It’s been a year and a half since I left Queenstown in New Zealand’s South Island and I’m having serious withdrawals.
I say it to anyone who will listen, but I don’t think I’ve lived anywhere as beautiful as Queenstown. People may scoff, but I believe it’s got the perfect mix of size vs things going on.
It’s a small town (but not too small) of an urban population around 13,000 inhabitants that has got a large transient population due to the winter ski seasons when hundreds of snow bunnies descend to get work on the mountains. In the summer when the snow is all gone, these mountains then offer up a downhill mountain biker’s dream playground.
Nestled on the bank of Lake Wakatipu, so blue that you are almost forgiven to thinking it has been painted onto the landscape and dwarfed by the hulking mountains of the Southern Alps, Queenstown is jaw-droppingly beautiful, no matter what time of year you visit.
With its relatively compact size (with no high rises to block out your views) and outdoorsy nature, Queenstown is the place to be if you want somewhere that is lively and fun with the perfect outdoor playground on your doorstep.
Here is my ultimate guide to all things Queenstown.
One of my favourite spots to enjoy a meal in Queenstown has to be Atlas Beer Cafe in Steamer’s Wharf. Enjoy an aperitif whilst you soak in the hustle and bustle of your surroundings. People watch to your hearts content as the TSS Earnslaw sails passed you on the azure waters of Lake Wakatipu and tourists stop and snap a picture of the views.
The tiny Atlas is impressive for its beer selection but what kept me coming back was the incredible steak on their menu crowned with a glorious slab of garlic butter that melted to give you something to dunk your chunky chips in.
There are a plethora of bars and cafes in Queenstown to suit every taste and budget. On a sunny day you can’t beat the outdoor terrace, laid back vibe and cheap drinks at 1876 on Ballarat Street or watching the sun go down whilst enjoying a glass of wine with some tapas at the Bath House situated on the shore of the lake.
An old favourite of mine where you’re guaranteed to bump into some friendly locals is Harry’s Pool Bar on Brecon Street. In the winter the huge, roaring log fire is perfect for sitting in front of, or you can prop yourself up at the bar and get chatting to people in an instant. For those with a competitive nature, Harry’s has 7 pool tables lined up and ready for you to challenge your mates to a cue-down.
Queenstown also lies in the heart of the South Island’s Pinot Noir growing region and just out of town there are a scattering of gorgeous vineyards to explore. Pop in to one of my favourites, Mount Difficulty, and try the Roaring Meg Pinot Noir. Why? Because it has the best name, of course.
Queenstown doesn’t really have the space to be a shopping mecca and for that I’m pretty grateful. The two main streets in town are Shotover and the pedestrianised Mall, which is where you’ll find the vast majority of stores. Queenstown is the perfect place to pick up any outdoor gear you may need on your travels plus a few little trinkets and souvenirs to remember your time in New Zealand’s adventure capital.
You cannot beat the vibe on a sunny afternoon down on the Wakatipu lakefront. Meet your friends, explore with your family or just sit in contented solitude as the world goes by. Rope walkers, musicians, swimmers, stand up paddle boarders, a guy giving out free hugs – it’s all going on by the water. Browse the local art and craft market on the green at the weekend and treat yourself to an ice cream from Patagonia.
For a treat like no other try the luxurious Onsen Hot Pools in Arthurs Point just a five minute drive outside of Queenstown. In your own private pool you can enjoy a glass of champagne with a stunning view of the mountains.
Take a stroll through Queenstown Gardens at any time of the year for an oasis of calm amongst the trees. Stop and watch bowls being played at the bowls club or wonder at how the ever-popular frisbee golf is played. If you’re visiting in autumn then don’t miss the Skycity Queenstown Gibbston Wine and Food Festival, which fills the park with tantalising tastes from the local area accompanied by plenty of live music.
There is a movie theatre in the centre of Queenstown, but for an alternative treat try to catch a Guerrilla Drive in Movie whilst you’re in town. This community group organises free screenings of cool movies in the most unlikely of spaces – both indoors and outdoors – that you can set up your deckchair and snacks to enjoy.
Queenstown is a hot bed of adventure for thrill seekers of any kind. Nestled amongst the mountains, there is no shortage of activities for you to get involved with, no matter what season. You want to zip wire through trees? You can. You want to paraglide off a mountain? You can. You want to ride on a segue through town? You can.
For a low down on all of the activities available to you, I would suggest checking out Queenstown.com, a website that showcases the best of all the things there are to see and do in and around town.
The views are second to none in Queenstown and no matter where you are in town your eyes are in for a treat. Given that it’s surrounded by mountains, the best way to appreciate Queenstown in all its glory is to get up high and view it from above. Try taking the Skyline Gondola up to the viewing platform where you can soak in the views, eat, drink and try your hand at the luge – think a bob sleigh but without the ice!
For a more energetic approach, try walking up Queenstown Hill, which will take you about 2-3 hours return up a forest trail with information boards along the way. From the top you are treated to 360 degree views of the Wakatipu Basin, including The Remarkables, Cecil and Walter Peak and the Kawarau River. You can access the start of the walking track from Belfast Terrace.
When I first arrived in Queenstown I stayed in Absoloot Hostel on Beach Street, which is smack bang in the middle of town. It’s superb location, friendly staff and comfortable rooms with ensuite bathrooms meant it was one of the best hostels I had stayed in.
There is a Top Ten Holiday Park in town for anyone looking to pitch a tent or park the campervan, plus a huge array of hotels and hostels to suit every budget, from the luxurious Rees Hotel on Frankton Road (the swishest hotel I’ve ever stayed in!) to the many affordable and backpacker friendly hostels around town.
I could quite happily daydream about Queenstown all day. Have you ever been? What tops your list as your favourite thing to do in Queenstown?
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