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Queenstown, South Island, New Zealand (these are our photos from our Working Holiday in NZ in 2009)

World’s Coolest Cities: Queenstown

(Ok, so Queenstown is technically a town and not a city, but it is so incredibly cool that we had to include it in the World’s Coolest Cities. You can have more fun and excitement in this little mountain resort town on the South Island of New Zealand than you can have in most cities twice its size, so it is definitely worth a mention. )

Queenstown is nestled within the mountains in the Otago region of the southwest of the South Island. It is near glacial-formed Lake Wakatipu and is pretty much the centre of New Zealand’s adventure tourism industry. If you have ever had the urge to hurtle yourself down a mountain on skis, brave white water rapids on an inflatable boat, or jump from a platform with nothing breaking your fall but a rubber band strapped around your ankles, Queenstown is the place for you.

Queenstown is a gigantic playground for grown-ups, where the traditional plastic slide is replaced with a high speed mountain luge and instead of a swing set there is the Nevis Arc which swings you 160m above the river. Its larger than life scenery, fantastic night life and restaurants, and abundance of adrenalin-buzz activities will make you feel young again, no matter what your age. It’s also a meeting place for the thousands of young and hip travellers who backpack around New Zealand, so you are bound to make many fascinating new friends.

Otago is also a renowned wine-making region, so you can relax from a day on the slopes or the rapids with a delicious and flavourful glass of local wine. There are even wine tours available that will take you around to some of the best vineyards in the region.

Climate: Alpine – (crisp with clear skies and snow capped mountains in winter, long warm days in summer that can reach up to 30 degrees celcius)

Population: 10, 416

Currency: New Zealand Dollar

Language: English (brush up on your Kiwi slang so you know what the locals are saying)

The Ledge Bungy Jump in Queenstown
The Ledge Bungy Jump in Queenstown

Geronimo! Bungee Capital of New Zealand
There is no other feeling in the world that can come close to the sensation of standing on the edge of a bridge, looking down at the deep chasm below and knowing that you are going to step off that edge and trust your life and limb to the long strand of rubber that is tied around you. The moment when you take the plunge, time stands still and you get an incredible rush flowing through your veins that is like nothing you have experienced before. You know that the bungee cord and the platform have been specifically designed and safety tested, and the jump assistants are fully trained, and that you are just as likely to hurt yourself crossing the street as you are doing this, but still the mammalian, irrational part of your brain will spawn those stomach-butterflies just the same. The adrenaline rush will leave you buzzing for days, and will make you feel 100% alive.

Queenstown is the home base of AJ Hackett Bungy, the company that pioneered this insane practice of jumping off high places. They offer many thrilling activities to cater to adventure-seekers of all different experience levels. You can jump from a high-wire cable car, or from the Kawarau Bridge, and you can choose to go for it solo or in a tandem jump with a friend. The Ledge Swing and Bungy are even open late at night, so you can take the plunge in the dark!

If the thrill of jumping from a bridge starts to wear off, and you want something more intense, why not throw yourself out of a plane? Queenstown is also a premier destination for skydiving, with many different companies offering the heart-pounding and life-changing experience.

Maori Traditional Dance
Maori Traditional Dance

Maori Culture
No trip to New Zealand is complete without experiencing the cultural riches of the Maori People. The Maori are the indigenous Polynesian people who arrived in New Zealand around approximately AD1300. Their unique culture is woven around a rich mythology, distinctive and skilful crafts and performing arts, and a brave and powerful warrior society.

There is a lot to learn about the fascinating native people of this country, and you can discover it in an interactive way at the Haka Pa Maori Village. This tourist attraction offers a full experience, including a meal in the traditional steam-cooked Hangi style. While you taste the warm and flavourful food, you will be entertained by the traditional song and dance. The Maori people are friendly and laid-back, and are very proud of their culture and happy to share it with you.

Gondola Heading Down the Mountain
Gondola Heading Down the Mountain

Queenstown Gondola and Luge
For a less intense, more peaceful way of getting up high in the mountains, take a relaxing ride on the Queenstown gondola. It is said to be the steepest lift in the Southern Hemisphere, and it will take you for a slow gliding ascent up above Queenstown all the way to the tip of Bob’s Peak. When you get to the top, you can enjoy the observation decks, shopping, and cafe at the Skyline complex. The views from the top are absolutely amazing, and we got some of the best picture of our trip up there. You can see all the way across Lake Wakatipu and to Cecil and Walter Peaks.

Lee Enjoying the Luge
Lee Enjoying the Luge

While you are at the top, why not have a fun ride on the Skyline Luge? It is a winding downhill track that bends and weaves its way through the trees and down the mountain that you ride on a tiny wheeled scooter-like contraption. Your little three wheeled luge cart has brakes and steering, so you are in enough control to feel safe, but the track has lots of great banked corners, dips and tunnels, so the ride is still a thrill. When we were here, we spent the entire afternoon racing each other down the different tracks, and it was great fun!

The "Big Al" Burger
The “Big Al” Burger

When a Burger Becomes an Art Form
When you have worked up an appetite from bungee jumping, sky diving, luging, or whatever intense activity suits your fancy, you can fill your belly with one of the artisan burgers from world famous Fergburger. What began as a hole-in-the-wall burger joint for drunk backpackers has become one of the best places in the world to find a true gourmet hamburger that is packed with fresh, local ingredients. We’re not talking just your assembly line cheeseburgers here, these are real burger masterpieces, such as the Sweet Bambi Burger that features Wild Fiordland Venison with a Thai plum chutney, lettuce, tomato, red onion and aioli. For the fish fans, there is The Codfather, with fresh blue cod battered with dill tartare. The prime beef, deer, lamb and chicken are all sourced from New Zealand. Ferg Burger also offers some mouth-watering options for vegetarians such as a tofu or a middle eastern themed falafel burger named The Bun Laden, which is fantastic because most vegetarians struggle to find tasty options in fast food joints.

If you fancy yourself up to the challenge, try to eat an entire Big Al Burger. It is a massive feast the size of your head, which includes a double serving of New Zealand beef, bacon, cheese, two eggs, beetroot, lettuce, tomato, red onion, relish and aioli. The hardest part will be fitting it all in your mouth without making a mess, but the taste is surely worth it!

Check Out Queenstown For Yourself
If you are planning a trip to New Zealand, you must include Queenstown on your itinerary. It is by far one of the coolest places in New Zealand, and in the entire world! The scenery is amazing and the opportunities for fun activities are endless.

There is no international airport in Queenstown, so your best option is to fly to Christchurch and then take a bus from there. Naked Bus offers some really low fares between many of the cities in New Zealand. Alternately, you could catch a flight to Auckland and then a cheap Air New Zealand flight down to the South Island.

Recommended Books

Here are some of the travel guides we recommend bringing with you on your trip:

Lonely Planet New Zealand
Lonely Planet South Island New Zealand
Frommer’s New Zealand
Illustrated guide and maps for Kindle or other mobile devices

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About Kelly Dunning

A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word.

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