Alternative QueenstownQueenstown in New Zealand is renowned internationally as an adventure tourism hotspot, but there are also less adrenaline-fuelled activities to be enjoyed amid beautiful Central Otago scenery. Once you've secured your collection of souvenir T-shirts and DVDs by bungy jumping, whitewater rafting and jetboating, slow down and relax with these easygoing alternative activities.
Kayaker on Lake Wakatipu, with The Remarkables towering in the background. Image by David Wall Photo / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images.
Soak in Japanese-style hot pools
With views overlooking the rugged and isolated Shotover River, relaxing in the private bathing rooms at these Japanese-style hot pools is the perfect post-action activity for travelling couples. The vista from each of the pools can be customised for maximum privacy or maximum views– just push a button and the entire front wall and roof retracts – and romantic and soothing options include aromatherapy burners and candles. Booking ahead is recommended, especially for the popular twilight time slots.
Take to the air in a giant balloon
Queenstown has a well deserved reputation for after-dark good times, but you’ll need to plan an early departure from the city’s excellent bars and cafes for this airborne excursion. Flights with Sunrise Balloon Adventures (www.ballooningnz.com) depart at dawn and rise to around 2000m to showcase the best Central Otago scenery. Landscapes and landmarks highlighted by the diffuse early morning light include the jagged indigo bulk of The Remarkables mountain range, the elongated sprawl of Lake Wakatipu, and a few world famous in New Zealand locations from the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
Unleash your inner artist
You could try to capture the beauty of the Central Otago landscape on your smartphone, but more rewarding and enduring will be your own sketches and paintings of the region’s valleys, mountains and lakes. Experiences with Art Adventures (www.artadventures.co.nz) cater to artists of all levels – even complete beginners – and tours can also be tailored to reflect the individual interests of participants. That could include visiting the galleries and studios of local artists, or getting expert tuition in different media like watercolours and oils. Whatever the approach, inspiration from the region’s spectacular scenery is always close at hand.
Lake Wakatipu by Jude Adamson. CC BY 2.0
Explore Glenorchy on horseback
Located at the northern of Lake Wakatipu, the sleepy settlement of Glenorchy is a quieter alternative to energetic Queenstown. Beyond the northern edges of the lake, the landscape segues into a rugged mix of remote sheep stations (farms), escalating mountain peaks, and rivers fed by alpine glaciers. It’s a compelling combination best explored on a horse, and equine excursions range from one-hour trots along the Rees River to overnight treks staying in isolated mountain huts.
Pedal your way around vineyards
Queenstown is well-established as the Southern Hemisphere’s best location for mountain biking, but not all two-wheeled adventures need to involve downhill thrills. More sedate is a leisurely exploration of the up and coming vineyards of the Gibbston Valley along the meandering valley of the Kawarau River. Three different cellar doors are visited, and the pace on retro-style Schwinn bikes along the recently-completed Gibbston River Trail is easygoing and relaxing.
Glasses of wine overlooking Central Otago from the Mount Difficulty winery at Bannockburn, New Zealand. Image by Megan Eaves. CC BY-SA 2.0.
Capture wild terrain on a 4WD photo safari
Some of the most spectacular landscapes around Queenstown require a 4WD (four-wheel drive) vehicle for access, and Photo Safaris (www.photosafari.co.nz) ensure visitors leave with an excellent visual record of stunning areas including Paradise Valley – including many landmarks harnessed for the Lord of the Rings trilogy – and Skipper’s Canyon, an historic area with a strong heritage of gold mining. DSLR cameras are provided, or participants can bring along their own photographic gear.
Snowshoe in the wilderness
During summer, Guided Walks New Zealand offer one-day walks packed with native bird and plant life around Lake Wakatipu and on the renowned Routeburn Track, but in winter the emphasis turns to snowshoeing amid the alpine back country surrounding Queenstown. ‘If you can walk, you can snowshoe,’ they claim, and half- and full-day trips allow access to true wilderness areas in the midst of The Remarkables mountain range. For the most intrepid experience, heli-snowshoeing trips transport participants to the ultimate in isolated and remote alpine settings.
Sample the best regional wines
Everything you’ve heard is true. The wine of Queenstown and the nearby Central Otago region – especially the spicy and heady Pinot Noir – is really very good. Combine the spectacular locations of many of the regions’ vineyards and the equally interesting artisan food scene – including winery restaurants, cheese and craft beer – and the area is an essential Southern Hemisphere destination for travelling foodies.
A ruffled New Zealand weka. Image by Newsbie Pix. CC BY 2.0.
Watch wildlife on Glenorchy Island
Even from a distance, the mountains cradling the northwestern edge of Lake Wakatipu look huge. But their scale is exponentially magnified when seen from a kayak. Kayak trips with Rippled Earth Kayaking (www.rippledearth.co.nz) travel across the lake to secluded beaches on isolated Pig Island and Pigeon Island. Spying the endangered weka bird and walking through centuries-old beech forests, exploring the island is a reminder Queenstown is about more than just thrills, spills and extreme sports.
Delight your tastebuds at Gibbston Wine & Food Festival
New Zealand is dotted with culinary festivals throughout the southern hemisphere summer, and one of the best is the Gibbston Wine & Food Festival. Tucked into the sheltered Kawarau River valley, this region’s 10 vineyards harness a microclimate perfect for shaping delicate and elegant wines. Local musicians and wine and food matching classes are highlights of the one-day festival in mid-March; for a truly spectacular experience, invest in a helicopter ride at the festival to see the river valley at its rugged best.
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