So, back to our Queenstown weekend that was supposed to be spent conquering the entirety of the Routeburn Track in three days…
Since the weather didn’t cooperate, we were only able to complete an in-and-out day walk on the Routeburn. This was 100% the best decision – and it allowed us to explore even more of the area. We spent the rest of the weekend hiking Ben Lomond, sipping Central Otago pinot and even road-tripping to Wanaka.
Since we’d been to Queenstown several times before, we wanted to do some alternative activities that didn’t involve expensive adrenaline-pumping adventures or partying with backpackers until the wee hours of the morning.
Here’s what to do in Queenstown when you think you’ve done everything!
Find alternative accommodation:
Rather than staying in an in-the-thick-of it hotel, get off the beaten path. The Queenstown area is so much more than the central area of bars and restaurants. It’s actually so peaceful when you get a bit closer to those beautiful mountains. We chose the most amazing glamping site at Moke Lake. At just a 30-minute drive from the city centre, we could still pop into town for civilisation and essentials, but had solitude on a sheep station the rest of the time. I can’t recommend this place enough.
Go beyond the gondola:
When you have limited time in Queenstown but want an amazing vista point, a gondola ride is a must. But if you have a full day to spend tramping, the summit of the Ben Lomond track puts the gondola view to shame. If the 6 to 8 hour walktime and 1,438 km elevation gain is a bit too intimidating, it’s completely acceptable (if not expected) to cheat and take the gondola as the first leg. From the top of the gondola, walk to the top of the luge track, and you’ll find a signposted track pointing you through an eerie pine grove.
As soon as we exited the grove, we were welcomed by a herd of mountain goats! I instantly knew this was going to be an epic hike.
The steep uphill climb was challenging, and slightly terrifying past the saddle as the wind picked up, but we found motivation by following a Kea (yes, the world’s only alpine parrot) up to the top. He kept us going, and rewarded us with an extra cheeky performance with his fellow summit-dweller. It was completely coincidental that we had brought along a Mischievous Kea beer to enjoy.
And on the way back down, we stopped to eat the most nutritious hiking food ever – leftover pizza from last night’s dinner at The Cow. Perfection.
Sip pinot noir to your heart’s content:
Central Otago is known for its incredible pinot noirs. We’d visited some of the most popular wineries in the region on previous trips (Gibbston Valley and Peregrine are must-dos), but were excited to discover a few more that came highly recommended. Our new favourite is Chard Farm. After you drive a dusty back road precariously hugging the Kawarau River, you’ll arrive at the cutest pink house. Inside, a magical world of Pinot Noir awaits. If you’re lucky, your complimentary tastings will be handled by the ever-impressive Jessie Deng.
Visit Queenstown’s chill cousin, Wanaka:
I’ve raved about Wanaka before. It was our favourite spot on our campervan adventure, so we decided to pay it another visit. The road between Queenstown and Wanaka is packed with wineries, so we visited some of the aforementioned tasting rooms on the journey. We had already hiked heaps, so did some lower key exploring like visiting the Wanaka Lavender Farm and lazy strolling the lake to rest our tired legs.
Have brunch in Arrowtown:
On your way out of Queenstown, a stop in the historic Arrowtown is perfect. We lined our wine-expectant bellies with The Chop Shop’s goodies. Apparently, Arrowtown is the most beautiful in autumn when the bright foliage puts on a show, which we’ve yet to see.
The one Queenstown activity I’d do over and over and over again is soaking in the ONSEN hot pools. But as they’re always fully booked in advance, we weren’t able to get in. And a bonus is at least one meal in Arrowtown. We’ll just have to go back!