The South Island's premier ski resort
Queenstown's reputation is justified. It is New Zealand's premier ski destination.
In winter the streets are awash with young adrenalin junkies ready to party hard and to head off and try their skills at bungy jumping, skiing, snowboarding and being hurled around on jet boats.
Sometimes known as "the red bull brigade" they drive through town with the ski chains rattling along the roads, they spend their days on the ski slopes where they marvel at the excellence of the powder and the easy access.
Add to this a very upmarket town, with chalets and houses worth many millions of dollars, and an excess of genuinely high class restaurants.
Always remember that Queenstown is more than just a ski resort. In recent times, with the usual panache that characterises Tourism NZ, the tourist authorities have spent millions making sure that this glamorous ski resort is an all-year-round destination with plenty of things to do in spring, summer and autumn.
The Queenstown area was first settled by Europeans when William Gilbert Rees and Nicholas Von Tunzelman explored the region looking for suitable grazing land in the late 1850s. Rees returned in 1860 and established a farm. Within two years gold was discovered on the Arrow River – part of a large number of gold discoveries in the Otago region – and the whole region was quickly overrun by feverish gold prospectors prepared to endure the inhospitable winter weather in their unending search for the precious metal.
Queenstown is set on the northern shore of the 80 km long Lake Wakatipu with The Remarkables mountain range rising behind the town. This picture-postcard setting has meant that, apart from being a near-perfect location for holidaymakers, it has become a popular haunt for filmmakers. The Queenstown region was a vital location for Peter Jackson's The Lord of The Rings movie trilogy.
THINGS TO SEE
The ski slopes
In winter Queenstown seems to be surrounded by tempting ski slopes. The visitor with skis or a snowboard will arrive and gasp in delight at the prospect of seemingly endless perfect slopes.
The ski season lasts from late June until early October with the main ski slopes near to Queenstown being Coronet Peak (about 25 minutes drive from Queenstown – it has 5 lifts) and The Remarkables (about 45 minutes drive – it has 5 lifts) easily accessible from the town and Cardrona (about an hour – it has 7 lifts) and Treble Cone (about 90 minutes and the largest ski area on the South island) being further afield but still attractive options.
There are shuttle buses to all these ski fields. See http://www.queenstowneguide.com/skiing.php for specific details about all the ski fields and the facilities.
No trip to Queenstown is complete without a visit to Sky Gondola, which rises behind the town and offers amazing views of the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu. It also has the added attractions of a ledge bungy jump and a luge (designed to cater for all ages and levels of fitness) as well as a restaurant, a bar and a Maori show. Access to the Gondola is located an easy five-minute walk up the hill from Queenstown's main shopping area.
Check out http://www.skyline.co.nz for details and prices.
Jet boat on the Shotover River
Wherever there is a fast flowing river in New Zealand there is also a jet boat offering thrills for adrenalin junkies. Queenstown, because it is a centre for adventure activities, has the justifiably famous Shotover Jet which promotes itself as "the world's most exciting jet boat ride".
Shotover Jet is the only company allowed to operate on the Shotover River and it roars up and down through canyons and dangerously close to rocky outcrops every half hour (in season) between 9.00am and 5.00pm. You can check out all the details and book online at http://www.shotoverjet.com. Is it safe? Well, since 1970 over 2 million people have enjoyed the experience.
Queenstown is the true home of bungy jumping. Having originated in the Pentecost Island, part of the Vanuatu group, as a ritualistic ceremony it inspired A J Hackett (known as the father of modern bungy jumping) and Henry Van Ash to create their famous bungy jump from the disused Kawarau Bridge above the Shotover River on the road between Queenstown and Cromwell.
Today the operation is a major tourist attraction. Buses arrive regularly and there is a small cafe, a gift shop and a theatre where aspiring jumpers can receive basic training.
Check out http://www.bungy.co.nz, make the trip out to Kawarau Bridge where the first bungy jumps in New Zealand took place, and hurl yourself into space and fall 43 metres towards the Shotover River.
You can ask to either bounce above the water, hit the water or, if you are really crazy, to end up being totally soaked in the river. It can be very, very cold. Alternatively you can watch others hurl themselves off the bridge. A much safer option.
Lake Wakatipu and the TSS Earnslaw
One of the town's most popular, and most sedate, tourist attractions is a cruise on Lake Wakatipu on the historic steamer the TSS Earnslaw.
Real Journeys have turned the TSS Earnslaw - all coal, pistons, engineer shovelling coal into a roaring fire, lots of whistle blowing and smoke belching - which arrived on Lake Wakatipu in 1912 into a major tourist attraction.
It makes a leisurely crossing of the lake offering fine views of the mountains that rise steeply and, if you are so inclined, you can stare at the poor engineer in the bowels of the vessel as he sweats, shovels coal and responds to a variety of noisy bell rings from the captain.
For details, packages and bookings check out the website http://www.realjourneys.co.nz/Main/TSSEarnslaw-WP
It usually comes as part of a package with a visit to the delightful Walter Peak High Country Farm.
Walter Peak High Country Farm
As you travel across Lake Wakatipu you can't help but feel you are very, very small. The mountains rise all around you and the Walter Peak High Country Farm, set on the shores of the lake with a distinctive red roof and white timber veranda and bay windows, sits below mountains that seem to rise forever.
Walter Peak is a great country farm experience where visitors get to spend time feeding sheep, deer, Scottish mountain cattle and watching sheep dogs go through their tricks before a typical New Zealander shears a sheep and a dexterous spinner spins a skein of wool.
It's all good fun - particularly the antics of the sheep dog which seems to delight in provoking the deer and getting them to chase her. The dog is obviously smarter than the deer - which is probably not hard - because it is on one side of the fence and they are on the other. In other words no matter how hard the deer chase they are never actually going to catch the dog.
The dog shows its real prowess in one of those displays of the lost art of whistling which seem to be part of New Zealand sheep dog culture. The farmer whistles. The dog runs to the left. The farmer whistles again. The dog runs to the right. The farmer does an elaborate whistle and the dog heads off and circles around a small herd of sheep which she duly brings down the hill with all the style of a sergeant major trying to knock a bunch of young recruits into shape. Check out http://www.realjourneys.co.nz/Main/TSSEarnslaw-WP for details.
There are old goldmining towns all through the valleys around Queenstown. The ghost town, Macetown, is particularly interesting and a visit to historic Cromwell is strong advised. However, if you have limited time make sure you make the short trip out to Arrowtown.
The appeal of Arrowtown is that it has a range of excellent upmarket restaurants, a fine museum and a main street of such interest you can spend hours just meandering.
Arrowtown encapsulates the story of the 1860s Otago gold rush. Like most gold rush towns it came into existence overnight in 1862 and within weeks miners, mostly from the Australian goldfields, started arriving hoping to find nuggets which would make them very rich men.
In a matter of months there was a population of over 7000. The river proved to be rich in alluvial gold and the miners, believing that their luck would continue, started to build a village mainly from the local timber and stone.
Churches, a post office, hotels, general stores were all built in what today looks like a remarkably coherent architectural statement. The main street is one of the prettiest of any mining town.
It is only twenty minutes away from Queenstown, can be easily incorporated into a visit to the Kawarau Bungy Centre, and is one of those rare places which is a reminder that good taste can turn something historic into a pleasant contemporary tourist attraction.
The town's Lakes District Museum and Gallery is an ideal way to easily learn about the early history of the district. Check out http://www.arrowtown.com for more details.
PLACES TO EAT
42 Shotover St
Phone: +64 3441 1232
The Mall 7 Ballarat Street
Phone: +64 3442 8635
Phone: +64 3442 4006
Amisfield Wine Company
10 Lake Hayes Road
Phone: +64 3442 0556
18 Buckingham Street, Arrowtown
Phone: +64 3 442 0131
33 Ardmore St
Phone: +64 3443 6745
PLACES TO STAY
Novotel Queenstown Lakeside
cnr Earl St & Marine Parade
Phone:+64 3 442 7750
Price range: $NZ 129.00 - $459.00
The Rees Hotel and Luxury Apartments
377 Frankton Road
Phone:+64 3 450 1100
Price range: $NZ $140.00 - $985.00
15 Kerry Drive, Queenstown Hill
Phone: +64 3 442 8000
Price range: $NZ from $960
The Spire Hotel
3-5 Church Lane
Phone:+64 3 441 0004
Price range: $NZ $815 - $1085.
Eichardt's Private Hotel
Phone:+64 3 441 0450
Price range: $NZ $1425+