285 km north-west of Dunedin and 187 km north of Invercargill, Queenstown sits halfway along Lake Wakatipu, and had a 2013 population of 11,505.
Queenstown’s dramatic setting, surrounded by mountains on the edge of glacial Lake Wakatipu, is unequalled – particularly in autumn, when the deciduous trees are colourful.
William Rees had run sheep in the area for just two years when gold was discovered on the Shotover River in November 1862. A town sprang to life; the site of Rees’s old homestead, the Camp, is in the centre of Queenstown.
Growth over time
After gold fever waned, the town declined. Through the first half of the 20th century it had fewer than 1,000 people, with a trickle of summer holidaymakers. In 1981 Queenstown’s resident population was still less than 3,500. Since then, tourist numbers increased rapidly – in winter as well as summer. In 2007 Queenstown attracted about 1 million visitors staying at least one night; about half were domestic tourists and half were international. In 2019 the town had nearly 20,000 permanent residents and 3 million visitors.
Albert and Julia Eichardt established a hotel in Queenstown in the 1860s. It was the town’s first building to have electricity, with 70 lighted rooms by 1890. Eichardt’s became a hub for the ‘Grand Motor Tour’ in automobiles, and was served by a bus service and the lake steamer from Kingston. After the Second World War the premises survived a number of demolition plans; in the early 2000s it was a private hotel.
Around the town
The merchant Bendix Hallenstein gave the Queenstown peninsula to the town in 1866–67. Since then it has been the site of public gardens, with a number of sport facilities.
Queenstown Hill/Te Tapanui (907 m) is the site of ‘Basket of dreams’, a millennium sculpture. Since 1967 a gondola has run to a restaurant on Bobs Peak (812 m); there is a luge route at the top. The town has two casinos in Beach Street, one of which is at the Steamers Wharf. A house made entirely of bottles was a Queenstown sight until demolished around 2005. Bus services link Queenstown to outlying districts such as Sunshine Bay, Fernhill and Frankton, where the many transient workers live.
Frankton, with flat land, is the site of the Remarkables Park shopping mall, the Queenstown events centre and the airport. The airport handled over 1 million passengers per year in the 2010s, and has non-stop flights to major centres in New Zealand and on the east coast of Australia. Sightseeing flights take visitors to Milford Sound in Fiordland, avoiding the 12-hour return bus journey.
The Kawarau Falls drain Lake Wakatipu via the Frankton Arm. The falls were dammed in 1926 to allow gold recovery, but very little was extracted.
The Arrow Basin
The Arrow Basin has developed rapidly since the 1990s. The ski field at Coronet Peak, grape plantings and a luxury golf course at Millbrook have brought many visitors, workers and residents.
Lake Hayes, known to Māori as Wai-whaka-ata, has long been a site of many holiday houses. It regularly appears on ‘beautiful New Zealand’ calendars.
From 1882 there was a hotel at Arthurs Point; it closed in 2008. There are substantial new housing subdivisions both there and elsewhere in the basin.
1,649-m peak, where the Mount Cook tourist company developed a ski field in 1939.
Town on the Arrow River, 21 km north-east of Queenstown, with a 2013 population of 2,445. It was originally known as Fox’s after the first gold digger, who arrived in 1862.
Arrowtown has more than 50 historic buildings, and new construction in the town centre is sympathetic to the earlier architectural styles. The 1870s Chinese mining district has been partially restored, and the town is home to the Lakes District Museum. The annual Autumn Festival allows the town to celebrate at its most scenic, when the nearby hills are ablaze with colour.
Macetown, a gold-rush locality on the upper Arrow River, can be reached by four-wheel drive.