24 Hours in Queenstown
After a couple of days hiking in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, we hit the road south to Fiordland, with an overnight stop in Queenstown to pick-up supplies and sort out our packs. We got into Queenstown mid-afternoon and were to be off the following day at lunch time — with less than 24 hours in town, I was determined to make the most of it, starting with an afternoon hike up the Ben Lomond track.
Afternoon Hike: Ben Lomond
There are a few ways you can tackle Queenstown's Ben Lomond track. Hiking all the way to the summit will take about 6-8 hours return, or you can hike to the saddle in about 3-4 hours return. The walk up is steep and a decent challenge, particularly in the afternoon sun, but the views are spectacular. The walk starts in town at the base of the Skyline Gondola so it's super easy to access.
You can cut some time off your walk by riding the gondola instead of walking the beginning stretch of the track, known as the Tiki Trail. The gondola will pop you out above the tree line, and from there you can join the Ben Lomond track through to the saddle and onto the summit.
The ladies and I chose to hike from the base on the Tiki Trail, up through the forest, and onto the saddle. We didn't have quite enough hours of day light to make it to the summit this time around, and besides, those who didn't join us on the mountain were waiting on us for dinner in town. As it was, we were grateful for the head-torches we had in our packs because we spent the last half hour of our walk scrambling down the trail through the trees in darkness. Summit, next time.
Something of an institution in Queenstown, Winnies pizza restaurant and bar is where we we had arranged to meet the rest of the ladies after our hike. Already dark and with no time to spare, we made our way straight off the mountain and into the warmth of Winnies. Winnies is famous for its gourmet pizza, but if you're not up for pizza, they have a menu that includes pasta, burgers, and salads too. Their drinks list has plenty of local wines, and, what I was hankering for having come straight from smashing out Ben Lomond, some New Zealand beers on-tap. You'd be hard pressed having a bad time at Winnies. The atmosphere is fun, the staff are great, the food is delicious, and the beer is cold. What more do you need?
With onward plans that required us not to be feeling under the weather come morning, we gave the late night happy hours a miss, opting instead for desserts and coffee. We headed down to toward the lake to stop into Patagonia.
Hand-crafted chocolates, artisan ice-cream, freshly roasted coffee... and if you pop in during daylight hours, you can head upstairs to enjoy your treats with a view of the lake.
Stay: Accommodation in Queenstown
There are so many options for where to stay in Queenstown: whether you're after a backpacker hostel, mid-range hotel in town, or a fancy lakeside suite. And Airbnb has plenty to choose from too. My pick of locations is Lake Esplanade. It's the lakeside street with plenty of hotels, close enough to be an easy walk home after hitting the restaurants and bars, but far enough to give you a bit of peace and quiet.
If a big fancy lakeside hotel is your thing, it'd be hard to go past the QT Queenstown — with beautiful designer rooms that have free wifi, coffee machines, 24 hour room service, big plush beds, and standalone bathtubs. There's valet parking, and an on-site bar and restaurant if you find yourself struggling to leave the luxurious surrounds.
If you're keen to save a bit more dosh for beer and mountain adventures, my pick for budget accommodation in Queenstown is YHA Lakefront. It's just down the road from QT, and like QT, it's directly across from Lake Wakatipu, and an easy 10 minute walk into town. YHA Lakefront is newly refurbished with a big kitchen and common area, luggage storage, laundry, free wifi, and you can choose from a range of different sized dorms or private rooms.
Not sure which room to pick? If dorms aren't quite your style, YHA Lakefront's option of a queen ensuite with lakeview is worth every cent — draw the curtains to take in a view of the lake and mountains, and enjoy the fresh air and morning light from the balcony your room opens out on to 💅🏻🏔
Breakfast: Vudu Cafe
This place is tiny, busy, and well worth the wait for a table. Located right on the lake in the centre of town, Vudu does fantastic coffee, and if coffee isn't your thing, you can choose from juices, smoothies, chai, tea, and kombucha. The menu is seasonal and includes vegan options.
If you need to pick up some outdoor gear, you're in the right place, with Macpac, Kathmandu, The North Face, and more all within a block.
I bought a neck gaiter from Kathmandu (which came in super handy when cycling around Lake Wanaka in the wind a week or so later). I don't know I haven't bought a gaiter before now. When it comes to hiking, a neck gaiter keeps you cosy and warm without getting in the way like a scarf does. It's also more versatile — I ended up using my neck gaiter as a headband to keep my hair off my face during a few hikes.
I also got myself a small water bottle from Macpac to use between hikes. I had a hydration pack in my Osprey, which is handy when hiking up a mountain, but less so when you're on the road in a van with 11 other women.
I'd been looking for a good small water bottle for a while, so I was stoked to come across this 550mL drink bottle at Macpac — it's short and wide rather than tall and slim, making it a perfect fit for the spare lens compartment of my camera bag.
Morning: Wander Queenstown Gardens
Had your fill of coffee and breakfast? Done with the shops? Take in the mountain and lake views with an easy stroll around the lake. Queenstown is located on Lake Wakatipu and from town you can wander around the lake through Queenstown Gardens.
No trip to Queenstown is complete without a visit to Fergburger. Yes, you'll get this advice from every person you talk to about Queenstown, and that's because it's good advice.
The line you see out front will move quickly enough, and when you get your burger you'll be pleased you didn't walk on by. Hot tip for the vegans (hey, friends!): there's a couple of vegetarian burgers on the menu that can easily be made vegan removing the sauces.
That's a wrap
Well, almost. If you need groceries, forget the tiny, expensive stores in the centre of town, walk 10 minutes up Gorge Rd to the decently sized FreshChoice.
If you have stronger morning legs than I did the day after hiking Ben Lomond, you might like a morning walk up Queenstown Hill to watch the sunrise and get some fresh air before breakfast in town. Or you could head out jetboating on the Shotover River, or maybe a morning bungy jump is the heart-starter you're looking for?
Got some time in the afternoon or evening? After a bit of respite from the cold mountain air? Keen to unwind with wine? The Winery is a cosy spot in the centre of town where you can sample a wide range of local wines. With the swipe of a card and the press of a button, you can pick from over 80 wines, including, my personal favourite, many a Central Otago Pinot Noir. You have the option of three pour sizes — taste, half glass, or full glass — so you can try a few different wines before settling on a glass of your favourite. With big comfy chairs, delicious local wines, and grazing platters, The Winery is the perfect spot to spend an hour or two.
Finally, if rest and relaxation is what you're after you can't go past Onsen. Unwind with a massage or luxuriate in hot pools while sipping bubbly and taking in the mountain views that make Queenstown iconic. Onsen is about 10km out of town, but the complimentary shuttle will get you there and back if you don't have a vehicle. It's open until late so you can book a sunset or night session and enjoy a view of the stars. You'll want to book in advance though — Onsen is popular, and it's not hard to see why.