Updated on April 8th, 2020
“Queenstown, New Zealand is renowned for being the Adrenaline Capital of the World, but what can you do if you are not really into throwing yourself off a bridge or out of a plane? Here is my list of the 10 best things to do in Queenstown for Non-adrenaline junkies!”
Queenstown, New Zealand
25 years ago, I spent 6 weeks exploring New Zealand with my friend Laura. We were loaned a car & a tent & took 4 of those weeks to fall in love with the South Island. So much so, she never left! More recently, my friend Vikky & I decided to return to this beautiful island & took 10 days basing ourselves in Queenstown. Somehow, I knew I would fall in love again with this isolated part of the world & I wasn’t wrong. 10 days was not enough but Queenstown I knew would be the perfect base to “dip my toe back in the water”.
Queenstown has a reputation for being the capital of the world for adrenaline junkies. Bungy jumping was born here & you have several choices of which spectacular location to throw yourself off a bridge…or out of a plane…maybe hurtle at speed along a shallow river & all manner of other ways to terrify yourself. I have done my fill of these & actually wanted to get to know Queenstown without the fear. Here is my list of top recommendations if you would like to do the same.
What Are The 10 Best Things To Do in Queenstown For Non-Adrenaline Junkies?
Queenstown is a spectacular town, nestled beneath the Remarkables mountain range, on the edge of beautiful Wakatipu Lake. This means that whichever way you choose to arrive, it will take your breath away.
“If you fly, make sure you have a window seat as arriving to the view over the mountains will take your breath away & prepare you for the awe-inspiring scenery you are about to witness.”
If you are driving, then you will be equally rewarded as there are points along the roads which give you views down into the valley which can compete with any scenery you have seen throughout the world. Once there, there are loads of options to see more…
2. Drive to Glenorchy
Officially the drive to Glenorchy takes 45 minutes, but why would you when you have so many amazing stops along the way? The route takes you along the edge of the lake. Every few kilometres there are places to pull off & admire the view. The drive can get quite busy so my advice would be to leave either early or late. We ended up getting on the road at 11 am.
Once you arrive in Glenorchy, head down to the lake for some breath-taking views. When the sun is out the water is a vibrant blue, setting the mountains off behind. While you are there, if you’re hungry, I would recommend the Sugar Loaf Café but I also heard that Queenies Dumplings are a great option.
If you choose to turn around at Glenorchy, then there is a chance you will miss the best part of the drive. Most people do end their journey here, but if you’re feeling intrepid then keep going on the dirt road for another 30-40 minutes to Kinloch. If you’re lucky, you’ll see some of the jet boat tours coming along the river as you drive.
If you’re unlucky, they’ll noisily interrupt your peace & quiet while enjoying a drink at the Kinloch Lodge Cafe & admiring the old dock!
The view is usually a peaceful haven where you can just enjoy seeing nature at its finest. It was very tempting to stay a night here & if you have the time & enjoy the quiet ambience, I would definitely recommend it.
There is only 1 road in but the drive back to Glenorchy is no less spectacular in the other direction. By the time we arrived back, it was 3 pm & the town had only a few visitors left. Here, we chose to take a walk by the lake along the Glenorchy Walkway. It is flat & takes around 1-2 hours to complete the circular route on boardwalks around the water. Enjoy being in nature, sharing it with the swans, ducks & rabbits as you go. Peace & solitude is the order of the day!
3. Take A Wine Tour
The Gibbston Valley & the Central Otago area is the world’s southernmost wine-producing region. For this reason alone, it is worth exploring with your taste buds! If you are into Pinot Noir, then it is totally not to be missed. In addition, the wineries are only a short drive from Queenstown so are easy to reach on a tour. Alternatively, you can opt to take a self-guided cycle ride. Gibbston Valley offers bike hire & a handy bus from town so you can choose to explore by yourself. Fork & Pedal also offer various forms of tours.
I chose to take a tour with Appellation Central Wine Tours. Throughout the day we visited 4 tastings, tucked into a delicious lunch & got to see more the area has to offer in both landscapes & wines. Altitude Wine Tours also came highly recommended if you fancy checking them out.
4. Hike Queenstown Hill Walking Trail
For views over the beauty of Queenstown & to blow the cobwebs away, then this is a fantastic uphill walk. It took us 2 ½ hours with lots of photo stops. Even better, you can walk to the start on Belfast Terrace which is just on the outskirts of the town.
Also be prepared for stunning 360-degree views of Queenstown, the Remarkables, Lake Wakatipu, Coronet Peak & the glaciers on top of the mountains, even in summertime.
For great views without the effort then you cannot miss the Skyline Gondola. Effectively this is a cable car up the side of one of the mountains but once up there you have a bewildering array of activities to partake in should you wish. They have a restaurant, a Bungy jump & a swing & a gift shop. If you fancy going up in the dark, you can also take part in some stargazing. I didn’t do it but apparently the Luge (go-karts) are loads of fun, even if you think it’s not your “thing”!
6. Watch Other People Throw Themselves Off A Bridge!
You may not fancy throwing yourself off a bridge with only a large elastic band to save you from the raging river below, but watching others do it can be just as entertaining but without the fear! When I first went to Queenstown 25 years ago, the Kawarau Bridge & its Bungy was a distracting source of awe every time we passed it. We would always pull over to watch a line-up of both terrified & triumphant tourists. Back then I was determined to have a go. On my final chance, I took the plunge…literally!
“I am very proud that I did it then & have no desire to do it again! I have the video, the photos, the T-shirt & the proof. 25 years & a detached retina later, I was happy just to watch!”
If you head this way, you can opt for the slightly less daunting Zipride where you can hurtle down the valley on a seat or headfirst should you wish. This option means someone else presses the release without you having to will your body to go against every instinct it has before you shoot headlong across the ravine. Either way, watching is fun too!
Arrowtown is an old gold-mining town 20 km from Queenstown. It grew up when gold was discovered in the river here in the 1860’s. The town now retains many of the original buildings & is a pleasant place to spend a few hours in the shops & cafes. I have to admit that I didn’t make it there beyond a quick drive through on the wine tour. It looks lovely but I ran out of time to make it a priority.
Trips Out Of Town
I would thoroughly recommend getting a car to explore the area. Even driving a short distance out of Queenstown in any direction will reward you with amazing views & opportunities for some great hiking trails. When I first visited, New Zealand, we based ourselves in Queenstown & kept leaving & returning to explore the islands attractions further south. This included many multi-day hikes such as the Routeburn, Caples, Greenstone & Kepler Tracks. Unfortunately, I did not have time to return to these magnificent trails on this trip, but it has definitely whet my appetite to come back in the near future. If you are also limited for time, then here are a couple of trips out of town that I would recommend.
8. Milford Sound
“It is often referred to as the 8thwonder of the world. Therefore, as it is so close, it would be a shame to miss out!”
There are loads of choices for transportation & how to explore on the Sound once you’re there. For those with the more money than time, you can take the option of a flight & cruise on the water. If you are less financially blessed, a coach trip may be an option, & you can add on a one-way flight if you wish.
I would advise speaking to an agent once you’re in Queenstown to arrange your visit. We used Happy Travels who were very good & efficient. Although Milford looks close on the map, be aware that there is only 1 road in & out, which means any driver needs to loop down to Te Anau. To get to the Sound can be at least a 4-hour drive each way.
There are many coach tours which do the trip & all appear to stop in the same places. For something with less people Fiordland Tours come highly recommended for smaller groups & informative guides.
My friend Vikky & I chose to take a little more time & opted for driving ourselves. We spent a day each heading to & from Te Anau & stayed overnight at the excellent Radfords on the Lake.
“I could not recommend this option enough. Without any stops, the route to Milford Sound takes 2 ½ hours.“
We were hoping to do a few hikes along the way but got easily distracted by the odd detour & after 4 hours, ran out of time before our cruise. I will write all about the journey in a future post so please watch this space if you are interested to know more.
Milford Sound is spectacular & we were lucky enough to see seals & dolphins in the water as well as experience 4 seasons in 2 hours! The rain only added to the energy & volume from the waterfalls as they appeared from the cliffs surrounding us. However, the drive was even more amazing & I have to say one of the most stunning road trips I have ever done. If you have the time & inclination I would 100% recommend driving yourself.
An hour & 15 minutes’ drive over beautiful Crown Pass brings you to another stunning lake & the lovely town of Wanaka. As with most stops in New Zealand, if you love hiking, cycling or generally being outdoors, then you’re in for a treat. I headed here alone & it was a great place to be a solo traveller too.
In the 2 days I was there I hiked up the Diamond Lake/Rocky Mountain trail for spectacular views of the lake & then hired a bike from Lakeland Wanaka by the water to cycle around the lake to Albert Town.
“Basically, it was a 1 1/2 hour bike ride along various sized trails to a delicious patisserie for a cake. I then got lost trying to find an alternative route for the way back. Every day is new adventure!”
My final stop was at the most photographed tree in New Zealand #thatwanakatree. Over 70 years ago this tree was laid as part of a wooden fence to hold livestock. Now it sits alone in the lake, with a constant stream of photographic admirers!
In Wanaka I stayed in the Alpine Motel which was a perfect spot. It’s very central & with really helpful & friendly staff. My favourite eating spots were Kai Whakapai, Kota, Alchemy & of course the very welcome pastry at the end of a tough cycle at Pembroke Patisserie!
10. Eat & Drink
Wight & Wong – fantastic fusion ‘east meets west’ cuisine, based on street food from across Asia.
Fergburger – this place seems to be recommended as a must-do in everything I read about Queenstown. As a result, the queues for a burger are ridiculous. I heard they can be 2 hours but friends said they waited 15 minutes.
“It’s a good burger but I’m not sure I’d wait in a queue for 15 minutes for it, let alone 2 hours.“
If you’re desperate to try one & are a bit of a night owl, I’d recommend it for a midnight snack…without the queues ;).
Fat Lamb – if you like lamb, then this is the place for you, especially the lamb shank if you have a friend to share with.
Ivy & Lola – a great spot by the water for breakfast.
Botswana Butchery – if you’re looking for a “special” restaurant, particularly if you’re a carnivore, then this is the place to go. Excellent service, amazing food & great cocktails. My advice though is to book ahead as it gets busy.
Little Blackwood – cocktails & live music, it’s hard to go wrong…
Bardeaux – if you’re looking for a great late opening bar with fantastic cocktails & an intimate ambience.
The Bunker – they claim to make the best martinis & who am I to argue?
I stayed at Peppers Beacon which was a great spot in walking distance to the main town attractions. It has lake views & excellent staff.
Where next time?
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Queenstown & fell in love with this country all over again. It’s hard to believe it took me 25 years to return. I plan to go back & explore much more in the very near future. In the meantime, watch this space for my upcoming Video Highlights & more information about my time in New Zealand. I hope you enjoyed my personal rundown of the best things to do in Queenstown. In conclusion, I believe Queenstown has a lot more to offer than just it’s credentials as the “Adrenaline Capital of the World”!
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