Thrills & Serenity During Summer In Queenstown

21 April 2015
Read Time: 3.9 mins

From out of the open door of a tiny propeller plane at 12,000 feet (3,657 metres) it’s the lake …  Lake Wakatipu …  that my eyes gravitate to: a gigantic milky-jade-coloured glacier-fed water way that meanders between spectacular, sharp-edged mountain ranges.

At this height if my parachute doesn’t open it’ll feel just like concrete on impact, but my naivety tricks me into seeking it out for solace. Adrenaline’s shooting its way through every part of my body but despite the nerves – or maybe because my senses are heightened – I can’t help noticing just how perfect the alpine scene is that I’m about to fall down on at around about 200 kilometres per hour.

Could there be a prettier place to embed yourself into?

And then I’m out …  freefalling …  twisting …  turning …  in the air. Queenstown’s just a blur now as the wind rushes at my face. It’s only when my chute opens and I float down slowly over the the most perfectly constructed alpine area in the whole wide world that I can comprehend the scale of my surroundings.

I’ve snowboarded the ski resorts around Queenstown most winters since 2001, but I’d never thought to visit Queenstown in summer.

 There's no shortage of adventure in Queenstown during summer

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Action & Tranquility: Ying & Yang

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Each winter, thousands upon thousands of Australians ‘cross the ditch’ to ski, but most miss the season any local will tell you that they came here for. “I came here for the winters,” a local tells me one night in a bar. “But I stayed for the summers.”

It’s a lament you’ll hear far and wide around Queenstown.

 The jet boat was made for this place

I can see their point. In five days I’ll do more here than I’ll do in a decade of weekends back home; I’ll bungy jump, canyon swing, sky dive, hike, heli mountain bike, jet boat, play golf and white water raft, and that’s just for starters.

But you can’t help yourself in Queenstown. It’s what the town’s about. It trades on its reputation as the world’s number one destination for adventure seekers, and it’s summer when you have the most options.

It’s a town obsessed with movement; the quicker the better. On any mountain, or hill, or in town,  you’ll see a New Zealander; huffing and puffing and sweating.

But I like the contrasts here in summer; the fast paced thrills and the frenetic night scene, versus the peace and quiet of the surrounding countryside. Ah, the serenity, yep, it comes in big gulp sizes around Queenstown.

I find that I like to combine the two in Queenstown, an Antipodean ying and yang of sorts.

 Evening golf at Queenstown in summer

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After sky-diving I tee off at the golf course I tracked across on my way to the heavens – Jacks Point (there’s five courses here within 40 kilometres of each that are truly world class). I spend a leisurely four hours playing golf holes fashioned out of rugged sheep farming land, that drops right down into Lake Wakatipu, and is dwarfed by the imposing Remarkables mountain range just next door.

Next day I spend my morning jumping from a platform set up across a canyon 134 metres up, then spend the afternoon in hot pools  overlooking the stunning Shotover River, just a five-minute drive from Queenstown’s CBD.

There’s so many activities to do around Queenstown in summer that it’s said it would take a full two weeks of non-stop action to try every single one of them.

It was this region of New Zealand that introduced bungy jumping and jet boats to the world; and they’re still inventing new thrills and spills: there’s plenty here to do you’d never have thought of before. One day I take a helicopter to a distant mountain range – the Pisa Ranges – with my mountain bike strapped on the side and spend an hour winding my way through deserted, rugged mountains to one of New Zealand’s oldest pubs – the Cardrona Hotel.

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It Needn't Cost The Earth

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On another I freefall 60 metres from a platform with a rope tied around my waist then swing the remaining 200 metres across a beautiful green river that I found more terrifying than bungy jumping – the Canyon Swing.

But then there’s plenty to do here without taking your wallet out of your pocket.

 The walking tracks are a peaceful change

Just talking a walk on a sunny late summer’s day should cost more than a bungy jump.

From everywhere in town you can look across to the Remarkables mountain range; in the evenings they turn a gentle shade of mauve and orange. Mountains frame this town on all corners, while old steam boats float past on the lake and towering pine trees scrape at the blue skies.

I love the cute historic towns you can visit only half an hour or so from Queenstown, like gold rush town Arrowtown or the sleepy hamlet of Glenorchy nestled right below some of the Southern Alps’ tallest peaks where Lake Wakatipu squeezes into the Dart River.

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Alone In Forests As Old As The Mountains

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There’s so many hiking opportunities here in summer too that won’t cost a cent, or you could take a guided tour to help show you the way. One day I take the Routeburn Track beside Glenorchy and walk through ancient forests as old as the mountains and across swinging footbridges built over gushing rivers, with no one around at all.

 A more relaxed way to see the sights

The ground’s covered in moss and old man’s beard hangs from the trees. There’s a thousand more to try too, and bike trails that wind their way through Queenstown’s surrounds – and steeper, challenging mountain bike trails for those that prefer to grip their handle bars a lot tighter.

Around June the winter storms roll into town and cover the mountains with thick white powder snow giving skiers and snowboarders four months worth of thrills and spills.

But it’s these gentle months of summer that offer up just as much in a landscape where nothing is hidden.

Where to stay

Stay right in the heart of Queenstown in luxury accommodation at The Spire.

Activities

  • Try heli-biking with Fat Tyre Adventures
  • Have all your golf needs sorted and play the best local courses with Remarkable Golf Tours
  • Walk the entire Routeburn Trail or just take a day walk down it
  • Reach speeds up to 150 kilometres per hour on the Canyon Swing above the Shotover River
  • Try the 134-metre-high Nevis Bungy
  • See the beautiful Shotover River on a jet boat or go rafting

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Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to New Zealand.

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Craig Tansley

A Polynesian tragic, Tansley blames his parents for having him in Rarotonga for why he can't stay away from there for more than a few months at a time. Give him a coconut and a lagoon and he'll be happy.