Queenstown, arguably the most popular tourist destination in New Zealand, is a small town with a massive itinerant population who typically only spend a few days in the resort. Because visitors want to cram a lot of living into a short time frame, the vibe is one of frenetic energy. To escape the hyped-up atmosphere, just head for the mountains or the lake and you will find peace and tranquillity. It may be sassy, sophisticated and cosmopolitan but the dress code is casual outdoor attire, even in the evenings.
When to Go
Avoid school holidays, Chinese New Year and the high season mid-summer and mid-winter months and instead visit in spring and autumn when the region is less crowded. If you visit in October and November you'll find the air is sparkling and fresh as the last of the snow is washed from the mountains. If you are a skier, late July through September is the best time to hit the region's four fabulous ski resorts—Coronet Peak and the Remarkables on the Queenstown side of the Crown Range, and Cardrona and Treble Cone on the Wanaka side. Queenstown summers are hot and dry with long daylight hours and lots of tourists.
Queenstown loves to party. The Winter Festival, New Zealand Winter Games, Gay Ski Week and New Year's Eve revelries set the town pumping while the annual art awards and Luma Light Show are more peaceful, contemplative events. The Arrowtown Autumn Festival, is a week-long celebration which coincides with the spectacular colours of the trees as the seasons change. Top sporting events are the iconic Motutapu off-road multi-sport race; the Pioneer Mountain Bike Race; the Queenstown Marathon and New Zealand Golf Open.
What to Eat
Foodies find heaven in Queenstown with everything from fine dining, celebrity chefs, vegetarian, vegan, halal and gluten-free options to family-friendly cafes and iconic burger joints. Insiders highly rate Madame Woo and Bespoke in Queenstown, the Boat Shed Café at Frankton, the Chop Shop and Saffron in Arrowtown, and Queenie's Dumplings in Glenorchy. And despite the queues, you've got to eat a famous Fergburger.
Souvenir to Take Home
Take a trip on the historic steamer, TSS Earnslaw, and visit Mt. Nicholas High Country Farm on the far side of Lake Wakatipu for a behind-the-scenes look at a station that is home to 29,000 merino sheep. The 100,000-acre station, one of New Zealand's most rugged and remote high country farms, produces merino wool for the world-renowned Icebreaker clothing label. Take home a merino product, even if it's just a pair of socks or gloves or a "willy warmer."
Sustainable Travel Tip
The primo way to explore the region and witness jaw-dropping scenery not visible from the road is by foot or cycle. Rent bikes (or electric bikes) and spend a day or weeks cycling the outstanding Queenstown Trail, a 120km network of tracks beside crystal clear lakes and rivers, through deep gorges, over high suspension bridges, past historic ruins and amid Lord of the Rings landscapes.
Climb to the top of Queenstown Hill for breath-taking vistas of the town, Lake Wakatipu, Cecil Peak, the Remarkables, Frankton Arm and Queenstown Bay. The three-hour loop track starting downtown takes walkers to the "Basket of Dreams," a favourite lookout and photo spot.