With international travel likely to be off the cards for some time, a travel ‘bubble’ between Australia, New Zealand and perhaps the South Pacific is the most likely option we’ll have for overseas travel in the near future. I for one, am dreaming of the perfect Queenstown adventure holiday.
Queenstown is without a doubt, one of my favourite holiday destinations in the world. Although I grew up in Papua New Guinea and Australia, I spent every Christmas of my childhood holidaying in and around Queenstown. I even met My Tiger there! There is no doubt that this is a special place for me. It holds wonderful memories and it is also a truly stunning part of the world that takes your breath away with its natural beauty.
“You can visit the same place over and over again and see it differently each time. We don’t realise we are making memories; we just know we are having fun.”
Queenstown is somewhere you can truly escape or party like there’s no tomorrow. Somewhere you can trek, ski or enjoy adrenaline inducing adventures. But it’s also somewhere you can de-stress. unwind and re-group as a family. So, how do you plan the perfect Queenstown holiday? First up, let’s look at the logistics.
WHEN TO TRAVEL
Queenstown’s dry season is from May to October, but there is so much to do all year round. The winter is typically crisp and clear with blue skies and gives you the opportunity to go skiing. Spring brings milder temperatures, new growth and blossom. The warm weather in summer yields long twilights and is perfect for hiking and enjoying the outdoors. And autumn creates a stunning burst of brilliant red and gold foliage.
If you want to ski, my favourite time to go is August to September when there is a good base of snow. We last skied in mid-September and were lucky enough to have 1.5m of snow fall three days before we arrived. We skied under beautiful spring sunshine for two days and then snow began to fall on the mountain – something our children raised in sunny Queensland were delighted to see.
If you don’t want to ski, my favourite time of the year in Queenstown is autumn. The colours are absolutely stunning, the weather is still warm and there are relatively few tourists.
GETTING THERE & AROUND
Queenstown is located 10 – 20 minutes from Frankton airport. You can fly direct into Queenstown from most Australian capital cities which is a big plus (oh, and the views coming into land are amazing).
We always pick up a hire car at the airport so that we have the freedom to explore as we please. Alternatively, you can use hotel shuttles, buses and taxi’s, but it won’t be as convenient or quick to get around.
MUST DO HIGHLIGHTS
Whether you want to indulge your inner explorer or simply relax and enjoy the finer things in life, you’ll be able to craft your perfect itinerary to explore this area. There really is something for everyone. Check out my 8 ingredients for the perfect Queenstown holiday.
1 STAY SOMEWHERE WITH A KIWI VIBE
Part of the allure of a truly amazing adventure holiday is relaxing at the end of the day with a glass of wine, a roaring fire (if it’s winter) and an unbeatable view. Staying somewhere great, that embodies the essence of Central Otago will take your holiday to the next level.
Queenstown has accommodation options for every budget, from youth hostels to cabins, hotels, apartments and luxurious private homes. As well as hotels, we’ve stayed in a penthouse apartment, a chalet overlooking the Shotover River, a settlers’ cottage in the heart of Arrowntown and a stone farmhouse on Lake Hayes. These properties were all so authentic and unique, and each gave a different perspective of the area.
Now that I’ve stayed in a few different types of accommodation, I have three key requirements to take our holidays to the next level.
A| THE ALL IMPORTANT MIND-BLOWING VIEW
It doesn’t have to the quintessential view of Lake Wakatipu either. Queenstown and the surrounding area has beautiful views at every turn – the Shotover River, majestic mountains, numerous lakes, even a hilly suburban outlook – just get an amazing outlook.
WINTER (also spring and autumn if you’re from the sub-tropics like us)
B| A ROARING LOG FIRE
Coming from sunny Brisbane a log fire is such a novelty for us that no winter getaway is complete without it. If all you can get is a gas fireplace, it won’t be the same, but at least it’ll give you the vibe you’re after.
C| THE HOT TUB
Ahh … yes, this is the final icing on the cake for the perfect winter getaway. There is nothing like sliding into a steaming outdoor bath after a day of skiing as you take in previously mentioned indescribable view!
2 EXPLORE QUEENSTOWN
Queenstown sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu set against one of the most dramatic and beautiful natural scenes in New Zealand – the Southern Alps. It’s a beautiful town to wander around with character stone buildings, numerous eateries and boutiques and the waterfront. Grab some ‘fush n’ chups’ as they say, from Erik’s (just back from the lake) and enjoy a picnic on the shore of Lake Wakatipu. There is nothing quite like fresh battered kiwi fish and chips.
No holiday in Queenstown is complete without indulging your chocolate cravings. Try the ice cream, chocolates or hot chocolate from Patagonia Chocolates on the waterfront. The Remarkables Sweet Shop is also a little slice of heaven. Their fudge range will have you lining up for a taste test and unable to pick just one flavour.
Another novel if somewhat ‘touristy’ experience is Minus 5 Icebar. Here you rug up and enter a bar created of ice including some pretty cool (pardon the pun) ice sculptures. Entry includes a cocktail or mocktail for the children in a glass made of ice. This is often a great hit with the kids.
3 RIDE THE SKYLINE GONDOLA
Take in the stunning views from the Skyline Gondola as you ride the steepest cable car in the Southern Hemisphere. We do this every single time we come to Queenstown and it never gets old. You’ll be carried 450m above Queenstown to the top of Bob’s Peak. When you get to the top, take a few rides on the thrilling luge (once is never enough). There is also a restaurant and bar if you need to refuel.
At the base of the Gondola is the Kiwi Birdlife Park. This is a lovely way to experience native birds and reptiles in a breeding sanctuary if you enjoy getting back to nature.
4 IF IT’S WINTER – SKI
My Tiger and I aren’t pro skiers by any stretch of the imagination but in our ‘younger days’, we would head away every couple of years for a ski trip. Back then it was hard core. We were up early skiing and stayed on that mountain until the ski fields shut – rain, snow or blizzard. We partied into the early hours and then started all over again.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Things are different for us now. This ski trip included our three girls aged between six and 12 years that had never seen snow. It was also 15 years since our last ski adventure, and we planned on taking it easy. What surprised us both was how quickly it all came back!
This first family ski trip we only skied two mornings at the easily accessible Coronet Peak. Yes, you heard me! There were no blistered feet and frozen fingers. We arrived on the slopes at 8:00am and after 4 hours of leisurely skiing, headed down the mountain for a beautiful gourmet lunch and leisurely afternoon exploring. Now that is my kind of skiing! It was enough to give the girls their first taste of snow and for us to have a bit of fun together.
Of course, you can ski as little or as much as you want, but that’s the beauty of skiing in Queenstown. There is so much else to do, that a ski holiday doesn’t have to be just about the snow. You can download my Queenstown Ski Travel Tips to make your time on the slopes as simple and enjoyable as possible.
5 DISCOVER ARROWTOWN
This delightful old Gold Mining Town (20 minutes-drive from Queenstown) has a special place in my heart. My grandparents built a holiday house near the main street and our extended family spent every Christmas here throughout my childhood. My memories of those summers are of endless days down by the river or relaxing at the Arrowtown pool and nights spent together enjoying some of the local restaurants.
The main street is chamring, quirky and full of history. Spend an hour or two just wandering this village nestled below the beautiful peaks that surround the sparkling Arrow River. Don’t miss stopping for a pie at the world’s best (I do not exaggerate) little pie shop – Arrowtown Bakery & Café. My favourite is the lamb and I promise, you will want to go back for more!
The Arrow River is one of those typical New Zealand rivers with a rock base, creating crystal clear water that is so inviting on a beautiful summers’ day. Also great for a wander or picnic in winter and an obligatory stone skimming contest. You can also venture into the Chinese settlement at the edge of the river, built from 1868. This area of restored shelters and buildings paints a picture of earlier times.
6 SAMPLE SOME VINYARDS
With some of the best produce in the world, exploring food and wine options on a holiday in Queenstown is not a hardship. Known in particular for its Pinot Noir, Queenstown and nearby Gibbston Valley are home to over 75 wineries.
One of our favourites is Waitiri Creek Wines (25 minutes-drive from Queenstown). The winery is set in a restored church in a beautiful open field surrounded by souring mountains. With acres of green grass this winery is a relaxed, family friendly destination. We always enjoy one of their beautiful cheese and antipasto platters to share along with wine and boutique beer tastings.
Almost opposite is the Gibson Valley Winery which is very popular. It boasts beautiful grounds and a bistro style restaurant and wine cave. Other popular wineries include Chard Farm, Mt Rosa Wines, Peregrine Wines, Brennan Wines & Wet Jacket Winery.
Many of the wineries provide a beautiful setting and also serve lunch and dinner so brace yourself for some serious over-indulgence. Over the years we’ve experienced just a small taste of the wineries on offer. So, collect a map, circle the venues that sound appealing and create your own self-drive tour. Select a driver and then eat, drink and be merry!
7 TICK AN ADVENTURE OFF YOUR BUCKET LIST
Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the world, and for good reason. There are adventures for every thrill seeker. From jet boating, white water rafting and bungee jumping (all of which I’ve done and loved) to river surfing, sky diving, canyon swinging and heli skiing trips. You only live once! Go ahead and pick something to get the adrenaline pumping.
8 TANTALISE YOUR TASTE BUDS
Queenstown’s constantly evolving culinary scene never fails to impress. It pays to be active, as the food in this town is amazing. It’s diverse bars and restaurants can make the evenings as fun filled as the days.
We self-catered breakfast, snacks, wine and several dinners. You can place an online grocery order at the local Countdown Supermarket (for a delivery the day of your arrival). How great is that!
Whether you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful spot to refuel after a day of activities or fine dining, there are so many restaurants to choose from but budget and book in advance. Top choices include:
- Rata – showcasing the region’s best
- Botswana Butchery – with its magical flavours and textures, roaring fires and spectacular lake views
- Nest Bar & Kitchen – where you can select a seat overlooking Lake Wakatipu and enjoy flavourful Mediterranean inspired fair
- The Bunker – with its roaring fire and rustic fine dining
- The Cow – a pizza and pasta institution
- The Sardine Bar – Asian style street food, and I can’t forget
- The Grille by Eichardt’s (the very place I met My Tiger!) – classic modern food, in a picturesque setting. It is famous for its seafood chowder (one of my favourite kiwi delights) and next time I’m in town I’m giving that a go!
For something more casual, don’t miss Fergburger. We had heard so much about this phenomenon I was sure I would be disappointed, but I was not. Fergburger (open 21 hours per day) is famous for its long cue, but I simply rung ahead and our order was ready when I arrived. Make sure you’re hungry as the burgers are big. Seating is limited, so you may want to picnic by the lake or take away back to that roaring fire.
Another ingenious idea is the takeaway, Pedro’s House of Lamb. The is the perfect option if you want to stay in, crack open a bottle of wine and eat in front of the fire. They deliver succulent slow cooked lamb shoulder and sides to your door. Delicious!
These are my top highlights if you only have a short stay in this spectacular area. If you have more time, there is so much more to do.
OTHER FAVOURITE THINGS TO DO
- Visit picturesque Lake Hayes (25 minute drive) on a sunny day for a walk or picnic. If you’re after a special meal, Amisfield Winery & Bistro is a beautiful stone building that has become a foodie destination with kiwi hospitality and seasonal produce celebrating the region. You can pull up a seat overlooking the vineyards below.
CRUISE LAKE WAKATIPU
- A cruise across Lake Wakatipu aboard the iconic century-old coal fired steamship, the TSS Earnslaw is one of the best ways to enjoy the stunning scenery surrounding Lake Wakatipu.
- Visit remarkable Fiordland National Park with the glacier carved fiords of Doubtful and Milford Sound. This is a long but unforgettable day trip. A cruise on Milford Sound (4 hours I 15 minutes drive) is a beautiful experience with stunning waterfalls, snow-capped mountains and plenty of seals and dolphins coming out to play.
- Another alternative if you are lacking time and have the budget is a helicopter flight into the sound followed by the boat cruise.
- Discover Middle Earth if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan on an organised tour. You’ll experience in person the panoramic wonders that were used to portray Middle Earth in the movies.
- Visit Lake Wanaka, a resort town (1 hour drive) with views of snow-capped mountains across the lake. Treble Cone and Cardrona ski resorts are nearby.
TAKE A TREK
- Take a trek on one of the amazing catered wilderness walks in the area. The Hollyford track is just one of these and there are walks that cater for all fitness abilities and levels of luxury. Located in north Fiordland the Hollyford Track is predominantly flat. A fantastic 4-8 day trek from the mountains to the sea that can be walked all year round. There are many amazing treks in this area.
And there you have it. Treat yourself to a holiday in this spectacular part of the world. You can’t go wrong. Queenstown is an adventure escape with the added bonus of gourmet food, world class wineries and truly spectacular natural scenery. From the soaring alps to twinkling lakes and crystal clear rivers – adventure awaits.
There really is something for everyone here. I’d love to hear about your favourite things to do on a holiday in Queenstown.
This article is not sponsored. All thoughts and opinions are my own.