Queenstown, New Zealand
VISITED: December 2017
Queenstown is a scenic mountain town that sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, which is set against the majestic Southern Alps on New Zealand’s South Island. It is one of the most beautiful and photogenic regions, renowned for its year-round attractions that keep this village bustling with visitors. Even though Queenstown may be considered a small town, it exhibits the energy of a small city. There is an incredible mix of breathtaking vistas, mouth-watering cuisine, exhilarating outdoor activities, and a buzzing night life. Besides the laundry list of activities, Queenstown is routinely named as one of the friendliest cities in the world. The locals are always willing to offer their opinions as to what the popular eateries and must-see locations around town are. Despite not having a car, I did my very best to implement all of these suggestions, but am certain that I only scratched the surface. To that end, the following are my suggestions based on what I experienced:
Skyline Gondola Lookout – The Skyline Gondola is the steepest cable car lift in the Southern Hemisphere and is situated 450 meters (approximately 1,476 feet) above Queenstown. From the viewing platform, visitors are blown away by the best vista in the region with its 220-degree view of Queenstown, The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, Lake Wakatipu, Cecil Peak and Walter Peak. Besides the awe-inspiring views, the Skyline Gondola is chockablock full of thrilling activities at an additional cost. Activities include the Skyline Luge, Ledge Bungy, Ledge Swing, Ziptrek Ecotours, and the Queenstown Bike Park. The Skyline Gondola is open daily from 9am-9pm and, at the time of my visit; general admission to the summit was $35NZ for adults. Whether you’re visiting mid-day or for sunset, expect hoards of photography enthusiasts that are vying for their ideal shot of landscape. There is an opportunity to escape the crowds, but it requires a 15-minute trek uphill to where the paragliders take off. From here, there is hardly anyone else around and you will be able to take all the snapshots you wish without feeling rushed.
Bob Lomond Track – The Ben Lomond Track is arguably one of the greatest trekking routes in Queenstown. The 360-degree panoramic view from the peak awards hikers with an unbelievable vantage point and a feeling as if you’re standing at the top of the world. The hiking trek is well-marked and is rated as being ‘easy’ with an estimated 6-8 hours needed for the round-trip adventure. Despite the ‘easy’ rating, be prepared to have a decent level of physical fitness as you will exert yourself on this uphill journey. For those who are planning to utilize the Skyline Gondola during their visit, the Bob Lomond Track can be accessed from this higher elevation with an estimated 4-6 hours necessary for the round-trip excursion. No matter which route you choose, be sure to pack extra layers for the higher elevations, bring water, and pack snacks to help fuel your journey.
Queenstown Gardens – The Queenstown Gardens is a serene and picturesque promenade that is situated on a peninsula near the town’s center. The grounds are immaculately managed by the Queenstown Lakes District Council and are considered an inspiring focal point. No visit to Queenstown would be complete without experiencing the wide range of heritage trees, vibrant gardens, and stunning vistas that the gardens are revered for. Since the gardens are situated so close to the center of town, they provide a tranquil, and much needed, respite from the bustling streets. The ideal way to get the most of the park is by walking along the Queenstown Trail, which circumnavigates the grounds along the shoreline of Lake Wakatipu. It takes approximately 10-minutes to walk, but can easily take longer due to the number of astounding photo opportunities of the town, wharf, and the stunning mountain landscape. Due to it being located on a peninsula, the gardens are a prime location for witnessing the rainbow of colors that unfold during sunrise or sunset. Even though the sun sets behind neighboring hills in the opposite direction, the view from the tip of the park allows photographers to capture the fleeting sun as it illuminates the peaks of The Remarkables. Whatever your preference, the park is open 24-hours a day and makes watching the sun rise and set from this location a sight to behold.
Queenstown Trail – The Queenstown Trail is a bicycle and walking trail that is over 100 kilometers (62 miles) and links the towns of Queenstown, Arrowtown, and Gibbston. The trail is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise as it adheres to the surrounding terrain, which often twists and turns with varying degrees of difficulty and elevation gain. The trail starts right from the town centre and Queenstown Gardens, then proceeds towards Frankton along the shores of Lake Wakatipu past dazzling vistas, hidden ruins, and magnificent architecture. At the beginning of the trail, near the lake entrance to Frankton Arm, the shoreline is scattered with willow trees, piers, rock walls, and boats, all of which make fantastic foreground elements against the impressive mountainous backdrop.
Queenstown Hill – Rising over Queenstown at 907 meters (2,976 feet) is Queenstown Hill, also known by its Maori name of Te Tapu-nui, which means ‘mountain of intense sacredness.’ There are many routes that lead travelers to the top of Queenstown Hill, but the Queenstown Hill Walk Trail is one of the most popular and accessible scenic walks. The gentle incline of the trail isn’t too challenging and the natural beauty of the environment turns this 1.5-3 hour round-trip excursion into an enjoyable adventure. No matter which routes are chosen, trekkers are introduced to the dramatic flora and fauna that are native to New Zealand. Near the top of the hike there is a unique art piece called the “Basket of Dreams,” which was created to commemorate the millennium. From here, you will be rewarded with fantastic views of the Remarkables, Lake Wakatipu, and Cecil Peak, just to name a few. If time permits, I recommend continuing on the trail and up the mountain to the true summit of Queenstown Hill. It is a short 15-20 minute hike that culminates at a viewpoint that gives an even more remarkable view of the mountains and lake.
One Mile Car Park – One Mile Car Park is located a short 5 minute walk outside of the town center and is a popular location to watch a sunrise or sunset in Queenstown. Once arriving at the car park it is clear to see why this is such a treasured photography spot with its unmatched vistas over Lake Wakatipu from The Remarkables over to Walter Peak. Whether photographing the sun rising above The Remarkables or appreciating the last glimmer of light illuminating Walter Peak, the beauty that unfolds is astonishing. As an added bonus, if you’re staying downtown, you can’t go wrong with this spot thanks to its proximity and easy accessibility.
Wilson Bay – Wilson Bay is a scenic cove that is nestled on the banks of Lake Wakatipu approximately 8.5 kilometers (5 miles) outside of downtown Queenstown. The tranquil bay and reserve is adorned with pebbled shores, verdant forests, and placid water that contrast perfectly with the jagged backdrop of Walter Peak. On calm days, Wilson Bay is an idyllic setting to photograph these features and their reflections in Lake Wakatipu. Besides photography, the bay boasts many other family-friendly recreational activities like picnicking, hiking, cycling, or watching the local wildlife.
Moke Lake – Moke Lake is a serene body of water that is tucked away in the mountains only 10 kilometers (6 miles) west of Queenstown. This small lake setting is perfectly framed by the surrounding golden, tussock-covered peaks of Ben Lomond, Mount Hanley, and Ben More. It is a phenomenal place to visit during summer due to its wide range of recreational activities, which includes swimming, boating, fishing, and camping. Since Moke Lake is hidden behind the mountains, and is isolated from busy roads, it isn’t affected by light pollution. Without any light pollution, stargazers and astrophotographers are able to appreciate the gorgeous landscape and its symmetrical reflections with the Milky Way glimmering in the night’s sky.
NOTEWORTHY LOCATION OUTSIDE OF QUEENSTOWN:
Fiordland National Park – Fiordland National Park is located on the southwestern tip of the South Island and is considered the largest continuous expanse of protected parkland in New Zealand. This remote corner of New Zealand features a natural environment that encompasses nearly 12,500 square kilometers (8,000 square miles) of majestic mountains, cascading waterfalls, and sheer cliffs. Of all of its cherished landscape, no attribute is more admired than its immense coastal fiords, which are glacially-carved u-shaped valleys that have been flooded by the sea. These giants dominate the skyline at a scale that is beyond comprehension, but on par with one of the Southern Hemisphere’s great wilderness regions. Two of the park’s most renowned scenic fiords are Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound:
MILFORD SOUND: Milford Sound is arguably the most scenic destination and best known of all the fiords in Fiordland National Park. This is not only because it is the only fiord in the park that is accessible by road, but also because of its natural beauty. Those who visit are immediately overwhelmed by an imposing display of natural elements, like the cascading waterfalls, dense alpine forests, sheer cliffs, and picturesque mountain peaks. The most famous landmark within Milford Sound is the towering Mitre Peak, which is one of the highest mountain peaks in the world to rise straight out of the ocean. Other notable sights are the thundering Stirling Falls and Bowen Falls that surge down their precipitous ledges and crash to the ground with tremendous force. Along with its natural splendor, Milford Sound is home to an array of wildlife like penguins, bottlenose dolphins, fur seals, and other marine life. The Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory provide visitors with unique views beneath the tide line of these fascinating creatures, as well as the rare black coral. All of these elements are why Milford Sound is considered the icon of New Zealand’s South Island, as well as an ideal destination for hiking, sailing, biking, cruising, and photographing the environment.
DOUBTFUL SOUND: Deep in the heart of Fiordland National Park lays the splendor of Doubtful Sound, the second largest of the park’s 14 fiords. This massive and imposing fiord is located in the same region as its famous neighbor, Milford Sound, but is less crowded due to it being more remote. The straight is touted as being a more relaxed excursion and is often referred to as ‘the Sound of Silence’ due to this peaceful seclusion. At approximately 421 meters (1,381 feet), it is the deepest of the fiords and features three distinct arms: Hall, Crooked, and First. Each arm of this sheltered haven is adorned with spectacular scenery, like its piercing mountain peaks, glacially carved valleys, and waterfalls that appear to burst over cliffs. The remote scenery makes it is easy for visitors to feel humbled, yet uplifted, by the serene presence and breathtaking physical grandeur of Doubtful Sound.
Since Fiordland National Park is situated on a remote part of the world, few people have settled in the area. This absence of humans has left the verdant landscape untouched, which is a contributing factor to why the park’s key features, its flora and fauna, have flourished. Despite this absence of inhabitants, there are networks of more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) of walking trails that traverse the ancient world of jagged mountains, alpine lakes, and moss-covered valleys. These footpaths permit visitors an opportunity to envelop themselves in this astonishingly isolated wilderness, while preserving the natural order and beauty of the land. The diligent effort put towards the conservation of this bountiful terrain have made it an outdoor enthusiasts playground. The land is nature at its best and is why Fiordland National Park is commonly referred to as being the walking capital of the world. It is nearly impossible to visit and not marvel at the geological wonders that have sculpted this picture-perfect, tranquil paradise.
Recommended Local Eateries:
Fergburger – 8am-5am - (42 Shotover Street, Queenstown 9300, New Zealand) – High-end, juicy burgers that are innovative and delicious. This is an iconic Queenstown hotspot that is worth the long wait in line.
Fergbaker – 6:30am-4:30am - (40 Shotover Street, Queenstown 9300, New Zealand) – The sister establishment of Fergburger, Fergbaker serves freshly baked pastries, delectable treats, and artisanal sandwiches, which are just as popular.
Bespoke Kitchen – 8am-5pm - (9 Isle Street, Queenstown, 9300, New Zealand) – Plenty of options, but my favorite was the Cinnamon Spiced Pancakes (with blackcurrant chia jam, roast apple, maple pumpkin seeds, and whipped coconut) and the Red Quinoa & Overnight Soakedoat Porridge (cinnamon crumble, date gel, grilled banana, and coconut whip).
Taco Medic – 12pm-10pm - (3 Searle Lane, Queenstown, 9300, New Zealand) – Taco Medic has two locations: a restaurant and a food truck. Both of the establishments serve a selection of to-go taco combinations that are prepared using daily-pressed corn masa and fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. The Bajaman is made using freshly caught fish that is deep fried, covered in a spicy jalapeño sauce, and then garnished with freshly cut tomatoes and onions. Superb!
Balls and Bangels – 8am-10pm - (15 Church Street, Queenstown 9300, New Zealand) – Creative donut creations and fully loaded freak shakes.
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