As a ski mountaineer, you’d think summer in Queenstown would slow Will Rowntree down. But even without snow on the ground, he manages to pack in a different adventure nearly every day.
In the depths of Te Wai Pounamu – the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand – a region exists that’s captured the hearts of Explorers for over 100 years. Within the Whakatipu basin lies the town of Queenstown.
The gleaming blue lake and jagged mountain tops were first witnessed by the Indigenous Māori and then by European settlers looking to farm and mine gold. In the many decades since, people have been drawn to this area. The reason changing from seeking prosperity and harvesting the land to harnessing a new resource – experiences.
My name is Will Rowntree, I’m a mountain guide and resident of Queenstown.
I chose this place as home for the same reason as many other adventure seekers before me. I’ve made adventure and recreating in the mountains my main focus in life and this place facilitates my dream lifestyle like no other.
For me, the question is not so much, why, as why not?
Within a single summer’s week there’s so much to do and see. The joy of having this wonderful town nestled between the lake and mountains is that in little to no time we can find ourselves away on an adventure. Whether a short excursion that brings us back in time for lunch, or a full day and even overnight adventure, the opportunities are endless.
Join me as we embark on a week of making the most of what the Whakatipu basin has to offer the keen Explorer.
Hello down there Queenstown! | Photo by Jaime Marr
Day 1 – Wild Swimming at Bob’s Cove
Day one and it’s wonderful weather. We feel like going for a walk and a swim as well as visiting a less travelled area. Queenstown is surrounded by conservation land with minimal distance and quick access to beautiful walking and hiking trails. From hidden coves and bays to lush beech forest and alpine vistas, you can be out of town and into the wilderness with ease.
Today we’re going to ease into things and a trip to Bob’s Cove is on the menu. Following a lazy morning, we get pies and coffees from Ferg Baker in the heart of town before continuing through and getting on the road heading west.
A short drive and we pull into the car park of Bob’s Cove. This sheltered bay has a beautiful beach and is surrounded by native forest. The easy walking track takes us down to the water and follows the rugged shore towards Picnic Point.
This peninsula jutting into the lake has a highpoint offering 360-degree views of the lake and surrounding mountains, with the Kawarau Remarkables range dominating the eastern skyline. After taking it all in we head back down to the water for a swim.
The water temperature in this glacier-fed lake is refreshing even in mid-summer but the feeling on a hot day is phenomenal!
Day 2 – Mountain Biking Queenstown Bike Park
It’s time to get the heart rate up. The mountain bikes come out of the garage and we’re off for a big day. No need for a vehicle here, the extensive network of mountain bike trails means we can get going right from town. The biking in the region is absolutely world-class with an incredible range of styles and difficulty. Whether you’re a first-timer looking to try some cross country and dabble in some downhill or a seasoned rider, there’s truly something for everyone.
Today we’re heading up towards Ben Lomond and the forest above Fernhill. From central Queenstown, we pass through the Queenstown Bike Park. This labyrinth of downhill trails is phenomenal, and with a gondola capable of carrying bikes, it’s a great way of maximising your downhill for the day! A couple of the crew take the gondola and those of us looking for more of a gut-buster ride up the access road, a tough uphill grind.
From the top of the gondola, the Beeched As trail winds its way up towards the mountain. This predominantly uphill trail is breathtaking. As it uses the natural contours of the terrain, we can really enjoy the climb as we cut through expanses of tussock and swathes of forest. Occasional downhill and rough, rooty sections keep us on our toes before we reach the highpoint and yet another stunning vista.
Soaking it in, we rest on the McGazza Table, a memorial monument to one of the region’s most iconic bikers, Kelly McGarry.
Now we have the choice of multiple, purpose-built downhill tracks that navigate the 900m vertical of beech forest to the glistening lake below. With suspension softened and focus engaged, we hoot and holler our way down. The descent takes an hour or so as we stop to assess trail features and make sure the whole team is present and managing in key locations. This is some phenomenal mountain biking but not for the faint-hearted and definitely requires some experience and a good quality mountain bike!
Out of the trees and all of a sudden, we’re back in town with brews at craft beer and mountain biking hot spot, Atlas Bar and Café, the perfect end to a great day!
Queenstown is a must for any keen or budding mountain biker. Please also consider becoming a member of the Queenstown Mountain Bike Club. This level of biking infrastructure requires constant tender love and care in the form of volunteers with shovels, rakes, and pick axes.
These people love Queenstown for the same reasons and often give up their evenings (and riding time) to make sure that the standard stays high. Even better, get involved with volunteer work, learn some cool skills and meet like-minded people! Follow the Queenstown Mountain Bike Club on Facebook to keep up to date!
Day 3 – SUPing on Moke Lake
The summer weather continues and so do the missions! On the paddleboards today, another short drive from town takes us to the beautiful Moke Lake. This alpine zone is home to a cool little campground, walking and biking trails, and a functioning high country station as well as the lake itself.
The inflatable stand-up paddleboards are easy to transport and once inflated (which provides a good warm up) are stable and intuitive to use. We load up the boards with some towels, food, beers, and books and push out onto the mirror-like surface.
Being out on the lake provides a unique perspective and allows us to get to previously isolated and hard to reach bays and coves. Upon finding a sheltered and secluded spot, we spend the day swimming, floating on the boards, and enjoying a relaxed afternoon in the sun. It’s these opportunities that make living in Queenstown so special. Adventure doesn’t always have to be a massive excursion into the deep wilderness, here in Queenstown it can be just an afternoon away.
SUP rental or purchase can be found at NZ Shred on Shotover Street. Remember that life jackets and SUPing experience are required if you’re using them on even slow-moving rivers.
Day 4 – Rock Climbing Wye Creek
For the next two days climbing is on the cards. Climbing is one of my absolute favourite things to do. It’s often hard and challenging, not just physically but emotionally as well. The feeling of pushing through the fear and remaining calm is so rewarding for me. One of the biggest draws of the region for many Explorers is its extensive amount and variety of quality climbing.
In both summer and winter, from small lakeside cliffs to the towering and long walls of the Kawarau Remarkables range (yet again), there’s something for everyone!
A precarious position
But a perfect view! | Photos by Jaime Marr
Today finds us on the track up into the Wye Creek drainage, home to hundreds of mainly sport climbing routes. The famous water pipe track and helipad is popular for a reason and well worth the walk let alone the access it provides to climbing. The view here can do all the talking for me!
The pace of the day is great as we soak up our surroundings while taking turns at challenging ourselves both physically and mentally on just a smattering of the many climbs here. A perfect preamble for the next day’s alpine adventure…
Day 5 – Alpine Climbing The Remarkables
This morning we rise early to catch a stunning sunrise and we’re off for a full day of multi-pitch alpine rock climbing. It’s impossible to spend even the shortest amount of time in the basin and not be captivated by the jagged skyline of The Remarkables.
My partner and I plan on climbing the East Face of Double Cone from the stunning alpine Lake Alta before traversing to Single Cone and descending from there.
Up and up we go, rope length after rope length. Our voices echo through the cirque and there is a fantastic feeling of isolation, despite only having left home three hours ago! It’s this kind of climbing that’s so rewarding, and topping out on the knife-edge ridge makes it all worth it.
We’re greeted with a bird’s eye perspective of the basin and a breathtaking view of glittering blue lakes below, with snow and glacier-capped mountains in the distance to the west.
Morning golden hour | Photo by Jaime Marr
After making the descent back to the car it’s time for a beer at Altitude Brewing. The perfect reward as we look at the evening glow on the western faces we summited earlier that day. There’s always a greater and renewed level of appreciation for our environment after these days. Moving through the mountains always inspires me and encourages me to continue looking for ways to look after them.
These alpine objectives are a serious undertaking and should be treated as such. If you’re new to these kinds of adventures but want to experience them with the safety and skill of a guide, go and see Mike at Queenstown Mountain Guides for an adventurous but safe day out!
Day 6 – Max Chillin’ in Queenstown
The weather’s coming in and with it a welcomed rest day! It’s tough to take it easy when the sun is shining in this town. A great leisure day activity and a popular favourite amongst the locals is a round of frisbee golf in the Queenstown Gardens.
Although you’ll see some hardcore enthusiasts rocking a bag with many discs for many occasions, this is something that anyone can do for the first time and have a blast. With a $5 rental fee at Small Planet Outdoors, it’s very kind on the wallet.
After a week like this it’s pretty easy to sit back and reflect on why I love it here.
Feature photo by Jamie Marr