A visit to New Zealand's southern playground is a must. Queenstown is an exhilarating, year-round alpine resort. Its reputation as the adventure capital of the world is well earned with a huge number of activities, from bungy jumping to jet boating, to enjoy amongst the spectacular scenery.
Fiordland, just a few hours drive from Queenstown, contains some of the wildest and most dramatic scenery in New Zealand. Named for the 14 fiords that carve into its western coastline, the area has been awarded World Heritage status.
Described by Rudyard Kipling as the "eighth wonder of the world", you can soak up this stunning natural area with a Red Boat Cruise. Mitre Peak, one of New Zealand's most photographed icons, is situated on the south shore of Milford Sound. On still days the peak is reflected in the glassy water in the foreground.
Video courtesy of Tourism New Zealand
Suggested Self-Drive Experiences
Southern Scenic Route
Days: 4-7, Queenstown to Dunedin
Few New Zealand road trips rival the Southern Scenic Route for diversity. Sure, it takes in Queenstown, Milford Sound and other landmark attractions on its wiggly ‘U’ through the deep south, but it also travels to quieter corners, with hidden gems just as likely to wow you. Find out more
Southern Explore road trip
Days: 5 ; Christchurch to Queenstown
On this 5-day journey through Central Otago expect to be left awestruck by the sheer physical beauty of the region and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for fun ...Find out more
Days: 4-7, Queenstown to Queenstown via Wanaka
Tourist-town buzz, adrenaline activities, national park hikes, cross-country cycle trails, world-class wineries and restaurants – this itinerary packs in all this and more in under a week.Find out more
Wine & Food
Central Otago produces some of New Zealand’s greatest wines and few can pass up the opportunity to sample the sumptuous wines made here.
Central Otago has been quoted as being named one of the top five New World wine producing regions by leading British wine writer Jancis Robinson MW. “There is no doubt Central Otago is establishing itself as New Zealand’s premier pinot noir area and, maybe in a decade, the world’s” – Oz Clarke of BBC Food and Drink, UK.
Gibbston Valley. Image credit - Esther Small
And you won’t be limited by varietals, also stunning are the fruity, dry-ish Rieslings, crisp green apple Pinot Gris, succulent Chardonnays and celebratory bubbles. For any New Zealand wine lover, a life cannot be complete without a tour through this southernmost wine region. Shaly soils, clear alpine air, skilled and innovative wine producers and a climate perfectly conducive to grape growing combine to create the wines of Central Otago famous for their purity, intensity and vibrancy. Stories of pioneering tenacity abound as do tales of failure and success, not to mention the nights when helicopters hover above the vines to keep early frosts at bay. While grapes were first planted in the district by a Frenchman during the 1860’s gold rush, the modern industry has been established for not much more than 20 years. In that time, vineyards have literally sprung up on all suitable land across Queenstown and Central Otago and at last count, there was a total of 75 wineries serving 177 vineyards and an annual production of more than 3500 tonnes of grapes.
Winemaking in Central Otago is where dramatic landscape meets creative people and risky business. You’ll find high tech winemaking matched by stunning modern and traditional architecture and superb cellar door restaurant operations where menus are innovative and appear to reflect the tastes and sensations of the very soil that produces the wine. Just 20 minutes drive from downtown Queenstown, a tiny, cliff enclosed, barren valley called Gibbston is home to several widely celebrated vineyards which happily coexist alongside several adventure tourism operations including bungy jumping, rafting and river surfing.
Nature & Scenic
Queenstown is surrounded by high peaks, hangings valleys, clear blue water and vast open areas. It is framed by the World Heritage Area of Te WahiPounamu, with Mt Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks within this vast area.
Queenstown from the air. Image credit - Chris McLennan
The Parks – one each side of the main divide – have an almost tangible distinctive atmosphere that is unique to this place. While each has its own characteristics, in either you can feel the ancientness of the forest and smell the generations of tree decay in the lower reaches. Higher up, the beauty of the glacially created landscape is almost overwhelming. To set foot here is to experience the primaeval, haunting nature of Te Wahi Pounamu. Here, the worries of everyday life pale into insignificance as sheer vastness diminishes any human concern.
Once on a trail ancient natural laws work to still the mind and rest the soul. Rowdy, rushing rivers and verdant flora gives way to alpine meadows, in the springtime bright with flowers, then dark, unmoving tarns or mountain lakes as you near the highest reaches. Your spirit will soar with the majesty of views across peaks and valleys stretching as far as the eyes can see.
Fiordland & Milford Sound
The Maori were the first to attribute the creation of fiords to a ‘titanic mason’. According to legend, Tu-te-raki-whanoa carved out the fiords with his adze Te Hamo. He started in the far south where he created a rough coastline with many islands. By the time he reached Milford Sound, he had perfected his technique and carved an awe-inspiring fiord. Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) was his greatest achievement. The goddess of the underworld, Hine-nui-te-po, came to see the handiwork of Tu and was so alarmed at the beauty of Piopiotahi, that she worried that once people had seen the fiord they would not want to leave its beauty. To encourage humans to not dwell too long she released the sandfly into Milford Sound! Wet or fine Milford Sound is incredibly grand. Sheer granite cliffs tower into the sky and plunge into the depths of clear water, while Mitre Peak stands like a massive sentinel, guarding this amazing fiord.
Milford Sound. A must visit location.
Doubtful Sound is a haven of nature with ancient rainforest, abundant wildlife and superb physical grandeur. Practically untouched by man, the fiord has a deep stillness, a sense of solitude and serenity - it is quite simply and unquestionably breathtaking.
New Zealand fur seals and Fiordland crested penguins can be seen on many of the small islets in the entrance to the fiord, while bottlenose dolphins can often be sighted as they swim alongside the boats. Several outstanding waterfalls adorn the rich bush clad walls.
Art & Culture
Be inspired by your surroundings, create your own piece or art in one of Arrowtown’s galleries, be welcomed into the home of artists in the Wakatipu to see their work, or meander through the many contemporary Maori and European galleries showcasing local and New Zealand art from well known and emerging artists.
An ever-present creative culture underpins Queenstown life and the region is buzzing with a vibrant arts, crafts, theatre and music scene. Local artists and craftspeople are in permanent residence here; the immense landscape proves to be an inspirational backdrop. Artist’s studios' pepper the countryside, some of which sell their wares from the door.
Remarkables Market. Image credit - Neville Porter
Queenstown features several stage production organisers with seemingly vast resources in terms of talented thespians and production people. Grasp the chance to watch a local performance. In summer, frequent performances delight crowds in the Queenstown Gardens.
Vibrant nightlife provides work for professional musicians, sound engineers and small recording studios. Head out on the town, open your ears and sink into the soulful sounds of local jazz, live bands, house and drum and bass. A popular destination for New Zealand artists, catch well-known and emerging New Zealand musicians in one of the many local bars.
Imagine teeing off, and as you follow through, your eyes catch a glimpse of your surroundings. Some of the most exhilarating scenery on the planet! Dwarfing mountain ranges, golden, sun-scorched hills, rushing rivers and crystal clear lakes. How can your golf not go to another level when playing in such an inspirational setting.
Teeing off in Arrowtown. Image credit Graeme Murray
Golfers are spoilt for choice in Queenstown, two championship length courses of the Bob Charles designed, Millbrook, and the new Jacks Point designed to challenge your length and accuracy; Kelvin Heights golf course, possibly one of the most blessed courses for its setting on a stunning peninsula reaching far into Lake Wakatipu; Arrowtown Golf course reminds you of a bygone gold mining era with scenery and traps for unwary. A quality club course that treats visitors as members; and a nine-hole course at Frankton with a setting under the Remarkables mountain range.
Golfing in Queenstown. Remarkable. Unforgettable.
Southern Lakes Quick Facts
In the centre of the Southern Lakes region is an area with some of the world's most stunning scenery. People come here from all over the world to gaze at the lakes, rivers and mountains, and to play on them.
Queenstown, the hub of the region, is a year-round alpine resort and considered the adventure capital of New Zealand.
Nearby is Arrowtown. It is smaller and mellower, preserving the relics of the Gold Rushes of the 19th Century.
Waterfall on the Milford Track. Image credit - Graham Dainty
Protected from the outside world by the grandeur of the mountains is Lake Wanaka. Crystal clear lake waters lap the shores of Wanaka town and the feet of the Southern Alps. To the west are two of the world's greatest hiking trails, the Milford and Routeburn tracks, while Milford Sound, New Zealand's only World Heritage Area possesses one of the planet's most spectacular landscapes.
Southern Lakes – the spirit of adventure.
Dwarfed by mountains but with a huge, friendly heart, Queenstown is a cosmopolitan resort with an adventurous pedigree. Tucked into the picturesque Queenstown bay, its natural physical attractions and man-made developments create endless opportunities for fun, relaxation and holiday making.
First the Maori cam in search of Pounamu (greenstone) and the giant Moa bird. Later came the farmers, the gold miners, adventurers, filmmakers, wine enthusiasts and Hollywood stars. All drawn by Queenstown’s intense alpine energy, stunning scenery and boundless possibilities.
A very big adventure
Queenstown is a sophisticated resort set in the magnificent Southern Alps of New Zealand and is infamous for adventure – many of its residents seem hooked on adrenalin. The list of adventure activities is impressive, unbeatable even. But there’s much more
There are endless activities in Queenstown. From bungy jumping to bike riding, there's an experience for everyone
Experience the vibe
Born as an 1860’s gold mining camp on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, 140 years later Queenstown’s downtown heart is energised by a permanent buzz from a lively café/bar scene, first-class restaurants and diverse shopping streets.
The canny locals never let an opportunity for celebration slip by and right through the year there is a wide range of events on offer – many with their roots planted in the four distinct seasons experienced on the 45th parallel.
Population: ||17,040 in the Queenstown Lakes District|
Climate:||Four distinct seasons; under the spring sun, the region starts to bloom. At this time skiing is often at its best, restaurant tables creep on to the sidewalks and beaches fill with relaxing sun-seekers; Long summer days to seriously rejuvenate the soul; a backdrop of reds and golds in Autumn, it’s the season to relax and soak in the beauty of the autumn leaf fall; winter brings a magical season of snow-capped mountains and blue skies.|
Internationally known for its stunning locations, Queenstown is the star of screens the world over. Feature films such as Vertical Limit and The Lord of the Rings have had a considerable impact on the region leading to the development of a sophisticated skill base. Queenstown is home to three-time Emmy Award winner Julian Grimmond (Amazing Race) and internationally famed actor Sam Neill.
Queenstown is also internationally known as the adventure capital of the world. From the mild to the wild there’s adventure here for everyone irrespective of adrenalin threshold. Step out, jump off or climb up to explore a wildly exciting natural physical environment that offers every conceivable adventure pursuit. Queenstown is home to the world’s first commercial jet boating operation, first commercial bungy jump, and the world’s first commercial river surfing.
Queenstown is well served by major airlines. Air New Zealand flies direct from Sydney twice weekly for most of the year and extends this service to encompass Brisbane and Melbourne in winter. Qantas has a year-round weekly service out of Sydney and in winter direct flights from Melbourne. Domestically there are several connections each day from New Zealand’s main cities. To soak up more of the region’s beauty, access Queenstown by self-drive or a scenic coach tour.
In Queenstown, access around the resort is easy. A small heart of the town, with all shopping streets, restaurants and bars within walking distance. To explore further afield, drive to scenic Glenorchy (45 minutes) and historic Arrowtown (20 minutes).
Queenstown Thrill Seekers
Chuck Berry 100% Pure Action Extraordinaire
Chuck Berry – Risk-Taking is a way of life for base jumping supremo and veteran skydiver Chuck Berry. Chuck Berry not only shares the name of a rock’n’roll legend, he shares the heart of a performer. The difference is his medium of expression. Where the rock’n’roll Chuck Berry chose guitar, John “Chuck” Berry chose to air. Not air guitar – just air. At 35 he’s a veteran of 4100 skydives, more than 200 base jumps, plus countless flights in his hang-glider and parapente. For a being subject to the laws of gravity, Berry seems to spend an infeasible amount of time in the air – he is on a mission to explore the limits of ‘flying’ the human body.
Bungy man – Henry van Asch
Henry van Asch is co-founder and director of AJ Hackett Bungy, and in 1997 took over sole ownership and operation of the company's three sites in Queenstown, New Zealand, as well as clothing and design company AJ Gear.
In 1985 he met AJ Hackett during a ski season in Wanaka, and the following year Hackett mentioned to van Asch that he had got into this "rubber thing". An idea for the Kiwi version of a tribal ceremony of fertility and initiation, ‘The Ultimate Personal Challenge and Adrenaline Rush’ was born.
As the company expanded rapidly, van Asch and Hackett worked closely together for several years, then following business stabilisation, the partners split in 1997 with Queenstown-based van Asch taking over the New Zealand operation and Hackett, who now lives in France, the rest.
Fly Girl - Louisa ‘Choppy’ Patterson
Queenstown is the home of Louisa (Choppy) Patterson, the only female helicopter owner/operator in New Zealand. From this alpine town, she and her team operate a fleet of sleek black helicopters.
Louisa’s father, a Spitfire pilot in World War II, passed on his love for flying to his daughter and inspired her to carry on the family’s flying tradition.
Louisa started flying in Queenstown in 1976 and over the past 25 years has established a successful career in New Zealand aviation with extensive experience both in helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. She has flown many different types of aircraft in a diverse range of activities including agricultural spraying and top dressing, live animal recovery, filming, search & rescue, tourist scenic flying and commercial airline flying with Air New Zealand before establishing Over The Top – the helicopter company in 1986.
Most famous for his books The Lonely Dog, which are now collector's items. Has a gallery in Queenstown and works also from his home between Queenstown and Arrowtown. Famous for his landscape paintings of Milford Sound. See the websites below for more details and read the rise to fame of The Lonely Dog. It was reported last year that The Lonely Dog is going to be turned into an animated movie, a musical and an interactive centre in Queenstown.
His artwork is featured at Millbrook Resort. His home is an old cheese factory where he displays his work to the public.
Nowhere is the wild beauty of New Zealand displayed with more effect than in the stunning landscapes of Fiordland. Here untamed waterfalls tumble hundreds of metres into virgin forested valleys, lonely fiords greet the sun with enchanted birdsong, and stretches of crystal clear lakes shimmer in the pure air surrounded by a mantle of vivid green rainforest and towering granite peaks.
Milford Sounds, looking toward Mitre Peak
The scenery is wild, dramatic, breathtaking. The power of nature and unsurpassed beauty of the area stuns and enthrals visitors - the sheer magnitude of the landscapes inspiring awe and leaving lasting memories. As well as being New Zealand’s largest National Park, Fiordland was, in 1986, judged as having ‘superlative natural phenomena’ and ‘outstanding examples of….the earth’s evolutionary history’ when it was made a World Heritage area.
This was later extended (in 1990) to include the Mt Cook, Westland and Fiordland National parks in the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area. Fiordland contains some of New Zealand’s best-known scenic icons: Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Mitre Peak and the Great Walks. These can all be accessed via a range of premier visitor activities including kayak, cruise and sightseeing opportunities, as well as tours with knowledgeable local guides. The best way to truly experience Fiordland is by taking advantage of the hospitality and range of accommodation offered by the lakeside townships of Te Anau and Manapouri. These townships make a perfect base to relax and act as gateways to the splendours of the National Park, allowing unhurried exploration of the amazing sights and activities of the area.
Population: ||A base population of 4,000 swells to approximately 10,000 over summer months during the tourist season.|
Climate:||Fiordland transects a steep gradient from the open ocean and coastal environments to high mountain peaks and sheltered valleys. This rugged terrain can cause weather effects to be quite localised with the mountains sheltering inland areas from showers. The rainfall varies significantly from areas immediately at the coastline to those further inland, meaning Milford Sound could experience above average rainfall whilst Te Anau is below average.|
Famous for containing some of New Zealand’s best known scenic icons: Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Mitre Peak and the Great Walks. These can all be accessed via a range of premier visitor activities including kayak, cruise and sightseeing opportunities, as well as tours with knowledgeable local guides.
Whether you require transport to the Fiordland region or a shuttle connection to the start of a tramping departure point, Fiordland has a range of transport options available from coaches and boats, right through to light aircraft and helicopter options.
Ensure you allow enough time to take in the sights of Fiordland as there is plenty to see and do but travel times can be quite long due to the terrain of the region. Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound are both full day trips.
Come prepared with clothing for all weathers and comfortable shoes for the outdoors. Fiordland often looks its best after a heavy downpour and visitors should always be prepared to enjoy some rainfall during their time here.
Make all your bookings in advance for the summer season.
Video courtesy of Queenstown NZ
Itinerary Ideas – Britz Southern Explorer You will be awestruck on this 5-day journey through Central Otago by the sheer physical beauty of the region with fun and adventure wherever you turn.