If there’s any spot for an activity-packed visit in New Zealand that still leaves you with boxes unticked, it’s Queenstown. It seems no length of time is too much – but that’s not to say you’ll leave dissatisfied. Rest assured, the adventure capital of Aotearoa is well known, well loved, and well worth the visit.
Yours truly recently took a much-needed vacay to the gem of the south, and enjoyed it so much it only seemed right to share what the fuss was all about. My visit to Queenstown was brief, just 3 days in Spring – so it was essential we picked only the hottest hotspots in town. Some of these are already written about to no end, others often overlooked. Either way – here’re some ideas for your next visit to the brilliant city that is Queenstown.
(Head to the bottom of the article to see which of our tours head to Queenstown.)
1. Fergburger – if you didn’t go to Fergburger, did you really go to Queenstown?
This is an obvious one. The burger joint on Shotover Street has become something of an icon since its launch in 2001. No one in their right mind goes to Queenstown for the first time, and doesn’t pay a visit to Fergburger. The burgers are thick, juicy and delicious – but half the treat of dining at Fergs is that asking for a Cock Cajun, a Bun Laden, or a Morning Glory won’t even earn you a second glance. Don’t forget to chuck in a side order of the cajun fries. You’re at Fergs now, we won’t judge.
Check out the menu here. (I had the Sweet Julie, which I highly recommend).
Oh, and a hot tip: call and order before you head over. We made the mistake of rocking up the first time, and were rather pleased when we waltzed on past an off-putting queue the second.
2. The Luge – something that seems like a bad idea on paper but is a very, very good idea in real life.
This is another of the more well-known attractions in town, but if you can get over being a bit of a basic b, you’ll have the time of your life. Head to the Skyline Gondola, the bottom of which is on Fairy Springs Road (although you needn’t bother with the street name, you can see the gondola from just about anywhere in the city centre). Upon arrival at the peak, you’ll encounter two things. First, one of the best views in New Zealand. Second, an unexpected opportunity for an adrenaline pumping, jaw-dropping, knuckle-whitening, holla-inducing thrill-ride.
Welcome to the Luge: the practice of letting gravity hurtle you down the hill on the back of a cart with only a brake, and not-brake function. Add some sharp corners, drops in the track that most definitely get you some air time, and a friend or two who’s willing to race you to the bottom – you have yourself the recipe for a damn good time (I ended up losing the race to my opponent, but all that matters is that you’re having fun, right?) In theory, it’s scary as hell but trust us, and the wonderful staff at Skyline Queenstown: this is an activity you should not miss.
Plus, you have a helmet on so what could go wrong really?
Hot tip: if you want to keep some of that dough in your pocket, you can forgo the gondola and walk the track up through the forest. It’s an amazing hike but be warned – it is a HIKE.
3. The Cow – which upon a glimpse of the menu you’ll find is not a reference to the animal.
The Cow hasn’t quite reached the level of super-stardom achieved by Fergburger, but is none the less an institution of Queenstown. You’ll find the cosy-cottage style restaurant nestled on Cow Lane in the heart of the city. The stone structure is in fact a heritage building (and looks it too). Inside, you’ll find a space that’s dim but not too dim, toasty but not too toasty, and small but not too small. If ambience was a word to be used anywhere, it’s here; a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of a Queenstown progressing into the evening.
For such an enticing space, the food is fittingly delectable. Think a rich, mouth-watering bolognaise, or a heavenly cheesy pizza. As you can see, the food on offer is of the Italian variety and with a menu that has remained unchanged since 1976, is clearly Italian done well. As per the title of this section, the name of the establishment is actually a nod to Queen Victoria, whose face you’ll find printed on the menus.
Of course, the title could be a result of Cow Lane being home to the eatery – but that’s not nearly as cheeky or fun, is it?
4. Lake Hayes – because some of the best things in life are free.
This will require a means of transportation, as Lake Hayes is a wee drive out of the city centre. But you’ll be grateful you put in the extra effort. The Lake Hayes estate is a region largely left alone by tourists so if you’re looking for some P&Q, you’re headed to the right place. You’re in New Zealand after all – it would be debatable to say you came for the madness of a metropolis.
The lake is nestled among surrounding hills, which transform with the changing seasons. With the rolling meadows in the foreground, the towering peaks in the background, and willows littering the lake shores – it’s essentially a different walk depending on the time of year you go. After parking your car, take to the walking track which hugs the perimeter of the lake. The loop will take roughly 2-3 hours return, and is for the most part a flat endeavour. On the right day, the sun glistens and the water is still, becoming a crystal-clear mirror of the world above. If you find yourself lucky enough to be taking in such a sight, you’ll understand why photographers are quickly catching on to this beautiful spot. Get in there before everyone else does! (Maybe writing this section was a bad idea…)
5. Millbrook Resort – and some of the best things in life cost lots of money.
Hear us out. Yes, the 5-star country resort is world renowned and yes, it costs a good deal of money for an overnight stay. But who said anything about staying the night? After your stroll around the lake just 5 minutes away, head to the Hole in One café which sits green-side on the resort golf course. The food is divine, and the coffee superb – you wouldn’t expect anything less sitting in such a remarkable spot.
If you fancy yourself a bit of a Tiger Woods or Lydia Ko, perhaps you’d like to take a swing at a round of golf. Pun definitely intended. The course at Millbrook was recently named the best in Oceania so if there’s anywhere to tee off in NZ, it’s here. Just remember: patrons are dining just a few feet away from one of the holes, so there’s no room for stage fright.
6. Arrowtown – the tiny town with a heart of gold.
There’s a reason we’ve named it as such: historically, Arrowtown was the centre of a huge gold-mining rush. Back in the mid-1800’s, gold was in excess around the Arrow River so Europeans and Chinese alike settled in the area to rake in the precious stone. Nowadays you’d be hard-pressed to chance upon any considerably sized rock of gold, but gold panning is still a hugely popular tourist activity for visitors (just set your expectations pretty damn low). If you don’t want to get your feet wet, explore the historic Chinese cottages which still stand in remarkably impressive condition today.
The town centre is really just made up of two small streets, so you don’t need to allot much time to explore Arrowtown in its entirety. All the shop fronts have retained their historic charm, so it might feel a bit like you’ve been transported back in time. Feeling peckish? You’re spoilt for choice – the cafes and restaurants of Arrowtown are fabulous. Our recommendations: La Rumbla for dinner, Chop Shop for brunch, and Provisions Café for coffee. Following your meal, satisfy your sweet tooth cravings by stopping in at the famous Remarkables Sweet Shop (think Willy Wonka style treats all around you!)
Hot tip: if you’re feeling like watching a flick, the Dorothy Browns theatre is possibly the CUTEST little cinema in the world, with couches instead of seats so you can really get cosy
7. Fernhill – a stroll above paradise.
If you’re restricted to the heart of Queenstown don’t fret. You’re still minutes away from some breath-taking walks. Head to Fernhill, the hillside suburb (unsurprisingly) home to the 15-minute Fernhill Town Link track which leads you through the massive pines high above the city below. One second you’re in a deep peaceful forest, the next you’re treated to marvellous views of Queenstown, the crystal-clear Lake Wakatipu, and mountains all around. If you’ve got a bit more energy in ya, consider the 45-minute Arawata trail or the 3 hour Fernhill Loop.
Additionally, if you want to add a more thrilling element to your journey, the area is also home to an array of dedicated mountain biking tracks. These cater to a range of expertise levels, so fear not about the novices like me blocking your way.
Hot tip: don’t embark on #7 after partaking in #1. A hike after a Sweet Julie is not, in fact, sweet.
There you have it. These are the boxes I ticked on my 3-day visit to Queenstown and as I mentioned earlier – barely the tip of the iceberg. Of course, different seasons bring different opportunities so if you’re planning a trip in Winter, perhaps take these ideas with a grain of salt. Let us know what sorts of exciting activities you got up to in the incredible South Island city!