Once the sleepy summer holiday destination for Southlanders, Queenstown is now regularly in the international spotlight as an essential destination. And why wouldn’t it be?
The Queenstown trail
The Wakatipu Basin’s magnificent mountains, roaring rivers and the dazzling deep blue of its lake provide the constant backdrop of day-to-day life in Queenstown. Snapping photos of this scenery is one way of absorbing it but jumping on a bike and hitting some of its 120km of cycle tracks, known collectively as the Queenstown Trail, elevates that experience to the next biking level.
Seeing it from a bike engages all the senses; the smells of the changing seasons, the sounds of flowing waters and, when relaxing at one of the many vineyards along the way, the tastes of the wines that have their roots in this land – even the feel of the burn in the calves is part of it.
The Queenstown Trail is made up of a series of interlinking tracks, meaning there’s plenty of room for flexibility to choose whatever distance appeals on the day. Many of the tracks start in the centre of Queenstown so there’s no excuse to not get those pedals rotating, but it’s worth knowing that the trails are all uphill from Queenstown so, for an easier ride, start from Arrowtown or Gibbston and finish back in town.
As one of The New Zealand Cycle Trail Great Rides, these local tracks have exploded in popularity over the last few years for both tourists and locals, and it’s easy to see why. There is so much variety packed into a small area, from the shores of Lake Wakatipu and Lake Hayes, to historic Arrowtown and the wine country of the Gibbston Valley, the series of what locals call ‘hub and spoke’ tracks cover a whole lot of territory.
It’s now commonplace to find as many happy locals on their bikes as tourists, as increasing numbers are leaving their cars at home and using the tracks for both commuting and recreation. Ideally set aside three to four days to take the trails at a more leisurely pace, with loads of stops for photos, coffee and rests. But for those with time constraints, there is no excuse for not having a quick blast along the lakefront from the centre of Queenstown out to Frankton.
For anyone keen on venturing further, this track connects with the Twin Rivers Ride (referring to the Shotover and Kawarau Rivers that it follows). If the legs and mind just keep crying out for more, keep pushing onwards to the Arrow River Bridges Ride, which connects back with atmospheric Arrowtown, or eastwards onto the Gibbston River Trail, where wine cellars await.
On the way to the vineyards, consider living in the moment and bungee jumping off the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, which the trail crosses. If you BYO bike, this is all completely free. Just download and print a map and hit the tracks. But for bike hire, tours or advice, plenty of bike operators are happy to assist.
They’ll also organise drop-off and pick-up shuttles for one-way rides. A popular day option is to catch a shuttle to Arrowtown, take a leisurely ride from Arrowtown to Gibbston Valley, and at the end of the day, after sampling the region’s wine and food offerings, hop back on a shuttle back to Queenstown.
All fitness ranges are catered for and some operators even offer e-bikes, giving anyone the confidence to give cycling a go, as well as the ability to cover more distance. Don’t think cycling is just a summer activity in these southern parts either. The tracks are all maintained to a high standard, making them an excellent all-year-round option.
If planning a week on the slopes in winter, consider breaking it up with a day of cycling, or a morning of skiing can be followed by an afternoon on the bike. Or just wake up each morning, peek out the window, and make a decision then which way to go.
Kiwi birdlife park
Next to the base of the gondola, but often overlooked by the thousands who walk by, is this tranquil birdlife park. The park opened in 1986, a fulfilment of the vision of the late Noeleen and Dick Wilson, who wanted to create a safe haven for native wildlife in Queenstown.
Dick and his son Paul converted land that had been used as a dumping ground by planting more than 10,000 native trees. After those sterling efforts, the 2ha site is now alive with bird chatter, and the park also operates breed-and-release programmes for many of New Zealand’s ornithological treasures including kiwi, brown teal, whio and the Otago skink.
It’s always a pleasure to see our national icon burrowing around its nocturnal enclosure for food and the Birdlife Park provides the perfect escape from the higher energy of town. A quiet wander along the trails between enclosures is also a learning experience about the fauna and flora along the way.
The daily conservation show puts the educational aspirations of the park in action, including the use of trained feathered friends who interact with the audience. Rick the kererū swoops in on cue with big wings skimming over the heads of the crowd, and the loveable cheeky Molly is the only morepork in the world in a free-flight bird show.
An educational honey centre has recently been added, delivering an additional conservation message about declining bee numbers. Try to find the queen bee among 35,000 active bees in the indoor hive, which is linked with the outside for the bees to come and go. There is a variety of honeys to sample, and an impressive range of bee-related products such as pollen, propolis and royal jelly on offer too.
Played in Queenstown Gardens for almost 30 years, the permanent course of golf frisbee became the country’s first marked-out course in 1996. With 18 holes (or baskets) dotted through the gardens, disc golf is played much like golf, with frisbee-like discs thrown from tees towards target chain baskets.
The frisbees are available for hire from several outdoor shops in town. As Queenstown Gardens is a popular place for walkers, bikers and nature worshippers, just make sure the way is clear before launching the discs.
It only takes a leisurely hour to drive along the shore of Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown to Glenorchy, but the 46km journey punches well above its weight for attraction-to-distance ratio. The drive also delivers the traveler from what feels like one world to another, as the higher energy of Queenstown is replaced by the relaxed pace of Glenorchy.
It’s a fun journey and perfect for keen drivers who love being behind the wheel on a road with curves and undulations. There are changing vistas around every corner on a road that traverses a diversity of landscapes, from intimate bays to light-filtered native beech forests forming a natural road tunnel.
Keep an eye on the lake for T.S.S Earnslaw making its daily trips from Queenstown to Walter Peak Station, adding perspective to the sheer size of the lake. There are a number of excellent stops to make along the way. Stretch the legs at Bob’s Cove with a short track through twittering native bush to the lake and visit an historic lime kiln dating back to the 1800s.
The beginning of the track is at a car park approximately 14km from Queenstown. Further along, the road meets the lake at Wilson Bay. There’s a car park from which to access the adjacent Seven Mile scenic reserve, which is a playground of short, fun mountain-bike and walking tracks, or relax on the beach with a picnic, marvelling at the scenery.
For the travel album’s chocolate-box photo, stop at Bennetts Bluff lookout where the view opens out to the top of Lake Wakatipu and up to Earnslaw Burn glacier in the distance. The lookout is located on a tight bend so take extra care, as there is only a narrow strip of parking available.
At the end of the 46km drive lies the quiet and spacious small settlement of Glenorchy. With 28 kids at the local primary school, and tea towels being sold to fundraise the local church restoration, the town offers a glimpse back to a low-key New Zealand now largely reserved for towns off the beaten track. But with New Zealand’s great outdoors increasingly featuring on (if not topping) world-travel bucket lists, Glenorchy is no longer an isolated outpost.
Thousands of travellers pass through the town each year to walk tracks such as the Routeburn and Rees Dart, and experience other natural treasures hidden deep within the Te Wāhipounamu World Heritage Area. Glenorchy is, in fact, rapidly moving forward, as evidenced by the recent opening of Camp Glenorchy, New Zealand’s first net-zero-energy accommodation.
Camp Glenorchy, along with Mrs Woolly’s General Store and Campground, forms part of The Headwaters, a charitable trust distributing the returns from these enterprises back to the community. So even as it becomes busier and more popular, its community is still firmly rooted in the nostalgic New Zealand way of life.
Pauline Bianchi runs two galleries, one housed in the oldest building in town (a 173-year-old Masonic lodge) and the other in the newest. The galleries represent 50 award-winning artists – from landscape painters, to contemporary artists and sculptors.
Gallery visitors can use an app and, by inserting photos of their home, see what a painting would look like in their own space. World tourists have ordered works once they’ve ‘seen’ them in their own homes.
Patagonia specialises in life’s indulgences and has mastered what many would consider the top three in life: chocolate, ice cream and coffee. Owners Alex Gimenez and Lorena Giallonardo brought their Argentinian love of good chocolate to Queenstown more than a decade ago.
Alex has been whippingup treats since he was four, and, thanks to his Italian roots, ice cream and coffee were natural additions – hence the trifecta Patagonia is known for today. The sweet heady smell of life’s treats permeates the space.
The chocolate-making equipment is on show upstairs so it’s possible to work up an appetite by watching the crafting of fresh quality ingredients into the more than 70 chocolate products on offer. As Alex says, why have a Ferrari locked up in the garage if people can’t see the beautiful machinery?
Artisan ice cream, sorbet and frozen yoghurt are made off site into a very-tricky-to-choose-from range of flavours. Try the orange and basil sorbet or mascarpone cheese and fruits of the forest ice cream. Commanding a supreme location right on the lakefront, just wander out the door to the beach with treat in hand and delight in every mouthful. Fancy being just a little naughty first thing?
It’s totally acceptable to come here for breakfast, with a full menu of indulgences available, such as a chef’s selection dégustation menu including Patagonia’s signature hot chocolate. Remember, you’re on holiday and you only live once.
The lakefront beach & Earnslaw park
The lakefront beach and adjacent Earnslaw Park is both the beating and resting heart of Queenstown, always a place of activity or a perfect spot to sit and watch the world wander by while absorbing the spectacular landscape responsible for putting Queenstown on the world map.
Time it perfectly and T.S.S Earnslaw will top off the picturesque scene by sweeping into the town’s bay – a finely tuned manoeuvre perfected over the 100 years that the lake has been home to the grand old ship.
With a backdrop of the mighty Richardson Mountains, Camp Glenorchy has taken traditional camp accommodation to an aspirational level as the country’s first net-zero-energy complex. Not strictly a camping ground as New Zealanders know them (for those with tents Mrs Woolly’s campground is next door), Camp Glenorchy instead offers seven cabins and four bunk bedrooms, each sleeping four.
Constructed and designed according to the Living Building Challenge, which requires addressing the seven ‘petals’ of sustainability (including energy, water, materials, and beauty) the camp’s clear goal is to inspire and delight.
These founding principles are reinforced throughout the experience, and if each guest takes away just one of these ideas into their own lives, then the bigger goal – that Camp Glenorchy’s values will filter out into the wider community – is met.
Sustainability targets have been reached through a wide range of measures, including solar panels, efficient heating systems, composting toilets (the byproduct of which is used in the gardens) and grey-water filtration and irrigation systems.
Principles of recycling and reuse were used in the construction of the camp itself, with the timber and iron sourced from local woolsheds and Cromwell stockyards. Some of the furnishings are similarly resourced, such as the use of refurbished school chairs, and coat hooks made from fallen local beech trees.
Everything is run in an efficient high-tech manner. iPads in each room allow guests to control room temperature and shower length, which means they’re actively contributing to the camp’s environmental goals.
The tasteful warm cabins feel a little like upmarket DOC huts painted in earthy tones. Guests can enjoy the privacy and comfort of the cabins, or get social and share stories with others in communal cooking and dining areas. The outdoor covered scheelite area, with its huge open fire, feels like the robust beating heart of the camp.
Queenstown holiday park and Motels Creeksyde
This spot is perfect to pull up and slip into park mode for a few days while exploring Queenstown. Set over several green hectares, but only a five-minute walk from the town centre, the park has several powered motorhome spots. Other accommodation options include non-powered tent sites, ensuite cabins, motel units and lodge rooms.
Amenities include well-equipped communal kitchen and lounge areas, barbecues (including an undercover thatched barbecue pavilion), laundry facilities, bike and ski storage, a private sauna and spa and an adults-only lounge. The beautifully kept grounds feature quirky recycled art.
In 2018 Creeksyde was the first property in New Zealand to receive EarthCheck’s Master Certification for its commitment to green initiatives, including actively seeking to reduce water and energy usage and waste production where possible.
Find out more
The Queenstown Trail
For bike hire, shuttle services and advice:
Around The Basin
The Station Building, 9 Duke Street - aroundthebasin.co.nz
9B Earl Street - cyclehigher.com
For more about the trail, visit queenstowntrail.co.nz
Kiwi Birdlife Park
Brecon Street - kiwibird.co.nz
13 Marine Parade - artbay.co.nz
2 Rees Street - patagoniachocolates.co.nz
34 Oban Street, Glenorchy - theheadwaters.co.nz/camp-glenorchy
Queenstown Holiday Park and Motels Creeksyde
54 Robins Road - camp.co.nz