by Michelle Locke
Queenstown, New Zealand—aka the "Adventure Capital of the World"—is more than ready to scare the pants off you. Jet boating? Check. Cliff-top swinging? You bet. And let’s not forget that this is the official home of that madcap caper, the bungy jump. But if you’re in the mood for something a little more relaxing, this scenic resort town can deliver there, too. Here are five of our favorite ways to get in touch with Queenstown‘s quieter side.
1. Hop on a Chopper
One of the best ways to experience Queenstown’s stunning scenery is from above and you can enjoy it all while comfortably seated when you hop aboard one of the host of helicopter tours on offer. Land beside the icy splendor of the Earnslaw Glacier, take a day trip to Milford Sound, or spend a couple of hours taking in the craggy grandeur of The Remarkables mountain range and Lake Wakatipu.
2. Glide in a Gondola
If getting in a chopper isn’t for you, head out on a more mellow aerial adventure via the Skyline Gondola. About a five-minute walk from the center of town, the gondola will whisk you up Bob’s Peak in smooth silence while you enjoy stunning views of the town, lake, and surrounding mountains. At the top, you can stop for a bite, snap pictures from the observation deck, or take in one of the regular Kiwi Haka Maori culture performances. For a celestial experience, go after dark and book a stargazing tour that takes you to a viewing platform atop Bob’s Peak for a clear view of the night sky. Using telescopes, you can look for the Southern Cross, planets, nebulae, and the Milky Way and other galaxies.
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3. Unwind with Wine
Queenstown is tucked into the Central Otago wine-growing region, famous for its silky, seductive pinot noirs. There are more than 70 wineries in the area you can visit—try Gibbston Valley, about a 20-minute drive from Queenstown that’s home to the Amisfield Wine Company, which serves up fresh New Zealand cuisine at its Bistro restaurant, and Brennan Wines, which has picnic tables throughout the vineyard and picnic-friendly fare on sale in the tasting room. Other possibilities include Northburn Station, a beautiful property with a cellar door restaurant where you can order up lunch or wine and food pairings.
4. Revisit History
Step aboard the TSS Earnslaw and step back in time. This lovingly preserved steamship was launched the same year as the Titanic, 1912, albeit with happier results. The Earnslaw runs one-and-half-hour cruises daily to Walter Peak High Country Farm. You can roam the decks, buy a snack at the onboard café, and view the engine room where hardworking souls shovel away at the metric ton of coal the Earnslaw consumes each hour. At the farm, you can disembark for a tour and catch a later boat back, or stay on board and head straight back to Queenstown.
5. Bliss Out
Let’s face it: Nothing really says relaxation like lying down while a skilled professional pummels your muscles and Queenstown has plenty of spas to choose from when you get a hankering for some pampering. You might try Onsen Hot Pools, a cliff-side retreat with private, spring-fed hot pools. Or, sink into the lap of luxury at Le Spa at La Sofitel hotel. Treatments here use products from France and New Zealand and include a Manuka honey facial. For the ultimate in local immersion, try a greenstone massage that uses round stones made out of regional jade which are heated and then placed and rubbed along your back for a unique de-stressing treatment.
Photo credits: Courtesy of Michelle Locke; hot tub, courtesy of Destination Queenstown