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Queenstown, New Zealand

Great Destination:

Value for Money:

Total Stars:

Personality Types that Like it Best


Did You Know … ?

  • Shotover River in 1862 was the world’s richest, yielding up to five ounces of gold per shovelful.
  • The first commercial bungee site, opened in 1988, was at Kawarau Bridge near Queenstown.
  • There are 82 registered wineries in Central Otago where Queenstown is located.
  • Queenstown got its name because it was considered “fit for Queen Victoria.”
  • The glacier-fed Lake Wakatipu is so cold it would kill a swimmer in less than 30 minutes.


A remarkable place

So many destinations in New Zealand elicit exclamations over their breathtaking beauty that dispatches from this land way down under begin to sound like a broken record. This report risks compounding that effect, but Queenstown is the place that transforms the word awesome from a teenager’s tic into a valid adjective.

A gold rush town, founded in the 1860s, Queenstown is a stunning place with an Old West aura despite the modern overlay of smart shops, restaurants, outfitters and hotels that have converted it into a resort city for the 21st century.

Even with these modern attentions, it has stayed small, with a population of less than 8,000, and Mother Nature remains its main attraction.

Queenstown sits on the shore of the glacier-fed Lake Wakatipu. The setting is idyllic, with the lake’s smooth deep-blue water, occasional sailboats and, for a backdrop, snow-capped mountains, pine and other ever-so-green trees. It’s easy to see why these mountains are called the Remarkables.

Queenstown is effectively New Zealand’s capital for adventure. It was the birthplace of commercial bungee jumping, but now the brave can sample a controlled nighttime ride swinging 1,300 feet above Queenstown. Daredevils also may choose a flightseeing tour taken upside down, a ride on a board through the rapids in the Kawarau River or another of those swinging rides over the Shotover Gorge.

Nevertheless, Queenstown doesn’t get its top marks from North America’s most venturesome travelers. It holds the greatest appeal for those in the middle of the personality scale, underscoring the fact it is more than a one-note destination.

Travelers of all types appreciate the natural beauty, but they don’t necessarily have to jump, fly or swing over it. They come for nature walks, to hone their photography skills, to ski during North America’s summer, to taste the wines of Central Otago and to stroll the streets of this and other gold rush towns that recall an early era of North America’s history but with a New Zealand flavor. It is at once exotic (to go where one may see kiwis, the nocturnal birds) and comfortable (to find friendly English speakers and modern conveniences).


Things to do for Venturers

  • Make your first, or your next, bungee jump from the same bridge, Kawarau Bridge, where commercial jumping got its start. It’s never too late: The oldest jumper here was 94 years old.
  • Go for an adrenalin rush by taking the area’s trademark jetboat ride on the aptly named Shotover River. Or, go whitewater rafting on this fast-moving river.
  • Step out for a long night on the town. It’s a small town but boasts more than 160 licensed bars and cafes that include wine bars, garden bars, live jazz and more.
  • For aficionados of rock or mountain climbing, this is the place to pursue your passion.
  • Try the Shotover Canyon Swing if you dare. This involves a nearly 200-foot freefall over the Shotover Gorge and swinging around 650 feet across the river.
  • This is gold rush country: Visit Macetown, a mining ghost town, but you will have to get there by foot, bike or horse.


Things to do for Centrics

  • Ski in summer, meaning North America’s summer. The Queenstown season generally lasts well into September.
  • Head into the area’s national parks for a daylong hike. Or, travel by mountain bike. Maps and trail information are available at any of the town’s information centers.
  • Try panning for gold in the Arrow River at Arrowtown, also a gold rush town.
  • Get your license, then fish for trout or salmon on Lake Wakatipu.
  • Make the journey in October, in time for the Queenstown Jazz Festival.
  • Visit a few of the vineyards in Gibbston Valley, Queenstown’s main wine producing area. At Gibbston Valley Wines, taste the wine, visit the cheese factory and have a fine lunch.


Things to do for Authentics

  • Carry your best camera equipment for this area, and bring home some of your finest-ever photos.
  • Save time for the Kiwi Birdlife Park and see some of the nocturnal creatures that are so closely identified with New Zealand. The park protects five kinds of endangered kiwis.
  • Go to Arrowtown for autumn colors — in April and May. It is a mining town that has preserved many of its historic buildings from gold rush days and repurposed them for dining and shopping.
  • Ride the Skyline Gondola to reach a hillside lookout point for a sweeping view of the city, Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables (part of the Southern Alps).
  • Join a guided tour that focuses on area sites used in filming the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
  • Cross Lake Wakatipu on the old steamboat Earnslaw (operated since 1912) to Walter Peak High Country Farm for a feast of a dinner and a glimpse at what life was like on this former sheep farm.


Additional Resources

For more information, consult Destination Queenstown at