Things to do in Queenstown: top tips for exploring the town and beyond
Ah beautiful Queenstown! The small party town on New Zealand’s South Island definitely packs a massive punch for its size, being known as the adrenaline capital of the world. It has a buzzing atmosphere in summer and winter (slightly less so in between) thanks to the number of fun activities on offer, such as skiing, bungee jumping, canyon swinging, sky diving, jet boating and plenty more. Not only does it cater for adrenaline junkies, it’s also great for hikers, with mind blowing scenery and stunning mountains, making it my personal favourite place in New Zealand. In fact, I loved it so much that I decided to live there for 6 months and as a short term local, here are my tips for the best things to do in Queenstown.
I’m about to make a big statement, but believe me, I am deadly serious when I say… I have never had a better burger! When in Queenstown, you HAVE to try one of these bad boys. One thing to note; do not let the queue put you off, because it is well worth the wait. Don’t be surprised if the queue is always out of the door because genuinely, people come from all over the place to try it, and for good reason. It’s a goooood size and the ingredients are fresh, crisp and mega-juicy. I worked at the airport and often met people whose first question would be “where is Fergburger?” If you’ve tried it and know of a better burger, please let me know, because I’m yet to find it!
After the success of Fergburger, Mr Ferg (if that is the geniuses name!) decided to branch out and create a bakery next door. What a decision, because it is home to honestly one the best pies in the world! And I’m not one to throw out compliments when it comes to food, but these pastry delights are mega! I often have dreams about the steak pie. Full of big chunks of beautifully tender steak…I’m currently drooling just thinking about it!
3. Bob’s Peak & The luge
You can take a gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak, (Gondola -what a great word!) where the views are INSANE! Prepare to be wowed, because they are truly postcard-esque, marriage proposal quality! Once at the top you can then hop on a luge, which is amazing fun and highly recommend. It’s like real life Mario Karts with the added bonus of stunning views. You control your own kart and whizz down the mountain racing your mates.
HOT TIP: If you’re up for it, you can walk up Bob’s Peak. Remember, it is a mountain, so climbing up isn’t easy, but it has public routes, so you can’t get lost and if you take your time it’s not too difficult. That little bit of sweat will reward you with great photo opportunities along the way AND it means you save money by not paying for the gondola (more money for a Ferg pie!)
4. Cowboys bar
Cowboys bar is an awesome themed bar in the centre of town; my personal favourite. It’s great because you get MASSIVE beers in steins, fun karaoke nights and this awesome slider game (a mixture of bowls and air hockey!) which is free to play. They also sometimes have a mechanical bull, which is comedy gold to watch people fly off!
5. Frisbee golf in the gardens
Queenstown Gardens are really nice to take a stroll around, but take a frisbee if you can! They have a ‘frisbee golf course’ (yes, it’s a thing!) in the park and you can play for free. You’ll see signs for where to tee off/throw from and there are metal baskets (the holes) which you aim for. It’s loads of fun and a good bit of exercise in the fresh air, with beautiful views of the lake next to you.
Trips outside of Queenstown
1. Onsen pools
Onsen Hot Pools are a short 15-minute drive from the town centre. They offer private hot pools with unbeatable views. It’s the perfect place to relax or get romantic. You can grab a drink, chill with your friend or partner and admire the views of the mountain and the Shotover River. If you keep your eyes peeled, you can also see the famous Shotover Jet (speed boat) zooming around the river bends.
2. Arrowtown and Macetown
Arrowtown is a quiet little town, not far from Queenstown. There are a few great pubs and a couple of free museums there. It’s well worth a visit if you want to do a little trip out of Queenstown and soak up some Kiwi culture. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can get a 4×4 tour that takes you to the nearby historic gold mining town of Macetown. Things get very bumpy as you drive off road, over lakes and into the green hills where the gold miners used to live centuries ago. On the tour you also get to have a go at panning for gold in the Arrow River, exactly like they used to do back in the day. I didn’t find a nugget big enough to get me onto Forbes rich list, but you might! Overall, it’s a really cool experience, very interesting and something different.
3. Milford sound
You can take a day trip to Milford Sound from Queenstown by bus, but I would recommend hiring a car. (Note: If you enjoy driving, every road trip you do on the South Island is awesome… mountain drives with epic views!) Once you get there, you have an option of boats/cruises to jump aboard or you can pre-book for the best prices. For those of you who have no idea what a trip to Milford Sound is, it’s essentially a boat trip around a giant lake, surrounded by waterfalls and a few seals chilling on rocks here and there! But that’s being modest… The views are AMAZING (needs capitals to do it justice!) I once took a girl there on a first date (romantic, I know ) and then realised I had foolishly set my bar WAY too high! I thought no future dates would EVER compete. Until… (see next point!)
4. Lake Tekapo
Whilst working in Queenstown, I once got chatting to an awesome old kiwi lady. She asked me if I liked stars. I replied yes (who doesn’t?!) Then, she whispered… “St Johns observatory in Lake Tekapo.” (The whispering part was slightly made up to improve the intensity of the story!) But, that lady had just provided me with the recommendation of a lifetime, a true hidden gem! Lake Tekapo itself is a tiny town, roughly a 3-hour drive from Queenstown. It has a handful of restaurants and thermal pools, perfect for some chill time during the day. But, I’d strongly recommend a night time astronomy tour of the observatory. If you’re lucky and there are no clouds at night, the view is IN-SANE (again, needs capitals to do it justice!) The town takes special measures to avoid light pollution, and it makes a big difference as the stargazing on offer is amazing. You take a small tour bus to the summit of Mount John where it’s pitch black, you literally can’t even see the person next to you. Once there, a guide points out the constellations with a mega laser pen. Our guide was outstanding, hitting us with all these mind-blowing space and star facts and literally drawing out the groups of stars with the laser. You also get to go into the observatory and view a few planets from their mega powerful telescopes. It was honestly amazing. They had the telescope pointed at Saturn and you could clearly see the rings, it was a phenomenal sight. Just writing about it now has made me think, it was probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had! You don’t have to be into astronomy at all, I’m not, it’s just a unique experience that is well worth it.
Milky Way – Pic made with a moving tripod in Lake Tekapo, Star Observatory in New Zealand!
If you have a car I’d highly recommend the drive to Wanaka. It’s an awesome winding road trip up another massive mountain with amazing views. Wanaka is a beautiful town, a bit more chilled than Queenstown. There you’ll find the most photographed tree in the world (apparently) – known as the “lone tree of lake Wanaka.” If you want something more thought-provoking than a lone tree, head to Puzzleworld! It’s a fun place full of optical illusions, mind-tricks and mazes. It’s a good bit of fun for an hour or two!
Things I’ve not personally experienced but had friends recommend:
1.The canyon swing
Friends that have done both the bungee and the swing have said that the Canyon Swing is better. One of the big advantages is that you can leap with a friend strapped to you! It’s always better to share an experience, plus, maybe it will make it slightly less scary! It’s the world’s highest cliff jump, 109 metres over the Shotover River, swinging you between the stunning kiwi mountains!
2. Shotover jet
If you like speed and adrenaline, get on board the Shotover Jet. It’s a mega fast speed boat, hurtling through the beautiful lakes in between mountains. You’ll be twisting and turning as you power your way through the Shotover River Canyons, narrowly missing the rocks!
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