Adventure, adrenaline and elves

It’s a long way to the South Island of New Zealand but for those who make the trip, the world capital of adrenaline awaits. Queenstown is an adventurer’s nirvana.

It’s a long way to the South Island of New Zealand but for those who make the trip, the world capital of adrenaline awaits. Queenstown is an adventurer’s nirvana.

There’s always been a hint of adventure about New Zealand. Crazy Kiwis have pushed the limits in adventure sports ever since Edmund Hillary’s first ascent of Everest. There has always been something in the national psyche that strives to challenge sanity and do extraordinary things. The adventurer’s Mecca is Queenstown, a small alpine hideaway which is home to more adventure sports than France has got vineyards.

Queenstown is a tremendously scenic area, lying as it does on Lake Wakitipu and surrounded by no less than three mountain ranges which collectively make up just a small portion of the Southern Alps. The town itself has a population of less than 10,000 and this gives it a vibe that cannot be found in larger resorts. But what really makes Queenstown come alive is the myriad activities that can be found in the town and the surrounding valleys and canyons. Here we go through just a select few, indeed a whole book could be written on the attractions to be found in this gem of an alpine hamlet and weeks could be spent throwing yourself from all manner of ledges, bridges and airplanes.

Bungee Jumping

This was invented in Queenstown by AJ Hackett, famous for his pioneering jump from the Eiffel Tower in 1987 which ultimately led to his arrest. Queenstown now has eight of them to choose from- the world’s first ever bungee jump at the 42m high Kawarau Bridge still operates to this day. The largest jump in town is the Nevis, a terrifying 134m descent into a deep gorge. There used to be a higher jump, dropping over 300m but unfortunately the Health & Safety brigade managed to get it shut down. This might have something to do with the fact that it was a bungee out of a helicopter and it was feared that an unlucky jumper might bounce back up into the rotor blades on a windy day!


If jumping out of a plane at 12,000ft with nothing more than a piece of canvas strapped to your back sounds like fun, then there’s no better place to try it than here. 45 seconds of 200km/h freefall is followed by a gentle descent with some awesome scenery to take in from your bird’s eye view. There are a few different outfits in town, all of which offer skydive instruction courses and one even offers a 16,000ft oxygen assisted jump.

White-Water Rafting

Queenstown gets good dumps of snow in the winter and all that fluffy stuff has to end up somewhere. Spring is the best time of the year for rafting and the Kawarau and Shotover Rivers offer the best New Zealand has to offer. Also available is the locally invented sport of river surfing- surfers hop into rapids and attempt to catch the waves on a body board.

Yacht Racing

The waters of Lake Wakitipu have an abundance of pleasure craft seeking your custom. From the TSS Earnslaw, a 19th century steamship, to paragliding operations, there’s a vessel to suit everyone. The only way to do it with real style and speed, however, is to hop on an Americas Cup racing yacht. Trips leave twice daily from the pier and you can either sit back and relax or get to grips with the sails yourself.


Hikes abound in the area, but for something a bit special, perhaps head to the Milford Track, once described by Edmund Hillary as “the most beautiful walk in the world.” The Milford Track takes four days to complete and ends at some of New Zealand’s most stunning scenery at Milford Sound. Having done this walk a few years back I can indeed share Hillary’s enthusiasm, it’s almost like walking inside a postcard for four days.

Lord of the Rings Tours

Fans of the Academy Award-winning films can adventure through the scenery that Peter Jackson used to bring Middle Earth alive. Tours are run in jeeps, micro-light planes or both. The Queenstown area was the setting for Lothlorien, Amon Hen, Amon Lhaw, the Fort of Bruinen as well as Gandalf’s journey to Isengard.


Luckily, Kiwis generally have a “She’ll be right” attitude to safety which means heli-skiing/boarding is legal here, unlike many European countries that ban the flying of helicopters near mountains due to the risks of turbulence. Plenty of companies can take you to the backcountry to sample some virgin powder.If you can’t afford it, then there are four different ski resortswithin an hour’s drive of the town — The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, Cardrona and Treble Cone. These are no more than a smattering of the many activities on offer in this picturesque mountain town. Also available are hang-gliding, a luge, mountain biking, parapenting (riding shotgun in a stunt plane,) jet boating, kayaking, quad biking and paragliding. Queenstown is also a favoured spot for Europeans to go to in order to complete their pilot’s license in either helicopters or planes — a few outfits offer courses which are made attractive by the exchange rate. After all these adventures get the adrenaline pumping you’ll probably need a few calming beverages. Queenstown is a real party town and pumps until 6am every night. Many small bars offer excellent local DJs spinning out everything from drum & bass to trance. If you’ve any energy left the next day take a hike (or the gondola) up to the top of Queenstown Hill, sample the excellent buffets and appreciate the fine view from the restaurant window.