Thrills & Adventure in Queenstown: A Local's Guide

Not many venture to New Zealand without visiting Queenstown. But, after a few years living there herself, we asked Marta Kulesza if the adventure capital lives up to the hype.


Photo © Marta Kulesza

For travelers, this is a top-notch destination. Situated on Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by photogenic mountains, Queenstown has everything a globetrotter could ask for.

Unfortunately for the locals, rapid tourism growth has brought about a housing crisis and a dire affordable living situation. For short-term visitors, however, the place is definitely a must-see.

Often referred to as the Adventure Capital of the World, Queenstown offers something for every age, every adrenaline requirement, and something for every budget.

It’s not difficult to spend a thousand dollars a day here, but it’s also possible to have fun for less than NZ $50. However, with the ease of accessibility also come the crowds. On a summer day, this small mountain town feels just as busy as Whistler in winter, so make your reservations well in advance.

Are We Loving Queenstown to Death?

I adore Queenstown. That’s why I chose to live there. There’s something about busy days that create a palpable electricity, incomparable to anywhere else in New Zealand.

The list of activities is always expanding, with everything from skydiving to skiing, plus loads of hiking. You’ve got to make the most of the mountains.

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Free Adventures Around Queenstown

Hiking is an activity that everyone can afford, and it goes hand in hand with photography. Combine the two and you get an awesome experience on a very low budget.

The most popular hike in Queenstown is the route up Ben Lomond. For experienced hikers, I’d recommend summiting it for sunrise. Waking up in the early hours to start hiking isn’t easy, but sitting on the top of the mountain watching the sun rising makes it all worth it.

Views from the top of Ben Lomond peak. Photo credit: Marta Kulesza

If you’re after a less strenuous free activity, then a round of frisbee golf at Queenstown Gardens, followed by an ice cream on the beach while watching the sunset is hard to beat.

Pricey Experiences That Are Totally Worth It

Did you know Queenstown is the birthplace of commercial bungy jumping? It all started at the famous Kawarau Bridge with one crazy guy, and now a company, called AJ Hackett. Now it has three bungies around town, all with different heights, scariness levels (technical term), and prices.

Just before I jumped off the Kawarau Bridge. Photo credit: Marta Kulesza

If that’s not enough, there’s also the world's longest Canyon Swing!

Dan Usher getting dropped from the Canyon Swing. Photo credit: AJ Hackett.
I’ve done all four in a day, and my personal favorite was the Ledge. Perched 984ft (300m) above Queenstown’s skyline it’s the jump with the highest dropout rate. Up for a challenge? Do it at dusk when the town’s lights start to flicker below.
Our editorial producer, Milly, took a leap off the Queenstown ledge. Photo credit: Milly McGrath

Skydiving is another adrenaline-filled activity popular in Queenstown. Jumping out at 15,000ft (4,572m) over the snow-capped Remarkables mountain range is an experience that can satisfy even the diehard adrenaline junkies. If you’re afraid of heights, watch this.

We sent Jabari skydiving over Queenstown a few years back, safe to say, he’s no longer scared of heights. Photo credit: World Nomads

Still looking for an adrenaline rush? Don’t just feel the spray from the Shotover Jet, go river boarding in the Kawarau River. You’ll get a rush swimming through rapids, surfing the waves, and riding whirlpools. Not convinced? Watch the video.

Safe to say, you should listen carefully during the safety briefing before river boarding. Photo credit: Dan Usher

Day Trips to Smaller Nearby Towns

There are two nearby towns that are totally worth a visit. The first, Arrowtown, is a quaint little village which boasts some renowned restaurants and bars. Arrowtown is also home to rich history, as it’s where the gold rush of the 19th century was focused.

Glenorchy is a one-hour drive north of Queenstown along the Glenorchy-Queenstown Road – one of the most scenic roads in the entire country. The town is host to famous photography spots, such as the Glenorchy Pier and a few exquisite hikes.

The Routeburn, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, starts here, and so does the route up Mount Alfred – my personal favorite day hike of the South Island.

Winter in Queenstown

The Remarkables form the back-drop to many pictures of Queenstown, and the view from your plane window will surely get you excited as you fly into town.

If you’ve got the extra time and a hire-car (or pay for the shuttle service) take the trip to Cardrona, approximately one and a half hours (give or take traffic and time putting the chains on your wheels). Here, you’ll find more advanced runs compared to the Remarkables.

From the center of town, it should only take 40 minutes to drive up to the Remarkables Ski Area where there are a number of trails for both advanced and beginners.

Be sure to check out prices from a variety of snow gear rental companies in town, and make sure they don’t rush you out the door without checking to see your equipment fits well.

The Verdict on Fergburger

How good can a Fergburger really be? Don’t get me wrong, they are absolutely delicious, but in peak summer hours you can easily queue for two hours. Devil Burger, a short minute walk away, in my eyes, is just as good and much quicker.

The favorite eatery is Patagonia, which has some incredible treats to calm the pallet after a greasy burger. That’s what holidays are all about, right? 

Queenstown can be overwhelming, especially for locals, but its beauty makes up for the somewhat chaotic appearance at times. Tourism has exploded in recent years and the local authorities are struggling to keep up with the growth, but with one eye on sustainability and one eye on tourism hopefully, it will continue to flourish.

Want to know more about New Zealand? Check out our podcast. We talk world-class diving, blood-pumping adrenalin, and road-tripping in a camper van.

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