The mere mention of a visit to New Zealand is enough to get my quarter kiwis in a tizz, having become raving fans of the place last year on a visit to the South Island’s Dunedin. And they’re so obsessed with below zero temperatures they’re practically Elsa.
So you can imagine the reaction when I mentioned that not only would we be visiting the South Island’s action mecca of Queenstown, but that we’d be doing it during ski season.
Renowned for its world class ski resorts, pristine lakes, and pant wettingly scary adrenalin sports, there’s actually heaps of fab things to do in Queenstown with kids. From its thousands of years of history, to its indoor and outdoor fun, great cuisine scene and crazily friendly locals, Queenstown left the kids so dazzled, they’re ready to apply for Kiwi passports.
But don’t take my word for it. Here, Raffles (11) and Sugarpuff (8) share their thoughts on the best bits of Queenstown with kids.
Queenstown’s epic snowfields
In winter, Queenstown is snow central. The gateway to some of the southern hemisphere’s best skiing and snowboarding at Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, Cardrona and Treble Cone, there’s something for skiers and snowboarders of all ages and levels of experience with each offering drop dead gorgeous alpine scenery, great infrastructure and varied terrains. We have a soft spot for Coronet Peak, just 20 minutes from town, which is not only insanely beautiful but the ski school was one of the best we’ve come across.
He said: “The thing I was most excited about on our visit to Queenstown was the skiing, of course. I’ve skied in Japan and loads of different places in Australia but really had no idea what to expect of New Zealand. We decided on skiing at Coronet Peak because it is the closest ski area to town and it was amazing! Seriously, it must be one of the most beautiful ski areas on earth. The views are stunning and there were plenty of rolling runs that I could tackle with my private instructor while my sister did lessons at the Kea club. I loved the long blue runs and snappy red runs and even snuck in a few blacks (just don’t tell mum, ok).”
She said: “I loved skiing at Coronet Peak. It was like being in a movie because it was so magical. At the Kea club, my instructor’s name was Scott and he was the best instructor ever because he taught me how to ski really well and took me and the other kids all the way up the mountain to ski. And, even better, he bought me and the other kids in our group a hot chocolate and a cookie each. The best bit about Coronet Peak was attacking my brother with snow. But I didn’t like that the toilets matched my ski jacket.”
Action-packed fun in Queenstown with kids
Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world, and there’s no age limit on action, with something for thrill seekers of all ages. Activities like jet boating, stand up river surfing, white water rafting, canyoning and zip lining barely scratch the surface of the town’s heart-thumping fun. There’s also the heart stopping Canyon Swing and the bizarro Hydro Attack, a shark-like submersible that races speeding beneath the surface of Lake Wakitipu. And, of course, those folks less inclined to soil themselves than me can also take the leap of faith with bungy jumping off the Kawarau Bridge, the birthplace of the extreme sport. My two daredevils certainly found plenty to get their hearts racing with ZipTrek Ecotours and Skyline Luge getting a big thumbs up from them both.
He said: “Queenstown is really, really famous for all its action-packed activities but mum wouldn’t let me tackle the Shotover Jet or a bungee jump (and what I mean by “mum” is that I was actually just chicken and didn’t want to). We did hit the Skyline Luge though, riding up and racing down Bob’s Peak for hours in the falling snow. It was so much fun. While we were on Bob’s Peak, we also tackled ZipTrek, a super fun eco-adventure through the forest canopy on a series of super-fast and super-long ziplines. I recommend everyone should visit this, not only because it is a ton of fun, but because the guides are amazing and educate zippers on the local environment and how to live more sustainability. We ran out of time for some of the other cool activities I wanted to tackle, like the Canyon Swing and the crazy Hydro Attack semi-submersible jet boat, but I they’re on the top of my list for next time!”
She said: “Zip Trek was so much fun, I really liked the super long zipline and our guides taught me how to do somersaults and zip upside down which was really cool. And I loved the Skyline Luge, because it’s so much fast and fun and it was snowing the whole time and that made it really magical. .”
The best family accommodation in Queenstown
There’s a huge range of accommodation in Queenstown to suit every family’s style and budget with everything from holiday parks and bed and breakfasts, to family friendly hotels and motels and luxury apartments. But we can’t go past the impeccable service and style of The Rees.
He said: “There are a whole lot of awesome hotels available if you are travelling to Queenstown with kids, but I can’t think of a single reason to stay anywhere but The Rees. It is incredible. The apartments are huge and so comfortable, plus we get our own roaring fire and a big veranda to soak up the views. Plus, the beds are so comfortable they’re like sleeping in marshmallows. But its more than just a place to sleep, there’s a really cool lobby lounge where people gather for delicious après ski snacks and hot chocolates by the fire. There’s games and a library too so we always had something to do.”
She said: “The Rees was so nice because the people were really kind, and they made us special hot chocolates and mocktails and there were roaring fires and hot water bottles to cuddle in the lobby. There was a super huge spa bath in Mama’s room too, so after we went skiing I could have a big bubbly soak. Plus, in our room was a cute cuddly Kea parrot, which was a kind of fund raiser to save endangered Kea birds. Mama bought it to help them and I got to bring it home.”
Where to eat in Queenstown with kids
Queenstown’s food scene is amazing, with every cuisine and fresh local produce showcased at hundreds of great restaurants, bars and cafes. With everything from fine diners, family-friendly restaurants, laid back burger joints and awesome dessert only diners, you’ll find something to tickle the tastebuds of even the fussiest members of the fam. Of course being us, we had to sample as much as possible and went on a gluttonous journey through town.
He said: “We enjoyed plenty of great food in Queenstown, popping into icons The Cow, for pizza and the best ever garlic bread, and Fergburger for one of their famously inventive burgers. I ate Bambi (a burger with a venison patty with a Thai plum sauce). And we enjoyed an amazing meal at Kappa, a little hole in the wall Japanese place, that’s a bit of a local secret. We went on the recommendation of Executive Chef, Ben Batterbury, from True South at The Rees, and gobbled down fresh and fabulous sashimi, agadashi tofu, crispy ka’arage and an amazing clam udon noodle soup. But it was the cooking of Ben himself – he popped over to our apartment and taught me how to make the most incredible lamb neck ravioli with kale and a chorizo tomato sauce – and our heavenly meal at True South Dining Room that was the culinary highlight of our stay.”
She said: “At Patagonia Chocolates in Queenstown I got a giant icecream and the cone was dipped in white chocolate with sprinkles. And up the street from that was a place called The Remarkable Sweet Shop, which had every lolly in the world ever and super yummy fudge. I loved the food, especially the desserts, at True South Dining Room, and the breakfasts were super yummy. They make the best poached eggs ever. But my favourite thing was the trout rillettes with crunchy toast that we could order in the lounge at The Rees. I had it every day and it was so delicious I want to eat it again and again.”
Uncovering Queenstown’s cool history
The first people to roam Queenstown were Polynesians who hunted in the area around 900 years ago. Later, Maori people travelled to Queenstown to hunt moa; the large, flightless birds eventually hunted to extinction. The first European settlers arrived in the mid 17th century, with William Rees, an explorer, surveyor, early settler, and the namesake of the utterly awesome The Rees Hotel, seen as the founder of Queenstown. Shortly after Rees began running sheep in the area gold was discovered on the Shotover River and the town sprang to life. The Lakes District Museum in historic Arrowtown is one of the best places to learn more and the kids lapped up every historic tale and legend eagerly.
He said: “We got to ride on the historic steam ship the TSS Earnslaw and hear about its history but the area’s history goes back so much further. Lake Wakatipu was originally formed 15,000 years ago by a huge glacier. But I prefer the Maori legend that tells instead of a fierce giant named Matau who kidnaped Manata, the chief’s daughter. The distraught chief offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to any man from the tribe who could rescue her. So, a brave warrior snuck into the giant’s lair and rescued Manata, before setting fire to the sleeping giant. This burned a deep gouge into the earth and caused the ice and snow on the mountains to melt, forming Lake Wakatipu, AKA, the Hollow of the Giant.”
She said: “I loved Lake Wakitipu but didn’t really like the creation story of Manata and the Giant, because I think it’s sad. I think the giant was probably lonely and just wanted some company. Maybe if they’d been nicer he wouldn’t have kidnapped her because he wouldn’t have been lonely. And anyway, Manata could have rescued herself because girls are brave and smart.”
Exploring Lake Wakitipu with kids
The Z-shaped Lake Wakatipu is the jewel of Queenstown. Carved by glacial forces 15,000 years ago, Wakatipu is the third largest lake in New Zealand. It’s also the longest at 84 kilometres and incredibly deep, measuring 420 metres at its deepest point. The lake is said to have its own ‘heartbeat’ as it rises and falls by about 20cm every 27 minutes. There are plenty of ways to see and explore the lake, and we did our best to try them all.
He said: “Queenstown is located on the edge of Lake Wakitipu, the third largest lake in New Zealand. The lake is shaped like a lightning bolt, which is quite Harry Potter, but it actually starred as the backdrop for several scenes in The Lord of the Rings. There’s loads to do on the lake, from jetboating and paragliding to paddle boarding and walks, but we really enjoyed cycling around it on bikes we rented from our hotel, The Rees. We also really enjoyed a scenic cruise on the TSS Earnslaw, a vintage coal-fired steamship that’s really cool. It even made a cameo in the movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as an Amazon River boat. The cruise took us to Walter Peak High Country Farm where we got to enjoy afternoon tea and meet and pet some of the farm’s friendliest residents including a trio of cattle dogs, alpacas, and a couple of rather slobbery Scottish Highland Cattle.”
She said: “I really loved cycling around the lake on bicycles we got from The Rees, because it was so pretty. I also liked playing with the ducks on the lake but saw the weirdest thing ever one morning when a man took off all his clothes, except his speedos, and jumped in to the freezing cold water, while it was snowing. Brrrrrrr. The best way to see the lake was by boat though. We went on the TSS Earnslaw, which is really old, and we could go into its engine room. It took us past pretty snow-capped mountains all the way to Walter Peak High Country Farm where we ate yummy scones and got to play with lots of farm animals and I made best friends with a cattle dog who I really loved so much.”