The final approach into Queenstown earned a spot on my short-list of ‘Top 5 Most Stunning Descents in the World.’ For the final 10 minutes, lucky window seaters gaze out at the jagged Southern Alps, the bright blue Lake Wakatipu and gorgeous valley floors. The wingtips appear to be almost touching the sides of sawtooth mountains…both thrilling and jaw dropping at the same time.
Ask any seasoned traveler about their favorite adventure city in the world, and Queenstown is probably on the list. I could live here. So could my father. I was ecstatic to touchdown and celebrate with my parents who just so happened to already be in NZ. This was equal parts an engagement trip and a work trip, and I honestly couldn’t have dreamed up a better February 2020. My entire year peaked RIGHT HERE, only to begin a hellacious downward spiral upon our return. Dear coronavirus, you can kindly see your way out now…
Situated in the Otago region of the South Island, Queenstown is a picture at every turn. If the shores of Lake Wakatipu and the scenic attraction of The Remarkables aren’t enough, the Central Otago wine region will have you downing bottles before noon. Don’t even get me started on Milford Sound. Also note that New Zealand is located in the Southern Hemisphere so seasons will be switched.
This city is the perfect base for any and all activities – from summer hiking to winter skiing. I don’t say this lightly, but in Queenstown, there’s something for everyone. If you need help with the itinerary creation, I cannot recommend Alpine Luxury Tours highly enough. Lee Saunders, Owner and Founder, grew up in Queenstown and knows the hot spots and the hidden gems. It’s like the guy was inside my head the entire trip, knowing what I wanted before I even knew what I wanted. Ya know those people that just get it? Yep, that’s Lee. I attribute all of the below to him!
- Heliworks – If you’re looking to get a different perspective of Queenstown (and you should), Heliworks is the safest and most professional scenic flight helicopter company in the city. I must have flown a total of at least 6 hours with the company, and I have to give major props to Pilot Mark. He’s incredibly experienced, talented and an overall JOY to be around. The 55 minutes of flying we did over Mt. Cook was especially memorable. I don’t care who you are, that experience will make you believe in something.
- Bungee Jumping – So many options, so little time. On my first trip to Queenstown many moons ago, I did the Ledge Bungy. There’s also the Nevis, the Catapult and the Swings!
- Paragliding – If you aren’t up for any of the above, paragliding is a little less extreme and an activity that my parents LOVED. It’s super peaceful, and there’s no better view to take in than Queenstown from above.
- Shotover Jet Boat – What I thought was going to be a fun boat ride turned into an insane, adrenaline-pumping, Disneyland-like joy ride through the canyons. Narrowly escaping death, we were mere inches away from the rock formations at every twist and 360 turn. It’s also proudly owned by Ngāi Tahu, the Māori people of the land.
Scenic & Shoppable
- Central Queenstown – Only 15 minutes from Queenstown airport lies all the good stuff. Cafes, restaurants, shops, and epic people watching are all along the waterfront – one of my favorites hangouts.
- Skyline Gondola – Ride almost 1500 ft. high to choose your adventure! This is the southern hemisphere’s steepest cable car. Ride for the view and a meal up top or use it as a gateway for adventure activities like the luge!
- Frank’s Corner – If you’re looking for unique, hand-crafted gifts to take home, this is your spot. I discovered it after eating breakfast at Bespoke Kitchen and walked right on in. I wanted everything in here, but we refrained from buying the whole store and came home with adorable ceramic espresso cups 🙂
- Bob’s Cove – A secluded, peaceful cove for taking in views of the lake with crystal clear turquoise water. If you’re in for a hike, Bob’s Cove Track is a beautiful 6.7 mile (total) loop for all skill levels with gorg views!
- Buzz Stop Bee & Honey Center – I *adore* this stop and highly recommend for anyone – couples, families, kids, etc. I put on a full beekeepers outfit and learned how to take care of Queen B for a day. I also learned how to spin my own honey – super hands-on, interactive AND I took it home with me. Guests can also make soaps and candles as well as participate in a honey, wine and cheese tasting! THE BEST.
- Mt. Rosa Wines – A highlight from my NZ trip was sipping a glass of pinot noir between the vines with winery owner Guy. He’s knowledgable, passionate and a comedian – so get ready to laugh, although the wine will surely help you out with that 🙂 The best decision I made before leaving was ordering a whole case to be shipped to California. Call it wine drunk, call it being a wine snob. Whatever the case, I’m about to put in another order.
- Cloudy Bay – For as long as I can remember, my favorite glass of white has been Cloudy Bay’s Sauvignon Blanc. The Kiwis know their whites, and I don’t deviate. While the main grounds are in the Marlborough region, Central Otago’s Cloudy Bay Shed operates with a full range of wines, a stunning tasting room and beautiful grounds. It was a pinch-me moment to be here, sipping my favorite crisp white in its very region. Maybe we should just get married HERE?
- Milford Sound – There are various ways to get to this crazy beautiful part of the world. I visited with the wonderful people at Heliworks and highly recommend seeing it from the air. You can also hike via the Milford Track, a 33 mile hike through beautiful scenery and landscapes. You can also drive to Milford Sound, however, the only road leading to the region had been washed away from a rain storm in early February, and construction will continue for most likely the next year. Once in the area, a cruise with Cruise Milford was very moody yet peaceful, especially since we were the only people there due to the recent road closure.
- Doubtful Sound – The second longest fjord in New Zealand is usually overlooked by Milford Sound, but this should definitely be on your radar. If you want to experience both Milford and Doubtful, Heliworks has a flight for that 🙂
- Arrowtown – The historic gold mining town is only 20 minutes from Queenstown and offers a completely different vibe. It’s the cutest, most quaint town with yummy cafes, restaurants and shops. If you’re visiting during Fall, go see the vibrant colors as the leaves begin to change.
- Mt. Cook/Aoraki – Due to the distance, Mt. Cook is only recommended as a day trip if you’re super short on time. Lee from Alpine Luxury Tours helped us to fit in this excursion, agreeing to a very late night. It takes about 3 hours one-way to get from Queenstown to Mt. Cook, however, we love to stop for photos. Do not, I repeat DO NOT, let Lake Pukaki pass you by. Get out, bask in the blue glory and then ask Lee to take you to the best secret picnic spot 🙂
Heliworks also operates near Mt. Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand. The scenic sunset flight we were able to do with Pilot Mark was my favorite 55 minutes ever spent in a helicopter, and I’ve been in my fair share. Y’all, I cried. It was that moving. If you have more time in the area, look into the Hooker Valley Track next!
Breakfast (or lunch)
- Vudu Cafe
- Bespoke Kitchen
- The Exchange
- Life’s A Grind Coffee (Allpress espresso airstream on Stanley St. near Nadi Wellness)
Lunch (or dinner)
Touch of Spice – Experts in luxury stays and bespoke experiences, Touch of Spice knows travel. We stayed at residence Ladena on top of Queenstown Hill overlooking Lake Wakitipu and the Remarkables Mountains. Private Chef Ben Batterbury from Munch Catering cooked an amazing dinner (highly recommend!), and I could spend the rest of my days taking in this view from the hot tub.
Rees Hotel – I’ve stayed at the Rees Hotel twice now. Other than residence Ladena, it’s hard to beat this view.