New Zealand’s South Island has something for everyone: great wine, incredible scenery, hikes, wildlife, historic towns, awesome food and coffee, lovely places to stay: the list goes on.
Two places that really capture its beauty, offering all of the above and more, are Queenstown and Wanaka. Situated on the South West of the South Island, these mountainous towns are places that you simply must visit.
We have devised a list of the eight best things to do when you do choose to make the trip.
1. Take to the Queenstown skies in a gondola
Enjoy the scenery on the Queenstown gondola. The views are nothing short of epic: panoramic views of The Remarkables (the name given to a mountain range which are so narrow at their peak that they are deemed “remarkable”), huge valleys and lakes.
The gondola ride is a real thrill and absolutely worth doing, even if you are a little afraid of heights. While parts are quite steep and you do ascend high into the mountains, the views you get are worth shaking off a bit of vertigo for.
Once you arrive at the top, go to the various lookout points for amazing views. Have a glass of wine or beer, or, if you’re a thrill-seeker, take a luge ride.
2. Sip Pinot Noir in Central Otago
Central Otago, a wine region situated between Queenstown and Wanaka, is famed for its pinot noir and offers some of the most spectacular views you are likely to see in any wine destination. In our view you can’t visit Queenstown or Wanaka without sampling some pinot (and taking a few bottles home!).
Our pick of the bunch in terms of wineries were Rippon Vineyard and Peregrine Wines: the former for its absolutely spectacular views of sloping vines against a backdrop of lakes and mountains, and the latter because of its exceptionally good wine: the best Pinot Noir we tasted in the region.
3. Grab a coffee and gaze over Lake Wanaka
Wanaka is blessed with two of my favourite things: great coffee and awesome views. There are an abundance of coffee shops in the town but our pick of the bunch was Relishes Cafe, which served delicious coffee with plant milk options. It’s also situated on the lakeside promenade, so once you’ve grabbed your coffee you can literally cross the road and the lake is in front of you.
As always when buying a coffee, take a keepy cup with you (I’ve started to take mine with me wherever I travel, so there’s no excuse) and do your bit for the environment.
While you’re at the lake why not visit the Wanaka Tree? Sure, it’s touristy, but it does make for a beautiful backdrop for photographs.
4. Take a road trip
The hour-or-so-long car journey between Queenstown and Wanaka is breathtaking and one that would make even the most discerning of road trip enthusiast’s mouth water. The roads meander through the mountains, with each bend providing a new perspective of the mountains and surrounding countryside.
You’ll see falcons and hawks gliding through the valleys trying to pinpoint their next meal, and see well–kept and really quite majestic Hereford and Angus cows chewing on the abundant grass that surrounds the South Island landscape. Look out for waterfalls, too, and the Central Otago vines.
For the best views, and a photo opportunity, stop off at Crown Range Summit: on a clear day you’ll have a panorama view of the mountains, Queenstown and it’s lakes at the bottom of the valley.
5. Have lunch in Arrowtown
Arrowtown is a quaint historic gold mining town situated between Queenstown and Wanaka, but closer to Queenstown. It’s a hidden gem of a place and one that will live long in the memory, that you’ll want to tell all your friends about.
One of its charms is its local boutique shops (there’s not a major brand name in sight) and the standard and selection of restaurants is great: something that you don’t often expect from quiet, sleepy towns located off the beaten track.
Arrowtown really is a hidden wander, so make sure you visit and grab a bite to eat while you’re there. We ate at Stables, a pub restaurant, which did great beer and pub food with vegan options.
6. Stay in a log cabin
Airbnbs in Wanaka and Queenstown are plentiful and many of them, particularly in Wanaka, are beautiful log cabins with low ceilings and snow-peak mountain views. We chose to stay in one (in fact, we can’t take any credit – Chloe’s brother and girlfriend organised it all) and we can’t recommend it highly enough.
Being tucked up in a blanket, sitting in front of a log fire (commonplace in the area) and playing board games with a glass of red wine: well, you just can’t beat it.
7. Take a hike
If you are a keen hiker then, frankly, what are you waiting for! New Zealand’s South Island has some of the world’s best and most scenic hiking trails and the Wanaka/Queenstown region is home to a few of them.
Rob Roy Glacier Track is a good one for beginners (Chloe and I most certainly fall into that category and this is the one we chose to do). It’s a decent hike, but never gets too steep and, while challenging, it was achievable and there are great views of the glacier at the top.
For more experienced hikers, Roys Peak is supposed to be fantastic. There are fantastic viewpoints early in the hike so it definitely doesn’t count out beginner hikers who might want to do part of the track but return to base when it gets a bit challenging. But the whole hike is said to be spectacular, and if you are fit, hike regularly, then I reckon this is probably the one for you.
Other things to do:
There are other amazing things to do in the area, like take jet boats out on the lakes, go kayaking, and skiing on the array of ski fields that the region has to offer (if you go in winter).
We had the most incredible time in Wanaka and Queenstown and hope this has inspired you to visit this beautiful region.