Only a short flight from Australia’s east coast sits a town that almost from all angles feels like the perfect setting for a romanticism painting.
Green fields, birds chirping and mountains towering a lake filling a glacier-carved trench. It’s a blissful sight … but just around the corner someone will be screaming in fear.
Shoulders tense, hands gripped tight, thoughts racing on all the ways things could go incredibly wrong.
The jet sprint boat goes from 0 to 100km in 2.5 seconds, whipping around corners, almost winding its passengers on board, reminding them that if it wasn’t for the safety harness, that would be it.
One of those passengers was me. And the town is Queenstown, New Zealand.
Sitting on the edge of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by the Southern Alps, Queenstown is no doubt picturesque. But while it may appear at first to be calm and quiet, on the inside it’s a real adrenaline junkie.
Get your heart racing
Taxi from the airport to your hotel? That is too mundane here.
If you are wanting an action-packed holiday, you can get started as soon as you land by getting dropped off at your hotel’s jetty or the main town pier by jet boat. Thankfully, your luggage goes separately because there are 360 degree spins involved.
Kawarau Jet (KJet) was the world’s first commercial jet boat operator and Queenstown’s first adventure activity for tourists. Back in 1958 it cost five shillings a ride, however the boats certainly look a lot different now.
Once you are settled in and ready to take it up a notch, the jet sprint boat that goes 0 to 100km in 2.5 seconds can be found at Oxbow Adventures.
The four-seater boats were custom made by Kiwis and were based on the two-seater boats used in jet sprint racing.
Tip: You’ll get your heart racing the most sitting in the back as you get thrown around more and wetter, but in the front passenger seat you’ll get a better view of the driver’s skills, which are sure to leave you in disbelief. And if you try both, one after the other, like me, you’ll probably feel like your organs have been rearranged inside of you.
At Oxbow Adventures you can also find the “ultimate off-roader” (think about the adrenaline rush of regular four-wheel driving and then triple it) and clay target shooting. I tried the later.
As someone who had never touched a gun before and lacks good hand-eye coordination, I can confirm it is suitable for beginners. The set up has participants take turns at each target, which progressively get harder. It allows the instructor to give you one-on-one attention when the gun is in your hands and also gives you a chance to watch your friends.
On the first go I was completely thrown by the feeling of the gun firing in my hands, did not hit one target and stepped back with my heart pounding in my chest, but by the end I managed to hit two targets in one go.
Now if you’re after an adrenaline activity with a bit of height and a good view but wouldn’t give bungy jumping a second thought, you might like to try zip-lining at Ziptrek Ecotours.
It is located on Ben Lomond mountain peak and accessed by the Queenstown Gondola (cable car). The views of Lake Whakatipu and The Remarkable mountain range are breathtaking.
As the name might suggest, the experience is not only about getting your heart racing with zip-lining but also delivering awareness and education of the natural environment. In fact, it is Queenstown’s first carbon-neutral tourism business.
After the zip-lining there is a 21 metre drop. As you stare out at the incredible view, you are required to step off the edge of a wooden platform – something your mind will continuously tell you is a bad idea until you are safely on the mat below.
Make sure to stop by the Skyline restaurant and walk through to the balconies with panoramic views before you hop back on the gondola down the mountain. There is also a luge track up there, if you want to squeeze in another activity.
Slow it down
While there is an adrenaline rush hiding around every corner, Queenstown is also a great spot to take it slow.
If you stay in one of the many hotels with views of Lake Wakatipu (I stayed in the Hilton), you wake up each morning feeling like you are in a postcard.
Fun fact: Because of its unusual shape, Lake Wakatipu has a “tide” that causes the water to rise and fall about 10cm every 25 minutes or so. Maori legend links the phenomenon to the heartbeat of a huge monster named Matau, who is said to be slumbering at the bottom of the lake.
A great way to see the stunning countryside, especially if you are pushed for time, is a wine tour through Gibbston aka “Valley of the Vines”.
Tania from Altitude tours drove us between three small wineries: Kinross (locals will insist you try the funghi pizza for lunch), Mt Rosa (where the staff are hilarious – that’s you, Trish) and Chard Farm (extremely Instagramable).
While the bus drive is usually the least exciting element of a wine tour, the view was so spectacular – especially up to Chard Farm – and the windows so large and clean I captured some of my best tourist shots of Queenstown along the way.
Electric bikes are also a popular alternative to the bus.
Delight your tastebuds
If a tourist is ever discussing what food to try in Queenstown, it is highly likely the Fergburger will be mentioned.
But it is just as important to know about the seafood. You can find some of the best being dished up in restaurants around the region.
One of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had was at Italian restaurant Aosta. While pasta is always the winner for me, I was pleasantly surprised the butterfish took out the title of the most memorable dish sampled.
Aosta is in Arrowtown, a historic gold mining town near Queenstown that makes you feel like you have stepped back in time.
The town is in the Central Otago region, which is said to have a defined four seasons, flora, fauna and soils very similar to Aosta, a town in northwestern Italy. The Italian town is of course the inspiration behind the restaurant’s name, but also the cuisine.
If you would like to continue on after your meal, there is also a new bar around the corner, Hyde, Liquor & Social, which serves an extensive cocktail menu, including one that gets set on fire.
This writer was a guest of Destination Queenstown and Virgin Australia, which recently relaunched its flights back into New Zealand for the first since March 2020