Queenstown is where extreme sports began. From throwing yourself out of a plane to hurtling down fast-flowing rapids, you're never going to be bored here
New Zealand: Land of the Long White Cloud, where there are 10 sheep to every person and of those people a good proportion are complete adrenaline junkies. Queenstown, on South Island, is their absolute Mecca. It is reputed to be the birthplace of commercial bungy jumping, jet boating and river surfing and is now also home to sky diving, heli-skiing and snowboarding, horseback rides in Lord of the Rings territory and white-water rafting. You really can’t get bored in this small town on the banks of Lake Wakatipu.
There’s also heaps of hiking, biking, golfing, climbing and sailing to be done and, if you still have energy left in the evening, the party scene here is a complete blast. Add to the above the stunning scenery, great food and wine, and unbelievably friendly Kiwi hospitality, and it’s no wonder people find it hard to leave Queenstown behind.
Of course, any trip to NZ is not complete without attaching a stretchy cord to your feet and jumping off something high, and the best, ie highest, place to do this is just outside Queenstown on the 138m-high A J Hackett Nevis Highwire Bungy. This little baby gives you a massive 8.5 seconds of free fall. If this doesn’t sound like much to you, just try counting it out and imagine yourself falling at high speed out of a cable car precariously suspended above a large ravine. If you can’t manage the big one, then there are two other locations where the fall is slightly less stomach-wrenching: the 43m Kawarau Bridge and the 47m Ledge Bungy, positioned 400m above Queenstown.
Another must-do activity is sky diving. Queenstown is overlooked by the dominating and awe-inspiring Remarkables mountain range and this makes the perfect backdrop for throwing yourself out of a plane at 15,000ft. If you want something that is adrenaline-pumping, but slightly less extreme, then try the Shot Over Jet on Lake Wakatipu. You’ll twist, turn and do 360-degree spins through Shot Over Canyon at speeds of up to 85km per hour.
There are a couple of other fast-paced water activities that are also best done in Queenstown. River-boarding is white-water rafting without the raft. In fact, you are on a body-board, meaning you get to experience the rapids up close and personal. To be more specific, you’ll hurtle your way down the Kawarau River with nothing more than a helmet to protect you. If you prefer to be in a boat, however, then check out white-water rafting - but don’t expect it to be any less thrilling, or even that you will spend all your time in the raft. You can hold on for dear life down the longest commercial rapid (400m) on the Kawarau River, or if you have the stomach for it, or are just plain crazy, then you can ride the white water of Shotover River, where in winter the rapids are a hefty grade five – not for the faint-hearted.
Hitting the slopes
Depending on the time of year, you can also ski and snowboard the Remarkables. Being in the southern hemisphere, New Zealand attracts hard-core heli-skiers and boarders, who make a beeline for the mountains as soon as the European and North American seasons are over. The snow on the pistes can be hit and miss, but if you can fork out the cash for a helicopter it is well worth it, as the snow, the views and the experience itself will stay with you forever. This really is a must for any competent back-country skier or boarder.
If you like adventure and being active, but don’t want to give yourself a heart-attack, then there are still plenty of things to do in Queenstown. You can explore the beautiful and extensive countryside on horseback and visit some of the locations used in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Or you can take a trip to Milford Sound, which will take your breath away. This magical place is in the heart of Fjordland National Park, New Zealand’s largest heritage park.
Walking in this area of New Zealand is also extremely rewarding. You will find hidden streams, waterfalls and meadows full of wild flowers in places you least expected, and if you want to go further afield, guided walking with accommodation in alpine lodges is also available. For more info, head to Queenstown Tourist Information centre, where the staff are a fount of knowledge and helpfulness.
Bed and board
After all this activity, no doubt you will have worked up a healthy appetite. A favourite of mine is Fergberger. This place is a real gem. It has a wide variety of burgers from lamb, chicken and beef to veggie, and some of the best chips I have ever devoured. Its website’s pretty cool too. Otherwise, there are several areas to choose from to eat. You can try the area by the lake for more upmarket restaurants; Fishbone Bar and Grill is a great place for seafood. Or, if you have a little less money, try The Cow Restaurant on Cow Lane for hand-rolled pizza and superb spaghetti.
To rest your head, there is everything from good value and well-run hostels such as Base Backpackers’ Discovery Lodge, to stylish and intimate boutique hotels such as the Queenstown Park Boutique Hotel.
Base Backpackers Discovery Lodge
This backpackers is the most central in Queenstown and offers excellent value. The Altitude bar on the ground floor is one of the most popular drinking spots in Queenstown and a great place to chill out and watch TV. The rooms and communal areas are really clean and there are plenty of computers offering fast internet connection. Eight-bed dorms cost from £10 per person, per night; twin rooms are just £5 extra per person, based on two sharing. (49 Shotover Street)
Queenstown Park Hotel
This modern hotel has chic, uniquely designed rooms that are a real haven to relax in after a day of action sports. The location is perfect: central enough to walk everywhere but off the main street so very quiet. This may be a little more expensive than some other hotels in the area but it is a real treat and the pre-dinner drinks and canapés go down well too. Double rooms are around £175 per room, per night, and include pre-dinner drinks and canapés. (21 Robins Road)