Queenstown, New Zealannd

By Bernard Spragg, on flickr

Queenstown, on New Zealand’s south island, is one of my favourite cities in the world.

I’ve been there twice but I feel like I need to visit a hundred more times to be able to say I’ve really experienced the area.

There aren’t many other places where you can wake up every morning surrounded by majestic mountain views and then walk five minutes down the road, greeting people from all over the world as you go, to drink a bowl of perfectly brewed coffee and eat breakfast at a hipster café.

That’s not to mention the nightlife, which can be a problem if you’re like me. I’ve spent about two weeks in total in Queenstown, but I squandered most of my time in hostels, pubs and clubs.

The real reason to visit is for the incredible range of outdoor adventures that lie at your doorstep. (As an aside, hostels are a long way off being the best option for Queenstown accommodation.) Here’s a quick run down of the real reasons I can’t wait to go back and visit again.

Hike the Moke Lake Loop Track

Hike Moke Lake - Queenstown - New Zealand
Moke Lake

Image courtesy of jbreiti, on flickr

Let’s start with something free and easy. The Moke Lake Loop is especially good for families or those with only a little time to spare. At only twenty minutes from the centre of Queenstown, this trail is a stunning way to spend a couple of hours or a whole day. Some people even choose to camp overnight at the end of the trail.

The lake is a photographer’s dream, particularly popular with astrophotographers, but it also offers great fishing and a good spot for a swim in the warmer months.

Though I can see why they call it a loop since it follows a horse shoe shape around the lake, it’s actually a return track. Surrounded by mountains, you’ll stroll through grassland to a boardwalk that protects a small wetland to a picturesque campground and then return via the same route.

Need to know

Length: 5 km
Time: 2 hours
Grade: Easy – Moderate / Grade 3
Style: Return
Access: Drive towards Glenorchy for about ten minutes, turning right on Moke Lake Road. Continue to where this turns to gravel and then for a further 8 km, passing Lake Kirpatrick, before you arrive at Moke Lake. You’ll obviously need to look at car hire in Queenstown in order to make your way there.

Skydive Queenstown

Skydive Queenstown - New Zealand

Skydiving over Queenstown’s Lake Wakatipu

Image courtesy of NZone Skydive

Jumping out of a plane at 15,000 feet makes a solid addition to any adventurous holiday, but the biggest reason to do it in Queenstown is your scenery on the way down. I thought my Great Ocean Road skydive was beautiful but it had nothing on this. It was actually running out of time to do this while in Queenstown that prompted me to do a jump back home. This one is still on my bucket list.

If you’re not too nervous to enjoy it, treat your ascent to 15,000 as a scenic flight. There’s nothing quite like seeing the Otago region from above.

Jumps can be arranged from 9,000 feet, 12,000 feet or 15,000 feet, but you should seriously consider maximising your freefall.

Need to know

Your Queenstown skydive can be booked online via Experience Oz + NZ.

Check-in at the Skydive Centre in Queenstown is required. You’ll then be transported to the drop zone. If you’d rather drive yourself there, they can give you directions but you’ll need to check-in first for a briefing. Photos and video of your jump are available for an extra cost on the day. There is a 100kg weight limit for jumpers and anyone under 18 will require consent from a parent or guardian.

Hike Ben Lomond Track

Hike Ben Lomond - Queenstown - New Zealand
Ben Lomond Track

Image courtesy of eGuideTravel.com, on flickr

Ben Lomond offers (arguably) the best views in Queenstown, but this is a tough trail that is only for the fit and well prepared. It requires a full day to traverse, so make sure you leave enough time before dark.

The Ben Lomond summit sits at 1,784 metres above sea level, so the first 7 kilometres of the hike is almost all uphill and rises just under 1,500 vertical metres. The final push to the summit is especially steep.

You’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, lakes and valleys from above the treeline, as well as beautiful native Beech forest, and that incredible “I just climbed a mountain” feeling.

Need to know

Length: 14 km
Time: 8 hours
Grade: Difficult
Style: Return
Path: Carpark – One Mile Creek Walk / One Mile Track – Ben Lomond Track – Junction to Arthurs Point via Moonlight Track – Ben Lomond summit – return.
Access: Head towards Glenorchy on Beach St / Lake Esplanade, turning right at the roundabout onto a dirt track. At the end of this track, you’ll find a carpark and the trailhead.
Further Info: This is best walked in the warmer months. Expect snow on the trail from April to November. The trail can also be started from the top of Skyline Gondola (charges apply for the gondola ride), saving you about an hour of hiking and about 400 metres of ascent.
Maps: Purchase a map via the Queenstown Visitor Centre or print one from NZ Topo Map.

Zipline Queenstown

Zipline Queenstown

Ziplinging over Queenstown

Image courtesy of Zipline Ecotours

If you’ve never been ziplining, you need to add it to your adventure bucket list.

Ziptrek Ecotours have a range of options to suit families with children over six or more adventurous adults. Families can choose the cheaper 4-line tour features a 240-metre line where participants reach speeds of up to 50 kilometres per hour, flying through beautiful forests with views of Queenstown and its surroundings. The more adventurous can choose the 6-line tour which includes the worlds steepest zipline, dropping the equivalent of 30 stories at speeds of up to 70 kilometres per hour.

I know which one I’d choose.

Need to know

Your zipline tour can be booked online via Experience Oz + NZ.

Tours meet near the top of the Skyline Gondola. Gondola passes are not included in your booking and do come at a cost. However, you can avoid the cost if you’re willing to walk to the top of the gondola. The maximum weight for ziplining is 125kg. There’s no minimum weight, but kids under 30kg may need to fly tandem.

Canyoning in Kawarau Canyon or Black Spur Canyon

Canyoning Queenstown - New Zealand

Canyoning near Queenstown

Image courtesy of Experience Oz + NZ

If you’ve never been canyoning, you’re missing out.

Scramble, jump, slide, swim and abseil your way through stunning slot canyons on these half or full day guided tours that take you just outside of Queenstown, with all equipment provided.

There’s a tour for all fitness levels. Depending on which you choose, you’ll spend either two or three hours canyoning. The full day tour to Black Spur Canyon requires more travel time but is tougher and more adventurous than the half day.

Both tours will lead you outside your comfort zone, with either an abseil down a waterfall or an 8-metre jump into water, depending on which you choose.

Need to know

Your canyoning tour can be booked online via Experience Oz + NZ.

Tours include transfers from Queenstown CBD, all equipment and experienced guides. You’ll need to be over 13 years of age, reasonably fit and confident in the water.

Hike the Hollyford Track

Hollyford Track New Zealand

A waterfall on Hollyford Track

Image courtesy of Experience Oz + NZ

While it’s actually a few hours from Queenstown, The Hollyford Track is a great hike for anyone looking for multi-day options that are less popular than New Zealand’s official ‘Great Walks’.

The entire track can be walked in 4 to 8 days and if you’re an experienced hiker can be done independently. However, I recommend taking a shorter guided trip.

You’ll be rewarded with the spectacular terrain of Fiordland National Park as you follow Hollyford River (Whakatipu Kā Tuka) from the Darran Mountains to Martins Bay. Along the way, you’ll find tricky river crossings, swing bridges, waterfalls and spectacular views.

If you choose the guided option, your trip will include a helicopter ride over Milford Sound, lodge accommodation and all meals.

Need to know

Your 3 day guided Hollyford Track tour can be booked online via Experience Oz + NZ.

Organising an independent walk on the Hollyford Track is more complex than I’ve got room to describe in this article. However, the Department of Conservation page is a good starting point.

Update: Check out Ken’s comments below about hiking the Hollyford Track independently if you’re looking for some assistance.

Shotover Canyon Swing

Shotover Canyon Swing - Queenstown

The Shotover Canyon Swing

Image courtesy of Shotover Canyon Swing & Fox

Everyone does a bungee jump in Queenstown, but not everyone knows about the Shotover Canyon Swing. I’ve never been bungee jumping myself, but I can’t see how it could be better than this.

Your adventure starts on a cliff top platform, 109 metres above the Shotover River. Here you’ll launch yourself off the cliff, freefalling 60 metres before swinging out 200 metres. When the terror subsides you’ll find yourself gracefully swinging back and forth between the canyon’s walls, enjoying the incredible scenery, before eventually being pulled back up to the platform to have another go (if you dare).

Need to know

Your Shotover Canyon Swing adventure can be booked online via Experience Oz + NZ.

The Canyon Swing is suitable for anyone 10 years or older. The maximum weight for solo jumps is 135kg or 180kg for tandem jumps.

Disclaimer: Some of the links above are affiliate links. This has no influence on the opinions presented in my review.


Have you been to Queenstown? Got any questions, comments, updates or corrections? Let us know by commenting below.

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