Things to do in Queenstown
Queenstown’s idyllic waterside location means you are spoilt for choice of things to do and its compact size means you are never far from the spectacular lake, which is fringed by snow-capped peaks for much of the year.
Take a wine tour, cruise the lake, stroll through beautiful gardens, visit historic Arrowtown or take full advantages of some of the free attractions in the city.
Shopping in Queenstown
If you have spent an exhausting day skiing up at the Remarkables, rejuvenating your tired muscles with a bit of retail therapy may be in order for the following day.
Queenstown can be a fun town to sip coffee, eat, browse sassy shops and classy fashion stores, but you might have to pay at classy prices too. We succumbed to buying some travel souvenirs which were bound to be gifts, including one interesting wind-up ‘rude-finger,’ toy and were not sufficiently tempted by what we saw as somewhat over-inflated prices.
History of Queenstown and Maori Legends
Maori first inhabited this area, of New Zealand, in a search for food, greenstone, and the flightless Moa bird. Legends state that the giant Matau was burnt to death in his sleep after he abducted a chief’s daughter, burning a massive hole in the ground and melting the ice and snow of the surrounding mountains. This became Queenstown’s Lake Wakatipu. The lake is a large “S” shape, exactly like a giant, curled up and sleeping on its side.
The lake is a beautiful place to take a short cruise or easy stroll. You could even see the ducks that line the foreshore near the shopping precinct, angling for some crumbs of bread from passing tourists.
One of Wakatipu’s mysteries is the rise and fall of the lake by about 12cm (5″) every five minutes. Legend states that a Giant’s heart is impossible to destroy, and causes this rise and fall, while science says this is due to fluctuating atmospheric pressures. Across the lake from Queenstown, below Cecil Peak, a little island is visible only from a certain angle. Some say this hidden Island is the still-beating heart of the Giant Matua.
Facts about Lake Wakatipu
- Max depth: 380 m
- Area: 291 km²
- Length: 80 km
- Average depth: 230 metres (750 ft)
15,000 years ago during the last ice age, a huge glacier moving from the north-west carved out what is now Lake Wakatipu. The lake is relatively thin, but the mountains run straight into the lake, forming a deep canyon, 399m at its deepest point.Wiki
Lake Wakatipu is the second largest lake in the Southern Lakes District, covering 290 square km. At its widest point, Lake Wakatipu is five kilometres wide, and the total length is 84km.
Tourist Adventure Activities in Queenstown
Besides the tourist drawcards of skiing at Coronet Peak, Cardrona or The Remarkables which we had already ticked off our holiday bucket list, there is a list of high-intensity things to do in Queenstown. Ziplining, Bungee jumping and the Jetboat ride on the Shotover River is high on the thrill seeker’s list. None of which I am qualified to comment on. A thrill-seeker I am not. However, there is plenty of information about it on the net if you are interested.
The Shotover River flows from the Southern Alps and runs through Skippers Canyon and flows into the Kawarau River, just east of Queenstown. The best way to experience the Shotover River is on the famous Queenstown jet boat ride.https://www.theurbanlist.com/nz/a-list/things-to-do-queenstown
New Zealand was brought to the forefront of adventure sport when AJ Hackett opened the first commercial Bungy jump from the Kawarau Bridge, 43 metres (141 feet), over the Kawarau River, just outside the Queenstown area.
Queenstown Skyline Gondola and Restaurant
The shopping precinct at Queenstown is small enough to walk around in a few hours, and if you take it in one afternoon, you can then walk to the Restaurant complex located up the very prominent hill, a short walk from town. There is only one hill in the town itself, which you can’t fail but see and it is not too far for most people to walk.
At the base of the hill is the Skyline Gondola which takes you to a mountain-top restaurant. Adjacent to the Gondola’s entry, is an Animal education centre where you can learn more about the flightless bird, the Kiwi. Spend around 30 minutes or so here learning about this elusive and rare creature.
Take the scenic ride up to Bob’s Peak to take in the scenic, panoramic views. You’ll be carried 450 metres above Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. Settle in for dinner at Stratosfare Restaurant.
There’s also the Skyline Stargazing experience, where stargazing guides lead you up Bob’s Peak where with telescopes, you’ll take in sights not visible to the naked eye.https://www.theurbanlist.com/nz/a-list/things-to-do-queenstown
Inside the Gondola’s capsule, we chatted to a couple who were revisiting the Gondola after their first visit 40 years ago. And it is little wonder. The views from there are mind-blowing. This activity is an iconic must-do, when you visit Queenstown.
Surprisingly, we noticed a flock of sheep grazing underfoot, as we travelled upwards. But it was the view that again and again captured our attention. It got better and better with each passing second.
Stratasfare Restaurant Dining Experience
Our dinner package included a complimentary drink on the terrace where the full spectacle of the snow-capped range, that is The Remarkables, can be viewed.
Being winter, the weather was closing in and longer views of The Remarkables had to wait as the mountain range snuck in behind the incoming snow cloud. Thus, we had to be quick with photographs before they disappeared completely for the evening.
The buffet experience, which may well now be modified due to Covid, was in a word, spectacular. The very best seafood, salads, hot and cold meats, desserts and fine boutique wines accompanied the splendid and vast array of food. And you can of course, eat as much as you like. I seem to remember I did over-indulge.
*Check with the restaurant for the new Covid arrangements. The buffet may be full service.
Tourist should also note that you need to be prepared to wait a long while for the taxi cab back to your hotel on a Saturday night after returning below via the Gondola. There are few Queenstown Taxis and we jumped in a share ride after waiting 45 minutes with a very tired, young child.
Most people know by now that Bungy jumping (also known as bungee jumping), is where a long elastic cord is attached to the ankles or harness, and the person jumps off a large height into NOTHINGNESS.
The Bungee jump at the Gondola Peak starts 400m, that’s 1300ft, over the city, and you can choose to jump normally, or swing over the township, night or day. Not my choice, but it might be your dream. Or you can skydive!
The Queenstown area actually houses three different Bungy operations. Apparently the jumping-off platform, at the top of the Gondola, was moved around further on the mountain due to it being previously positioned above a graveyard. The inappropriate screaming of Bungee jumpers were rather disconcerting during burials occurring below!
Bungy jumping was inspired by David Attenborough’s 1950’s footage of the land divers of Pentecost Island Vanuatu, who tied vines to their ankles and jumped off tall platforms as a religious ceremony to bring a good harvest.
Queenstown Luge Ride
More appropriate and adrenalin-packed enough for me was the Luge ride, which is really a modified go-cart, hurtling slowly down a pre-defined track. We had pre-paid for this activity and it was a little underwhelming even for my ten-year-old child. In addition, tourists should beware the Luge rides close at 5pm, so if you plan to do the Luge with your kids before dinner, arrive early or you may face long queues at the buffet restaurant.
Mercure Hotel – Queenstown
This hotel is located out of the main shopping area, a long walk from the town centre, but wonderfully located right on the lake and includes some really pretty views out from the Dining Room window. The shame is that this dining room is only used at nighttime, when you won’t see much, except black water and a few nightlights!
You will have to taxi to and from the main shopping and town centre, but the desk staff are helpful and the views are wonderful. Amenities include a gym, (with a stunning view), sauna and swimming pool which on account of the prevalence of rain in Queenstown, is often underutilized.
If you stay at the Mercure and want meals after hours, you can eat at the bar which offers light adult-orientated snacks or alternatively, order Room Service. I chose the cheapest item on the Room Service menu, which was Garlic bread and it came covered with a stainless steel warmer cover, that unfortunately had congealed tomato sauce, on the inner side.
This was reported it to the kitchen staff and on my departure, an error on the bill where I was charged incorrectly for two garlic bread opened the discussion for the congealed tomato sauce. The fee was promptly waived by Reception staff. This goes a long way to making a happy customer. Well done, Mercure.