Queenstown (New Zealand)
What was once a small, remote, South Island town has transitioned, first to a busy ski destination, and now to a year round tourist mecca and centre for adventure tourism. It is a world famous destination attracting around 1.9 million visitors every year, undoubtedly the tourism capital of the South Island if not New Zealand, and a must-see stop for most visitors to New Zealand.
Situated on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, one of Otago and New Zealand's most scenic lakes, surrounded by mountains, it's not hard to see why its stunning scenery draws people here year round. Queenstown happily caters for all visitors with a full range of attractions, activities, accommodation and eating options for any budget, from backpackers to five star luxury. This popularity is not without its problems though - in many respects Queenstown can be a tourist trap. However, reasonable prices and a few bargains can be found for those prepared to look for them.
Queenstown is a bustling town throughout the year, peaking over summer and during the ski-season. There is a vibrant night life with the town's small central area packed with bars and restaurants. If you plan on getting a good nights sleep, then you might consider staying slightly out of town. It's common to see people on the streets up to 05:00 returning from disco or pub. If you're looking for a relaxing scenic holiday, Wanaka (an hours drive away) is smaller and more tranquil with less of a manic teenage party atmosphere.
Queenstown and the surrounding area was originally settled by Europeans and a substantial Chinese population for gold mining and farming in the 1860s. After the decline of gold mining, Queenstown became a sleepy rural town, popular as a summer getaway.
In 1947 New Zealand's first commercial ski field, Coronet Peak, opened. The skiing industry slowly expanded in the town driving its early growth as a tourist resort. Leveraging Queenstown's popularity as a ski destination, various other tourist industries grew up including the world's first permanent commercial bungee site, the Kawarau Bridge Bungy. Other attractions followed, along with a huge number of hotels to cater for the visitors. The last 10 years have seen the addition of international 5 star hotel chains such as the Hilton and Sofitel. Queenstown is still growing at a fantastic rate (in 1991, the Queenstown-Wanaka district had 10,000 people; in 2012, it is just shy of 30,000), with some of New Zealand's most expensive property prices and new hotels still open regularly (although this has slowed somewhat recently). Time will tell if it can hold on to its character and protect its natural beauty from the effects of its own popularity.
The Mirror. The first of two free community newspapers to hit the streets (on Wednesday morning), The Mirror is a great source for catching up on all things that are happening in the entire Queenstown-Lakes area. In addition to the news articles, there is a weekly restaurant review and profile of a band or DJ that will be headlining at one of Queenstown's many nightspots that week.
Lakes Weekly Bulletin is an additional source of second hand items for sale, community noticeboard, employment vacancies, film/gig guide, flatmates and rentals.
- Queenstown i-SITE (corner of Shotover and Camp Streets), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visitor information and brochures
Queenstown has an international airport (IATA: ZQN ICAO: NZQN) served by Qantas, Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia and Jetstar. There are connecting flights from all New Zealand's major centres and, during the ski season, direct flights daily from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in Australia. In summer this reduces to three times a week from Sydney. Typically, flying to Queenstown is more expensive than to other South Island destinations from Australia.
Queenstown airport is known for its spectacular approach, the snow-covered mountains of New Zealand's Southern Alps surround it on four sides and there is a complicated path to the runway. Low cloud and cold weather can close the runway, especially in winter, resulting in cancelled flights; however new precision approach equipment has considerably reduced this.
Queenstown airport also provides for private jets and other aircraft, and there is a huge number of helicopter take-offs and landings each day. Scenic flights and heli-skiing are a popular attraction for the region.
From the airport, the cheapest way into town is on the Connectabus service 11/12, which runs every 20 minutes (check that it's going straight into town and not via Arrowtown) and this costs $6 one way - pay the driver when boarding. Taxis into town cost about $20-25 while shared shuttle vans work out almost as cheap as the bus if you can get a big enough group together and these will take you straight to your accommodation.
National bus operator InterCity Coachlines  and Newmans Coach Lines  provide daily services in and out of Queenstown with connections throughout the South Island. Fares start from just $1 and can be purchased on-line or via numerous local ticketing agents including the i-SITE information network. Services arrive and depart from the Athol Street car park located in the main retail shopping area.
National sightseeing tour operator GreatSights New Zealand  has daily tour options to Queenstown from [Christchurch]] via Mt Cook and operates daily services to the West Coast including (Fox Glacier Franz Josef and Greymouth.
There are also a number of smaller shuttle operators who connect to and from Queenstown including 'nakedbus.com'  and 'Atomic Shuttles' . Connectabus, the local Queenstown transport provider, also has 2 return trips to Wanaka a day.
Many international tour companies carry holidaymakers into Queenstown by coach.
Allow a full day from Christchurch (about 6 hours driving). The drive is spectacular, through the diverse countryside of New Zealand's South Island, with vast plains, rolling hills, multicoloured lakes and mountain passes. Major international and all national rental car and camper van companies have offices in Queenstown.
The Taieri Gorge Railway scenic tourist train seasonally operates to Pukerangi and Middlemarch, with a coach connection for the remaining distance to Queenstown.
The Queenstown town centre itself is small enough to walk around. Parking is at a premium and can be hard to find during the day. For further distance a bus or car is necessary.
There are a number of tour operators to be found in the CBD of Queenstown. Transport from Queenstown's CBD to adventure activities is often part of the tour package. Some operators may pick up from your tourist accommodation.
A number of boat tours depart from the Queenstown Wharf at the bottom of the Mall - including the historic steamship TSS Earnslaw, affectionately known as the "Lady of the Lake".
There is also a water taxi service.
Queenstown has a small local bus service operated by Connectabus . There are three routes - the most useful for tourists being services 10/11 which run every 30 minutes to the airport and the Remarkables Park shopping centre and alternate services continue to Arrowtown. Fares are expensive eg $6 single/$10 return from the airport to Queenstown, or $13 for a network day pass. All buses stop on Camp Street outside the O'Connell shopping mall.
A door to door Night Bus now operates in the weekends from in front of O'Connell shopping mall to Frankton, Arrowtown and Kelvin Heights. The service runs every hour on the hour 24:00-05:00 and provides an economical alternative to taxis.
The spectacular mountain scenery and Lake Wakatipu dominate the view from most parts of town. Most attractions in Queenstown make the most of the view and it's enough reason to spend time in Queenstown even if you choose not to do anything else.
After that though, there are not a lot of things to 'See'. Its in the 'Do' category below where Queenstown really excels. Nevertheless, there are a few sights around the town to check out:
- Skyline Gondola. One of the best views is from the top of Bob's Peak reached by the Skyline Gondola . Breathtaking views of Coronet Peak, The Remarkables mountain range and across Lake Wakatipu to Cecil and Walter Peaks. It's truly magnificent and awe-inspiring!
- Queenstown Gardens (adjacent to centre of town). jutting out into lake Wakatipu, these botanical garden contain a variety of exotic and native trees and plants as well as a large pond and a range of facilities.
- Kiwi Birdlife Park, Upper Brecon St. Wildlife attraction featuring native New Zealand birds
Getting out there and 'doing' is really what Queenstown is all about. Skiing was the first drawcard, but now it shares the limelight with a multitude of ways to test your bravery. If you can think of a way to get adrenaline pumping, Queenstown's budding entrepreneurs have probably tried at some stage to make a tourist attraction out of it. Queenstown also has a full range of more gentle attractions, including relaxing tours, and luxury spas.
Skiing & snowboarding - There are four large commercial ski fields, and two specialist fields easily accessible from Queenstown. There are also a number of heli-skiing providers.
- Coronet Peak - The closest to Queenstown, about 15 min from the Centre of town, features a full range of slopes.
- Remarkables - Nestled in the Remarkable Mountain range which towers above the airport. Slightly smaller than Coronet, but still easily accessible from town.
- Cardrona - In the crown range, approximately 60 min (58 km) from Queenstown along the windy Crown Range Road. It features mostly mid-level terrain and a large terrain park.
- Snow Park - In the crown range across the other side of the valley from Cardrona, the Snow Park is a Snowboard orientated world class Terrain park.
- Snow Farm - Next to Snow Park, this is a specialist cross country ski area.
- Treble Cone - The furthest field from Queenstown, about an hour and a half away. Usually visited by people based in Wanaka, Treble Cone is seen as more of a skiers field and generally features more advanced terrain.
There are dozens of attractions and providers. The information centre in town acts as a booking centre and is a great place to start inquiries. Otherwise most businesses will have a store in the CBD where they can arrange things for you. Hostels and hotels also generally have a stack of pamphlets showing what is on offer, and staff are generally happy to help with recommendations and bookings. All providers generally provide transfers if needed.
- AJ Hackett Bungy. the worlds first commercial bungee jump was established by these guys on the Kawarau Bridge. AJ Hackett also operates the Ledge bungee from the top of the skyline gondola, and the Nevis Highwire Platform out of town in the Gibston valley, the third highest bungee jumping platform in the world at a height of 134 metres.
- Jet boats. Exciting jetboat rides have been operating near Queenstown for 50 years. The jet boats carry passengers at high speeds over shallow waters performing stunts like 360 degree pirouettes in the water.
- Shotover Jet. The original Shotover Jet is billed as "The World's Most Exciting Jetboat Ride"
- Kawerau Jet launches into Lake Wakatipu from the centre of town.
- Luge. Is fun filled gravity ride for all ages and abilities. You control your own gravity propelled vehicle down the track. Choose from two tracks, one scenic and gentle, the other advanced and adventurous.
- Mountain Biking package tours are available which include transport to specific locations. Or you can just hire a bike, grab a map and some tips and explore yourself. There is also a downhill service based on the Gondola, where you can buy a day pass and use it as a lift for repeated runs, and Rabbit Ridge, a trail center located in Gibston Valley, with over 40km of tracks and shuttles.
- Parasailing available on lake Wakatipu
- Parapenting/Paragliding - launching yourself off a hill with a parachute to ride the "thermals"
- Quad-bike Tours - are available, some of which are specifically designed to take in Lord of the Rings film locations.
- Riverboarding - Swimming through rapids on a bodyboard.
- Mad Dog Riverboarding, 37 Shotover Street, ☎ . The most action packed and personally challenging white water activity you can do!
- NZONE Skydive, 35 Shotover St, ☎ +64 800 DROPZONE, e-mail: email@example.com. First commercial tandem skydive company in New Zealand, operating since 1990.
- White water rafting - Single and multi-day options, including a chance to go 'black water rafting' through an underground tunnel.
- Ziptrek Ecotours - New Zealand's #1 Original Zipline Tour. Amazing zipline tours through the forest high up on on Bobs Peak and accessed by the Skyline Gondola. A fully guided tour with cool tree house architecture interconnected by fun ziplines, stunning views and a little bit of education on the environment, Queenstown history and local flora & fauna.
- Cruising - lake cruises on Lake Wakatipu offer great views of the town, surrounding mountains, etc. The TSS Earnslaw is a popular historic steam ship which offers daily tours. There are also private charter providers.
- Cycling - hire a bike for the day and use your legs. There is a cycle path which runs around the edge of the lake from the center of town to the golf course opposite.
- Off the Rails. operate guided cycle tours on the world famous Otago Rail Trail from Sept to May. Departing from Queenstown. Includes bike hire, accommodation, breakfasts and transport.
- Horseback riding - there are some great tours that pick up in Queenstown and take you into the valleys, through rivers, etc. Pamphlets can be collected at any hotel or hostel to explore the dozens of horseback tours
- Fishing and Flyfishing - Lake Wakatipu is known for Trout. You cannot buy fish from lakes in New Zealand, you have to fish for them yourself. Flyfishing is also available locally.
- Garden Tours - Queenstown has a number of superb private gardens as well as the centrally located public Queenstown Gardens jutting out into Lake Wakatipu. The walking track on the lake edge offers excellent views of Queenstown and surrounding mountains.
- Queenstown Garden Tours. operate small group garden tours to 3 private residential gardens in & around Queenstown during spring & summer.
- Golf - there are six golf clubs in town, with facilities (and green fees) ranging from everyday to five star.
- Hiking - Queenstown Hill behind the town can be climbed in about 3/4 hours for a fantastic view (and unlike most things in Queenstown it's free). There is also a nice track around the lake.
- Scenic flights - the helicopter and light aircraft flights around Queenstown and to Milford Sound and Fiordland are rated amongst the best in the world. It is easily possible to fly from Queenstown in the morning, cruise Milford Sound over lunch, before returning to Queenstown in the afternoon, replacing what could otherwise be two days on the road.
- Glenorchy Air, Queenstown Airport, ☎ . Scenic flights to Milford Sound, Mount Cook and the Glaciers
- HeliWorks, Queenstown Airport, ☎ . Exciting scenic flights in & around Queenstown & Milford Sound, Lord of the Rings flights with the pilots who filmed the trilogy.
- Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters, 35 Lucas Place, Queenstown Airport, toll-free: 0800 801 616, fax: +64 3 442-3019, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Glacier Southern Lakes offer a selection of daily scenic flights over the iconic landscapes of the Wakatipu and Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Parks. Alpine or snow landings are part of all their flights or you can discover the uniqueness of a glacier landing, included in all their Milford Sound experiences.
- Touring - the scenery surrounding Queenstown makes for excellent touring, with lakes, mountains and bush around vineyards and farmland. There are also a number of specific 'Lord of the Rings' themed tours which take in local film sites for the movie series.
- Wine tasting. The southernmost vineyards in the world are close by.
- Appellation Central Wine Tours. Appellation Central's team of specialists guides will host you on a memorable day out in Central Otago wine country. Small group tours depart daily from Queenstown.
- Queenstown Wine Trail. operate daily departing guided wine tours to renowned Queenstown & Bannockburn wineries
The town centre contains many tourist and souvenir stores but bargains can be hard to come by.
Top quality knitwear, Sheepskin and Possum Fur products, Greenstone (Jade) and bone carvings, and fine New Zealand wine is available for a price.
Outdoor suppliers are plentiful, with equipment for trampers (hikers), mountain bikers, skiiers and snowboarders, and many others who use Queenstown as the launching-pad for expeditions into the nearby National Parks.
There are a handful of convenience food stores in the town centre, most open until midnight and beyond. Two large supermarkets are on the outskirts of town.
Most of the stores in Queenstown are open daily until 20:00 or 21:00.
There are a huge variety of numerous eating establishments to be found in Queenstown, from all-hours takeaways to fine dining. Reservations for dinner are important at the best places most times of the year, and most nights of the week.
Due to the large number of restaurants, Queenstown is a culinary hub for New Zealand, and you will find regional produce such as pinot noir wine and Canterbury lamb on display in many of the restaurants. Fine restaurants also serve world-class seafood (local mussels, oysters and deep sea fish such as blue cod), game and red meat (farmed venison and beef).
There are also a number of wineries in the Gibbston Valley (20 minutes drive) with restaurants attached, most of which are open for lunch.
Budget food is a little harder to come by in Queenstown. There are a few small fish and chip shops, kebab joints, and the usual KFC and McDonalds. Your best bet if your looking to save a few dollars is to hit the supermarket. The other option is to wander around and check out daily specials on the sandwich boards of restaurants.
- Fergburger Takeaways, Shotover St +64 3 441-1232, legendary, large burgers, insanely busy most of the day
- Fergbaker, Shotover St, next to Fergberger, serving pies, coffee and other bakery goods
- At Thai, Church Street, +64 3 442-3683 (Thai cuisine)
- Hamills Restaurant (casual dining) Remarkables Park, Frankton
- The Cow Pizza & Spaghetti House, Cow Lane +64 3 442-8588 (pizza)
- Fishbone Bar & Grill, 7 Beach St, ☎ . From 5PM. Queenstown's seafood restauarant, serving South Island fish & shellfish.
- The Lone Star (tex-mex, casual dining)
- Minami Jujitsu (Japanese)
- Memories of Hong Kong, inside the mall near the casino (chinese)
- Skyline Queenstown Restaurant. Taste of New Zealand buffet offers delectable fresh seafood, salads, roast meats and delicious desserts.
- Winnies Gourmet Pizza bar, Upstairs, 7-9 The Mall (next to the cinema), ☎ . Competitor for the best pizzas in town, caters for everyone and family friendly (before the drinkers start to come in the evening)
- Botswana Butchery, 17 Marine Parade (On the waters edge), ☎ . A great restaurant with ambience, sensational service. The menu is extensive and specialises in meat. The whole leg of lamb for 2 could feed 3! The wine list is very good. Prices are at the higher end but sensational for a special occasion. They have smaller private room dinning opportunities as well as a great bar room for pre-dinner drinks.
- The Bathhouse Fine Restaurant, Esplanade +64 3 442-5625 (fine dining)
- The Bunker, Cow Lane +64 3 441-8030 (fine dining)
- Wai Waterfront Seafood Restaurant, Steamer Wharf +64 3 442-5969 (fine dining)
Nightlife in Queenstown is largely about drinking and there are over a hundred licenced premises, with most in the downtown area. It's hard to walk down one of the central streets without tripping over a bar or three. Most bars stay open till around 04:00 and it is lively most nights.
There are cheap bars popular with backpackers and young locals, and sophisticated and expensive wine, cocktail and imported beer bars. Many bars and pubs have sunny outdoor courtyards in the summer months, and roaring open fires in the winter. Major sports events are normally to be found on screen somewhere in Queenstown.
There are two small casinos for adult entertainment.
A selection of some of the most well known places follows:
- Altitude, Shotover St, attached to the base backpackers. Big backpacker bar popular with tour bus groups. Drink specials and theme parties nightly. Not the place for a quiet drink
- Bar Up, Upstairs, Cnr Searle Lane & Eureka Arcade. A boutique nightlife bar, the upstairs bar has a lounge feel about it, warmed by a open fire with a private deck. It has an extensive cocktail list.
- The Buffalo Club, 8 Brecon Street, ☎ . 16:00 until late. Home of the infamous Buff Ugly dancers, Ginger Wednesdays, Queenstown's only late night bikini competition on Topless Tuesdays and a roaring hot fire to keep you warm in winter.
- Bunker Bar, Cow Lane. Hard to find boutique bar on Cow Lane, upstairs with open fires and a private deck. It has an extensive cocktail list.
- Guilty Bar, Ballarat Street, ☎ . Heineken Bar
- Red Rocks, 48 Camp St (just off Shotover). Smaller backpacker bar with a ski lodge feel and a deck outside
- Tardis, Cow Lane. Late night drum and base/dance venue
- Winnies, The Mall, 7 Ballarat St, ☎ +64 3 442-8635 . 12:00 till late. Later in the evenings this pizza bar turns into a popular drinking spot. Dining, drinking and partying under the sun and stars with an opening roof.
- The World, Shotover St. Another popular backpacker bar, their speciality is cocktail-like drinks served in teapots (currently closed following a fire)
|This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:|
Queenstown has a full range of accommodation choices, including backpackers, campsites, bed and breakfasts, apartments, motels and hotels. For the truly decadent there are also a number of 5 star botique luxury lodges around the area, some of which often feature in 'best places to stay in the world' lists, and come with prices to match.
- Nomads Queenstown Backpackers Hostel, 5-11 Church St, ☎ , toll-free: 0508-666 237, e-mail: email@example.com. Voted the Best Hostel in New Zealand by backpackers at the Golden Backpack Awards in Nov 2010 and at the HOSCARS in Feb 2011. Open fire in lounge area, a sauna and ski storage available. SkyTV cinema, TV lounge, modern kitchen, wheelchair friendly, travel services, girls only dorms, high speed Wi-Fi. Free inclusions are tea and coffee, light breakfast, nightly meal (World Bar).
- Amity Lodge, 7 Melbourne St, ☎ , toll-free: 0800 55 6000, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 10:00. Clean, comfortable and affordable rooms with friendly staff. From $165.
- Aspen Queenstown, Fernhill Road. The highest-situated hotel in town, overlooking Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables.
- Crowne Plaza Queenstown, 93 Beach St, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Central, lakeside location featuring lakeview rooms with full views of the Remarkables mountain range and Lake Wakatipu
- Heritage Queenstown, 91 Fernhill Road, ☎ . Qualmark 4 star plus hotel with suites and 3 bedroom villas available. Free shuttle to town.
- Larch Hill B&B, 16 Panners Way, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. As featured in 'National Geographic Traveler', spectacular lake and mountain views from all rooms and sundecks. Warm, comfortable, quiet bed and breakfast, only a 3 minute drive from the centre of Queenstown. Free Wi-Fi.
- The Rees Hotel, 370 Frankton Rd, ☎ . Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 10:00. Established nearly 150 years ago, this hotel has king-size beds, NZ wool carpet and heated floors in the bathroom. $325-$425.
- Willowby Downs, 792 Malaghans Rd (Willowby Downs is 0.5 km off Malaghans Rd, Arrowtown down a driveway and approximately 5 km from Arrowtown passing Millbrook Resort on the way), ☎ .
- Evergreen Lodge, 28 Evergreen Pl, ☎ . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11:00. Overlooking Lake Wakatipu. Bed and Breakfast accommodation.
- The Spire Hotel (Spire Hotel), 3-5 Church Lane, ☎ . The Spire Queenstown is a personal and inviting boutique hotel delivering guests a superior level of service.
Queenstown is a relatively safe town. The most common offence committed against tourists in the Queenstown area are car break-ins.
Although limited in number, the police in the Queenstown area are intolerant of disorderly behaviour and are prepared to arrest for quite minor offences. As with anywhere in New Zealand, they have no tolerance for possession of drugs.
Other emergency services in the area operate on a volunteer basis.
Rental car companies have restrictions in their rental agreements to prevent their vehicles being operated on some high country roads. New Zealand's ski-field roads also take many visitors by surprise, but driving to suit the conditions will considerably reduce any risk.
There are several internet cafes to be found in Queenstown with cheap rates. Some hotels charge plenty for internet, others offer it free. Most of the town is covered by Wi-Fi. Pick up a prepaid card at reasonable rates.
The drive to Glenorchy, 50 minutes to the northwest and alongside Lake Wakatipu for much of the journey, is rated as one of the top scenic drives in the world.
The Gibbston Valley wine area is 20 min drive from Queenstown just before the ancient Kawarau Gorge.
Visit the Fox Glacier the biggest and less crowded west coast glacier. Located approximately 4.5 hours drive north of Queenstown.
|Routes through Queenstown|
|Wanaka ← Cromwell ←||N S||→ Kingston → Junction → Invercargill|