It’s really, really hard to ignore the pure, unadulterated beauty of Queenstown. You can try, of course. You can distract yourself with daredevil sports, glass after glass of cool-climate pinot noir, a Goliath-sized Fergburger or a long soak in a spa, but soon enough you’ll round a corner and catch yourself staring at it again – raw, magnificent, awe-inspiring mountain porn. It’s everywhere.
Built around the ice-blue glacial waters of Lake Wakatipu in the Otago region of New Zealand’s south island, the town is overlooked by craggy mountain range The Remarkables, and in the winter is an ideal spot from which to start your skiing trip to the nearby fields. In the spring and summer months the town is equally as busy. The mountains bloom with butter-yellow broom flowers and cyclists rather than skiers zip down hills flowering with wild thyme. Even though snow tends to fall on the highest peaks until December, the weather is still mild and pleasant.
Queenstown’s reputation as “the adventure capital of New Zealand” – as one local bartender puts it – attracts a huge number of tourists. They come looking for thrills with a stunning backdrop, and there’s plenty to be found through summer and winter. However, adventure sports and adrenaline aren’t the only pleasures on offer here, even though they are abundant. New restaurants, shops and bars are opening all the time – catering to both the wild and the winsome, and there are activities that are all in close proximity to each other, and all within a 15 minute walk/drive.
If you’re in Queenstown for a good time, not a long time, and looking for a mix of emotional responses, here’s how to spend 72 hours.
Air New Zealand flies direct from both Sydney and Melbourne into Queenstown and in its typically friendly and quirky style, the airline has recently released The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made, a mesmerising, Hobbit-themed extravaganza that quickly went viral. Being commanded (politely) to tighten your seatbelt by an elf is strangely persuading.
The grand, chalet-style Hotel St Moritz is just a short stroll from the town centre, and is set high, overlooking The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu. Offering sizeable, well-stocked rooms, outdoor hot tubs, a gym and sauna, plus the best view you’re likely to see from a bar and dining room, it’s a perfect option for those looking to stay not quite right in the middle of the action. For a cozy night in after your journey, a wood-fired oven churns out hot pizza.
10–18 Brunswick Street, Queenstown
+64 3 442 4990
Fish and chips at Aggy’s Shack, Fish & Chips
This lo-fi shack on the lakefront is a simple little set-up, but serves some of the freshest seafood in town. Try curly fried whitebait, blue cod or native New Zealand varieties such as sea urchin and smoked local eel. BYO beer and sit on the little tables out front to enjoy the view of the lake.
Corner Marine Parade and Church Street, Queenstown
Wander around the town for some shopping
Time to take a stroll around the town centre. The shops stay open quite late here, until about 8pm. Poke your head into various chocolate shops and gift stores selling pure wool products. If you’re taking on any of the various walking tracks surrounding Queenstown, pure wool will keep you toasty while you walk.
Dinner at Rata
Michelin-starred chef Josh Emett and restaurateur Fleur Caulton’s restaurant in Queenstown is a wonderful place for a splash-out dinner, or a casual snack and cocktail at the bar. The kitchen is run by head chef Chris Scott, who champions only the best local produce. Try bite-sized profiteroles filled with whipped goat’s cheese and honey, or rose-pink veal carpaccio with fried nuggets of ox tongue, pickled red onion and smoked oyster cream. Let the bar staff take you through the restaurant’s impressive range of local wines.
43 Ballarat Street, Queenstown
+64 3 442 9393
Ice cream or hot chocolate at Patagonia
As you wander back to your hotel through the town centre, stop by Patagonia ice cream and chocolate shop for some dessert. The glass counter is stocked with chocolates, from pralines to mint creams and salted caramels. Thick hot chocolate bubbles in a cauldron by the register, and colourful ice creams are piled up near the door. Buy a scoop for your walk.
50 Beach Street, Queenstown
+64 3 442 9066
Early Breakfast at St Moritz
Enjoy a buffet breakfast inside St Moritz’s impressive dining room, which looks right out over the lake.
Up the Skyline Gondola to Ziptrek Ecotours
It’s about a 10-minute walk to the base of the Skyline Gondola from the hotel. Catch a car up to the top and enjoy the view of the town as you’re carried upward. At the top of the line, you’ll find Ziptrek Ecotours. There are two choices of zipline tours (six or four lines) to choose from. Sustainable and with minimal environmental impact, this high-velocity ride zips you through the trees to small tree houses via a cable. You’re strapped into a harness, though it’s a little nerve-wracking as you leap from the platform, but once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s a dream. Throughout the tour, guides fill you in on local stories from the area. Keep your eyes open, the view of the lake and mountains is spectacular.
43 Camp Street, Queenstown
+64 3 441 2102
Lunch at Vudu Cafe and Larder
After all that high-speed action you’re going to need to refuel. Vudu Cafe and Larder is the second Vudu in Queenstown, a bigger version of the sister cafe on Beach Street. With fresh juices, a counter full of cakes, slices, sandwiches and some great coffee, you can relax at the communal table while you get your bearings back.
16 Rees Street, Queenstown
Bike Ride with Around the Basin
Hopefully you had a big lunch. Now that you’ve got your energy back, a half-day bike ride through a portion of Queenstown’s many bike trails is a fantastic way to see the scenery while working off your lunch. This is a perfect activity for groups of up to 10 or for solo tours. Choose between half, full or multi-day trails. You’ll cross rivers on impressive suspension bridges, ride through fields of fragrant wild thyme and cruise parallel to clear, bubbling waters that according to guide Steve Norton, are filled with trout.
+64 27 442 7071
Dinner at Madam Woo
Set up by Josh Emett and Fleur Caulton, who also own Rata, Madam Woo is just one year old and is already a favourite of both locals and visitors alike. Lively and casual, with an interior design that would be at home in Sydney or Melbourne, enjoy a feast of Chinese and Malaysian street-food flavours. Don’t miss the hawker rolls with sticky pork and crisp cucumber wrapped in flaky roti; Hainanese chicken rice; fish curry with lime and tomatoes; or the great cocktail list. If you’re just popping in for a drink, take your glass upstairs to the Parlour, where there’s a second bar and balcony from which to watch the passing parade below.
Mall Street, Queenstown
Drink at The Bunker upstairs
If you’re not ready to go home yet, order a nightcap at The Bunker restaurant’s upstairs cocktail bar. If the weather hasn’t warmed up yet, pull up by the roaring fire and sink into one of the leather seats. Careful, you might never get up.
Cow Lane, Queenstown
+64 3 441 8030
Breakfast at Chop Shop Food Merchants in Arrowtown
Formed following a gold boom in the area, quaint Arrowtown is about 15 kilometres out of Queenstown and is a must-visit. The main street is so cute it could pass as a film set. The adjoining streets are dotted with cafes, a micro cinema, sweet shops and gift stores. The Chop Shop Food Merchants is a cosy cafe for breakfast or brunch, with a great balcony for sunny days. The coffee is great and the small menu is packed with flavour. Try the cafe’s signature dish of poached eggs with a scoop of silky, garlicky yogurt with a hit of chilli. Mop it all up with Turkish bread. The coffee is also excellent here. Make sure you leave time for wandering around Arrowtown.
44 Buckingham Street, Arrowtown
+64 3 442 1116
Running all year, the world-famous Shotover Jet has thrilled and dampened more than three million people since its inception in 1970. Unique boat design allows the craft to zip and turn through the Shotover River’s breath-halting canyons. The whole trip takes about 20 minutes, with 360-degree turns and spins. Get ready to get a little wet, though wet-weather gear is provided (and seats are heated).
Gorge Road, Arthurs Point
+64 3 442 5583
Fergburger by the Lake
You can’t visit Queenstown without eating a Fergburger as big as your head. It is famous for bursting with fresh ingredients and having a permanent line out front. Try the original New Zealand beef with tomato, lettuce, onion, aioli and tomato relish, or the lamb option with mint jelly. If you’re feeling sure of yourself (and your stomach) and are looking to draw a crowd, order the Big Al, with half a pound of beef, two eggs, plenty of bacon, cheese, beetroot, lettuce, tomato, red onion, relish and aioli. You’ll struggle to finish it, but the crowd will cheer you to the finish line.
42 Shotover Street, Queenstown
+64 3 441 1232
Scenic Helicopter Tour
You might believe you’ve seen all the beauty possible in this town, but just reserve judgement until you’ve seen it from the air. A 20-minute scenic flight will take you up and away, across rivers, lakes and peaks. An alpine landing on a windy hillside overlooking all that is gorgeous and picturesque in this incredible part of the world will be a highlight of this trip. You’ll see tiny shepherd cabins, Arrowtown, Lake Hayes and more. If you can squirrel your way into a seat in the front, it’s worth it.
0800 435 486
Dinner at Amisfield Winery and Bistro
Take a 15-minute drive from town to pray at the altar of pinot noir. Amisfield’s example is elegant, full of finesse, body and flavour. Opened in 2006, Amisfield’s impressive bistro and cellar door stone building has a lovely courtyard for outdoor dining. After a tasting of each pinot (savour the 2010, a particularly good year), plus a fantastic, supple sauvignon blanc and strawberry-and-cream rosé, take a seat in the restaurant that overlooks Lake Hayes and leave your lunch up to the chef. A four-course menu of local ingredients is executed with style.
10 Lake Hayes Road, Queenstown
+64 3 442 0556