Hiking in the forests you will encounter native birds like the South Island robin, and in the mountains—especially the ski resorts—the clever, cheeky kea, the world's only alpine parrot. New Zealand falcons or karearea swoop low over hills and valleys in search of prey. Wild deer and goats roam the ranges. The Kiwi Birdlife Park in Queenstown has more than 30 species of animal including many of New Zealand's rarest and most endangered birds and reptiles. The park is involved in coordinated conservation projects throughout New Zealand to protect vulnerable native wildlife.
The Remarkables mountain range is a quintessential feature of the Queenstown landscape, photographed from every angle, in every season and at every time of day. Extending from the Kawarau River to Staircase Creek, rising to a height of 2,324 meters at Double Cone, the jagged range was sculpted by a Pleistocene (Ice Age) glacier that occupied Lake Wakatipu. Lake Alta, a cirque lake, lies just below Double Cone in a natural amphitheatre at the head of a glacial valley.
Queenstown is the gateway to Te Wahipounamu - South West New Zealand World Heritage Area, an internationally-recognised UNESCO World Heritage site. Covering 2.6 million hectares and encompassing Westland Tai Poutini, Aoraki/Mount Cook, Mount Aspiring and Fiordland national parks, the ice-carved fiords, lakes and valleys are among the finest glaciated landforms in the Southern Hemisphere. The South West New Zealand is one the great natural areas of the world, known to the original Maori inhabitants as Te Wai Pounamu—the greenstone waters. It covers almost 10 percent of New Zealand's total land area. The rocks, plants and animals date back 80 million years to a time when New Zealand was part of the ancient super continent Gondwana.
Best Day Trip
Just 20 kilometers from Queenstown, Arrowtown—once one of the richest sources of gold in the world—has carefully preserved its historical buildings and is an outstanding example of a living historic town. However, gourmet dining, superb Central Otago pinot noir wines, cozy bars and elegant souvenir and fashion shops offer a level of sophistication the early settlers could never have imagined. There are also three excellent golf courses nearby: Millbrook Resort, The Hills, and Arrowtown Golf Club.
Off the Beaten Path
Head up the side of the lake on the magnificent 46 kilometer road to Glenorchy, rated one of the top ten scenic drives in the world by Conde Naste and Lonely Planet. Explore the tiny village of Glenorchy at the Head of the Lake, a settlement surrounded by majestic mountains, visit Mrs. Woolly's General Store and New Zealand's first net zero energy camping ground, Camp Glenorchy. It's an impressive complex committed to environmentally-sustainable accommodation and retail. Sign up for an electric bike tour and head off to Paradise, the site of many famous movies including The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Mission Impossible and X-men to name a few.
Most Iconic Experience
Take a cruise on 'The Lady of the Lake', TSS Earnslaw, the vintage twin-screw steamer that has plied the waters of Lake Wakatipu since 1912. Or watch her steam directly towards the shore and turn sharply inside Queenstown Bay to dock at the Steamer Wharf. Thundering up the braided Dart River in a jetboat, amid mountains named after Greek gods.
Queenstown is famous for its night life, but the energy reaches its peak during the Winter Festival in June and the Gay Ski Week in September. At the open-until-late Winery in Queenstown, you can taste more than 80 wines, champagnes, ports and sherries including award-winning, single vineyard and reserve wines from boutique wineries that often don't have cellar doors. The Blue Door is a late-night bar hidden behind unmarked blue doors, under the old general store in Arrowtown. Originally a storage room dug into the schist rock, the rustic lantern-lit bar has an intimate, cozy atmosphere and impressive wine list.
Macetown was first settled in the early 1860s as a result of the discovery of gold in the Arrow River near Arrowtown. At first the rush was for alluvial gold from the river. Later the miners turned their attention to the hills and several quartz mining operations were established. When the gold ran out, the town slowly died and by the 1930s, Macetown was just a ghost town. A project completed in 2008 carefully restored an old cottage, bakehouse and quartz-crushing battery, the only known all-metal stamping battery in Otago. You can hike or bike the 15 kilometers to Macetown in a day or take a four-wheel drive guided tour.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Neighborhood to Explore
Spend a day enjoying the variety Queenstown has to offer. Walk through the Botanical Gardens and along the shores of Lake Wakatipu to the Steamer Wharf to absorb the ever-changing moods of the lake—mirror-calm one minute and a sea of whitecaps the next. Then, head to town for lunch and wander the narrow streets where shops, cafes, restaurants and bars are brimming with tourists and locals. Finally, head up Queenstown Hill or Kelvin Heights to ogle at mansions with multi-million dollar views.
Drive or cycle to the original AJ Hackett Bungy Jump off the historic Kawarau Bridge in the Kawarau Gorge and observe the expressions on the faces of the jumpers during the countdown. It's priceless. This is the home of bungy, the world's first commercial bungy operation where plummeting from high places suspended by a rubber cord all began in November 1988.