Queenstown NZ: Resort or City?
New Zealand’s Queenstown is a strange place. It feels more like a resort than a city, but a younger, cooler, bigger version. As far as I can tell, it has everything you could want for a holiday: dramatic scenery, a beach (actually a lake made to look like a beach), thousands of activities of all kinds, delicious food, and great vibes.
I just spent a week in Queenstown with a good friend of mine in which we had planned to have a very chilled out week. We were both exhausted from our busy lives and in need of some down time. But Queenstown doesn’t take no for an answer and had other ideas. Mind you, we still finished the week feeling totally relaxed.
If you only have one week in Queenstown, here’s the things that I wouldn’t miss:
Glenorchy Self-Drive Day Trip
A trip out to nearby Glenorchy is definitely worth the effort. The scenery of the snow capped rugged mountains and turquoise lake waters is just too good to miss. The town itself is tiny, but still has a couple of good spots to stop for lunch or a snack. And it actually has a dumpling shop that is actually good (despite the very long queue and wait).
Glenorchy is not about the town, it’s about the scenery. There’s an abundance of walks or rides you can do there. We did the “Glenorchy Walkway” walk which is a 1 or 2 hour walk. You can do a smaller loop or a larger one. We’d intended to do the shorter one, but the views just sucked us in and we did the longer one after all. It was so worth it as it was one of the most beautiful walks I’ve ever been on.
I cannot recommend the ‘self-drive’ enough for this trip. I wouldn’t have enjoyed this trip as much on a tour. The real highlight of this trip was the drive itself, and all the places we stopped along the way to take in the views. Do yourself a favour, expect the drive to take over 2 hours (not the 1 hour you’re told) and enjoy the journey.
Each trip, I always do something that challenges my fear of heights and this time it was paragliding. We did a flight with G-Force Paragliding who took us out to Coronet Peak and briefed us on what happens.
My pilot, Steven, was so lovely. I told him that I needed a soft landing (due to some back/neck issues) and he modified how we landed to ensure it wasn’t bumpy.
The flight itself was just spectacular. We took a few short steps and drifted off the top of the hill, then just floated with the winds around the mountain side and down to the landing field. Floating above the trees and mountains, with a view over the whole valley, was so relaxing and exhilarating at the same time. It wasn’t scary at all. It’s so gentle, I really didn’t feel that sense of falling or fear. I even opted to do the acrobatics for a short period, although my stomach didn’t like that.
I highly recommend this to anyone who is scared of heights and wants to challenge themselves. It’s very gentle and calm, but the feeling of accomplishment is awesome.
Onsen Hot Pools
The hot pools just out of Queenstown are well worth spoiling yourself. There are about eight pools, all completely private, and all overlooking the Shotover River and valley below. You can choose the temperature of the pools, and have the clear roof/wall open or shut. It was absolutely serene and the perfect way to wind down and take in the views.
Wanaka, Gibbston Valley Cheesery, & Bungy-watching at Kawarau Suspension Bridge
Wanaka is about one hour’s drive from Queenstown and has beautiful places to stop and look out over Queenstown and the surrounding valleys. The drive is a mix of mountain passes, and meandering through fields of purple flowers.
On the way, take a quick detour to the Gibbston Valley Cheesery and Winery. The cheese platters at the Cheesery are… well… it’s cheese… what can I say? Stop in at the Kawarau Suspension Bridge to watch the crazy people jumping off the bridge bungy-style (ahhhhh). The river there is aqua blue and so beautiful.
Wanaka itself is a cute little lakeside town, full of cafes and amazing views. When you’re in Wanaka, make sure to try something at Patagonia Chocolates.
Spoil Yourself at Amisfield Winery
If you’re the kind of foodie who doesn’t mind spending a bit of your hard-earned on fine dining, then Amisfield Winery is the place to go. The setting, reminiscent of a french winery, is beautiful, but it’s the food that is the star of the show. If you can’t decide, do the “Trust the Chef” option which changes daily. The food is inventive and delicious, and the Rosé went down way to quickly.
Take the Gondola to Enjoy a Wine
The gondola up the mountain behind Queenstown might be very touristy, but it is still worth it. The $30 return ticket allows you to take in the views going up and down the mountain, but also gives you access to wander around at the top. Of course, if you like a steep walk, you can always do that for free. At the top, after a look around, get a spot at the bar and order yourself a wine. It’s the perfect way to chill out overlooking one of the prettiest cities around. Drink up and enjoy.