10 Top Things to Do in Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown NZ aerial

Jason Pratt / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

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. The natural beauty that you have seen in the films is real. In addition to enjoying the amazing scenery, there's much to do in Queensland and the surrounding countryside.

Situated in the Otago region of lower South Island, Queenstown is a highlight of any visit to New Zealand. Adventure-seekers will enjoy bungee-jumping, going for a jet boat tour, and even skiing. If you want a less strenuous activity, you can enjoy some wine tasting and go on a Lord of the Rings tour.

01 of 10

Dare to Go Bungee Jumping

Bungee jumping
Karl Johaentges / LOOK-foto / Getty Images

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 bungee jump—bridges, rail viaducts, cliffs, and stadium roofs. Bungee-jumping tours provide a guide, equipment, and transportation to the site from Queensland.

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02 of 10

Get Your Thrills White Water Rafting

Whitewater Rafting Queenstown
David Wall Photo / Getty Images

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.

Many visitors take trips with guides from Cairns to raft the nearby Tully and Barron rivers.

  • RnR Rafting offers a Tully River rafting trip, touted to be Australia’s most famous rafting adventure, with daily departures from Cairns.
  • Raging Thunder Adventures, also based in Cairns, takes visitors to raft the Barron River and Tully River. They also offer snorkeling and hot air balloon trips.
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03 of 10

Take a Jet Boat Ride

Jet boat ride

Bernard Spragg / Flickr / Public Domain

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.

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04 of 10

Go Wine Tasting

Queenstown winery
Steven Morris Photography / Getty Images

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. A number of tour operators leave from central Queenstown and tour a selection of Arrowtown, Queenstown, and Gibbston wineries. 

The Queenstown Wine Trail offers a small-group sightseeing tour of vineyards and wineries in Queenstown and Central Otago.

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05 of 10

Take a Lord of the Rings Tour

Deer Park Heights
David Wall Photo / Getty Images

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. 

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06 of 10

Try Skiing or Snowboarding

The Remarkables Ski Resort, Queenstown
Doug Pearson / Getty Images

Between May and October, Queenstown becomes a popular ski resort with four ski facilities near town with the farthest a 90-minute drive. 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: The Remarkables Ski Resort is located in the famous mountain range of the same name. With its jagged, steep crags and beautiful lake, these mountains are one of the most photographed ranges in the world.
  • Coronet Peak: Just 20 minutes from Queenstown, the popular Coronet Peak Ski Area is pretty good for beginners but even better for intermediates skiers.
  • Treble Cone: Treble Cone Ski Resort is known for its terrain and views. The resort, sitting on the side of a mountain overlooks Lake Wanaka and is ideal for skiing and snowboarding.
  • Cardona: Cardrona Alpine Resort has a range of slopes with 25 percent beginner, 25 percent intermediate, 30 percent advanced, and 20 percent expert. It is located 90 minutes from Queenstown.
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07 of 10

Pan for Gold at Arrowtown

Arrowtown, NZ
Walter Bibikow / Getty Images

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.

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08 of 10

Play Golf at Millbrook

Millbrook Resort golf
Courtesy of Millbrook Resort

The 27-hole course at the Millbrook Resort near Queenstown is one of the most picturesque golf courses in the world. This award-winning golf resort is set against the backdrop of the Remarkables Mountain Range. The adjoining five-star resort which has a full range of amenities and local tour options makes staying and playing here a memorable experience.

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09 of 10

Go Hiking

Ben Lomond Track

Trailsource / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

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.

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10 of 10

Catch the Views from the Skyline Gondola and Luge

Insane luge rides, Bob's Peak, Queenstown

Marcus Hansson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

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. 

This attraction features a gondola cable car to a panoramic restaurant and bar, Maori performances and a special trip down a luge, a downhill ride on a gravity-driven cart.

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