High on life in Queenstown

by sherbherb

Summer or winter, Queenstown never sleeps - whatever time of year you go, this jewel of New Zealand's South Island is well worth a visit for jaw-dropping scenery and adrenaline-fuelled activities

Nestled on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, on the South Island of New Zealand, lies Queenstown, hailed adventure capital of the world. This is a place where you're never short of things to do and see. The combination of alpine scenery (which is equally breathtaking in summer and winter), the endless choice of adventure activities, and the fantastic eating and partying scene make Queenstown a great choice for all budgets, thrill-seeker or not.

Adrenaline hits

If heights are your thing, then head for one of Queenstown's three bungy jumps. The Nevis, the highest bungy in the southern hemisphere, hangs 134 metres above the rugged Nevis river, and 8.5 seconds of freefall ensures a full-on adrenaline hit for even the most hardened adventure junkie. (Queenstown Bungy Centre, cnr Camp and Shotover Streets; +64 3 442 4007; www.bungy.co.nz.)

The Shotover jet boat (www.shotoverjet.com; +64 3 442 8570) screams up and down the Shotover river many times each day, giving you an up close and personal view of the river canyon and rock faces.

If you fancy taking in the crystal clear waters of Lake Wakitipu from the sky, then try a skydive (www.nzone.biz; +64 3 442 5867), which involves stepping out of a plane at 15,000ft and plummeting for 60 seconds at 200kph towards Queenstown. The instructor attached to your back should make you a little less nervous....  

The Skyline Luge (www.skyline.co.nz; +64 3 441 0101) is a fun, affordable choice for the whole family. Choose from the more sedate scenic track or whizz at breakneck speed down the advanced track - the choice is yours! The price (from $29) includes the return ride in the Skyline Gondola, which offers spectacular views of the Queenstown area. 

For the less daring

Queenstown is one of the best wintersports destinations in the southern hemisphere, and boasts two fabulous mountain resorts, Coronet Peak and The Remarkables (www.nzski.com). The ski fields usually open in June and close in October, though each year varies, depending on snowfall. 

The warm summers in Queenstown mean that visitors can really make the most of the natural surroundings. There is a wide range of walks to choose from, ranging from easy one-hour strolls to hardcore eight-hour hikes suited to experienced trampers. If eight hours just isn't enough, then you could try the famous Routeburn track, which starts just outside Queenstown and takes a few days. The I-SITE Visitor Centre in the centre of town can give you information and a map of all the walks in and around the area.

If walking isn't your thing, then you could try frisbee golf in the park, horse riding, or panning for gold in the former gold-mining town of Arrowtown.  If you fancy a long lunch or some wine tasting, there are plenty of wineries and vineyards around Queenstown, and several wine tours are available, so no one has to worry about driving! Check out Queenstown Wine Trail (www.queenstownwinetrail.co.nz; +64 3 442 3799) or Appellation Central (www.appellationcentral.co.nz; +64 3 442 0246).

From cafe culture to fine dining

The eating scene in Queenstown is vibrant and varied. During the daytime, you can feast on cafe fare such as eggs benedict, sweet and savoury muffins and seafood chowder in town favourites including Vudu Cafe (23 Beach Street; +64 3 442 5357; ww.vudu.co.nz), Halo (attached to the church) or Bob's Weigh (6 Shotover Street; +64 3 442 85426), interestingly displaying a vast range of weighing scales... Brunch/lunch for two should set you back around $30. A fantastic eating option if you're on a budget or in a group with various tastes is the indoor international food court, in the O'Connells shopping centre (cnr Camp and Beach Streets). Here, you can fill up with a main meal for less than $10.

Evening dining ranges from a relatively relaxed affair at restaurants such as @Thai (Level 3, Air NZ Building, Church Lane; +64 3 442 3683), which serves amazing Thai food in a laidback atmosphere, and Winnies (7 The Mall; +64 3 442 8635; www.winnies.co.nz), where you can order up a whole host of gourmet pizzas such as chicken, cranberry and Brie or the Kiwi Roast (classic roast lamb with roasted veg and mint sauce, all on top of a pizza - amazing!). A must for all Queenstown visitors is a trip to Fergburger (42 Shotover Street; +64 3 441 1232; www.fergburger.com), for the biggest, tastiest burgers ever! They taste just as good at 2pm in the afternoon, watching the town go by, as they do after a night out. Choose from favourites such as Little Lamby, Cockadoodle Oink and The Codfather; the chips are pretty tasty, too.

If some sophistication is on your agenda, then head to Steamer Wharf, where you'll find Finz Seafood and Grill (+64 3 442 7405; www.finzdownunder.com) and Lucianos Italian restaurant (+64 3 409 2460). Just around the lake, Botswana Butchery (33 Ardmore Street; +64 3 443 6745; www.goodbars.co.nz) is an elegant restaurant specialising in wood-grilled steaks - the Southland prime steer rib eye is to die for!

Relaxing with a drink or two

Queenstown certainly has enough pubs and bars for its many year-round visitors. The Pig and Whistle (41 Ballarat Street; www.pigandwhistlepub.co.nz) is a firm favourite for watching sports or sitting on the decking with a nice cold Speights on a sunny afternoon. Winnies, Monty's (12 Church Street; www.montysbar.co.nz) and Dux de Lux (14-16 Church Street; www.thedux.co.nz) fill the week with live music from original acts and some excellent cover bands.

A circuit of smaller bars gets lively from around 11pm onwards. On Searle Lane, you can stumble between cocktails galore at Bardeaux, Bar Up, Mini Bar and Barmuda, and that's just the warm-up. Tardis Bar (playing some serious hip hop; 20 Cow Lane), Subculture (live DJs; 13-14 Church Street) and Sky Bar (26 Camp Street) are guaranteed to keep you dancing till dawn.

The backpacker scene in Queenstown is lively and centres around the Buffalo Club (8 Brecon Street), World Bar (27 Shotover Street; www.theworldbar.com), where they serve cocktails in teapots, Altitude Bar (joined to Base backpackers; 49 Shotover Street) and Winnies. Drink and food offers entice backpackers in for nights of raucous fun and games. 

And so to bed...

Queenstown has good quality accommodation options for all budgets. There are several backpacker hostels, offering dorms, double or single rooms from around $20 per night. Southern Laughter backpackers is centrally located and has well-equipped shared kitchens. Butterfli Lodge backpackers has fantastic views and is a 10-minute walk into town; it also has a wood-burning stove and a nice homely feel. If you're looking for a large hostel with lots of young travellers and a bar, head for Base Discovery Lodge, right in the middle of the action.

Those with mid-range to top-end budgets should take a look at the Crowne Plaza, Novotel and Eichardt's Private Hotel, all in the centre of town. The Pounamu Apartments offer first-class self-catering accommodation a 10-minute stroll from town. The apartments have all mod cons and two bedrooms, both with ensuite and stunning lake views - these are well worth a look.