Queenstown is a resort town on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, the third largest lake in New Zealand, with a population of almost 16,000. First settled by the Māori and called Tāhuna for shallow bay, Queenstown saw the first non-Māori settler in 1860, but the discovery of gold in the Arrow River in 1862 led to a fast growth. Many streets still have names from the gold mining era and some historic buildings from that time remain.
Queenstown is a tourist destination year-round that offers lots of outdoor activities like skiing, snowboarding, jet boating, whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, mountain biking, skateboarding, tramping, paragliding, sky diving, fly fishing, etc.
Queenstown lies close to Central Otago Wine Region, which is the world's southernmost wine region.
Fergburger has been a Queenstown institution since 2001, and many say that they make the best burgers in the world. Regardless of when you go there, I have never seen Fergburger without a long line of people during their business hours. To speed up things, staff even hand out menus to the people in line so they can select their food. When it is raining, they even hand out blue umbrellas. After having different burgers at Fergburger, I can say the following:
The burgers are huge and moist
I don’t think their regular plain burgers are better than what you can get from other burger restaurants
I absolutely love their more exotic burgers (like the Tropical Swine) which are definitely the best and they are unique
One time it took us 45min from standing in line until we had our burgers in hand…in a bag. Since the lines can be long, Fergburger offers online ordering and you can even check the order numbers that are ready to be picked up online.
Ferg Baker was opened in 2011 right next to Fergburger. The long Fergburger lines obscure the entrance to Ferg Baker, but Ferg Baker is there and definitely warrants a visit. Ferg Baker is a bakery that sells pies, pastries, sandwiches, breads and cakes and lots of different coffees. Like Fergburger, Ferg Baker have some exotic meat pies that taste very good. We have never had more than two people in front of us.
Scenic drive to Glenorchy
Glenorchy is a small town of a bit over 300 people at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. The 28.5 mile (46 km) drive from Queenstown on the Glenorchy-Queenstown Road along the lake is very scenic and has several rest stops where you can marvel at the beautiful landscape.
It is important to note that we did not have any data signal on our cell phones starting approx. 12-15 miles (20-25 km) south of Glenorchy. So, make sure to download your map to your cell phone before you leave Queenstown.
Below are some recommended stops where you can see the lake nested in the mountainous landscape and in some cases even pebble beaches. Most have toilets and some have tables and benches.
There are several more stops, but their views don’t differ that much from the stops that we recommend:
Seven Mile Point Track
You have beautiful views on the lake and mountains behind it
Wilson Bay, Closeburn
You have beautiful views on the lake and mountains behind it and you can walk on the pebble beach
Bennetts Bluff Viewpoint Walking Track
You have to walk up the hill on a well maintained pebble trail and are rewarded with spectacular views of the lake and mountains behind it
Lake Face Creek Falls
The Lake Face Creek Falls stop has two parking lots on the western (lake) side of the road and one a few feet further to the north on the eastern (mountain) side of the road. You can see the falls from the upper western parking lot and the eastern parking lot. Hiking there requires you to cross private property. The lower western parking lot is next to a port-a-potty which, during our visit, was infested with flies. But you can walk down the hill to a beautiful, deserted pebble beach.
Glenorchy is a small town of a bit over 300 people at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. There are a gas station, a few restaurants, and clean public restrooms. One of the main attractions is the Glenorchy Walkway, which is an easy 1-2h trail that starts at Lake Wakatipu and then goes through a forested area, wetlands and through the Glenorchy Lagoon. The path is mostly good quality compacted dirt and pebbles and there is a boardwalk through the wetlands. Starting at the parking lot, most people walk the Southern Circuit, which takes about 1h and is about 2 miles (3.2 km) for the loop. Some add on the Northern Circuit loop which adds another 0.9 miles (1.4 km) or 30-45min.
Important: If you start the Glenorchy Walkway at the parking lot, do not miss the opportunity to also go to the west where the Rees River flows into Lake Wakatipu. This area is of stunning beauty.
When you are done, you can take the 45min drive back to Queenstown.
Remarkable Sweet Shop
A part of Beach Street in central Queenstown is a pedestrian-only shopping area. Among the restaurants, the O’Connell Shopping mall and lots of stores, you can find Remarkable Sweet Shop, which is a paradise for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Queenstown Bay Beach
Queenstown Bay Beach is one of several swimmable beaches in the Queenstown area. It is very popular in summer due to its location right near central Queenstown. Besides swimming and sunbathing, you can rent paddleboards and kayaks in summer and take boat tours of the lake. The views of the bay are beautiful and its proximity to downtown Queenstown with its cafes and restaurants ensures that you won’t stay hungry. Fergburger is only a 3 minute walk away (600 ft, 180 m). There is parking near Queenstown Beach, but it is all paid parking.
Milford Sound Cruise
With almost a million visitors per year, Milford Sound (or Piopiotahi in Māori) is one of the top attractions in New Zealand, even though it is remote and not easily accessed. Milford Sound is known as the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand and one of the wettest in the world. On average, there is precipitation every other day. Milford Sound is a fjord that has a comparably narrow inlet and was therefore overlooked by Europeans navigators until 1812. Even Capt. Cook sailed by the fjord entrance twice. Most tourists arrive between 11am and 1pm to take a cruise – and you will be one of them. Some visitors do flightseeing or hiking, but fjord cruises are the number one activity.
Driving from Queenstown to Milford Sound takes 4-5h. It is not possible to make it in the 3:39h that google maps says it takes. The reasons are winding mountain roads, slow cars ahead of you that you cannot pass, construction (it added about 30min to our drive) and the Homer Tunnel close to Milford Sound, where you will up to 7 minutes, and lastly the gorgeous scenery.
Our advice is to plan for a 5h drive, incl. finding a parking sport in Milford Sound, and to make brief 2 or 3 minute stops at some of the vista points before Te Anau, like Devil's Staircase Lookout Point, Lake Wakatipu Lookout, and South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. It will be dark when you return to these stops. You will visit Te Anau and the attraction north of it when you drive back this afternoon.
Once you arrive in Milford Sound, find a parking spot. This is easier said than done, as the first parking lot will likely be full. So, continue on to the second lot and hopefully you will find a spot over there. Then you have to go to one of the few pay stations to pay for parking. It may take another 10-15 minutes depending on how long the line is. At the pay stations, you select the time you want to park, enter your license plate number and pay with your credit card. The parking meter that we used only allowed 5h parking for NZD25. Afterwards, you will have to walk for 5-10 minutes to the cruise terminal from where all cruises depart and check in with the company that you have booked your cruise with.
There are multiple tour companies that offer 1-2h fjord cruises and almost all fjord cruises are very similar. One of the cruise companies, however, Southern Discoveries, offers access to an underwater observatory which used to be a research station in the past. We loved their 3h cruise which included a 2h boat ride and 1h in the underwater observatory and therefore strongly recommend this cruise. The fjord has steep walls with two permanent waterfalls (Stirling Falls and Lady Bowen Falls). As it rains on average every second day, you will likely see several other short-lived waterfalls. You will also see remains of past avalanches which happen if there is too much rain and the rain-soaked soil slips over the solid rock cliffs. You will likely see several birds and, if you are lucky, sea bottlenose dolphins, whales and seals. We found the eastern side of the fjord more majestic and took most of our photos and videos on this side.
One more tip: It does not matter where you sit when you board the ship as everybody will move around during the cruise.
If you are booked on a Southern Discoveries cruise that includes the underwater observatory, your ship will detour to the former research station where you will go into the underwater observatory and a knowledgeable guide will tell you more about what you are seeing. The former research station has lots of information about Milford Sound, the first settlers, the flora and fauna, etc. The guide will also give another talk in the reception area and provide even more information about this area.
After 45-60 minutes, you will board the ship again and then sail back to the dock in Milford Sound.
You will then walk back to your car and start driving back to Queenstown, where you will likely arrive between 9-10pm. There are three stops that we recommend you make:
The Chasm Walk
Be advised that the DOC has temporarily closed the Chasm Walk due to storm damage. Please check the DOC website to understand if the walk has reopened before you go.
This easy 1/4 mile (400 m) loop trail brings you to a series of powerful waterfalls in the Cleddau River. Take a closer look at the hollowed out shaped that the water masses have sculped in the rocks.
This easy 1/4 mile (400 m) return trail brings you two vista points where the mountains reflect on the lake like on a mirror. Only the occasional duck disturbs the water.
There are several restaurants and gas stations in downtown Te Anau which make a good rest and food stop.
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