Queenstown: An insider's guide on the cheap

By Ryan Keen

As the Winter Festival swings into action, Mountain Scene editor Ryan Keen shares an insider's recommendations to having fun on the cheap in New Zealand's premier resort town.

When the snow falls, Queenstown springs to life - in more ways than one. Photo / Queenstown Tourism
When the snow falls, Queenstown springs to life - in more ways than one. Photo / Queenstown Tourism

People say Queenstown is an expensive place to live.

And it can be. But one area in which you can save a lot of money as a resident is holidays - you don't have to go anywhere.

I've had holidays at home many times in the seven years I've lived in Queenstown - and it's always been a blast. No airfares, no extra accommodation costs, more money to spend on the abundance of mind-blowing activities on offer. Here are a few inside tips:

ADVENTURE THRILLS

The original AJ Hackett Bungy

It's 25 years since daredevil Auckland bungy pioneer AJ Hackett threw himself off France's Eiffel Tower and bounced into the arms of waiting gendarmes below.

Bungy jumping is now a Queenstown adventure tourism icon. Have a crack at the original - it was the world's first commercial operation - off the historic Kawarau Bridge on Queenstown's outskirts. It's a beautiful outlook above the Kawarau River. And, sure, at a height of 42m it's peanuts compared to higher jumps in town, but I guarantee you'll start getting jazzed when - with feet bound - you awkwardly shuffle to the edge of the jump platform.

Where: Gibbston Highway, 20min drive from Queenstown
Cost: $180 (adult), $130 (child), $150 (student)

Shotover Canyon Swing

For another take on the tried-and-true Queenstown rush that is jumping off something, it's hard to go past this. Harnessed into a giant rope swing, you plummet about 60m before entering an accelerated 200m arc between to stunning cliff faces. This month, staff added a new launch option via a metal slide for extra pace. You can slide off sitting upright or on your stomach facing forwards. Yawn. Perhaps try "The Abattoir" which Canyon Swing general manager Matt Hollyer describes thus: "Slide off lying headfirst on your back like a piece of meat at the freezing works." Cool. A friend who did it recently noted afterwards: "Legs like jelly, pumping with adrenalin."

Where: Shotover River Canyon, 10min drive from Queenstown (ride included)
Cost: $199 (first jump), $39 thereafter

Night skiing

For a more sedate but no-less wondrous thrill, try night skiing up Coronet Peak, open on Friday or Saturday nights. You feel like a bit of a mercenary, ripping down the slopes by the light of the moon when there's hardly anyone else around. Top fun with mates, but also a great date. If it all gets too cold, stop into the base building for hot mulled wine. Or cuddle up on the chairlift.

Where: Coronet Peak, 15 minutes drive from Queenstown
Cost: $49 (adult), $33 (youth/senior)

FREEBIE FUN

Super walk

The track to the top of Queenstown Hill is fairly demanding, but the reward is well worth it. Stunning vistas overlooking the Wakatipu basin, lake and mountains are breathtaking. Open year round, allow three hours for return.

Where: Access via Belfast Street, Queenstown Hill
Cost: Free

Frisbee golf

Queenstown is home to plenty of world-class golf courses - for a different take on a good walk spoiled, try frisbee golf. The Queenstown Gardens downtown is home to an international standard 18-hole championship disc golf course, completed by a dedicated local group of frisbee golf nuts. Like night skiing, fun with mates but also a great date.

Where: Queenstown Gardens
Cost: Free

Dining

Try the original Botswana Butchery, after a sister version was launched to great fanfare in Auckland last month. The Queenstown one has a great outdoor fireplace that's cosy even in the depths of winter and is in a great spot across from stunning Lake Wakatipu.

The local tip to kick off your morning is Motogrill cafe on Shotover Street. It's run by locals Matt and Cath Hanna from Joe's Garage cafe fame. They sold Joe's, a local institution, a few years back to a consortium that included Sir Michael Hill. Motogrill's scrambled eggs on ciabata is highly recommended.

No matter what time you go to Fergburger, you'll have to queue and for a good reason - they're just solid burgers. Fergburgers gets regular Lonely Planet mentions and were name-checked by Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll after Saturday's record humbling by the All Blacks. It's ridiculous how sought-after Fergburgers are - I once asked some Swedish backpackers hitchhiking into Queenstown what they were looking forward to out of all the myriad activities. They replied: "Bungy - and having a Fergburger!"

Bars

You're spoiled for venues when going out - the place has one liquor licence for every 50 men, women and children living in the town. Bars aren't so hung up on dress code - I've been out straight after playing tennis in board shorts, a sports T-shirt, backwards cap and gym shoes and walked straight into the poshest joints in the resort with no hassles.

Nothing to do with me being local and establishments turning a blind eye, they just generally don't care.

Be warned: you may pay Viaduct prices with decor to match. Queenstown institution The Bunker - a super-cool cocktail bar hidden away upstairs in Cow Lane - has reopened after a refurb and mini-expansion.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand has regular flights to Queenstown from a number of other New Zealand centres.

Further information: See winterfestival.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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