Queenstown is situated on sloping land fringing the head of Queenstown Bay and on the isthmus of the peninsula that divides that bay from Frankton Arm, on the eastern shore of Lake Wakatipu in Western Otago. Immediately north-east of the town the land rises steeply to Queenstown Hill (2,958 ft). To the north-west and the north are the flanks of Ben Lomond (5,747 ft) and Bowen Peak. Between Queenstown Hill and Bowen Peak a valley gives access to the Shotover River. To the north-east the sloping land along the lakeside fans out towards the shore of Frankton Arm and the outlet (Kawarau River) to form the Frankton Flat. By steamer Queenstown is 23 miles north of Kingston and 29 miles south-east of Glenorchy. By road the town is 39 ½ miles west of Cromwell; 30 ½ miles north of Kingston. Invercargill is 121 miles south-west, and Dunedin is 206 miles south-east via Gore, and 183 ½ miles south-east via Cromwell and Milton.
The main primary industry of the district is extensive sheep farming, but in various valleys throughout the district cattle raising is important. Sheep fattening and cash cropping are carried on in localities to the north and north-east in the Lower Shotover and Arrow areas bordering the northern bank of the Kawarau River. Scheelite is mined to a limited extent on the western flanks of the Richardson Range near Glenorchy. Queenstown is essentially a tourist centre and the base for a variety of excursions in mainly mountainous country.
There is evidence that at one time the peninsula at Queenstown was the site of a Maori settlement, but when the first Europeans came to the district this headland was deserted and covered with scrub. In 1856 John Chubbin and a party in search of sheep country reached the foot of Lake Wakatipu at Kingston Bay. Donald Hay, with Donald Cameron, reached Kingston Bay in July 1859. Hay explored the lake, including the Queenstown area. In 1860 W. G. Rees and N. von Tunzelmann arrived at Queenstown Bay from Central Otago via the Crown Range and Kawarau Gorge. Rees took up land on the eastern shore and von Tunzelmann acquired a large area on the western side. Rees established himself on the present town site and brought in flocks of sheep. On 15 November 1862 Thomas Arthur and Harry Redfern, shearers at Rees' station, found gold on the banks of the Shotover River. This discovery caused a rush to the Shotover area and Rees' station became the first source of provisions for the influx of miners and his whaleboat the principal means of transport to and from Kingston. A mining settlement quickly grew at Queenstown and, by the beginning of 1863, several streets had been laid out and permanent buildings established. The population increased to several thousands, but steadily diminished as the gold-mining industry in the district declined. By 1900 Queenstown had only 190 inhabitants. The lake provided the principal means of communication. In 1863 there were four steamers and about 30 other craft in service. Most of the vessels were built locally. The s.s. Earnslaw, which is still in service, was prefabricated in Dunedin, brought overland in sections, and rebuilt at Kingston in 1912. Direct railway communication between Kingston and Invercargill via Winton was established on 10 July 1878 and, on 31 July 1880, the construction of a line between Gore and Lumsden provided a railway link with Dunedin and an alternative route to Invercargill. A highway around the lake shore between Queenstown and Glenorchy was completed during 1962 and marks the centenary of the founding of the town. Queenstown was constituted a borough in 1866. The name Queenstown is said to have been given at a local ceremony, centred on an anvil, at the town site. It is supposed that, as the majority of the diggers were Irish, the name commemorates Queenstown on Great Island in Cork Harbour. (There are several versions of this story.)
An outstanding feature of Queenstown is the park occupying the peninsula. Beautification of this reserve (now controlled and managed by the Tourist and Publicity Department) began with Bendix Hallenstein, a pioneer storekeeper and flourmiller, who was responsible for many local benefactions.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 1,003; 1956 census, 1,198; 1961 census, 1,322.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.