Queenstown- The Adventure Capital of the World
There is no better place on the planet to test you inner adventurer than Queenstown. To put it in perspective, it’s where bungy jumping was first born. We immediately fell in love with the awesomeness of the people that live here. It’s like they wake up in the morning and ask… “What do you want to jump off of today?” Whether it’s the hotel front desk, the taxi driver, or someone on the street, they will ask you of your daily plans expecting your answer to include something bordering on insanity. And the best part is… they are excited for you to do it and experience the Queenstown way of life. Actual conversation in Queenstown:
Taxi Driver: What are you two up to today guys?
Us: We’re taking a plane up to 15,000 feet and gonna jump out over the Remarkables Mountain Range
Taxi Driver: Oh Right on! That’s awesome… Go kill it! I was thinking about doing that again on my lunch break.
The way the timing worked out with our schedule, we arrived in New Zealand in June which is winter on that side of the world. We picked up our rental car at the airport (we usually try to get 4×4 vehicles because sometimes we find ourselves straying off the beaten path a bit) and headed to our hotel. It is worth noting that although you don’t need any particular license or permit to drive in New Zealand (other than your regular issued drivers license for your home country), be prepared that the wheel is on the right side of the vehicle, and you also drive on the left side of the road. That’s a double whammy for us Americans, so stay on your toes. I will say that the hardest part was not how and where to drive… it was remembering to walk to the correct side of the car when you are the driver to avoid the embarrassing extra lap around.
We selected the Hilton Queenstown Resort and Spa as our home base for our time in New Zealand. The resort sits right on Lake Wakatipu with a gorgeous mountain backdrop. They have single rooms, different size suites, and also condo style accommodations with multiple bedrooms. The Hilton was nice enough to put us in a large lake front suite with multiple rooms and a large outdoor patio. The scenery was amazing. The other big plus to this resort is although it is a couple miles outside of town, they have a boat shuttle and a van shuttle which run all day and both drop you off right in the middle of town.
We would also highly recommend starting your morning off at the Wakatipu Grill on site at the resort. Watching the sunrise over the lake each morning with a freshly made cappuccino in hand always put us in the right mood to want to get up and conquer our day. Your view from breakfast will look like this ↓
The town of Queenstown itself feels like a little ski town filled with local bars and eateries, coffee shops, and is very walkable. There are also a ton of places that sell outdoor gear and tours or excursions. We had a lot of fun just walking around and finding local hangouts. Everyone was extremely friendly and it’s safe to say Queesntown just has a really good vibe.
You can also take a gondola ride up to the top of Bob’s Peak to get a 220 degree panoramic view of Queenstown and its surroundings. There is also a restaurant and a couple shops at the top, as well as hiking trails. If you are looking to get a postcard perfect shot of Queenstown, Bob’s Peak is the place to get it.
The best part about riding up to Bob’s Peak, is that you get to race down in go carts…like down the side of a mountain around sharp curves. Those little carts got going a little quicker than we figured they would. You can definitely flip them around a couple of the hairpins if you aren’t careful. It was extremely fun, and yes, there is a beginners track too if you want to start there to get comfortable.
Outside of the main town, there are a million adventurous things to do and all are within a short drive or cab ride. Since Queenstown is the home of the first official Bungy jump, we decided it was only appropriate to embrace the culture, not to mention it was a Bucket List item. We chose the Nevis location because…well… it’s the highest. It’s a 450 ft drop with 8.5 seconds of free fall to be exact. If you are feeling super adventurous, you can get a package deal and also take a not so leisurely swing on the world’s highest free fall swing which is just shy of 1000 ft across a canyon. We opted for the adventurous package deal and saying the whole day was a nonstop rush would still not do it justice.
You start on a bus that winds back and forth up a steep one lane road until you get to the top. When you arrive, the first thing you see is a little tin box suspended 450 ft in the air by cables that run across the canyon. This is the jump site. Fast forward through the getting ready, and safety briefings, we are sent with another group of 3 across the bridge to climb into the cable car. As a safety precaution, they will always go from heaviest to lightest of the group since there are multiple cord strengths. Needless to say…. one of us went first…. and one of us went last, but neither of us hesitated or flinched for a second. We just stepped up to the edge and launched ourselves out over the canyon.
When we arrived at the swing, the nice gentleman hooking up our ropes had the lovely idea that since we just did the bungy face first, we should do the swing backwards. It felt like we were falling forever. The day was an absolute success.
One of the highlights of our trip to New Zealand was our helicopter ride through Lord of the Rings country. The land is so contrasting and beautiful, and was such a treat to see from the air. We booked our tour with Southern Lakes Helicopters because they were the flight company that worked with Peter Jackson and crew to film the Lord of the Rings movies. So not only did we get a tour of different filming locations, but it was with the group that helped film the movies. We took the Milford Sound Extended Tour which involved 3 different landing spots. We left Queenstown, flew over the snow capped mountains and headed straight for the Tasman Sea for a beach landing. After the beach stop and a few pics, we flew back inland by route of the Milford Sound. Everything about the Milford Sound is absolutely breathtaking (also cover photo). After landing in the Sound and exploring a bit, we grabbed a coffee at the shop and climbed back in our bird. We then headed back to the mountains and our third landing was on a glacier. We walked around the snow for a little while and stood at the edge of these mountain cliffs overlooking the lake and town. With the combination of landing spots, this tour shows you the variety of drastic landscapes New Zealand has to offer.
Speaking of seeing Queenstown from the air, the best view of the city and surrounding area was from 15,000 feet. We teamed up with NZone skydive and strapped on a shoot (and a human) and climbed into their plane. It was a scenic ride up to the jump height and then the side door opened up and reality hit. We were about to fly out the side of this plane. The experience was very different from the bungy from beginning to end. For the bungy jump, you had to stand on the edge and look down and convince your mind to override the self preservation instinct that says… I should not jump off a cliff. The skydive, you didn’t really have a choice. That door opened, you slid toward the opening, and then launched out of the plane. No thinking needed. The fall was much different as well. The bungy you felt the freefall in your stomach. For the skydive, very shortly after you start to fall, your body adjusts in orientation to the fall and it feels more like you are floating through the clouds. You have time to look around, and really enjoy the time. It felt like we were floating for 15 min before we pulled the shoot, although it was only about a minute and a half of falling through the sky. The adrenaline rush that came with jumping out over the Remarkables Mountain Range cannot be explained. If you’ve ever contemplated skydiving, and are on the edge, let us help with your decision… do it. There is no feeling out there that compares.
We made a day out of driving to the coast to the town on Dunedin for some ocean kayaking. I would recommend if you decide to do this, you take a few days to explore. Unfortunately, our schedule was quite packed and we had to make our trip to Dunedin a quick one. The kayaking was pretty cool down on this part of the island. There was a large bay with playful seals and penguins, and if you paddle all the way out to the mouth of the bay and into the open ocean, you can see one of the only albatross nesting colonies in the world. If you are spending a few days in Dunedin, this is a nice trip to take. If you are trying to cram it into a packed schedule and are only making the trip for the kayaking, I would probably pass.
After an action packed time in Queenstown we decided to relax our last day and tour some wineries. We did not know this at the time, but Southern New Zealand is regarded very highly in the pinot noir world. The lattitude of the Otago Valley in the southern hemisphere is very similar to the same lattitude that Willamette Valley, Oregon is on the North side so the growing conditions are very similar. We were referred to Queenstown Wine Trail tour company from our hotel concierge and scheduled a private tour. We stopped at 3 great wineries, all with great wines. Peter was our tour guide and he did an amazing job. Remember when we said the first Bungy jump was in Queenstown? Well our tour guide, and new friend, Peter was one of the first 500 people that jumped when it first opened. The first stop was Gibbston Valley Winery, home to the regions’s oldest vineyard and largest wine cave. The second was Mt. Rosa which was a beautiful setting and as a side story… we experienced an earthquake while tasting wine at this vineyard. The third was Amisfield which was an amazing winery that had recently been visited by the British Royals the week before. All had their own unique characteristics and all had great wine. It was a nice way to let the adrenaline settle before our 19 hour plane ride back to the East Coast of the U.S.
We often say we try not to visit the same place twice. There are just so many amazing places to see in this world, we want to continue going to new places. We have both agreed that we are making an exception for Queenstown. Our trip was so focused on activities and adventure, we didn’t have enough time here to really explore. We will be making another longer trip to New Zealand so we can drive across this beautiful country and experience more places than we were able to during this trip.
Trip Summary: Queenstown, New Zealand
Lodging: Hilton Queenstown Resort and Spa- right on the lake with beautiful mountain views and transportation into town
Good places to eat: Breakfast at Wakatipu Grill on the lake, lots of coffee shops but we loved Voodoo cafe, Fergburger- iconic burger place, World Bar for drinks and live music (pictured below), and for fine dining we enjoyed Jervois Steakhouse and Botswana Butchery
Activities: Skiing/snowboarding, hiking, bungy jumping, sky diving, heli tours, kayaking, boat rides, wineries
Do’s: bring your courage and test your inner adventurer, visit the Milford Sound in some capacity, walk around the town and enjoy the local scene, sky dive
Don’t’s: Don’t rush through this trip. There is a lot to do and a lot of exploring to be done. Give yourself proper time to experience this country. Don’t forget about the difference in seasons. When planning your trip, check what season and weather expectations to prepare for. Don’t get a bad deal on exchange rates. You will need New Zealand dollars for some cabs and other local places.
In Robyn’s Bag- Packing and Clothing tips
This trip was a little more complicated to pack for that it should have been. Unfortunately for my packing sanity, we were leaving directly from the Maldives and headed to New Zealand (in their winter). Tropical clothing is light and easy to manage… winter clothing, not so much. Sounds easy enough… one bag for the Maldives, one for New Zealand, right? I ended up going a different route.
- Don’t separate your bags by stop. There are two main reasons not to do this.
- The first is simple weight distribution. Boots, jackets, sweaters weigh a lot and if I put all of my winter stuff in one bag, it would definitely exceed the weight limit. Packing two bags 1/2 and 1/2 allows me to keep both under limit and prevents the dreaded scramble/bag switch at the check in counter when your first bag says 56 lbs. Side note for over-packers…. always check your heaviest bag first. Nothing is worse than finding out your second bag is overweight as you watch your 42lb bag float away on the belt.
- The other is in case the unthinkable happens and a bag gets lost or delayed. I know, we don’t even like saying that out loud, but if it happens while you are headed on vacation, it is much better to have a couple of outfits for each location in each bag to give your other bag time to arrive.
- For Queenstown, we were dealing with winter, but in June it is still relatively mild. We had so many strenuous activities plans, that I needed to make sure that I had enough to keep warm, but not items that were too baggy and bulky where I couldn’t move well. I packed a lot of layers of breathable, quick dry, long sleeve shirts and some lighter Colombia Omni-Heat pull overs for all of our activities. I also brought sweaters, hats, scarves, and lightweight small gloves for walking around town, and of course a winter coat and my sorrel boots.