Queenstown has always been one of my top destinations in New Zealand, and it happened to be my first stop on my solo-backpacking expedition. This small town is nestled in the magnificent Southern Alps with a big, beautiful lake to look at and play on when the weather permits.
It's very similar to the look and feel of Aspen (my home away from home) - a hip little ski town that attracts travelers from all over the world - except with a huge lake and affordable shopping and eating, that is. Even more so than Aspen, it's a very transient town. There are two types of people I've met: A. people here for a night or two while passing through on their way to another destination or B. people who came on holiday or a working visa and never left. Obviously there are locals, I just haven't stumbled upon any quite yet. I've met people from the States, Sweden, France, all over the UK, Canada, China, Korea, and don't forget about Germany. I think 1 out of every 2 people I've met have been German. This has been the only time in my life I've ever thought twice about not taking German as a second or third language, but they all speak English so it's all G.
On Saturdays and occasional Fridays, there's a great outdoor market (at least in the summer) where you can pick up jewelry, clothing, art prints, and other gifts from local vendors. I got some feathers put in my hair (why not?) and picked up some cards for snail mail - let me know if you'd like a letter!
I've spent a lot of my days laying in the grassy area by the wharf cat-napping, reading, and listening to live music. It's also a great place to bring your Fergburger, apparently, which I still have yet to try. It's on the list though, don't you worry. I wouldn't miss out on trying a world-famous burger. I did try Devil Burger, however, which is supposedly just as good or better. I'll let you know.
Tourism runs this town - and the country - so naturally I had to do something ultra-touristy. I chose a helicopter flight that boasted aerial views of Mt Aspiring National Park, the Queenstown Basin, and Paradise Valley. We landed on a glacier in the Forbes mountain before we headed back to the airport. You can take a girl out of Minnesnowta, but you can't take the Minnesnowta out of the girl, I guess. All I could think during the whole flight was, "IT'S SO BEAUTIFUL" or "WE'RE GOING DOWN." Against my will, I kept playing all the helicopter crash scenes from movies I've seen over the years. I'm a serial worrier - I always drum up worst case scenario and worry myself nearly to death.
Other summer activities: bungee jumping, zip-lining, paragliding, boat cruises, bike riding, you name it. If it's cool and it's outdoorsy, you're bound to find it in Queenstown.
And my favorite, the Queenstown Hill Walking Track. Another Aspen comparison - it's a mix between the Smuggler Mountain Trail and The Ute Trail. The hardest part of the hike, in my opinion, is when you're trekking up the ultra-steep, San Franciscan-like streets to get to the trailhead. After that, you're golden. There are two major ways to reach the top and several different view points. Once you reach the Basket of Dreams Sculpture, you've pretty much made it. I highly recommend making the extra little push to the summit for the breathtaking panoramic views.