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Queenstown: an experience for all the senses

Maybe you're keen to bungy or ski. Maybe you like wining and dining. Queenstown has got all the senses covered with these top attractions.

Words by Marina Hanger

A tour of New Zealand is not complete without a visit to Queenstown, long considered one of the most scenic destinations in the world, and one of the friendliest. 

A growing number of travellers with disabilities are ticking Queenstown off their bucket lists, and local tourism operators are responding with more disability-friendly visitor experiences and service options – so much so that Queenstown has truly become a destination for all the senses.

Views don’t get better than these ones of Queenstown from the gondolas! Credit: Julie Jones

Queenstown’s stunning vistas are available from every vantage point; from the downtown lakefront to the top of the gondola, you are spoilt for choice in where you can access the arresting views of the surrounding mountains – aptly named The Remarkables. 

Downtown Queenstown is alive with opportunities year-round to shop, eat, drink and explore. There is plenty of variety within a short distance, and the wide pedestrian zones and walkways along the lakefront make it easy to take in the local sights and sounds of the town centre.

Queenstown year-round

Winter offers plenty of snow-related action and there is always lots happening on and off the mountains during the annual Winter Festival in June. Summer visitors revel in the excuse to do everything outdoors, dining alfresco or just enjoying the sunshine. The town is filled with people from early morning until well into the evening, making the most of the balmy twilights that stretch late into the night.

Lakeside Queenstown offers year-round attractions. Credit: Julie Jones

For the nature-lovers

To venture further into nature, there are walkways and tracks suitable for a range of fitness levels and accessibility that lead you deep into the landscape, including those suitable for travellers in wheelchairs and on mobility scooters. The birdlife in the area and the proximity to the surrounding wilderness provides a peaceful backdrop of stillness punctuated by the high, clear notes of native tui and bellbird.

For a change of perspective, why not sign up for a helicopter ride or scenic flight to take in the views from the air? Or you could head out onto the lake with a day cruise or private boat charter.

For the active adventurers

For more of a physical challenge, you can choose from guided hikes in the mountains or tandem bike tours, some of which have sight-assisted options for the vision-impaired. Spending the day travelling the network of walkways and cycle trails that weave through the surrounding valleys inevitably involves calling in at a well-placed cafe or local winery along the way. There can be no better reward for your efforts than to sample some of the delicious local fare on offer.

For the adrenaline junkies

If it’s an adrenaline rush you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. Queenstown is where the first commercial bungy jumping and jetboat tours originated, and the choice of adventure experiences here continues to grow. Many operators provide options for a range of disabilities – and, yes, that includes bungy jumping off a bridge from a wheelchair! For some activities there may be specific requirements like a doctor’s certificate, so it pays to make enquiries before you travel in order to avoid disappointment. 

Looking up the Dart River, a day trip from Queenstown perfect for thrill-seekers. Credit: Marina Hanger

For the foodies

Like all international tourist destinations, Queenstown is not without its share of culinary experiences. From 5-star restaurants and gastropubs to local eateries and takeaway outlets, your tastebuds will be well catered for with an array of food choices using locally sourced fresh produce to suit all palates and budgets. As the locals are generally a friendly bunch, you’ll find most chefs are willing to cater to different dietary requirements. If you can’t decide which to try first, your accommodation provider can point you in the right direction, so be sure to tap into their local knowledge.

A visit to Queenstown is not complete without sampling the local wines and craft beers. Central Otago boasts some of New Zealand’s best wineries, including award-winning pinot noir, chardonnay and other varietals. There are new microbreweries popping up all over the place, and most local pubs will have craft beers on tap.

Arrowtown is a historic village in the Otago region full of gourmet delights. Credit: Marina Hanger

If pampering is your idea of holiday heaven, why not book a spa treatment during your stay? There are more than 30 spas and wellness centres in and around Queenstown, offering all manner of treatments and indulgences designed to make you feel well and truly spoilt.

Whatever sensory experiences you seek, Queenstown is the perfect place to find them. 

Marina’s top recommendations for Queenstown:

  • Take a cruise across Lake Wakatipu on the steamship TSS Earnslaw.
  • Soak up the panoramic views from the lakeside trails, which can be taken in either direction from the town centre.
  • Step into the depths of winter with a visit to Minus 5 Ice Bar.
  • Learn about local wine production and enjoy the flavours of the region on a Gibbston Valley Wine Cave Tour and Tasting.
  • Enjoy a ride in a Skyline gondola to the lookout for views of The Remarkables.

Writer Marina established Ability Adventures in 2008 as a way to support people with disabilities and older people to enjoy the adventure of travel. She has more than 20 years’ experience in the tourism industry and 30 years’ experience as an occupational therapist.

This story first appeared in Travel Without Limits magazine. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.

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