48 Hours in Queenstown

17 December 2018

Spectacular lake and alpine scenery and inspiring active adventures combine with excellent food, wine and beer to make Queenstown one of New Zealand's diverse and most-loved destinations.

Day 1

7pm

Celebrate your arrival in New Zealand's year-round adventure sports capital with dinner at Rata. Josh Emett's menu showcases seasonal produce from around the South Island. For seafood lovers there's salmon, octopus and blue cod, and one of Rata's most popular entrees is an innovative spin on the iconic Southland cheese roll incorporating Otago honeycomb. After eating, head back to your hotel for an early night and prepare to get active the following day.

Day 2

8am

Kick off the morning with breakfast at Vudu Cafe & Larder. The retro big-format photograph of Queenstown on one wall shows how much the town has changed over recent decades, and healthy menu options include lemon zest buckwheat pancakes, or apple crumble porridge in cooler months. Excellent coffee seals the deal.

Vudu Cafe & Larder, Queenstown. Photo: supplied

10am

Get your bearings amid sensational views of Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables mountain range by ascending on the Skyline Gondola. From the summit, opportunities to get active include the exciting Skyline Luge, downhill mountain biking through the Queenstown Bike Park, or zip-lining in the treetops with Ziptrek Ecotours. To really scare yourself silly, sign up for the Ledge Bungy or the Ledge Swing. A more gentle option is to stroll downhill for around 90 minutes back to the lakefront.

Mountain biking along the Jack's Point Trail, Queenstown. Photo: Destination Queenstown

1pm

With visitors and residents from around the world, Queenstown is a very cosmopolitan destination. Celebrate global flavours with a quick Latin American-inspired lunch from Taco Medic or the Empanada Kitchen. The best sushi and Japanese izakaya-style snacks in town are at Kappa overlooking Queenstown's pedestrian mall.

3.30pm

It's been called the world's most thrilling jet boat ride, and after experiencing the Shotover Jet's thrilling half-hour blast through the impossibly narrow Shotover Canyon, it's hard to disagree. Expert boat pilots steer the boat improbably close to the canyon's cliffs at speeds of up to 85 km/h, and the experience ends with an impressive 360-degree spin.

The Shotover Jet. Photo: Tourism New Zealand

5pm

After the Shotover's adrenaline buzz, bring your heart rate back down by booking a Japanese-style hot tub at Onsen Hot Pools. Private cedar-lined cabanas have retractable windows to provide 180-degree views of nearby Shotover Canyon. That little red boat you can see zipping along is exactly what you were doing just two hours previously.

7pm

Back in Queenstown toast an exciting day with a refreshing beer at Smiths Craft Brew House. Central Otago is developing an excellent craft beer scene and local breweries to look for include Cargo and Altitude. From nearby Wanaka, there's sometimes beers on tap from B.Effect, Ground Up, Wanaka Beerworks, Rhyme and Reason or Sidewinder. Pretty impressive for a small South Island lakeside town.

Steamer Wharf at dusk. Photo: Destination Queenstown

8pm

From Smiths' location on Shotover St, make the short stroll to Lake Wakatipu for excellent shared plates at Public Kitchen & Bar. During spring and summer, Queenstown's southern latitude ensures the indigo-hued Remarkables are visible well past twilight, and the restaurant's absolute lakefront location guarantees superb views. Public Kitchen's hearty meaty dishes are delicious, especially venison from the isolated valleys of Fiordland and lamb from nearby Cardrona.

Day 3

10am

After a healthy breakfast at Bespoke Kitchen – a good choice for fans of organic, sustainable and free-range ingredients – drive around 20km northeast along Frankton Arm and Lake Hayes to Arrowtown. One of New Zealand's best-preserved heritage towns, Arrowtown's highlights include exploring the 19th century gold rush shopfronts along Buckingham St, or negotiating the area's walking and cycling tracks along the Arrow River. After a spot of exercise you'll have earned the treat of a world-famous-in-Arrowtown sticky bun from Provisions cafe. For a more substantial lunch, check out The Chop Shop for Asian-inspired snacks and shared plates.

Historic buildings on Buckingham St, Arrowtown. Photo: Destination Queenstown

1pm

Queenstown's Kawarau Bridge is where commercial bungy jumping kicked off three decades ago, and even if you don't take a leap of faith, it still loads of fun watching terrified tourists and bewildered backpackers plunge 43 metres towards the Kawarau River. For children and other travellers, the Kawarau Zipride is a more gentle and less confronting alternative.

3pm

Around 800 metres from the Kawarau Bridge bungy site, Gibbston Valley Winery offer both cheese and wine tastings, and tours of the winery's impressive wine cave leave from 10am to 4pm. Booking ahead is recommended, and if you're in the region in mid-January, the annual Summer Concert at Gibbston Valley Winery presents well-known international acts from the 1970s and 1980s. Past performers have included the Doobie Brothers, 10CC and Icehouse, and 2019's line-up will perform hits by Supertramp and Australia's Hunters & Collectors.

Wine and cheese at Gibbston Valley Winery. Photo: Destination Queenstown

8pm

Back in Queenstown, Saturday nights are the best time to take in more contemporary acts at the coolest venue around town. Even if there's no live music scheduled, it's still worth making the short 3km journey from central Queenstown out to Sherwood, a hip, hilltop haven with a great restaurant, bar and good-value accommodation. Loads of ingredients come from their own vegetable gardens and orchards, ensuring the ever-changing menu is very local and intensely seasonal.

Brett Atkinson

Brett Atkinson is a full-time travel and food writer who specialises in adventure travel, unusual destinations, and surprising angles on more well-known destinations. He's based in Auckland but frequently on the road for Lonely Planet and other publishers in New Zealand and abroad. @travelwriterNZ