Onsen hot pools, scenic flights: How to enjoy the best of Queenstown

How to enjoy the best Queenstown has to offer holidaymakers.
Photo credit: supplied

Queenstown is known as the Adventure Capital of the World, a destination that attracts thrill-seekers from every corner of the globe keen for the adrenaline-fuelled highs it offers.

It's also a premiere snow sport destination and one of the most beautifully scenic, mountainous locations on Earth, with countless ways to enjoy its natural beauty from the simple to the extravagant.

One of the good things to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic was a renewed love of exploring one's own backyard, with many New Zealanders finally adventuring around their country after years of pursuing greener pastures internationally.

Many Kiwis spent a bit more on domestic trips over the past few years than they normally do, too. Rightly or wrongly, many folk who call Aotearoa home perceive a lot of domestic travel to be disproportionately expensive - especially in the nation's most touristy spots, like Queenstown.

We are a developed nation with premium tourist attractions and they are priced accordingly. Sure, you can spend less on a holiday further afield, but people come from all over the planet to holiday in our home country for a good reason: it is absolutely brilliant.

If you travelled domestically during the pandemic you've hopefully come to realise just how great it can be to act like a tourist in your own country. Taking the time to explore your own backyard can be a rewarding experience that's worth every penny, even if it seems costly compared to some overseas destinations.

One way some New Zealanders are choosing to make a luxurious holiday more manageable is by using a 'buy now, pay later' service such as Afterpay.

However you do it, if you've always dreamed about Queenstown and reckon now is the time to do it - or you're keen to head back and do it properly - here are some of the very best things to do there.

Alpine Helicopters, Wanaka.
Photo credit: Newshub.

Scenic flights

The best thing about the best parts of New Zealand is the scenery, and the best way to enjoy that is from the air. I know Kiwis who have flown scenic flights over Manhattan and the Grand Canyon but haven't done one in Aotearoa - this is madness!

No photo or video can come close to showcasing the full glory of seeing the Southern Alps or the Remarkables in person. The word 'spectacular' is not nearly grand enough to convey how spectacular they are.

Getting in a chopper or light airplane to get up and amongst them is something every Kiwi should do. I flew with Alpine Helicopters, who fly out of both Queenstown and Wanaka, and I was lucky enough to see some wild deer and chamois up close during the flight.

A word of warning: research the flight options and be willing to pay for what you want. Some trips don't actually go over the mountains, which may be disappointing if those are the views you wanted to see.

Onsen hot pools in Queenstown.
Photo credit: Newshub.

Onsen Hot Pools

If you have an Instagram account, chances are you've spotted this place on your feed over the past couple of years.

And for good reason; it's a seriously luxurious private hot pool complex with incredible views and plenty of gratifying, thought-out extras to make it a wonderful experience one can spoil themselves with.

This is one place you have to book months in advance due to its cult status, which makes total sense as you relax in the cedar-lined private spa pools and gaze upon the breathtaking views of nature.

It's open day and night, and while the view may be more extraordinary during the light of day, I really enjoyed stargazing in crystal clear skies while soaking for an hour one evening - counting the shooting stars while enjoying a glass of bubbles with ice cream.

Fans of actual 'onsen' should know this is not replicating its Japanese namesake. It's a lavish Western-style spa, inspired somewhat by those in Japan, but not much like the authentic onsen experience.

Nomad Safaris quad biking in Queenstown.
Photo credit: Newshub.

Quad biking

While seeing Queenstown from above is a must and there are plenty of ways to enjoy the sights from on or in the water, it's also great to explore the land itself in a more hands-on way.

Nomad Safaris provide guided off-road quad bike tours that offer a unique way of appreciating the gorgeous landscapes, while also getting the thrill of the cold wind hitting your face as you jam the throttle forward.

You get protective gear and training provided on the day as well as a shuttle to and from your accommodation to the Queenstown Hill farm location.

For Kiwis who have grown up on a farm with a four-wheeler, the actual quad biking will be a lot less exciting than it may be for city slickers, but even so it's one of the only adventure tourism attractions you can do in Queenstown where you are actually in control.

Ziplining through Queenstown.
Photo credit: supplied


Chances are you'll head up the gondola on a visit to Queenstown - and everybody should because it's fabulous.

But the BMX and luge tracks offered up the top aren't for everybody, or you might have done them plenty of times before and want to try something different.

For those people, you might want to consider taking the gondola up the mountain and then the zipline back down, thanks to Ziptrek Ecotours, proudly proclaiming to be Queenstown's carbon-neutral tourism business.

The best course consists of six ziplines to take you back down over a few hours, including the world's longest tree-to-tree zipline - a mighty 300m line that also drops you 100m vertically.

It's a really fun way to spend a morning and another great, unique way to enjoy the town's splendid views, and includes a genuinely informative sustainability message along the way.

Be aware that aside from activities actually in the snow or water, this is one of the coldest ways to enjoy Queenstown. Make sure you wear thermals, gloves, woolly socks and all of that lovely warming stuff on your zipline adventure.

Jervois Steak House, Bespoke Kitchen, Boardwalk and Blue Kanu are among the best places to eat in Queenstown.
Photo credit: supplied/various

Amazing food

There is a disproportionate number of great eateries in Queenstown for its size. Currently, you have to book in advance to get in at a lot of places, so plan ahead to save yourself some disappointment.

My absolute top picks would be:

  • Jervois Steak House: I'm a sucker for a delicious steak and they don't come better than those on offer at Jervois.
  • Bespoke Kitchen: Located on the hill just below the gondola, this is the town's best café with fantastic coffee, tasty mulled wine and loads of delicious food.
  • Boardwalk: From the fresh oysters to the brilliant view overlooking Lake Wakatipu and the care put into the dishes, this restaurant is a wonderful experience. The grilled octopus entrée was a highlight for me.
  • Blue Kanu: A Pacifica and Asian fusion restaurant with great sharing options and delightful cocktails.

Those are just a few of the many, many fantastic places to eat and drink in Queenstown in between enjoying the incredible activities the town has on offer.

Daniel enjoyed the experiences in Queenstown courtesy of Afterpay