My Favorite 13 Things to do Queenstown, New Zealand - Understand
Queenstown is a ski resort town (that also doubles as a summer lake resort) far down the South Island of New Zealand. Queenstown is 'just' at 41 degrees south but the air gets cooled down thanks to the Antarctic currents out in the ocean to the west. Queenstown is also located at just 1,000 feet of elevation - one of the lowest for a ski resort.
The location of the town along a beautiful stretch of Lake Wakatipu could not be more scenic. There are snow-capped mountains (fall to spring) and the lake has crystal-clear water.
Yet Queenstown is no backwater - the city is ground zero for outdoor adventure sports. At times, it seems it's a bunch of bored people trying to come up with a new fad to separate the eager visitors from their money or maybe people are just happy to take heavy equipment into the woods - who knows.
Accommodation is rather affordable outside of the peak season but food and any tours will cost you dearly. The food on offer is sophisticated and there is no need to reduce your expectations.
My Favorite 13 Things to do Queenstown, New Zealand - Get Around
A car is a great idea for exploring the surrounding area but isn't required for Queenstown itself. There are two local bus lines that get you anywhere for NZD 2 if you buy the local top-up card (it's NZD 5 without it).
There is no Uber
in town and taxis charge NZD 10-15 per mile!
My Favorite 13 Things to do Queenstown, New Zealand - Safety
New Zealand is a safe country, Queenstown exceedingly so. The biggest risk is being hit by a speeding driver on one of the lone roads at night.
My Favorite 13 Things to do Queenstown, New Zealand - Connectivity
For such a modern (and expensive) country, you'd expect lightning-fast connections everywhere. That's not the case and the Internet is heavily restricted by time and bandwidth caps in most places that do offer free WiFi. You CAN find faster WiFi but you'll need to search for it.
My Favorite 13 Things to do Queenstown, New Zealand - Pollution
There are so few people in town and in the surrounding villages that pollution isn't even something that registers.
My Favorite 13 Things to do Queenstown, New Zealand - Sights
Queenstown is flooded at times, with bus tourists ready to do whatever a tour guide suggests. The city is full of 'tour booking' offices that sell incredibly expensive tours and activities. There is no need to blow your travel budget here (unless you really want to).
Skyline Viewing Platform
and Tiki Trail
The Skyline Viewing Platform allows for fantastic 270-degree views into the Lake Wakatipu valley. You feel like a hawk sitting in its nest overlooking the town and surrounding area.
There is the Gondola (cable car) ride
option for NZD 39 that gets you up quickly and without effort.
The better option is the Tiki Trail that follows through the lush forest up the hill. While the locals scoff at the trail, it's a fun one-hour (sweaty) affair that is much more rewarding than the Gondola ride.
This beach isn't for swimming (but you can tan on a warm day) but is ideal for great photos of the beautiful lake. Bring some time when you go to the beach, to study the scenery - it's an elevating experience, even if you are an experienced (read jaded) traveler.
Queenstown Gardens is a proper English park on a peninsula that offers even more sweeping views over the blue lake. There are plenty of little vistas and activities such as frisbee, as well as taking time to smell the roses.
About one hour west of Queenstown is Glenorchy, which has played host to many movies. It's a great drive along the pretty lake.
Arrowtown is another great option to see the historic side of the South Island.
Milford Sound is about 5 hours to the west and offers great scenic and wildlife views. It can be done in a day self-driving but it is a long, slow drive - you'd be better joining a tour or allowing for two days from Queenstown.
My Favorite 13 Things to do Queenstown, New Zealand - Eat & Drink
Queenstown cuisine is (surprisingly) sophisticated. There is no need to resort to the local Starbucks and McDonald's.
Bespoke Kitchen drives home the Australian/Kiwi brunch restaurant theme. A cozy, casual setting with warm fireplaces and a beautiful patio invites you to stay and enjoy the perfect espresso drinks and the entrees that aren't just top-notch but are also a festival for your taste buds.
Yes, you will pay $20 per person for breakfast (brunch) but it's worth it and you will seek this delight again and again.
[caption id="attachment_85959" align="aligncenter" width="410"]
Picture courtesy of Bert B
Vudu Cafe & Larder
The same owners run another coffee shop more 'downtown'. It does not feature the same cozy atmosphere but a very similar menu, including the signature avocado toast.
[caption id="attachment_85960" align="aligncenter" width="410"]
Picture courtesy of Chad M
Fergburger has a local reputation for the best burgers (only New Zealand beef!) within a 200-mile radius. The secret is out and the lines can be extremely long. I found the burger quite decent (not artisan though) but it's a steal at just NZD 12 in this expensive town.
[caption id="attachment_85961" align="aligncenter" width="409"]
Picture courtesy of M V
The adjacent bakery and ice cream store invite you for a dessert or quick breakfast.
[caption id="attachment_85963" align="aligncenter" width="560"]
Picture courtesy of Casey L
The Bunker is part of a row of bars and cocktails bars (about half a dozen) that form the nightlife of Queenstown. It's better than your hotel bar - maybe not by much...
[caption id="attachment_85964" align="aligncenter" width="559"]
Picture courtesy of Shawn C
[caption id="attachment_85966" align="aligncenter" width="560"]
Picture courtesy of Helvia L
My Favorite 13 Things to do Queenstown, New Zealand - Where to Stay
You can generally decide between the local hotels in town that make the town walkable or use the chain hotels (Holiday Inn, several Wyndham properties) that are further out (you will need a car or be ready to wait for the bus).
Fernhill is walkable from the town center as well and has more, better-priced hotel options.