man standing on mountain above queenstown dusk

13 Experiences in Queenstown you Don't Want to Miss

13 May 2017

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Queenstown on New Zealand’s magnificent South Island is synonymous with outdoor adventure and there’s certainly no shortage of ways to get the adrenalin pumping. But this is a destination that will appeal just as much to the urban adventurer. Here are 13 experiences not to be missed during your visit.

Put the pedal to the metal on the Shotover River

There’s one adventure activity that every visitor should try and that’s jetboating. New Zealand invented the jet boat and Shotover Jet will take you on the ride of your life through a series of heart-stoppingly narrow canyons along the Shotover River. Don’t try this at home in your tinny. 

Skyline gondola to Bob's Peak - Image - Adam Fordresized.jpg

view of queenstown lake wakatipu from bobs peak gondola
The gondola ride to Bob's Peak is the steepest in the Southern Hemisphere, rising to 450 metres above Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. (Image: Adam Ford)

Reach for the sky on Bob’s Peak

Bob’s Peak isn’t just good for jumping off the top of. It provides truly stunning views of the Remarkables – the majestic mountain range to the south of the Lake Wakatipu. A gondola ride up to the peak is an absolute must. Once you’ve had your fill of the spectacular outlook there’s a variety of activities on offer, including the famous luge. Stargazing tours are also popular.

Take a leap into the wild blue yonder

The Queenstown adventure vibe is legendary, and while diving head first into the Kawarau Gorge with a bungee cord strapped to your ankles is not everyone’s idea of a good time, there are plenty of less jarring options. G-Force Paragliding offers an extraordinarily gentle tandem glide off Bob’s Peak which will see you soaring 450m above the city and majestic Lake Wakatipu. 

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apartment interior with view of lake behind queenstown
This is the view you get to wake up to when staying at The Oaks Shores along the edge of Lake Wakatipu. (Image: The Oaks Shores)

Wake up to the lake

When deciding where to rest your weary adventurer’s head, choose a hotel that offers a lake view. Waking up to the lake is one of the greatest joys of travelling to Queenstown. The Oaks Shores offers contemporary apartment style accommodation and most rooms have stunning water vistas. 

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restaurant at sherwood queenstown
The culinary team at Sherwood use seasonal produce from their own kitchen garden, as well as surrounding farms to create an ever changing menu. (Image: Sherwood Queenstown)

Dine with a conscience at Sherwood

On the subject of hotels, just a few minutes’ drive from town you’ll find Sherwood –  an upcycled motel complex that dances to a very different beat to your average place to stay. But even if you’re not staying at Sherwood, you absolutely have to go there for dinner. The menu is sassy and sophisticated, yet designed to sooth the soul with a focus on ethically sourced local produce.

Survive a ride with Hydro Attack

For a slightly different take on exploring the lake, Hydro Attack sees you climb inside an 18-foot semi-submersible high-powered watercraft that looks like a giant shark – and leaps and dives like, well, a giant shark!

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rata dining queenstown
Michelin starred chef Josh Emett uses his disciplined background to create refined dishes that draw inspiration from New Zealand classics. (Image: Rata Dining)

Enjoy fine dining that’s fun at Rata

There are some 140 places to eat in Queenstown, which makes the culinary scene very competitive and generally top-notch. To celebrate something special, book a table at Rata. The service is impeccable and the wine list extensive. Celebrity chef Josh Emett’s take on New Zealand slow-cooked classics is deliciously good fun. 

Settle in at The Winery

Queenstown is Pinot Noir territory through and through, but if you are yearning for something a little more full-bodied, head for The Winery in the heart of town. Sample 80+ wines from across New Zealand using a self-pour system. If that sounds a little dangerous, best we not mention the cheese platters and very comfy leather armchairs.

Visit local cellar doors including Chard Farm with Appellation Central WIne Tours - Image - Adam Ford.jpgresized.jpg

chard farm winery queenstown
When they first opened a vineyard at Chard Farm, the owners were warned nothing would grow - today however, it produces pinot noir, pinot gris, chardonnay, riesling, sauvingon blanc and a German variety Gewurztraminer. (Image: Adam Ford)

Try top drops and nosh on a wine tour

Wine lovers will absolutely adore Queenstown. While Pinot Noir is the main game, the Otago region also produces mighty fine Chardonnays, Rieslings, Sav Blancs and Pinot Gris. Visit the top cellar doors on a gourmet food and wine tour with Appellation Central Wine Tours.

Get arty at the market

If you have a more modest budget for an artistic souvenir, head for the Creative Queenstown Arts and Crafts Market – held every Saturday by the waterfront. Only locally made products are permitted. Browse the eclectic wares or find a shady spot to enjoy the live music and watch the world go by. 

Meet local artists like Graham Brinsley with Black ZQN Tours - Image - Adam Fordresized.JPG

artist in queenstown painting
On a Black ZQN private art tour you can meet local artists like Graham Brinsley. (Image: Adam Ford)

Shop for a masterpiece

Queenstown is a truly beautiful place, and one that offers local artists no end of inspiration to capture on canvas. For those looking to buy a piece, there are galleries around town, while Black ZQN offers private art tours to meet some of the region’s top artists at their studios.

Go for gold in Arrowtown

Queenstown and nearby towns came about largely due to the Gold Rush of the 1860s. Historic Arrowtown makes a great day trip and you can hire a gold pan from the Lakes District Museum and seek your fortune in the Arrow River. For inspiration, visit The Gold Shop to view nuggets that have been found locally. 

TSS Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu in winter - Image courtesy of Destination Queenstownresized.jpg

TSS Earnslaw cruising across lake wakatipu
While onboard the TSS Earnslaw you can take a look at the engine room or sit back and enjoy tunes by the onboard pianist. (Image: Destination Queenstown)

Cruise back in time

The TSS Earnslaw steamship carried supplies to the far reaches of Lake Wakatipu for most of last century. Today she carries visitors, with an endearing old-world grace. There are 1.5 hour cruises and longer runs out to Walter Peak High Country Farm. 

Adam Ford

Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a Melbourne-based travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. Adam has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. He worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He also appears regularly as a travel commentator on Sky News Business Class.