The adrenaline capital of the world
7 travellers have this on their Bucket List
6 been here
Queenstown is a unique city in New Zealand. The city is located on Lake Wakatipu, in the background is a lovely mountain range. Director Peter Jackson used the mountains as the mystical and illustrious Mordor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Right, everything is possible at Queenstown.
In this town where bungee jumping became popular, and to this day extreme sports set the tone for this city. You can try the wildest things, and the attractions get more daring, faster, and scarier as time passes. You can really push your limits in this former goldrush town.
It wasn’t until 1860 that prospectors decided to explore the area and look for gold. That’s when the current town started developing. Many people thought that its location by the lake with its beautiful mountain scenery would be a wonderful place to live for Queen Victoria, hence the name.
But when the gold ran out, people left town. But a man by the name of AJ Hackett brought new life into Queenstown when he came to set up his business in the 1980s. He decided to give people the chance to pay for a bungee jump in this very scenic place: a 43-metre free fall off Kawarau Bridge.
This gave Queenstown the reputation of being the place where bungee jumping was invented, but that’s technically incorrect. Hackett only commercialised the ancient practise of ‘land diving’ or ‘vine jumping’ that’s been a ritual on the Melanesian island of Pentecost in Vanuatu for 1500 years.
These days, Queenstown is one of the most-visited tourist attraction in New Zealand. Not only because of the extreme sports, but also because of the scenery.
This mountain chain is only 18 kilometres from Queenstown, and its name was inspired by its location: these mountains are positioned exactly from north to south. But the sight of them is also quite remarkable! The highest peaks are Double Cone (2.340 metre) and Ben Nevis (2.330 metre). Thanks to the climate there, this is a great ski location in winter, and perfect for hiking in summer.
Many scenes from this famous film franchise were shot around Queenstown. It’s an extremely rugged area that really suits the films, and is also characteristic for the city. There is a lot of information about the different film locations on the internet, and there are tours you can take to visit them as well.
This is one of the former goldmines in the area. There is a museum where you can learn all about the history of the practice, and you can also try your own hand at panning for gold. There is very little left of it, of course, but when you notice something sparkling while you’re sifting through the sand, it still gives you a little kick.
Bob’s Peak is a hill near Queenstown. It’s a good example of the Kiwi mentality: ‘if there is an opportunity to enjoy an extreme sport, we should take it!’ You can take the Skyline Gondola up and then find an interesting way to go down.
Take a mountain bike and speed down a trail. Or take a luge down a special track. You can hop off the mountain with a paraglider. And of course, you can always walk down as well. Or you can take a bungee jump at the top. But it’s also a perfect spot to enjoy a beer, watch the sunset and just relax at the café or restaurant.
The Canyon Swing is a combination of a bungee jump and a giant swing. You’ll be falling backwards into a 109-metre-deep canyon with a small river at the bottom. First, you’ll fall straight down, then you’ll swing around in the canyon for a while, so it’s a double whammy. And you won’t get the big jolt at the bottom of a regular bungee jump. There are different options as well, you can also choose to sit on a chair that tumbles down this ravine.
One of the most popular activities in Queenstown is skydiving. The impressive landscape of this part of New Zealand really adds to the experience when you jump out of that plane. If you take a good look, you can even spot Milford Sound in the distance. There are many operators to choose from, and you can book your dive online or in town. You can also easily book a combination of a bungee jump and a skydive for a reduced rate.
Of course you can also take part in slightly more ‘traditional’ adventure sports in Queenstown. There are several options around town, including tandem gliding. You can go to the area near Skyline Gondola, or near Coronet’s Peak. You can also go parasailing on Lake Wakatipu. Of course, the weather will have an impact on these adventures.
Queenstown is also a fantastic spot for rafting. There are suitable locations for beginners as well as experienced rafters. The green Kawarau River is good for beginners, it’s an extremely full river, but the rapids aren’t too crazy. It’s a different story for the Shotover River, which is a must-do for rafting enthusiasts. It’s a class-IV river, and in some parts it’s class V, which means the water is extremely wild. Especially in winter and early spring, when the roughest parts can only be reached by helicopter.
There are many very narrow gorges and plenty of waterfalls around Queenstown, and canyoning is a sport where you go around exploring canyons, waterfalls, rivers, and mountain areas. You can swim under waterfalls in the gorges and rivers. It’s hours of intense climbing, scrambling and jumping from rock to rock. Sometimes you’re secured by ropes, something you’re not. There are special wet suits to keep warm in the icy cold water.
The mountains around Queenstown are a perfect setting to go out exploring on mountain bikes. There are many tracks you can follow, with different grades of difficulty, so you can choose to challenge yourself. One of the most popular locations is on The Remarkables, but the most rewarding one is the Otago Trail.
The train that used to run past the old little goldmine towns no longer runs all the way into the mountains, but the tracks are still there. This is now a bike track and walking trail, and paradise for mountain bike fanatics. It’s ideal for those who are interested in learning about the gold rush in this area.
Heli rafting sounds extreme, but the mountain roads are sometimes inaccessible. So the only way to get to certain places, is by helicopter. And if the flight over the mountains and the fast-flowing Shotover River hasn’t already got your heart pumping, the rafting will really get your adrenaline levels up. This is one of the most extreme experiences around…Make sure to try and take note of the breathtaking surroundings, if you get a chance!
This is not a wild or extreme activity, but one that is calm and interesting. Your guide will tell you all about the scenery, the history and everything that makes Queenstown such an exciting place to be.
There are lots of options for winter sports near Queenstown in their winter, which is June, July, August and early September. The most famous locations are The Remarkables and Coronet Peak. So you can go skiing one day, and bungee jumping the next!
In winter you can book to be flown up a mountain in a helicopter, and then use your skis or snowboard to get down, with the support of a guide. It’s decadent (read: expensive) but super exciting. You’ll spend most of your time off-piste and see parts of the mountain nobody else will see. This does mean that you have to be a very competent skier or snowboarder to do this activity.
This variation to rafting was invented in the seventies when a group of Frenchmen had to conquer a river without a vessel. They filled a sack full of life vests and floated down the river that way, and thought it was a fun experience. These days, you get a small custom-designed board to hold onto. It’s also known as hydro speed or hydro speeding. You’ll get a special wetsuit and a life vest. And because you actually go in the water yourself and the water is quite wild, you sometimes end up gasping for breath!
The mountains around Queenstown are popular with those who love to go four-wheel driving. There are different operators where you can choose your desired vehicle, from quads to big Landrovers. There are also different routes suitable for your level of off-road expertise, from first-time drivers to those who are keen off-roaders and know their car inside-out.
You’ve probably seen monster trucks on television: these huge cars can pretty much drive across anything. Queenstown is one of the few places in the world where you can drive one yourself. You can also choose different vehicles, such as dirt cars. Be warned, though: driving will never be the same after you’ve driven one of these giants!
The steamboat TSS Earnslaw has been ferrying people across Lake Wakatipu since 1912. It’s the oldest commercial coal-fired passenger-carrying steamboats in the southern hemisphere. These days it’s just tourists that who take boat for a pleasure cruise around the lake, and it’s a great way to see the city and its surrounding scenery from the water.
You can visit Queenstown any time of year, and many attractions operate all year round, including jet boating and bungee jumping. Some will depend of the presence of snow, or indeed the lack thereof. So it really depends on what you want to do there to know when is the best time to go.
Best time for rafting: October/November and April/May
Best time for winter sports: July, August and September
There are several information centres that are thinly veiled shops and tour-booking agents, who will get a percentage of whatever you book through them, so they might not always give the most objective advice. You can go online and compare the different operators, and you’re likely to get better deals online as well. It’s also wise to keep an eye out for Combo Deals if you want to try several attractions while you’re in town.