichardt's Private Hotel
For one of the most luxurious experiences in town, why not book out Eichardt’s $13,000-per-night penthouse? Guests have 240sqm to spread out, including both indoor and outdoor kitchens, two bedrooms, a sauna and spa, and Queenstown’s largest private terrace. A private butler and chef are at your disposal 24/7, while luxury yacht Pacific Jemm can be hired for charters along Lake Wakatipu.
This world-famous luxury health retreat is about a 40-minute drive from central Queenstown along the famously scenic road to Glenorchy. Pulling up at Aro Hā for the first time prompts an instant serotonin surge. A sprawling, golden tussock-covered property overlooking snowcapped mountain-encircled Lake Wakatipu, it is New Zealand at its photogenic best. It isn’t cheap, but it’s an investment we're sure few would regret.
From the understated decor that lets the scenery shine, to the genuinely warm staff, and the delicately balanced, flavourful cuisine, it’s easy to see why this lodge is considered one of the best. The alpine luxury lodge has seven deluxe suites, four suites, one lodge and its pièce de résistance - the owner’s cottage - an exclusive villa rumoured to be where the royals, Kate and William, stayed on their trip to New Zealand. You can't go wrong at Matakauri Lodge.
The Rees Lakeside Residences
The little touches, personalised service, friendly staff and attention to detail are stand out qualities at The Rees. The five-star hotel features 60 hotel rooms, 90 apartments and five private two storey villas with room for six people, plus their own sauna and spa pool. Over at the main hotel, features include a library, the True South Dining Room and a wine cellar housing a collection of fine Bordeaux wines.
Six quintessential Queenstown hikes and bikes
Biking the Gibbston River Trail. SUPPLIED
The best way to behold Queenstown’s natural beauty is to get as close as possible. To get you started we’ve gathered six of Queenstown’s best hiking and biking trails for you to explore. There’s no better way to experience New Zealand’s home of adventure and immerse yourself in the country’s most mind-blowing natural environments. From the Queenstown Trails which offer over 130 kilometres of off-road trails hugging the pristine shores of Lake Wakatipu, to the family-friendly Frankton Track and Kelvin Heights Sculpture Trail, there is something to suit everyone.
We could all use some adventure and beauty right now, and one of New Zealand’s most breathtaking natural locations serves up plenty of both.
Biking the Arrow River, Gibbston Valley Trail. SUPPLIED
Visuals: Brook Sabin
Words: Brook Sabin, Stephen Heard, Siobhan Downes, Lorna Thornber, Alan Granville, Juliette Sivertsen, Trupti Biradar, Pamela Wade
Editors: Trupti Biradar, Stephen Heard