New Zealand is currently at COVID-19 Alert Level 4 which means there are now significant travel restrictions for a minimum four week period. Only essential services will remain open in Queenstown and all visitors and residents must stay put and maintain social distancing practices when they do leave the house or accommodation to get fresh air or for essential services.
Essential businesses such as supermarkets, pharmacies, certain accommodation providers and healthcare will remain open. Public transport may only be used for those working in essential services, for medical reasons and to get to the supermarket. Further limitations to domestic travel also apply with flights, ferries, trains and public transport only available to essential workers and cargo.
Queenstown is built around an inlet called Queenstown Bay on Lake Wakatipu, a long, thin, Z-shaped lake formed by glacial processes, and has views of nearby mountains such as The Remarkables, Cecil Peak, Walter Peak and just above the town, Ben Lomond and Queenstown Hill.
1. Queenstown adventure sports
The wealth of geological features present in and around Queenstown provides numerous adventure sports opportunities.
The Remarkables mountain range, often capped with snowy peaks but otherwise a barren mass of jagged rock, creates the perfect backdrop for quad biking tours, zip lining through the forested foothills and climbing up craggy rock faces. During the colder months (June–Aug) when snow creeps further down the mountain slopes, winter sports take over, with skiing and snowboarding at the forefront. Tobogganing and skidoo riding, requiring slightly less skill but providing just as much fun, are also available.
Lake Wakatipu is a great location for paragliding through fresh, thin air while taking in views across the serene waters, strapped to your guide, of course. You can also enjoy boating on Wakatipu and swimming, although the lake water is certainly refreshingly cold – even during the summer months (Dec–Feb).
Other water sports, such as white-water rafting, jet boat rides and canoeing, take place on the numerous rivers which meander through the surrounding terrain. The Nevis Bungy Jump, the highest bungee in New Zealand, even sees thrill seekers diving head first down over the waters of the turbulent Nevis River.
Lake Wakatipu boating.Lake Wakatipu boating. Photo: Jiri Foltyn/Shutterstock
2. Skyline gondola and luge
Climb 450 metres above Queenstown to the top of Bob’s Peak on the Skyline Gondola for birds-eye views of the town as well as The Remarkables, Cecil Peak and Coronet Peak. At the top, a new world of adventure unfolds, with mountain biking, hiking, walking and stargazing after sunset all possible.
To continue enjoying the view after dark, consider dining in the glass-fronted Stratosfare Restaurant perched at the top of the peak. Enjoy an international menu as the sun goes down and the lights of the town start to twinkle and reflect in the waters of the lake.
Another dining option here is the casual Market Kitchen Café which offers international dishes from pizzas to curries and traditional New Zealand cuisine as well as some choice desserts.
Head back to Queenstown via the gondola or take a thrilling Luge ride down. Twisting around grassy banks, carts dart down 800 metres of smooth concrete trail featuring tunnels, turns and dippers en route to the base of the peak.
3. Queenstown helicopter tours
Helicopter tours are an exciting way to take in the diverse landscapes surrounding Queenstown. One of the most dramatic tours flies out over Shotover River and on to Mount Aspiring National Park where clear turquoise pools lie at the base of sheer rock faces, waterfalls spring from grassy hill tops and cloudy blue glaciers lie in fissures between rugged mountain peaks. The highlight of this trip is touching down on the snowfields of the expansive Clarke Glacier before heading back to Queenstown.
Another popular tour takes visitors out across Lake Wakatipu, then over the Richardson Mountains to the spectacular Middle Earth Waterfalls, which cascade down numerous spots on the mossy rock face of a hanging glacier. The helicopter lands on the verdant valley floor where a picnic is served next to a winding river.
Mount Aspiring National Park. Mount Aspiring National Park. Photo: Marcin Szymczak/Shutterstock
4. Milford Sound day-trips
Around a four-hour drive from Queenstown takes you to the dramatic yet tranquil surroundings of Milford Sound. This breathtaking isolated fjord is surrounded by towering verdant mountains with rocky peaks among low-lying clouds. At the end of the road leading to the sound, cruise boats await to take visitors through the sheer faced gorge dotted with waterfalls right out to the Tasman Sea opening. It is said that you should visit Milford Sound three times: once when it is raining, once in the summer when the sun is shining, and once in the winter when the surrounding peaks are covered in snow. No matter the weather, whenever you visit the experience is sure to be unforgettable.
5. Steam boat rides
The TSS Earnslaw is Lake Wakatipu’s resident steam boat. The original Edwardian coal-fired steam ship offers 90-minute round trip cruises that cross the lake to the Walter Peak High Country Farm. Visitors can disembark to take a tour of the farm’s gardens and see traditional sheepdog herding. There is also a restaurant serving afternoon tea and home-cooked savoury dishes.
Back on the Earnslaw, passengers are able to take in views of The Remarkables and savour the relaxing pace of steam boat travel. Alternatively, stroll out on deck, visit the engine room, listen to the onboard pianist or enjoy refreshments in the café.
TSS Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu. TSS Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu. Photo: stockphoto mania/Shutterstock
After a jam-packed day of high energy activities or taking in breathtaking scenery only one thing will refuel and satisfy: Fergburger. Premium quality, extra-large burgers in freshly baked buns are served up, fast-food style – there are just a few chairs and tables outside the restaurant. For the tired and hungry nothing can beat the Big Al – a mix between a classic cheese burger and a traditional fried breakfast with plenty of salad thrown in for good measure. Other options include beef burgers, lamb, chicken, pork or cod burgers, steak sandwiches and, for vegetarians, tofu or falafel burgers. Of course, fries and onion rings are also served, as well as, more unusually, salt and pepper squid.