10 Things: How Queenstown, NZ, was the best week of my life, and will be yours too.
It was the end of a long (but amazing) few months studying abroad in Sydney, Australia, when my friends and I decided it wasn't exactly time to head back home yet. Just a three hour flight from beautiful Sydney was our final international stop of the semester: Queenstown, New Zealand.
Known as the adventure capital of the island, Queenstown is a destination for thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies like us eager to find a little thrill in the midst of an oddly-chilly "summer." Being from San Francisco though, it was hardly the season I knew.
Our week was full of free-falls, food comas, and long drives that we wished would never end. I've put together the 10 things and tips from our week in Queenstown that'll surely help you plan your dream trip to the adventure city, or finally convince you to book it.
#1 Rent a car... and thank me later.
Most of our top moments were actually well outside the city. Queenstown itself was only compiled of a few picturesque blocks with bars and shops one after the other.
The weeks leading up to our trip were full of one question: How do we get everywhere?
Now, it may seem obvious but none of us had driven on the other side of the road, let alone rent a car before. I had just turned 21 and was newly-legal.
For New Zealand at least, you can legally drive if you hold an English-language drivers license and you'll be visiting for less than 12 months (which I'm sure most of you are).
We rented through Apex Cars right in Queenstown and it was significantly cheaper than I expected. We opted for full insurance, or zero excess, because we knew our drives would include some rocky terrain and paying a pretty penny for scratch or dent wouldn't be the best way to close the trip.
In total, we paid NZ$108 for two days with full insurance and one driver: me! This translated to about US$60, and only US$15 split between the four of us. AMAZING! We didn't have to worry about anything happening to the car either, which was well worth it for me.
I picked it up fast, too. They made me watch a simple video and then we were off. Pulling out into the street at first was a bit odd, but it's just like driving anywhere else after a minute or two.
Everyone I had talked to prior said to rent a car, and I'm glad we did. It allowed us to stop along the cliffs for photos and not work around shuttles or bus schedules, and even access a few spots they didn't go. Shuttles to and from Wanaka were about NZ$50 each, or US$30. If someone is willing to be the day's chauffeur, then it's the way to go.
#2 Milford Sound... (even in the rain).
On our second day we took a trip to Milford Sound (known as the eighth wonder of the world) with GreatSights cruises. Although the sound was a lot further from Queenstown than I expected (about a 3-4 hour drive), it was one of our highlights because of its isolated beauty and dormant atmosphere.
The cruise brought us to the main dock from Queenstown, stopping along the way to hit major natural attractions. This definitely helped break up the trip.
On board, we were served lunch and had the opportunity to explore the boat and see dolphins and other wildlife in the sound.
It's surely a can't miss when traveling to Queenstown, just know it's an all day venture. Be sure to bring a rain coat, too. You'll understand why when you're there.
#3 Lavender Farm
The smell of this place wasn't the only thing sweet about our visit.
My friends were very adamant about heading to this iconic lavender farm in Wanaka, just an hour drive from Queenstown. This was our major day trip when first picking up our car on our third day.
The drive was easy and I highly recommend renting a car at least for this day so you can pull over along the many stops through the mountains for the best views of Queenstown.
The farm itself not only was flooded with fields of lavender, but had the best-smelling gift shop I had ever stepped into with just about every product you can imagine with lavender infusion. It's the perfect spot to pick up a few gifts to bring back home.
Entrance to the farm was NZ$10 and well worth it. We spent about an hour strolling the fields, taking photos, and saying hello to their horses, alpacas, goats, and chickens.
#4 Fergbuger (& Mrs. Fergburger, too!)
This iconic burger hotspot is surely at the top of most Queenstown guides, and rightfully so. Don't be intimated by the line stretching around the block from open at 6am to the early hours of 3am.
Luckily, our hostel (YHA Central) was just across the street so it didn't take long for us to be convinced the line meant it was worth the wait. While my friends enjoyed their classic Fergburger, I, staying true to my plant-based diet, had the falafel burger. And I must say, New Zealand does falafel well.
They were relatively cheap too, at around NZ$12 each. There isn't much seating outside, so plan on taking short walk afterwards to the water to enjoy your burger and fries with the breeze. I even saw a few ladies enjoying some to-go at the airport. So if that doesn't tell you how good these are, I don't know what will. Maybe you'll have to go and have some for yourself?
And don't forget Mrs. Fergburger. The neighboring bakery and ice cream shop was often overlooked, but shouldn't have been. The best coffee I had on the trip was a latte here and their freshly-baked pretzels and croissants had us coming back every morning. It's worth the early wake up call to have them fresh out of the oven, too.
#5 Bungy Jumping
Don't be alarmed. I was connected to a bridge in these photos. I would know. I was hanging from it.
This was my favorite moment of our entire trip and an absolute must-do in New Zealand. The famous 43 meter bridge was the first commercial bungy jumping spot with AJ Hackett.
The photo pack is definitely worth it.
It was also by-far the most-thrilling experience in my life. Jumping off a bridge above a raging river isn't exactly... instinctual. The actual jump and bounces that followed were hilariously-thrilling and especially comedic for my friends watching above.
The video still makes me chuckle every time. You can watch the full jump in my YouTube video linked at the bottom of the post.
You can pay for the package in advance, which I recommend, where it comes with a gift bag and t-shirt.
The package included a free shuttle ride to and from Queenstown to the bridge, which was only about 20-25 minutes. Depending on the nerves though it could feel longer.
All of my friends that jumped agreed they'd do it again in a heartbeat. It's the one activity I can't recommend enough.
#6 NZone Skydiving
Now, don't judge this activity by the look on my face. It was probably one of the few most surreal minutes of my life. The experience was everything you can probably imagine it to be.
We originally booked our experience for 9,000 feet at NZone on the first day, and I'm glad we did because it ended up being delayed twice due to windy and rain conditions. So, pro tip: book your experience earlier so you have ample opportunity to reschedule. The check-in spot is right in Queenstown, so it hasn't a hassle at all to come back later.
We ended up doing the jump (or roll rather) on the last full day. They take you to a satellite building about 20 minutes from downtown. After a long wait (or maybe it just felt like that), we were brought up in a group of about ten and strapped on to our partners. They told me I was going first, which was probably for the best. I wouldn't do all too well after watching my friend fall out.
We actually got to go from 12,000 feet due to a clearance issue and once you hang your legs out, there's no going back. This was honestly easier than bungy jumping because you aren't in control. The person you're tandem with does all the work.
If you want to check out my video, then again, watch the video below. But if you're going to ever want to skydive (and I highly recommend you should), this is the place to do it.
I was never nervous about my safety or if it was done correctly. NZone was very professional and takes hundreds up every day. All of the tandem people have done the jump thousands of times, too.
#7 Onsen Hot Pools
Although Onsen may have not been at the top of my to-do list early on, it surely was by the end. This extremely tranquil spa oasis was the perfect stop after... well, free-falling from the sky. You have about an hour in the private tub. Each room has a shower attached and offers a surreal view of the New Zealand landscapes. I'd recommend only two per pool. The four of us ended splitting up into pairs and it worked well. We were able to experience it with a friend without feeling crowded.
They also serve a complimentary beverage and snack with your dip. It was especially nice since we hadn't really done a relaxation activity yet all week.
That's about all I can say. It's simple, but well worth it.
#8 Minus 5 Ice Bar
The coolest thing to do in Queenstown? Ice bar. And I mean that literally.
The entire place is made of ice and sits just below freezing. In a thirty minute session, you can have two drinks made at their actual ice bar (as the name would suggest), and take as many pictures as you'd like.
I've heard the New Zealand ice bars are specifically great because of their laid-back attitude. And I agree.
We were going to head to one in Melbourne, but they took your phones and offered a lot less. The attitude was a lot more, well, like a bar (?) here and they make sure to not crowd the small room.
Tip: Definitely wear warm clothing under. Though they offer you a jacket, it isn't all too insulating.
The coolest (hah) part to me were the cups made of ice and smashing them at the end. Sort of sustainable too!
This location is right on the pier in Queenstown and a short walk from everything else. Believe it or not, the thirty minutes is about all you can take. Unless you like your fingers to be purple.
#9 Wine Tasting
We'll make this one quick and simple.
When in Wanaka, make a reservation for a free wine tasting at Rippon Vineyards. Their biodynamic vineyard is absolutely breathtaking and they were so sweet and informative during the tasting.
Be sure to grab a bottle on the way out, too! My personal favorite was their Sauvignon Blanc.
After taking a wine course this past semester during my time abroad, I found a new appreciation for viticulture and the practice. Seeing it translated into another country was super intriguing and proved that this may be some of the most valuable information I have ever taken from a classroom. Well, at least in my eyes.
#10 Happy Hour & Coffee Shops
How many bars do you think can fit on one street?
Okay, now triple that.
Full of great brews everywhere, you can't help but stumble upon a Happy Hour. The 1876 Bar was one of our favorites for $10 cocktails and falafel burgers (I'm beginning to think I love falafel a lot?)
Cowboys was another fun bar we stumbled upon and well, may have rode a mechanical bull at? If that sounds like your perfect night, then that's the place. It was lively with tons of people dancing and singing. If we weren't so exhausted we probably would have stayed longer.
Finally, my personal expertise - COFFEE.
We had lots of great brews in Queenstown, but my favorite came from Mrs. Fergburger.
I also have to shoutout a great pop-up design studio/cafe (?) that was right across from the pier. They offered a few small eats with an aesthetic atmosphere not displayed anywhere else in the city.
The Exchange was a frequent stop of ours, too. They have excellent pastries and sandwiches if you're looking for a quick bite or not trying to eat too much before an insane activity.
All in all, Queenstown was a trip full of ups and downs (and I mean this literally) that I recommend to all searching for a some thrill and a bit of relaxation, too.
Watch my full vlog of our trip to New Zealand below for even more tips and coverage of our week as Kiwis!