The historic Kawarau Suspension Bridge. © Queenstown Heritage Trails

Southern Lakes Kiwi Gems


Find the best activities and attractions around Queenstown and Wānaka that you've never heard of. Think alpine walks, heritage sites, a sprawling toy museum and a tour of Lake Wakatipu inside a shark. Discover these 10 Kiwi Gems in the Southern Lakes Region.

Kawarau Suspension Bridge

Kawarau Suspension Bridge near Queenstown is best known as the birthplace of A.J. Hackett’s bungy tourism venture. However the 141-year-old bridge was actually famous long before thrill-seekers began throwing themselves off it. Built in 1880, Kawarau Suspension Bridge was an innovative feat of engineering which in its day made international headlines. The need for a reliable bridge across the notoriously impassable Kawarau River became apparent shortly after gold was discovered around Queenstown in the 1860s. The challenge for engineer Harry Higginson was that the river’s sheer rocky gorge funnelled destructive side winds. In other countries several near-new bridges had been destroyed by such winds. Combining a range of innovative strengthening solutions Higginson came up with a suspension bridge that was 42m high with a 120m long span. The design proved economical and enduring, winning Higginson a Telford Premium – the world’s top engineering award.

Onsen Hot Pools 

After an active day in New Zealand’s adventure capital you’ll want to soothe sore muscles at the Onsen Hot Pools. Overlooking the aptly named Remarkables, feel your mind and body unwind in the private, cedar-lined hot tubs filled with pure water from the surrounding mountain ranges. Daylight hours provide Instagram-worthy snaps across the jewel-toned Shotover River, while nightfall brings the opportunity to soak under a blanket of stars. Enjoy a massage or facial at the award-winning beauty spa on site for the ultimate relaxation and pamper experience.

Mount Crichton Loop Track

Looking for a Queenstown day trip away from the crowds? The Mount Crichton Loop Track is a lovely walk that takes in gold-mining relics, native bush and a pretty waterfall on a well-formed 6.4km track. You’ll walk alongside Twelve Mile Creek through variations of red beech and mānuka forest, with views across to the pretty Lake Dispute. Take a short diversion to discover the historic Sam Summers Hut, built from local stone by gold prospector Sam Summers in the 1930s. Pick up the Mount Crichton loop trail from the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy, 12km from Queenstown. 

National Transport and Toy Museum

Did you know that the National Transport and Toy Museum in Wānaka is home to the largest number of toys on public display in New Zealand? A staggering collection of more than 60,000 toys can be found here, from antique dolls to scale model cars and modern playthings like Sylvanian Families, Tonka Trucks and Lego. There’s also the largest display of Star Wars memorabilia in Aotearoa. Alongside toys, the museum also has a fantastic vintage cars, aircraft and military exhibits, filling four huge all-weather buildings. A great activity for a rainy day.  

Greenstone and Caples Tracks

Queenstown’s Greenstone and Caples Tracks provide a multi-day wilderness experience to rival the popular Great Walks, but without so much foot traffic. The 36km Greenstone Track is an easy walk through the wide and beautiful Greenstone River valley. Cross the sub-alpine McKellar Saddle and combine this with the 27km Caples Track that winds through the parallel Caples Valley to make a four- to five-day loop. There are several back country huts where you can stay along the way on a first-come-first-served basis. While you’ll get to experience some of New Zealand’s loveliest scenery, be aware that this is a moderately demanding tramp with some days averaging six to seven hours of walking, so you’ll need to have a good level of fitness. 

Hydro Attack

If you’ve done bungy jumping and jet boating; had your fill of mountain biking and scenic vistas, why not go for a ride in a shark? Hydro Attack in Queenstown is the world’s first commercial Seabreacher operator. The team have six Seabreachers – painted to look like various species of sharks – that are bit like a cross between a torpedo and a fighter jet. Strapped into one of these small, semi-submersible vessels, which are operated by experienced pilots, you zoom above and below the surface of Lake Wakatipu. Probably best avoided if you’re prone to motion sickness, the Hydro Attack ride includes airborne vertical jumps and underwater plunges, as well as flying along the surface of the lake at 80km/h.

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Blue Pools

If you’re heading across Haast Pass towards the West Coast, keep an eye out for a signpost near the Wānaka end of the Haast Pass road, just inside the boundary of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Mount Aspiring National Park. It points into the bush where a short walk on the Blue Pools Track will bring you to one of those scenic masterpieces that Aotearoa excels at. The Makarora River arises in the icefields of the Young Range and empties into Lake Wānaka, and here it flows lazily through a series of deep, rocky pools, painted blue by their mineral content and studded with brown trout. The pools are reached by a gentle walk along a graded gravel path, interspersed with boardwalks, which winds through beech forest to a swing bridge high above the river. From the centre of the span, you can marvel at the clarity of the water and enjoy a spectacular view, serenaded by tūī, korimako and sandfly.

Lakes District Museum

This small museum in the picturesque Arrowtown explores the heritage and history of the Southern Lakes District, from Queenstown to Wānaka. Housed in the former Bank of New Zealand building, the Lakes District Museum tells the stories of both early Māori and pioneering European settlers. The area’s extensive gold-mining heritage is explored through interactive displays in three historic buildings including the original post office. The museum also hires out pans if you want to try your luck panning for gold in the nearby Arrow River, and will lend you the key to unlock the nearby Arrowtown gaol. 

Lake Alta Track

Climb to the picturesque glacial Lake Alta for an alpine adventure. While it's not a long walk, this is a somewhat difficult trail, including a steep and rocky climb. Lake Alta is in the heart of the Remarkables Conservation area and the track begins from the Remarkables ski field, an environment that’s a unique experience in itself when not covered in snow. From the top of the Alta Chairlift you’ll pass through alpine wetlands with curious-looking rare plants. The lake itself sits 1,800 metres above sea level. As this is a true alpine environment, make sure you come prepared for fickle weather.

Paradise Ziplines

Imagine shooting through the sky above a pristine river valley in Paradise. Literally. With Paradise Ziplines you can travel via eight scenic ziplines on a wilderness adventure in the Oxburn Stream valley. Heights and speeds of each line vary, with some offering incredible views of the Mount Aspiring National Park and over the beech forest canopy while others descend thrillingly to just a couple of metres above the rushing river. You’ll get to experience landscapes that are otherwise inaccessible to the public. Paradise Ziplines tours depart from Glenorchy.

Keen for more? You'll want to add these Queenstown Must-Do's to your travel plans: 

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