If you’re after an adrenaline rush, you’d look no further than Queenstown. But how and why did Queenstown become the undisputed Home of Adventure?
Add Queenstown to The Bucket List
We all have those iconic destinations on our bucket list. We’ve seen them on social media, heard the stories, been teased by the ads. There’s a famous wild activity everyone is dying to do, and a quintessential view where you have to take a snap.
Queenstown is exactly one of those spots, and it’s renowned for being the adventure capital of the world. There’s an endless amount of activities to conquer, amazing people to meet, iconic places to tick off the list, incredible experiences to be had – and it’s truly unforgettable.
But there’s another beauty to the ‘Home of Adventure’.
Although it’s developed a lot over the years, Queenstown offers so many places and experiences where you can feel like you’re the only one around.
It’s hard to find somewhere else like it – confronting, vibrant, and invigorating, but at the same time, serene, enigmatic, and grounding.
Despite the inspirational landscape and unparalleled beauty, one can’t help but think, ‘How did Queenstown become the Home of Adventure?’
Queenstown’s Indigenous And Pioneering History
When you walk down the street in Queenstown, you’ll likely hear accents and languages from all over the world; British, French, Māori, Mandarin. But that’s part of the lure of Queenstown – it attracts people from all over the world to embark on adventures of all styles, paces and abilities, and it’s been doing so for a very long time.
Queenstown is based on the edge of Lake Whakatipu. This lake was formed 15,000 years ago by a huge glacier, with mountains shooting out along the side.
Local Māori will tell you a different story. The most common legend of the lake formation is based on a romantic story, of two lovers, who were forbidden by the Māori chief to be together. The girl was stolen by a giant, and in her warrior-lover’s quest to save her, the warrior set fire to the giant. As the giant’s body melted, it created a massive hole filled with ice and snow.
In place of the giant, we’re now left with Lake Whakatipu, which means ‘hollow of the sleeping giant’. Legend says that the giant’s heart still beats, which explains the regular 12cm rise and fall of the lake’s waters.
Whichever story you choose to follow, what we know for sure is that Lake Whakatipu was formed by some incredible, mystic force that still enchants and inspires people today.
Queenstown has been home to the indigenous Māori people for a long time. The Ngāi-Tahu tribe have inhabited the South Island for over 800 years. They were drawn here for hunting prospects, and in search of the tapu (sacred) greenstone, known as pounamu.
International visitors first started arriving in Queenstown in the 1860s, when gold was discovered in the Shotover River. Because of its economic opportunities and enchanting beauty, it prompted many miners to stay. The area became a gold mining settlement, with most settlers arriving from Europe and China.
A historical Chinese village still remains in Arrowtown that you can visit today. It was a thriving industry, and at its peak, the Shotover River produced the highest amount of gold in the world. But Queenstown is a ‘gold mine’ in more ways than one.
The Home of Adventure Firsts
Coronet Peak Ski Area
It might be hard to believe now, but in the early days, winter was a time when locals would retreat indoors, eagerly awaiting the warmer months.
It wasn’t until 1947 that the Coronet Peak Ski Area opened, establishing Queenstown as a year-long paradise, drawing in people who didn’t want to let those beautiful bluebird days go to waste.
In 1967, the first gondola in New Zealand and Australasia was introduced in Queenstown. This opened the door for many future adventure activities to come to town, including luging, paragliding, and downhill mountain biking.
Invention of the Jet Boat
Then in the 1970s, in search of a way to access farmland through shallow rivers, Bill Hamilton invented the jet boat. Little did he know that he’d change tourism in Queenstown forever! This was definitely an iconic milestone in Queenstown’s tourism history.
The jet boat, which can move over waters as shallow as 3cm, became a major commercial tourism operation. Not long after, whitewater rafting was introduced and became a major attraction, opening Queenstown up to another adventure opportunity.
World’s First Bungy Jump
New Zealanders definitely don’t bang on about ‘Kiwi ingenuity’ for nothing. In 1988 the world’s first commercial bungy jumping operation opened. This put New Zealand at the forefront of adrenaline activities.
The idea for bungy jumping came from Pacific Islanders who’d jump off platforms with forest vines as a tribal practice. AJ Hackett and his team spent two years designing a bungy cord that could be used for commercial purposes.
He gained worldwide attention when he leapt off the Eiffel Tower in Paris 1987. This epic move introduced the world to a new, wild activity that made your bones jump out of your skin, and could only be experienced in the one and only, Queenstown.
Crowds flocked to try this legendary activity, and it didn’t take long for the bungy company to open up a second and third site by 1997. Bungy sites quickly cropped up across New Zealand and the rest of the world!
Tandem Paragliding and Skydiving
If that’s not enough, Queenstown is also the birthplace of tandem paragliding. The first commercial paragliding operation opened up in 1991, allowing thrill-seekers to take in the Whakatipu views from a new perspective.
Tandem skydiving was also started here and has been a major attraction since the early 1990s – because who doesn’t want to freefall out of a plane?!
The Gateway to Nature
Queenstown is also the gateway to other incredible adventure locations like Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Parks, and Glenorchy.
You can drive for 10 minutes, in any direction, and you’ll continue to be amazed by the beauty on offer.
New Zealand History And Culture
Much of New Zealand’s own history and culture has contributed to landscapes that inspire epic movies.
Queenstown’s landscapes have featured in films like Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies and Mission Impossible – Fallout.
Hiking in the area makes you feel like you’re Samwise or Frodo navigating Middle-earth, on a journey crossing boundaries and going ‘the furthest you have ever been before’.
An Adventure For Everyone
The best thing about this place is that there’s an opportunity for adventure and challenge around every corner. Whether you’re a veteran or a newbie, there’s a range of activities you can take on; from snowboarding and skiing, to climbing, hiking, and mountaineering.
You can indulge in a luxurious holiday with fine dining and wineries, and soak in spas surrounded by mountain views.
You can conquer a fear you never thought possible, or get in touch with nature and tick off the endless outdoor activities on offer.
It really is no wonder why Queenstown has been drawing in visitors and settlers for years. It’s mesmerising, encapsulating, and inspiring. A short flight from Australia, Queenstown is definitely the next adventure for you!