Queenstown New Zealand

The adventure capital of New Zealand is unarguably Queenstown—located on Lake Wakatipu and with spectacular views of The Remarkable mountain range, this Central Otago (South Island) resort town is reminiscent of Park City, Utah. Adrenaline seekers view Queenstown as the ultimate hub for activities ranging from skiing, jet boating, whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, sky diving, and parasailing to the more leisurely hiking, mountain biking, and fly fishing. The town also boasts lots of wonderful restaurants and a plethora of stores—we were able to find the ever-elusive Mexican restaurant (although it was quite mild for the New Zealanders’ palates) and also had an exquisite meal at a Thai restaurant. The stores ranged from the run of the mill trinket shop with mass-produced tourist goods to stores where fibre artists sold their high-end handmade woolen goods and shops where extraordinary jewelers showcased the region’s mineral specialties. Many jewelry pieces were made with Paua shell; Paua are a species of abalone found only in New Zealand’s waters and their shells boast beautiful blue, green, and purple hues—most likely why the species is named Haliotis iris. Other pieces of jewelry featured New Zealand greenstone (Jade) or Australian boulder opal.

Although Queenstown is an adrenaline junkie’s dream destination, it is not necessarily a place you can visit and hope to take part in the activities on your own. There are dozens of outlets in Queenstown and the surrounding area that will coordinate your activities for you—as long as your credit card can keep handling the cost. Our first activity was the Shotover jet boat ride through the rocky canyons of the Shotover River. The tour staff suits you in life vests and spray jackets to prepare you for the nail-biting ride up and down the river on a low profile jet boat with hydraulically heated hand holds. Once situated inside the boat and instructed not to put arms or legs outside of the boat, otherwise they may be smashed between the canyon wall and the boat, we took off down the canon. Our driver would get us within mere inches of the canyon wall or do 360°s while rooster tails of water were splashing up over the edges. The ride to the river by the tour operator lasted about 15 minutes and the jet boat ride lasted about 10-15 minutes and the cost was $129 NZ per person. It was a fun ride, but because of the cost I don’t know that I’d do it more than once.

The following day we saw dozens of paragliders heading off Bob’s Peak, so we decided to take a gondola ride up the mountain to enjoy lunch and some luge riding, or racing in our case. The gondola ride up the mountain was quick, but provided some neat views of Queenstown proper. Lots of downhill mountain bikers were taking their full suspension bikes on the gondola so they could take advantage of the steep downhill trail system…we all agreed that several bones or a neck would break if we rode down the mountain on a bike! While enjoying our delicious buffet lunch (yes, I know, delicious and buffet normally are not found in the same sentence), we had a panoramic view of the Queenstown region and occasionally saw bungee jumpers or paragliders pass through our view. Following lunch is when the competition began; Patrick, Michelle, and I had six rounds of rides down the luge where ramming, hopping up on two wheels, scaring old French tourists, and cheating (Patrick) ensued. Let’s just say there are more than a few stellar moments captured on the helmet mounted GoPro and we each won one or two races. The luge was so fun, and surprisingly tiring, and I would absolutely do it again.

Video to come!

A short drive out of Queenstown brings you to the Reese River Valley, a welcoming contrast to the bustle of adrenalin seeking tourists.  A single two-track road takes you deep into the Southern Alps along the Reese River.  There was hardly another person to be found as we drove along.  The solitude and beauty we found in this remote area is something we will never forget.  It's long valley, surrounded by tall glacial covered peaks, invites us to stay and relax.

Although Queenstown was a fun place to visit for a couple of days, I don’t think it will be on my itinerary on our next trip to New Zealand. The touristy atmosphere, high price tags, and unauthentic feeling are the things that turn me off from Queenstown, but there definitely are a lot of activities to take advantage of if visiting the area. To be fair, we live less than three hours from Park City, UT, Sun Valley, ID, and Jackson Hole, WY; none of these towns really entice me because they are suited to those who pay someone else to plate up their adventure for them instead of finding their own adventure.


Travel, DeLorme, Garmin, ToyotaKrista Johnston is the Co-Founder and Editor in Chief of Living Overland. Krista is an avid outdoor enthusiast who enjoys exploring National Parks, fly fishing, and hiking with her husband (Beau) and their two dogs.


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