If you have watched Peter Jackson's imagining of the "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit," then you have seen the sweeping landscapes of New Zealand. Most first-time watchers are in awe of the scenery, it is almost surreal and fantastical in its pristine beauty.
Situated in the Otago region of lower South Island, Queenstown is a highlight of any visit to New Zealand. The Tolkien world came to life thanks in large part to Queenstown being the backdrop. Besides peeping its verdant vistas, Queenstown has many great things to do.
Queenstown is the legendary home of commercial bungee jumping. It is spelled "bungee" in New Zealand. In 1988, AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch, set up New Zealand's first commercial bungee operation, with a jump from the historic Kawarau Bridge near Queenstown. Hackett remains one of the largest commercial operators and thousands of people still visit every year for the ultimate adrenaline thrill.
There are several places around Queenstown where you can try a try a bungee jump—bridges, rail viaducts, cliffs, and stadium roofs.
White Water Rafting
If bungee jumping is not your thing, but you love a good adrenaline rush, try a white water rafting trip along Shotover River or Kawarau River. Take in the lush scenery and natural rock formations while you navigate through rapids and fast currents. Guaranteed you will get wet on this wild ride.
Shotover River features the thunderous "Mother" rapids a series of six grade 4 or 5 rapids for more experienced rafters. For first-timers, the Kawarau River offers the still-exhilarating and longest commercially rafted rapid in New Zealand, the Dog Leg Rapid.
Jet Boat Ride
If you take a jet boat ride, you just might be gripping the handrails as you are darting along the river and shooting past mountains and canyons surrounding the Dart, Shotover, or Kawarau Rivers. With the spray in your face and heart-stopping spins by the captain, a jet boat ride can be the ride of your life.
Like bungee jumping, the jet boat had its origins in New Zealand. Kiwi Bill Hamilton developed the first jet boat in the 1950s as a way to get rid of propellers, which literally hit rock bottom in shallow waters.
The area around Queenstown makes some of the best wines in New Zealand. A great way to explore the region is to visit the local wineries. Most wineries offer tastings. Pinot noir and chardonnay varieties are particularly successful and regularly win medals at national and international wine competitions.
Lord of the Rings Tours
The Queenstown area was the setting for many scenes from "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit." Take a guided tour to discover how the scenery was created in the movies. See where Isengard and the Misty Mountains are really located.
Tours are conducted in small groups in an off-road vehicle where you will also learn about the history and geography of the area, like the diverse landscape of an ancient beech forest, braided rivers, and glacier-carved valleys.
Skiing and Snowboarding
Between May and October, Queenstown becomes a popular ski resort with four ski facilities near town. From the slopes of the Southern Alps, you can catch some of the best views—and best snow—in New Zealand.
The ski areas cater to snow fanciers of all levels including children. The four ski areas include The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, Treble Cone and Cardona, which are all within 20 to 90 minutes from Queenstown.
Pan for gold in the Arrow River while on a jaunt to Arrowtown, a small historic mining town 12 miles (20 kilometers) from Queenstown. People occasionally get lucky and find some gold.
Gold was first discovered in 1861 in the Arrow River—only a year later there were more than 1,500 men camped along the banks during the height of the Otago gold rush.
One of the most picturesque settlements in New Zealand; it still has many of the old buildings from gold rush days. Today, the main street is lined with boutiques and cafes, too.
Play Golf at Millbrook
The 27-hole course at the Millbrook Resort near Queenstown is one of the most picturesque golf courses in the world. This award-winning, "Best Golf Resort in Australasia" is set against the backdrop of the Remarkables Mountain Range. The adjoining five-start resort makes staying and playing here a memorable experience.
The area around Queenstown has some outstanding walking, hiking, and tramping trails. "Tramping" in New Zealand is the equivalent of backpacking. Although some trails can last for several days, there are many that can be completed in a half or full day.
Some of the best trails are the challenging Ben Lomond Track (3 to 4 hours), advanced Atleys Track (5 to 6 hours) and the uphill Invincible Gold Mine Track (3 hours).
The best months for hiking the trails are from October to April.
Skyline Gondola and Luge
For some of the most spectacular views of Queenstown, the Lake Wakatipu area, and the Southern Alps take the Skyline gondola ride up the side of the mountain to Bob's Peak.