More bang for your buzz in Queenstown

As the snow melts in the mountains around Queenstown, jagged rocks in the dramatic peaks are exposed and the fast-flowing rivers are on the rise.

With spring coming on, there's an exodus of the snow crowd that has been here for the cream of New Zealand's skiing, at places such as Coronet Peak and The Remarkables. There are bargain four-wheel-drives for sale and ski gear is going cheap at the Saturday market on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, where buskers play and the vintage steamship TSS Earnslaw blows its whistle and bellows black smoke in preparation for another cruise.

The change of seasons does not mean there is a slowdown in Queenstown.

Paragliders, who have launched from a nearby hill, float over the town, paraflights behind a speedboat on the lake are in constant demand, and the screams from people at the end of bungy chords are ceaseless.

There are buses going everywhere, ferrying people to jetboat rides, whitewater rafting, helicopter picnics and winery tours. A London double-decker cruises the streets offering sightseeing, while a bus for skydivers has the motto "Embrace the fear" blazoned across its black duco.

There are many reasons to go to Queenstown, which has positioned itself as the adventure capital of the world, alongside the likes of Interlaken in Switzerland and Whistler in Canada.

The exchange rate is favourable ($NZ100 is about $A80) and there are more than 100 restaurants and bars.

But here are my top 10 reasons.

1. Whitewater rafting


I've got white knuckles and I'm not even in the rapids yet. Our rafting group is in a minibus, sitting there like scared little chickens, bumping down the loose gravel on the skinny road that snakes down to Skippers Canyon towards a remote section of the Shotover River.

Our guide asks if anyone has been on the hairiest road in the world, and some backpacker types immediately nominate Bolivia's North Yungas death road. But the guide says we're on it right now and looking outside at the sheer drop to the river valley, I think he is only half joking. In fact, we have to walk the last 800 metres down to the Shotover River in helmets, wetsuits and lifejackets because the road has collapsed and is impassable to vehicles.

After a safety briefing, our three-raft flotilla casts off gently enough on a 90-minute journey that fluctuates from calm to tumultuous in the two-degree water fed by snowmelt.

As we go along with the forceful flow, there's time to learn paddling instructions and technique, to spot goats on the river cliffs and see rusting and decaying gold-mining relics.

But the focus turns to the river as we approach a serious set of rapids with such names as Aftershock, Toilet, Pinball and Oh Sh*t. No one tumbles in, but later, on a calm stretch, we are invited to jump in. Most take the plunge into the frigid water, but not for long.

It all ends with a 170-metre section through a dark tunnel (constructed by gold miners) and the final Mother In Law rapid. I'm almost tipped out but, with white knuckles, I manage to hold on. Almost anyone can do this, but children need to be 13.

Adrenalin rating: 8/10

Cost: $NZ195 a person, $NZ279 a person with helicopter drop off at river.


2. Jetboating

The rock walls in a gorge on the Shotover River are seemingly within arm's reach and we are tearing through the shallow aqua water at 80km/h. Then the driver puts the jetboat into a 360-degree spin. Screams all round.

A local says the best seat in the boat is right behind the driver, "because it's the part of the boat that goes closest to the cliffs", but I can attest the wettest seat is the rear right.

Wherever you are in the V6 supercharged boat, this is a thrill-a-second experience and when it's all over I'm left with a mouthful of water and wanting more. No wonder 3 million people have done this since 1970.

Adrenalin rating: 8/10

Cost: $NZ129 an adult, $NZ69 under 16.


3. Bungy jumping

No matter which bungy option you choose — the relatively mild ledge swing 400 metres above Queenstown; the massive Nevis swing with a 300-metre arc and a 70-metre drop; or the Nevis bungy, which is the highest in Australasia, with a 134-metre drop and 8.5-second freefall — this is as scary as it gets.

Bungy jumping was pioneered in Queenstown in 1988 and there seems to be no let-up in its popularity.

Adrenalin rating: 9/10

Cost: ledge swing $NZ150; Nevis swing $NZ180; the Nevis bungy $NZ260.


4. Gondola and luge run

If you ever want to beat your children at anything, the two luge runs at the top of the Skyline Gondola provide a place for keen competition, though no bumping is allowed.

After a ride up the gondola (there are spectacular views over the lake, mountains and town), head for the 800-metre tracks and career down the hill in three-wheel carts.

There's also the ledge bungy swing and jump up here, a 30-minute Kiwi haka show (recommended) and a buffet restaurant with stunning views, but which seems too big and impersonal.

Adrenalin rating: 5/10

Cost: For gondola and three luge rides $NZ44 an adult and $NZ34 a child. Haka show $NZ39 an adult, $NZ26 child.


5. Fergburger

There is an insatiable appetite for these juicy burgers that come wrapped in a brown paper bag. There are queues at Fergburger in Queenstown's main street at 4am, 11am, 3pm ... whenever we go. Where else does a burger have such a cult following?

The basic Fergburger ($NZ11) has a big, soft bun with lettuce, tomato, red onion, aioli and tomato relish, or try Big Stuff ($NZ16), Sweet Bambi ($NZ12.50) or The Codfather ($NZ14.50).

Eat in and savour the buzzy atmosphere if you are lucky enough to find a seat, otherwise pretty Lake Wakatipu is just around the corner and it seems almost everyone along the shore has a Fergburger in hand.

Satisfaction rating: 8.5/10

Cost: $NZ10-$NZ18.50.


6. Nightlife

Among a lot of good choices, Barmuda, Bardeaux and The Bunker are essential Queenstown nightspots. Barmuda for its big open fire, courtyard and cocktails; Bardeaux for its big open fire, upmarket air and pinot; The Bunker for its small restaurant, lounge bar and, of course, big open fire.

Cool rating: 9/10


7. Cow pizza

Tucked away in a stone building with a warm timber interior and a blazing open fire, this compact pizza and pasta restaurant in Cow Lane in central Queenstown is worth finding.

There's usually a wait to get a table but you can hover at the small bar until your name is called. The homemade bread with lashings of garlic, butter and parsley ($NZ8.50) is a good way to start, followed by a 14-inch pepperoni.

Satisfaction rating: 7.5/10

Cost: Pizzas $NZ18.90-$NZ32.90, pasta $NZ19.90-$NZ23.90.


8. Ivan Clarke Gallery

You are likely to end up with a big smile across your face in this gallery, especially if you are a dog lover.

It is full of works from local artist Ivan Clarke's Lonely Dog series, which has hounds, and sometimes cats, in all sorts of situations such as skiing, chilling out at a full-moon festival and cruising in a convertible. There's also a book, and a Disney movie deal is on the cards.

Feel-good rating: 10/10

Cost: entry free; limited edition works from the latest dog series start at $NZ1250.


9. Arrowtown

About a 20-minute drive from Queenstown, this historic gold-mining town has a beautiful main street of old buildings and cottages that have been renovated to their period glory.

The lanes and arcades are filled with shops, cafes and restaurants. The boutique Dorothy Brown's cinema and bar is a good place to catch a movie with a drink and a gourmet food platter, while the Arrowtown Bakery has a reputation for outstanding pies. I test the venison pie (their most popular) and it's deliciously tasty, with rich meat and flaky soft pastry. Others on the menu include Thai green curry and bolognese, which is listed as a hangover cure.

Pie rating: 8/10

Cost: $NZ5.50 a pie; $NZ12 for pie, peas and pud.


10. Parasailing

A big yellow parachute with a smiley face inflates from the launch deck on the back of a speed boat on Lake Wakatipu and rises 180 metres into the air for a gentle sightseeing flight. The tethered flights can be taken solo, tandem or triple, and you don't even get your feet wet.

Adrenalin rating: 4/10

Cost: $NZ139 a person solo.



Getting there

Staying and eating there

Peppers Beacon Queenstown is in a prime position on the shore of Lake Wakatipu and has modern apartments with lake and mountain views. The apartments — a four-minute walk from the centre of town — include floor-to-ceiling windows to maximise views, verandas, gas fires, flatscreen televisions, off-street parking, quality furniture and fully equipped kitchens.

A gourmet food package in a lakefront apartment is from $NZ599 a night (garden suite $NZ450, studio for two $NZ295) and includes fresh bread baked in the room for arrival, a tasting plate of local produce, buffet breakfast for four and a local food trail map that provides eating recommendations.

Among the tips on the food trail map are Vudu Cafe and Larder (don't miss the cakes), family-friendly waterfront bistro Finz (don't miss the mussels), and Patagonia Chocolates (don't miss the hot chocolate with chilli). Also on the map is Flame Bar and Grill, known for its South African influenced meat menu and recommended by just about everyone you speak to in town.


Robert Upe rafted courtesy of Destination Queenstown.