Set on the edge of the glacial Lake Wakatipu, with stunning views of the sawtooth peaks of the Remarkables mountain range, Queenstown is the most popular tourist stop in the South Island. Once prized by the Māori as a source of greenstone, the town boomed when gold was discovered in the Shotover River during the 1860s; the Shotover quickly became famous as "the richest river in the world." By the 1950s Queenstown had become the center of a substantial farming area, and with ready access to mountains, lakes, and rivers, the town has since become the adventure capital of New Zealand. Today, New Zealanders' penchant for bizarre adventure sports culminates in Queenstown; it was here that the sport of leaping off a bridge with a giant rubber band wrapped around the ankles—bungy jumping—took root as a commercial enterprise. On a short walk along Shotover and Camp streets you can sign up for anything from white-water rafting and jet-boating to heli-skiing, parachuting, and paragliding. Queenstown unabashedly caters to adrenaline junkies, so height, G-force, and thrill factor are emphasized. Want to go on a nice rope swing? Queenstown has the world's biggest—120 meters (394 feet) long—in the Nevis Canyon; the ride is 120 kph (75 mph). In late June and early July, the 10-day Queenstown Winter Festival brings the winter-sport frenzy to a climax, with musical performers, ski-slope antics and races, and serious partying.
If you're not an extreme adventure enthusiast, you might recoil a bit and view the city with a cynical eye. Luckily there's a side to Queenstown that doesn't run on pure adrenaline: a large network of peaceful walks, several world-class golf courses, and you can always find a nice café, have wine by the lake, and sample the cuisine.