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City guide – Queenstown

If New Zealand has its own take on a Swiss resort town, this is indisputably it. Queenstown sits at the side of Lake Wakatipu, a respectfully scrubbed-up child looking out from the giant peaks surrounding it.

As settings go, it is pretty special. Queenstown lies not in the shadow of gentle hills, but of stark, attention-grabbing mountains. the Remarkables range, in particular, is dramatic. It looks like a sheer wall with a few chips taken out of the top. the town itself is surprisingly unshowy. the lakeside resorts here tend to favour sleek, clean lines and a modernistic feel rather than Las Vegas-style brashness and glitz, while the downtown area is something of a Swiss cheese.

Seemingly hundreds of little alleyways connect the streets, many of them undercover as if unassuming corridors in one giant building. these are worth exploring – a few of the most interesting cafés and small shops can be found hidden away in them. Queenstown was partially built on farming – a few remote stations were scattered around the lake – but it is now indisputably a resort town.

It also has the good fortune to be busy all year round, as adventure tourism and lake breaks in summer gives way to an avalanche of skiers in winter. Four major ski resorts are within easy reach – treble cone, cardrona, the Remarkables and coronet Peak.

Unlike European ski areas, where people tend to stay at the resort itself, Queenstown itself acts as the main hub and shuttle buses take the snow bunnies to the slopes. And, unsurprisingly, the après-ski scene here is enormous. Queenstown’s bars have a tendency to be busy into the early hours.

And because adrenaline sports tend to attract the party crowd as well, the high-octane vibe tends to continue long after the snow has melted. After all, Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand – and arguably, the world.

If you want to terrify yourself, then there a thousand-and-one ways to do it here. But Queenstown can also do laidback and luxurious. the lake is ringed with high quality accommodation – and it’s easy to opt or peace over playtime should you choose. take the TSS Earnslaw for example...

A cruise on the tSS Earnslaw is a charming way to pass the time as we chunter along Lake Wakatipu, but it doesn’t exactly fit Queenstown’s all-action, adrenaline rush image. this old coal-fired steamer shows the other side of Queenstown; one that shies away from the toga parties in backpacker bars and constant need to jump from higher heights. the Earnslaw is steeped in history.

It was originally commissioned to help tie the remote communities around Lake Wakatipu together. In the early 1900s, most of the region’s inhabitants were farmers, road links to the outside world were poor, and the Earnslaw provided a valuable service carrying passengers and car goto the various settlements around the lake. As the road network improved, however, the Earnslaw ceased to be commercially viable and in 1969 it started a new career as a tourist operation. It’s still steam-powered, and passengers can go below decks to have a peek at the engine.

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