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If we had to recommend just one city to someone visiting New Zealand, it’d have to be Queenstown.
Set on the shores of a picturesque lake and surrounded by breathtaking mountains, Queenstown is worth a visit for its scenic beauty alone. But that’s certainly not all. The streets are a lively mix of bustling retail stores, superb restaurants, and alluring advertisements for adventure.
Dubbed the ‘adrenaline capital’ of New Zealand, Queenstown sure has a lot to offer in the way of action packed adventures. From terrifying bungy jumps to thrilling jet boat rides and extreme snow sports, you can find it all here.
Even if adrenaline-fuelled adventures aren’t your thing, you’ll still find plenty to do. Check out the shopping district, stroll through beautiful parks, sail upon the lake, or simply soak up the quaint charm reminiscent of the old gold mining days. There really is something for everyone.
Here is our guide to Queenstown, no matter what your interests are. In this article we have compiled the Ultimate Guide to Queenstown, what to do and where to go.
- 1 Try out the Original Bungy Jump
- 2 Go for a Thrilling Jet Boat Ride
- 3 Spend Some Time on the Lake
- 4 Travel Back in Time on the Historic Steamboat
- 5 Soak Up the Stunning Panorama from the Skyline Park
- 6 Take a Walk in the Park
- 7 Try Your Hand at Gold Panning
- 8 Terrify yourself at a Haunted House
- 9 Discover all the Cool Shops in Town
- 10 Explore Queenstown’s Night life
- 11 Some Final Notes
Try out the Original Bungy Jump
Where better to try this adrenaline junkie classic than it’s birthplace? Back in 1986 AJ Hackett introduced his novel invention to the world with the opening of the first commercial bungy jumping centre in the Kawerau Gorge, just out of Queenstown. His idea soon gained international fame and thousands of visitors still flock to this original site to experience this extreme sport where it all began.
The AJ Hackett Bungy Centre also now jumps at two other locations in Queenstown. Ranging in height from 43- 134m, each jump is different, so check out their website to get all the details. You can expect to pay between $200-275 NZ per jump, or go all in with the ultimate package of all three jumps for $475. To get $15 off your jump, simply book online at least 15 days in advance.
Go for a Thrilling Jet Boat Ride
Another Queenstown classic is the Shotover Jet. It’s known internationally as the world’s most exciting jet boat ride. Take in the remarkable scenery while speeding through towering canyons at up to 90km/h. Travel over water sometimes only 10cm deep and experience the famous 360 degree spin. It really is a unique experience! Although located a little out of Queenstown, they offer a free shuttle to and from city centre. You can expect to pay around $160NZ for an adult ticket, but we would definitely recommend checking out Bookme for reduced tickets, as we managed to snag some great deals.
If you want jet boat rides without such a hefty price tag, there are multiple other companies offering tours on the lake and surrounding rivers. Price and duration vary widely, so shop around for your ideal ride. We went for a 25 minute spin on the lake with GoOrange Jets and had an absolute blast. It’s certainly not comparable to the Shotover experience, but still a lot of fun and for a fraction of the price.
Spend Some Time on the Lake
Lake Wakatipu (Queenstown’s central lake) is an absolute hub for watersports. You can find everything under the sun on offer here. Just wander around the lakeside streets and you’ll find all sorts of rental equipment and activities.
Whether you want to rent a jet ski or simply go for a dip, no stay in Queenstown would be complete without enjoying beautiful Lake Wakatipu. It can be very crowded in the main bay in summer months, but we discovered some quiet little bays perfect for swimming a few kilometres out of town. Our favourite was the lovely wee jetty from the photo, just a 15min walk down Seven Mile Point Track. And the best part was that we had the whole place to ourselves!
Travel Back in Time on the Historic Steamboat
Queenstown’s iconic steamship, the TSS Earnslaw, was built and launched in New Zealand in 1912. It originally transported livestock and passengers to and from the rural farming stations dotted along Wakatipu’s shores. It has since become a well known tourist attraction, hosting many a notable guest in its time, including Queen Elizabeth.
Onboard, the interior is maintained in vintage Edwardian style and a bar offers snacks and refreshments. The ship departs Queenstown every few hours daily carrying passengers on a scenic tour across the lake to the iconic Walter Peak High Country Farm. You have the choice of stopping here to experience farm tours, horse treks and more. Alternatively, remain on board and travel back across the lake to Queenstown. The return journey takes around an hour and a half, and you can expect to pay about $70NZ for an adult ticket. As we mentioned above, we would recommend checking Bookme for discounted tickets before booking.
Soak Up the Stunning Panorama from the Skyline Park
One of the hills in Queenstown’s breathtaking backdrop is home to Skyline New Zealand’s awesome park. Catch a gondola up the hill, dine in their restaurant with one of the best views in town, ride a thrilling luge, or check out the slopes with a mountain bike instead.
Since we’d already been to Skyline’s other park in Rotorua, we decided to focus our time on new activities while we were in Queenstown. But if you haven’t been yet, we definitely recommend it. The views from the gondola are fantastic and the luge is absolutely epic!
Take a Walk in the Park
Queenstown Gardens is a beautiful, centrally located park on a little peninsula out into the lake. The park is, in our opinion, well worth a wander. Walkers and joggers are spoiled for choice with a variety of scenic trails. Meander through beautiful gardens, stroll around an impressive evergreen forest, or jog the pretty lakeside track.
Or, indeed, try out one of the many activities on offer in the park. We played a great game of the Queenstown classic, disc golf – think an 18 hole frisbee course through the park, with large standing baskets as ‘holes’. It was a fun and highly competitive way to spend a few hours, with easy and affordable frisbee rental available. This is offered at a few places in town, including at the ice skating rink in the park, where you can hire a frisbee for a day for just $5.
That brings us to the next activity. Queenstown has its own indoor ice skating rink, located in the middle of the park. Just five minutes walk from city centre, it’s a fun thing to do for all ages. Find out more at their website. Best of all, simply book online to get a free hot Drink.
Another great family friendly option is the fantastic playground in the park. There are plenty of lovely cafes and ice cream places nearby for the whole family to enjoy. This playground really was a lot of fun, with some more adventurous parts for older kids too (ourselves included!). One of the absolute highlights of our trip was the insane rope swing over the stream running through the playground. Little kids can also happily swing there, but if you’re feeling adventurous, climb the tree with the rope and swing off for the most exhilarating flying experience. Simple, but just exceptionally good fun. And totally free! We just couldn’t get enough and kept coming back, spending a good hour or two here almost every day of our stay!
Try Your Hand at Gold Panning
Queenstown was once in the middle of a booming gold rush, the legacy of which can still be felt today. Many themed stores and activities help to keep the spirit alive, most notably in nearby Arrowtown. You too can try to strike it rich here in gold country. Go looking on your own in a river, or find a company offering gold panning experiences.
We tried our luck in a river and found nothing but a few tiny flakes of gold dust, but still had a lot of fun. If you want to try gold panning on your own like this, you must be careful to only search in a permitted area, as gold panning is illegal in New Zealand, aside from in a few certain locations. Maps and more details are readily available online. Alternatively, check out somewhere like Dudley’s Cottage in Arrowtown. They offer lessons on gold panning, and equipment hire for you to search in the river right next door.
Arrowtown is a 20 minute drive from Queenstown, and easily accessible by bus for only a few dollars. If you’re interested in visiting, which we definitely recommend, you may be interested in our Queenstown day trip ideas, where we give some more details and ideas on things to see in Arrowtown.
Terrify yourself at a Haunted House
An abandoned hotel, ruined by a curse and rumoured to be haunted by a tormented soul… Enter if you dare!
Fear Factory Queenstown, named New Zealand’s scariest haunted house, has a reputation not only for being terrifying, but also for its superb storytelling and overall immersive entertainment experience. Enter the doors and you feel as though you’ve already been transported into the nightmare, with a themed reception area and in-character costumed staff. As you wander the horrifying halls, you may at any moment shout “I chicken out!” to quit immediately. Reception records this, however, on their “chicken counter”, which only adds to its terrifying reputation.
Discover all the Cool Shops in Town
From JayJays to Louis Vuitton and about everything in between, Queenstown is quickly becoming a top New Zealand shopping destination.
Anyone with a sweet tooth certainly can’t give Remarkable Sweet Shop a miss. They have an incredible range of mouthwatering sweets of all descriptions. Try some kiwi lollies, or get something to remind yourself of home. They even offer a free fudge tasting with an enormous variety of delectable flavours. Needless to say, we were daily customers! We also bought some of their delicious Hokey Pokey to give Julian a taste of this kiwi classic, which we enjoyed at our favourite rope swing.
If you are a foodie you definitely need to visit Fergburger, a cute little burger store in the middle town. Fergburger has a reputation that speaks for itself. It’s fast, surprisingly cheap, and damn delicious. Don’t be put off by the long line down the street, it moves really fast and is well worth the 10-15 minute wait. We’re sure just one look at this photo will convince you that it’s a must-do in Queenstown!
Explore Queenstown’s Night life
Youthful and energetic, Queenstown has a diverse nightlife scene. From pubs to clubs, bar crawls to casinos, there really is a lot on offer. We thought the Ice Bar was pretty cool. Tt’s exactly what it sounds like! Descend into a frozen wonderland in this friendly bar where almost everything is made of ice (including the glasses!). Sip steaming cocktails while keeping cosy in provided coats and hats.
If you don’t yet have any accomodations sorted for your trip to Queenstown, feel free to book them over at Booking.com!
Some Final Notes
Hopefully by now we’ve managed to convince you that Queenstown is well worth a visit. It has so many great things on offer all in one place, and most is well within walking distance. We would recommend at least 3 days here, although you could happily spend much longer. The longer you stay, the more wonderful things you’ll discover. And no matter how long you have here, we know you’ll have a great time.
Do be prepared for crowds. Perhaps it’s only downside is that Queenstown is a poorly kept secret. It’s hands down the most touristy place we’ve been to in New Zealand. We normally don’t spend much time in such touristy places, but in this case it really is worth it. But, despite the crowds, the whole atmosphere is really lovely and friendly. It’s just one of those magical places.
If you’re planning a trip to New Zealand feel free to also check out our article Everything you need to know about New Zealand! It’s summarising everything you might want to know before you come over.