Queenstown On The Cheap
Queenstown and adventure go hand in hand. From skydiving to high-powered jet boats, bungy jumps and paragliding, there's no shortage of expensive things to do. This is not a budget traveler's paradise, but there are work-arounds.
Nestled by Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables mountain range, Queenstown also has an airport. If it weren't for that, I might have felt a little land-locked. From Wanaka, it's a 1 1/2 hour drive, unless you take a bus, and then it's best to stop counting down the hours and just enjoy the scenery.
I chose to stay slightly out of the city at Bumbles Backpackers, which proved to be another good accommodation choice. All views faced the lake, and it was slightly out of the bustling center.
Bungy jumps are the thing to do here and have been happening for hundreds, possibly thousands of years in NZ, Inevitably, the first stop into Queenstown was at A.J. Hackett's first commercial bungy operation (starting in 1988) on the Kawarau Bridge. If you're going to jump head-first towards a river, I'd definitely do it here. Instead, I just watched from the secure platform on land, knowing I would need to brave-up for the Nevis Bungy Swing looming in my future.
Its' small village feel, variety of food options (along with more affordable prices), lakeside setting, and easy-going demeanor of people made me really appreciate Queenstown.
Maybe everyone is more relaxed from all of that day-drinking in town, allowed until 10pm, which also is when it officially gets dark in the summer. I found that people respected this perk by cleaning up, and heading home...or to the bars.
The most obvious activity in town was to hop into a gondola on the town's main mountain. The luge ride from the top was so much fun, making me wish that I had purchased a few more rides beforehand.
Buying tickets with the gondola ride means only spending a dollar or two, vs. a $14 luge ride at the track. The views were incredible and without a time restriction once at the top, I could relax outside the cafe.
After a few days in town, I finally built up the courage for the Nevis Canyon Swing, but my friend's generosity definitely helped. She gave me a free voucher for a very expensive, fast plunge in a wide canyon. I had to fight for them to redeem the voucher, but with some persistence, I won!
The Nevis Swing is the world's largest swing, suspended over a canyon, with a platform hanging in the middle.
Once I got to the platform and saw how tame it was, I was excited and relaxed. The fall so fast, so after a huge scream, I couldn't help but laugh and enjoy the ride.
It pales in comparison to the Nevis Bungy just across the way, where a counter-weighed car takes the truly brave ones to a jumping platform. It was pretty entertaining to watch jumpers scream, laugh and swear their way through the experience.
Another must-do: indulging in a Fergburger. Yes, an alternative is just around the corner at Devil Burger, but when in Queenstown... They also have amazing ice cream and inexpensive, delicious-looking meat pies.
While Queenstown has the reputation for being expensive and overwhelming, I found it to be pretty chill and have a nice variety of food options. Activities are pricy and very enticing, but a few days in town can be done on the cheap. Find one thing that really sounds exciting, and then don't worry about the rest.
Having already gone skydiving in the least expensive place in NZ (Taupo), I didn't feel the need to do much else here. It's easy to enjoy the view, relax, and then head to Milford Sound...my next stop.
Queenstown places, activities, and recommendations:
Map from Wanaka to Queenstown
Bumbles is a nice hostel alternative to the massive backpackers in town.
Kawarau Bungy jump at the original bridge.
Nevis Bungy Jump and Swing are fun thrill-rides!
Gondola and luge are really fun and relaxing with excellent views of the city.
Botanical Gardens are free and line the lake.
Fergburger and Devil Burger are all the rage. Don't worry, the line is quick, or you can order by phone in advance. Vegetarian options are available, too.
Vudu Cafe has really nice food and coffee at decent prices.
CookieTime has $1 coffee from 8am - 9am, and $3-for-2 cookies "happy hour" from 6-7pm.