Queenstown on the Quiet
Queenstown might be known as the Adventure Capital of New Zealand, but beyond the thrills, there’s so much more to explore, as Elisabeth Easther suggests.
Queenstown is one of the most spectacular regions on earth, a scenic wonderland where mountain ranges, rivers, lakes and wildlife all vie for your attention. Early Maori favoured the area for gathering food, while in the 1860s, adventurous souls flocked to get their hands on the rich seams of gold. Today, the area is known as the Adventure Capital of New Zealand although beyond the thrills, the spills and the white-knuckled excitement, this area has so much more to offer. Whether you’re appreciating wine, scanning the skies for bird life or marvelling at the scenery, Queenstown ticks an awful lot of boxes.
Featuring dramatic snowy mountains, valleys, canyons and rivers, it’s no surprise Sir Peter Jackson chose some of Otago’s outstanding locations to stand in for Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. For fans of those epic films, this can be the adventure of a lifetime. You can gaze out across The Misty Mountains, The Gates of Argonath and the Ford of Bruinen or, if you’re a true LOTR disciple, don costumes to lend your experience (and your photos) a more authentic edge.
Snaking their way dramatically through the landscape, rivers have played a huge part in ‘shaping the land here, creating spectacular ravines and high-walled canyons, many of which can only be experienced by jet boat. Exploring the Dart and Shotover rivers is an absolute must when touring this region, with visitors often describing the expedition as a highlight thanks to those awe-inspiring vistas and the thrilling rush of adrenaline that occurs when skilful skippers propel their passengers along the waterways.
Nature is sure to astonish when you first catch sight of Skipper’s Canyon, a deep ravine that carves its way through the Otago landscape. Learn how early Maori survived here, of fortunes won and lost during the gold rush and look out for New Zealand’s unique bird life wheeling overhead. The colours of the Shotover River will take your breath away, while the Skipper’s Suspension Bridge (96 metres long, 90 metres high) will have you reaching for your camera.
Queenstown is perched on Lake Wakatipu, the third-largest lake in New Zealand and, at 84 kilometres, also the longest. Created in the last Ice Age, this stunning body of water, with its backdrop of The Remarkables mountain range, is utterly beautiful in all seasons and in both the daytime and at night. Cruises are available on a number of vessels including the historic paddle steamer The TSS Earnslaw, an Edwardian twin-screw steamer with voyages to Walter Peak Station: a wonderful way for city folk to enjoy a taste of high-country rural life.
5. Divine Wine
The wider Queenstown region is renowned for its vineyards. There are so many award-winning winemakers vying for your attention, it can be complicated deciding where to start. The best idea is to join a wine tour and let someone else do the thinking (and the driving) while you do the savouring. And do leave space in your suitcase, as you’re bound to discover a drop so delicious you’ll want to take a bottle or two home to share with friends.
6. Take to the Trails
Queenstown is criss-crossed with numerous pretty walking tracks that cater to all levels of fitness. Look out for Bob’s Cove Track, an easy 40-minute loop found just outside Queenstown or, for something a bit more challenging, try the Tiki Trail. Starting at the bottom of the Skyline Gondola, walk through pine and beech forests before reaching the top, where you will be rewarded with the most spectacular views. Visitors can choose to return by foot, or buy a one-way ticket on the gondola. Down on the flat, the Sunshine Bay Track is another beauty. Setting off from Lake Esplanade, pass through native bush as you follow the curves of the lake, heading towards Glenorchy and the top of the lake.