Queenstown, New Zealand

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Being Down Under, New Zealand's seasons are the reverse of those in the Northern Hemisphere. As such, Americans say goodbye to summer as Kiwis bid their winter low season farewell. For travelers from up north, this means savings on airfare. Once in New Zealand, Queenstown is a great choice for its "water, mountains, nightlife, shopping, adventure, [and] all things outdoorsy," according to Benjamin Chicoski. He adds that the city will "fit everyone's whims and fancies." For those particularly interested in adventure travel, the area is full of winter sports and hiking opportunities.(Photo: Benjamin Chicoski)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on September 15, 2008. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: adventure travel, Aeromexico, Air New Zealand, AirTran, Aix-en-Provence, Alaska, American, Arizona, arts and culture, beach, Charleston, Continental, Dominica, island, LAN, Lenox, luxury travel, Machu Picchu, Massachusetts, Mexicana, Molly Feltner, Oaxaca, Queenstown, resort, spa, sports, Todos Santos, Ubud, vacation package, women's travel.

Queenstown, New Zealand, is said to have earned its name in the 19th century, when a local miner declared the stunning mountain-encircled town to be "fit for Queen Victoria." Today, if the town were to be renamed, it would most likely be called "Adventuretown," because no other place on Earth fits the adventure traveler—women and men alike—quite as well.

Queenstown is at the heart of Lord of the Rings country on New Zealand's South Island, a place that offers so many choices—from traditional activities like hiking and rafting to more unusual Kiwi-invented sports like river boarding and canyon swinging—you could stay for weeks and not experience them all. And, unlike some other adventure hot spots where testosterone-charged atmospheres make trying new sports intimidating for some women, Queenstown's relaxed, fun-loving vibe makes it easy for women to step out of their comfort zones. Many of the area's guides and adventure company owners are women, and it seems a foregone conclusion that women should be as active and confident as their male counterparts.


Usually Queenstown is taken in by foreign travelers as part of a multi-week New Zealand trip and is used as a base for exploring the nearby lakes and mountains. However, you should plan on spending at least two or three days in Queenstown, as there's so much to do. There's no need to plan your activities in advance because most can be booked the day of. Once you arrive, (you'll be bombarded with pamphlets as soon as you get off the plane) you can make arrangements based on what interests you most. You should try a couple of New Zealand-born experiences—jet boating (from $65) and bungee jumping (from $111)—are two favorites—as well as some traditional adventure sports like white-water rafting (from $111) and hiking (free).

If you're not up for any hair-raising experiences, that's fine. Queenstown has many gentler activities such as walking lakeside trails (free) and lake cruising ($27). Plus, Queenstown is a good jumping-off point for touring some of the region's 75 wineries. About 30 have tasting rooms or cellar tours and you can visit them by yourself or as part of a guided full-day wine tour (from $98).

Women-only tour: Canyon Calling runs a two-week women-only best of New Zealand itinerary including three nights in Queenstown. There are planned activities most days of the trip but a free day in Queenstown allows you to try your choice of adventure activities. This tour departs February 5 and costs $4,495, which covers accommodations, meals, land and sea transport, internal flights, guides, and entrance fees and activities.

Do-it-yourself: Set on a hilltop in town that overlooks Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkable Mountains, the Hikurangi Lodge offers friendly bed-and-breakfast accommodations and what might be one of the best views in the world from its back porch. Rates start at around $154 per night. You can save on lodging by staying a little out of town at the Larch Hill Homestay (which also has a great view). Rates start at $80 per night there.

To get to Queenstown, you'll first have to fly to Auckland, New Zealand, most likely through Los Angeles. From Auckland, Air New Zealand runs several daily departures to Queenstown. The airport is just a few minutes from downtown Queenstown. It's helpful to rent a car, and despite driving on the left, it's surprisingly easy to get around thanks to good signage and polite Kiwi drivers.

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