The snow bunny’s paradise has a reputation for being New Zealand’s premier tourism and extreme sports destination. So without further ado, Backpackers News brings you the best of Queenstown for budget travellers; exploring the snow, sports, sightseeing, and night scene this world class alpine town has on offer.
1. Ski Areas
There’s no doubt about it: Queenstown is a snow bunny’s paradise. Locally accessible ski areas Coronet Peak and the Remarkables are winter playgrounds enticing rookies and veterans alike to Queenstown every year to ski, snowboard, toboggan and generally clamber about these celebrated snow fields. Keep an eye out on powder reports, specials and deals in the Queenstown region.
2. Winter Festival
The American Express Queenstown Winter Festival looks to be bigger than ever, with around 45,000 revelers tipped to descend upon Queenstown in winter for New Zealand’s best street party. Celebrating the beginning of the snow season, the ten day 2017 Winter Festival will feature street parties, a Mardis Gras, a Masquerade ball and plenty of mountain activities to boot. If you’re thinking of heading to Queenstown to hit the slopes, this is the time to go and add a festive flavour to the cool season.
Just one hour’s drive from Queenstown, this a picturesque Central Otago town set on the banks of the Alexandra-Clyde river basin and world famous in New Zealand for its gold mining history. Today, Alexandra attracts the visitors of the two wheeled persuasion- cyclists flock from far and wide to attempt the Otago Central Rail Trail that winds through Clyde and Alexandra and is backdropped by lush Southern scenery. Many others choose to walk or to ride the track on horseback.
Arrowtown is a former gold-mining town built on the banks of the Arrow River, once a rich source of gold in the 1860’s. The cobble stoned town appears frozen in a century past; delicate cottages and iron lamp posts decorate a still, alpine setting that feels markedly dissimilar to the rest of small town New Zealand. Arrowtown is recognised as the walking and biking centre of the Wakatipu and the many walking trails and cycle tracks of the area either start or finish in the town.
5. Skyline Gondola & Luge
Skyline offers a thrilling gondola and luge experience in Queenstown and makes for a great experience for visitors looking for a spot of outdoor fun. Take in the lake view from the relaxed pace of a gondola or enjoy a thrilling ride on the Kiwi invented Luge- a “fun filled gravity ride” solo or tandem on a speedy three wheeled cart, day or night.
6. Queenstown Bike Festival
In a bid to put it on the map as a world class cycling destination the Queenstown Bike Festival will be held on April 12th – 20th, 2014. There is something every day and you can find out about it by choosing events in Family, Social, Recreational or Extreme. All events are expected to attract elite and expert class bikers that makes it one to watch for spectators not looking to tear up the tracks.
7. Bars and Clubs
Queenstown’s nightlife has a reputation to uphold; one that it always delivers as backpackers flock to the alpine town for adventure activities. Queenstown bars and clubs often have live music and DJs as well as great drink specials. There’s a party atmosphere in Queenstown any night of the week, so get out and enjoy it! Here’s a few to get you started – Pog Mahones, Subculture, Altitude Bar, Dux De Lux, Pig and Whistle, The Speight’s Ale House, Surreal, Red Rock, The Blue Door, Revolver Bar, The World Bar…
8. Op shopping
Thrifty minded backpackers do not need to be told that the best second hand shopping is usually to be had in the ‘well-heeled’ districts. Queenstown is home to New Zealand’s most expensive real estate and as a top tourist destination attracts many transients. For the weary backpackers seeking cast offs, or quality snow or travel items, Queenstown opportunity shops full of designer gear are a veritable treasure chest. Especially worthy of checking out is the local Salvation Army which resembles an alpine museum, with its window displays decked out with old skis, boots, boards and the kind of ski pants your dad used to wear.
Now you’ve travelled all the way to New Zealand, you really have no excuse not to hurtle screaming from a plane at 15,000ft. As proud title bearer of the extreme sports capital of the world, Queenstown’s pristine vista awaits your plunge.
10. Nevis Arc – the World’s Highest Swing
If the idea of skydiving turns your knees to jelly, you might want to get your adrenalin rush a little closer to solid ground… but not too close. The Nevis Arc is no ordinary playground swing. At 160m above a canyon floor, it is the highest of its kind in the world. Swingers are suspended from a platform on a rope the length of a rugby field, and soar on a 300m arc at up to 150kph. Definitely not an activity for the faint of heart!
11. Shotover River
Keeping to the extreme theme- how about a spot of white water rafting? The river road known as Skippers Canyon is one of several blood curdling rafting adventures available at Shotover and features such paddling obstacles as After Shock, Sharks Fin, Pinball and Jaws- the names says it all!
12. Onsen Hot Pools
After your adrenalin pumped day skydiving, rafting or bungy jumping, soothe your nerves at Queenstown’s swanky Onsen Hot Pools. Pricy but peaceful, Onsen’s pools features converted outdoor settings, that at sunset make for a romantic way to finish your day.
13. Milford Sound
Take a day out from Queenstown and travel to Fiordland to see the breathtaking scenery of Milford Sound from the comfort of an overnight cruiser. The Milford Mariner overnight cruises showcase the Sound’s natural wonders as it sails past cascading waterfalls, seals and penguins, rainforest and mountains. With limited capacity and the opportunity to kayak during the cruise, backpackers can appreciate the silent beauty of a Milford sunset before retiring to private cabins for the evening.
Only an hour’s drive from Queenstown, Cromwell of Central Otago is a worth a visit to see the Southland tundra that have inspired many a painter, the historic town centre, and the Carrick mines imbued with a rich gold mining history.
15. Remarkables Market
Held at Remarkables Park every Saturday, the artisan, food and craft market offers sweet local souvenirs and tasty treats for visitors and locals alike on their morning traipse about Queenstown during the warmer months from October 27th.
16. SkyCity Casino
You don’t have to be a high roller to enjoy Queenstown’s SkyCity casino. Open from noon to the wee hours of the morning every day, hit up the op shops for some gladrags, head to the casino and grab a cocktail to spend one luxurious evening pretending you’re not a backpacker!
17. Kawarau Bungy
Extreme sports enthusiasts will probably already have heard of the Kawarau Bungy – after all, it’s where it all began. The historic Kawarau bridge is home to the world’s first bungy, a 43m blood curdler invented by A J Hackett and Henry van Ash. Brave bungy jumpers have the option of tandem or solo, or take a dare and opt for the full water immersion!
18. Arrowtown Autumn Festival
Held from April to May annually (25th April to 4th May 2014), this historic parade showcases Arrowtown in all its Autumnal glory. Expect live music, dancers, the ‘Tin Lizzies’ (vintage cars) and brings the whole small township onto the pretty cobbled streets. The Autumn Festival is a good time to drop through on the way to Queenstown or the mountains.
19. Hot Air Ballooning
If you shy away from the idea of skydiving but still want to see the beauty of the Southern landscape from a dizzying height try Hot Air Ballooing. The serene flight takes place between the valleys of Arrowtown and Queenstown at dawn and offer views of Lake Wakatipu, the Kawarau River and as the guide should point out; some Lord of the Rings filming locations visible from a bird’s eye view!
20. Ice Skating
The Queenstown Ice Arena opens from April every year and is too cheap to miss out. Moonlight as Torvill or Dean for an evening … minus the scandal, of course. The Arena is now closed for the summer! Re-opens April 19th, 2013.
21. Arts and Crafts Markets
Enjoy the cool Alpine air and choose the Creative Queenstown Arts and Crafts Markets over air conditioned souvenir shops to pick up gifts for loved ones back home. The markets held every Saturday at Earnslaw Park offer everything from merino and leather craft to traditional Maori jewellery pieces.
22. Big Night Out
What better way to make new friends than on a pub crawl? That is if you still remember them the next day. Big Night Out is recommended as one of Queenstown’s most popular pub crawls, and is an especial winner for providing top prizes every night from such major tourism operators as A J Hackett, NZ SkyDive, ShotOver Jet and Queenstown Rafting.
23. Queenstown JazzFest
The Queenstown JazzFest features over 50 events, 150 performers and maintaining a reputation as one of the top jazz events in Australasia since the ‘70s.
24. Joe’s Garage Coffee
Joe’s Garage is highly recommended for top notch, award winning coffee and ‘The Local’- a breakfast to cure your hangover following a big night out on the tiles in Queenstown.
25. Ziptrek Ecotours
This is not the kind of flying fox you used to enjoy in your school’s playground. Set on the Skyline Gondola hill, the ZipTrek flying fox will whiz you between tree decks and their guides while you take in spectacular views of the lake and mountains. The ‘trek’ in the name is telling- some of the tours can take several hours, so choose a warm outfit and embark on a very unusual way of getting to know Queenstown with a Ziptrek Ecotour.