Queenstown is one of the brightest jewels in the New Zealand tourism crown. Every New Zealand itinerary worth planning should include a visit to Queenstown in Central Otago, South Island. As its name suggests, one can only expect to find Queenstown a royally top place to visit on any New Zealand holiday. Not only is the surrounding scenery stunning with pristine Lake Wakatipu in front of vistas of spectacular mountains, there is also so much to experience in Queenstown.
View of magical Queenstown from the Skyline gondola station towards The Remarkable mountains. From here, you could do a bungee jump or paraglide back to town.
Queenstown for All the Family
Regardless of your age, there is something for everyone to enjoy in Queenstown. I was lucky to spend many holidays in my childhood in the Central Otago area. and it’s still a great place for a family holiday in New Zealand. Many of the activities do not require previous skill to enjoy them, and if you plan a longer stay, you can learn some sports while there. A financial bonus is that most activities offer children’s prices and sometimes at certain times of the year, kids go free or there may be a family package price.
Travel to Queenstown
Queenstown does have limited international flights from Australia into Frankton airport. However, the more popular route is to fly direct into South island’s largest airport at Christchurch. From there, you can take a domestic flight or drive the very picturesque route through Aoraki, past New Zealand’s highest mountain Mt Cook/Aorangi to Central Otago. Keep your eyes open, and you may even recognize some of the backdrops from the famous Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.
Summer fun on the lakeshore directly in the center of Queenstown – kayaking, paddle boarding, water skiing, and lots more.
It doesn’t matter too much what time of year you wish to travel to Queenstown. Every season in Central Otago offers a particular beauty. In winter, Queenstown is surrounded by snow capped mountains with popular ski areas. In spring, there is beauty in the greening pastures full with young farm animals and blossoming trees, summer all fun on the lake and in native bush, and fall for stunning deciduous trees and long shadows. In summer, the days are long because of the latitude past 45o South, while in winter the dark evenings make for cozy times around warm fires.
Daytime temperatures in summer average just over 60oF, while in mid winter the temperatures average 40oF but are often below freezing. However, the sun shines a lot, and the climate is relatively dry all year round. One special weather condition is called the Nor’Wester where giant space ship lenticular clouds fill the sky. During these Nor’Wester weather patterns, fixed wing glider planes get to fly long distances.
Experience New Zealand Native Wildlife
Queenstown township has relatively small population of less than 15,000, and most activities can be accessed from the town center on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. The central pier has underground viewing windows where you watch the ducks dive down to feed with other underwater residents such as Brown or Rainbow trout, and native Long Finned eels. It’s a cool place to hang out underwater without getting wet.
The tuatara has been around since dinosaur times. You’ll find some at the Kiwi Birdlife Park, as well as other fascinating New Zealand wildlife.
Queenstown’s Kiwi Birdlife Park has interesting animals to check out including, you guessed it, some species of Kiwis. Kiwi is the Maori name for odd native birds that do not fly. These curious looking birds are some of New Zealand’s most famous and “Kiwi” is also a local term for a person born in New Zealand/Aotearoa. Kiwi birds have long beaks with nostrils on the end to probe the earth for food at night. The park is on five acres of land in the town, and holds over 20 species of New Zealand native animals. On a private tour, you might get to feed a kiwi, or a kea, or a tuatara. The last is a reptile that has been living on a remote New Zealand island since dinosaurs died.
In spring, take the opportunity to visit a local farm to spend time with newborn lambs and calves and other new arrivals. Baby animals are so cute, and are sure to melt everyone’s hearts as they play and leap about. Some babies may need hand feeding so the children can help out. Calves have rough tongues, as they like to check out your fingers for food and lambs wiggle their tails when drinking. A spotty red deer fawn may even be wandering around.
Some farm tours are based across the other side of Lake Wakatipu. You get travel across the lake, either by small launch or a vintage travel steamer called the TSS Earnslaw. Last time I went, there was a lady playing the piano, and booklets were handed out so everyone could join in the sing along.
A statue on Lake Wakatipu waterfront of a Kiwi, New Zealand’s strange flightless bird with a long beak and tiny wings.
Queenstown is a Small Place with a Huge Heart
There are so many adventure activities to try, Queenstown is one of the best known adventure capitals of the world. You could spend a lifetime there learning about sky diving, paragliding, hang gliding, white water rafting, water skiing, bungee jumping, horse trekking, jet boating, and hunting to name just a few.
Activities on the water are popular, and jet boating on beautiful rivers close to Queenstown like the Kawarau or the Shotover is a great fun experience for the whole family. Jet boat engines do not have a propeller below the water line, so they can go very fast in shallow water and spin on a dime. With everyone wearing lifejackets, the boat drivers do their best to give you exciting fast trips up and down the rivers. In Skippers Canyon, you will be whizzing by sheer rock faces one minute and skimming over river stones the next.
Your whole family can try rafting in a rubber boat, although if some members are very young, it won’t be so much white water as a gentle paddle. However, there are definitely some options offering high grade rapids, so check out which rivers are suitable depending on rainfall. The guides are very experienced, and you will be provided with life vests and wetsuits as well as be given plenty of instruction of how to stay safe on and in the water. Other water sports to enjoy are kayaking, tubing down rivers, or paddle boarding across the lake.
Take a trip down one of the exciting rivers close to Queenstown for some family fun – it’s not all white water.
Extra for Adrenalin Junkies
One of Queenstown’s exciting activities for speed junkies is to test out the Skyline Luge. You get to take the Skyline Gondola up and luge down for some awesome fun. There are tracks for different levels, so you can take your time on wide turns or choose to race down at breakneck speeds around sharp testing corners. You won’t have much time to enjoy the view once you’re off in your cart, so first take in the spectacular vista looking across to the aptly named Remarkable Mountains.
No discussion about activities in Queenstown would be complete without mentioning the bungee jump. It was a New Zealander called AJ Hacket who pioneered the activity, now making it possible for the public to launch themselves safely off bridges and cranes throughout the world. It’s not an activity for all, but even just standing watching others dive into the air can be fun. Zip-lining is another option with a number of zip line tours to try out for speed, and you get to explore some of New Zealand’s awesome nature zipping through the air. You can even zip ride together as a group.
For winter sports, there are two ski fields close to Queenstown, Coronet Peak and The Remarkables. There are also others within daily driving distance towards nearby Lake Wanaka. Check out the annual Queenstown Winter Festival held at the beginning of the season around July that holds lots of special fun events for all.
If you need a break from outdoor adventure or the weather is not playing its part, you can head to the cinema, swimming pools, or mini golf courses, plus a few other places to relax. There is a great range of accommodation from camping grounds to five star hotels and luxury lodges. There are also many restaurants from good street food to fine dining experiences.
Magical Queenstown: Whether you only get to visit Queenstown once in your life or are lucky to return often, there will always be something to enjoy. I haven’t mentioned all the things you can try, but there are plenty of information desks about town. Queenstown truly is a magical place to holiday in New Zealand, even the world, so plan a visit now for the time of your life.