The size of a small town but with the restlessness of a city, Queenstown has mountains of things to do. As NZ's adrenaline-activity capital, there are countless bungy-jumping, caving, rafting, sledging, jetboating, skiing, skydiving, biking and hang-gliding operations eager to give you the thrill of a lifetime.
For those after more relaxed pursuits, Queenstown has atmospheric restaurants, laid-back cafés and excellent boutiques. And, of course, the scenery is magnificent. When the hype of the town gets to be too much, find a lakeside bench at sunrise or dusk and immerse yourself in one of NZ's most beautiful, calming mountain views.
Keep in mind that Queenstown is undeniably a big-budget resort town and draws more than a million visitors each year. This means great tourist facilities but also great big crowds. Queenstown's streets are often paved with humanity and its restaurants and bars are regularly packed with a mainly young crowd that knows how to whoop it up. If you're adverse to crowds and bustle, you probably won't want to be here for long.
In winter, the Remarkables and Coronet Peak ski fields are the region's key snow-sport centres. You can hear snow reports on most local radio stations; try 99.2FM from 6.45am to 9am.
For serious skiers, heliskiing takes you to pristine, untouched terrain. Check out:
Heli Ski Queenstown (Tel 03-442 7733; www.flynz.co.nz from $895)
Harris Mountains Heli-Ski (Tel 03-442 6722; www.heliski.co.nz; from $775) or Southern Lakes Heliski (Tel 03-442 6222; www.southerlakesheliski.co.nz; from $675)
There are countless places in town to hire ski equipment. Wander into town or visit the Queenstown visitor information centre for more options:
Browns (Tel 03- 442 4005; 4 Brecon St & 39 Shotover St)
Green Toad (Tel 03-442 5311; 48 Camp St)
Outdoor Sports (Tel 03-441 0074; 36-38 Shotover St)
EXTREME GREEN SKI AND SNOWBOARD (TEL 03- 442 8517; 39 CAMP ST)
The region's oldest ski field is Coronet Peak (Tel 03-442 4620; www.nzski.com
; daily lift pass adult/child $93/51). The season here is reliable because of a multimillion dollar snow-making system, and the treeless slopes and good snow provide excellent skiing for all levels. The consistent gradient and the many undulations make this a snowboarder's paradise. There's night skiing on Friday and Saturday from late June to late September. Access is from Queenstown, 18km away, and there are shuttles in the ski season.
The visually impressive Remarkables Ski Area
(Tel 03-442 4615; www.nzski.com
; daily lift pass adult/child $87/48) is also near Queenstown (28km away), from where shuttle buses run during the season. It has an equal smattering of beginner, intermediate and advanced runs, with chairlifts and beginners' tows; it's a family-friendly field (kids under 10 ski free). Look out for the sweeping run called Homeward Bound.
Beautiful scenery, nearby tramping and skiing opportunities, and a growing list of adrenaline-inducing activities have turned the lakeside town of Wanaka into a year-round tourist destination. Many travellers come here as an alternative to hyped-up Queenstown and, while some locals fear Wanaka is following too closely in that 'big city's' footsteps, it manages to retain its relaxed, small-town feel. Take note: Wanaka wakes up in a big way for New Year.
Wanaka is situated just over 100km northeast of Queenstown via Cromwell, and is located at the southern end of Lake Wanaka. It's the gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park and to the Treble Cone, Cardrona, Harris Mountains and Pisa Range Ski Areas.
For skiers after untouched powder and exclusive views, there are a number of companies offering heliskiing in the area. For gear hire, head to Green Toad (Tel 03-443 4315; 6 Pembroke Mall, Wanaka Waterfront).
The highest and largest of the southern lake areas, Treble Cone
(Tel 03-443 7443; www.treblecone.com
; daily lift pass adult/child $99/50) is in a spectacular location 26km from Wanaka, and has steep slopes that are best for intermediate to advanced skiers. It also has numerous natural and manmade half-pipes for snowboarding.
Some 34km from Wanaka, Cardrona
(Tel 03-443 7341; www.cardrona.com
; daily lift pass adult/child $85/42) has several high-capacity chairlifts, beginners' tows and extreme terrain for snowboarders. Buses run from Wanaka during the ski season, and also from Queenstown.
Cardrona has acquired a reputation for the services it offers to disabled skiers, and it was the first resort on the South Island to have an on-field crèche. In summer it attracts mountain bikers.
Waiorau snow farm
NZ's only commercial Nordic (cross-country) ski area, the Snow Farm
(Tel 03-443 7542; www.snowfarmnz.com
; daily lift pass adult/child $30/15) is 35km from Wanaka (55km from Queenstown) on the Pisa Range, high above Lake Wanaka. There are 50km of groomed trails and thousands of hectares of open rolling country for the ski tourer. Huts with facilities are dotted along the top of the Pisa Range.