Fun beyond the ski fields in Queenstown

From adrenaline thrills to bars galore, nowhere in Australasia nails après-ski quite like Queenstown.

A man freestyle skiing at Cardona Mountain ski resort
  • Sarah Reid
  • July 2018

With four excellent ski resorts from 25 to 90 minutes’ drive away, Queenstown on New Zealand’s South Island is the ultimate base for a winter holiday.

As the picturesque lakeside town gears up to welcome snow sports enthusiasts from all over the world for another season, we reveal the best places to lap up the fun beyond the ski fields.

Après-ski drinks

You might not be able to ski directly into Queenstown, but there are more than 150 places to enjoy a post-session bevvy, most within walking distance of the CBD.

If you’re still in your ski gear, snag an outdoor table at 1876 Bar and Restaurant – named for the year the former courthouse building was erected. This classic pub serves some of the cheapest drinks in town. Another great casual option is The World Bar. A fire gutted this local favourite in 2013, but it’s now back with a great beer garden and a remastered menu of its famous teapot cocktails.

If you’d rather snuggle up inside, Pub on Wharf has cosy booths, or, if you’re headed back from Cardrona Alpine Resort, stop in for a drink by the roaring fire at the historic Cardrona Hotel. The new Cardrona Distillery, just a few minutes down the road, is worth checking out while there.

For cocktails, pull up a stool at Little Blackwood, which uses house-made syrups in its creative concoctions, or make a beeline for Reds, a huge bar in the new QT Queenstown hotel with a killer cocktail menu and breathtaking views towards The Remarkables – another popular ski area. Euro-chic wine bar Bardeaux, tucked in an alley in the heart of town, really gets going later on.

Queenstown by night
View of Queenstown by night

Dinner time

A trip to Queenstown isn’t complete without queuing for a Fergburger. But if waiting is not your style, newcomer Devil Burger is (almost) as good. If you’re craving Mexican, Taco Medic serves up the best tacos this side of Mexico City.

For a sit-down meal, try a pub-style feed from Pub on Wharf, Public Kitchen and Bar or The World Bar. For something a little fancier, reserve a table at Madam Woo, where the menu is inspired by Malaysian hawker-style food; or splurge on modern-Kiwi haute cuisine at Rātā, helmed by celebrity chef Josh Emett.

Coffee and brunch

You don’t have to venture far to find a faultless flat white before the ski lifts open, and many local cafés offer terrific brunch menus, too. Queenstown’s much-loved Vudu Café might have closed, but many locals say Vudu Café and Larder – its reincarnation on Rees Street – is even better. Yonder, on Church Street, is a quirky addition to the local scene, but it’s difficult to go past Bespoke Kitchen.

This bright, spacious café, near the Skyline Gondola station, offers arguably the best brunch menu in town, plus a tempting array of baked treats and gourmet sandwiches to boot. You can order coffee and brekkie to go at all of these hotspots, though if you’re in a rush, grab a pie and a brew from Fergbaker (next door to Fergburger) while you wait for the ski bus.

Adrenaline hit

They don’t call Queenstown the adventure capital of the world for nothing. AJ Hackett Bungy – New Zealand’s original bungee operation – operates three stomach-churning jumps in Queenstown, including the 134m Nevis, Australasia’s highest. If giant swings are more your thing, you can choose to launch into the nearby Shotover Canyon Swing. Beginning with a five-metre freefall, even the Shotover Canyon Fox will give you a thrill.

If you’re game, whitewater rafting and jetboat trips also run throughout winter at various locations. And if the weather’s good, check out the skydiving, paragliding, hot air ballooning and scenic flight options, too.

Bungy jumping at the kawarau river at queenstown
Bungy jumping at the Kawarau River, Queenstown

Spa-aaah

Queenstown’s Onsen Hot Pools has to be one of the world’s most scenic locations for an outdoor soak. Spend a blissful hour in an ultra romantic, steaming cedar hot tub perched on a cliffside overlooking the Shotover River. If you’re intrigued by the healing benefits of floating in 450kg of Epsom salts, swing by Queenstown’s new Salt Float Spa, while those in search of more traditional pampering are best off at the Sofitel’s So Spa or the Hilton’s eforea: spa.

Wine therapy

Part of the Central Otago wine region – famed for its pinot noir – Gibbston Valley is only a 15-minute drive from Queenstown, and its cellar doors are open year-round. If you don’t fancy self-driving, family-owned Queenstown Wine Trail offers a range of wine-tasting tours in Gibbston and beyond. Don’t miss Amisfield, which operates one of New Zealand’s most revered bistros. Nearby, newish Akarua Wines and Kitchen is another great spot for wine tasting and great food. Most wineries charge NZD $5 to $10 for tastings (redeemable on bottle purchases), though if you know where to go (hint: Peregrine Wines) you can taste a few varietals for free.

Family fun

Rising up behind the town centre, the Skyline Gondola is the gateway to a range of family-friendly activities. Open from 10am until dusk, the Skyline Luge at Bob’s Peak also has an advanced track for big kids. Stay on to take in a Māori performance by Queenstown’s Kapa Haka group. At the base of the gondola, you can also spot New Zealand’s national bird in the Kiwi Birdlife Park, or sign up for a round of minigolf at CaddyShack City.

Ziptrek Ecotours (which offers ziplining among the treetops at the top of Bob’s Peak) is another fun outdoor activity for the whole family. But if it’s too chilly for outdoor play, consider a round of go-karting or laser tag at the Game Over indoor entertainment complex in Frankton, behind Queenstown’s airport. Frankton is also home to the Alpine Aqualand heated pool complex, and you’ll find a Reading Cinemas complex back in the heart of Queenstown.

Vineyards near Queenstown
Vineyards near Queenstown

Best daytrips

Arrowtown Its heritage buildings have long since morphed into hip cafés, restaurants and pubs, but there’s still a whiff of the gold rush in this cute little town, just 23km north-east of Queenstown. Schedule a lazy brunch at The Chop Shop, then step back into the 1860s at the excellent Lakes District Museum and Art Gallery before joining the après-ski crowd at The Fork and Tap pub, or at cosy speakeasy- style bar The Blue Door.

Wanaka If you’re planning a ski day at Treble Cone you’ll pass through Wanaka, but it’s worth carving out a whole day to explore this relaxed lakeside town about an hour’s drive from Queenstown. Now home to a good handful of excellent restaurants and breweries – plus two cellar doors within walking distance of the centre – you might even want to consider an overnighter.

Glenorchy If it’s a clear day, consider a drive to the top of Lake Wakatipu. Tiny Glenorchy doesn’t have many real attractions of its own, but the scenery during the 45-minute trip from Queenstown is exquisite. Alternatively, take one of the many The Lord of The Rings tours from Queenstown to visit this magical corner of Middle Earth.