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Queenstown Sightseeing

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QUEENSTOWN SIGHTSEEING HALF DAY TOUR

Whether it is your first time to Queenstown or you are a regular to New Zealand's 'Adventure Capital', Our Queenstown Sightseeing tour is the perfect way to see the best of the Wakatipu Basin that you may otherwise miss out on.

Our local driver-guides provide you with excellent company and an interesting commentary as they drive you from one scenic destination to the next. Highlights of the tour include the Kawarau Bridge - The world's first commercial bungy operation, Gibbston Valley Winery, Arrowtown, and the panoramic views from Coronet Peak!

 

Stops 

  • Complimentary hotel pick ups begin from 12:20pm or meet the bus in central Queenstown at 12:30pm.
  • Travel in one of our comfortable vehicles equipped with air-conditioning.
  • Enjoy the company of our local driver/guides as they provide an interesting and engaging commentary.
  • Take in the beautiful scenery of Lake Hayes, and watch thrill-seekers take the plunge from the historic Kawarau Bungy Bridge - Feeling adventurous? Take the leap yourself at an additional cost.
  • Taste some of the regions finest wines on a tour  of New Zealand's largest wine cave at Gibbston Valley Winery & Cheesery - Wine tour included in each fare!
  • Wander the streets of Arrowtown, a historic gold mining village. Enjoy a coffee or some shopping, or immerse yourself in the restored Chinese gold mining settlement that provides an interesting insight into how some of the first gold prospectors lived when gold was discovered in the Arrow river.
  • Marvel at the scenic panorama provided from Coronet Peak. From here you can see almost the entire Wakatipu basin - a view you will never forget!
  • After the tour we will drop you back to your hotel or in to central Queenstown.

Carved out of the last ice age 15,000 years ago, Lake Wakatipu was formed by a huge glacier that pushed through the land from the north-west. Though the lake is a relatively thin ‘S’ shape, the jagged mountains that surround it run straight into its depths, forming a deep canyon that is 399 metres at its deepest point. The second largest lake in the Southern Lakes District, Lake Wakatipu covers 290 square km, is 84km long and 5km wide at its widest point.

Local Māori tribe Ngāi Tahu made their home in Te Waipounamu (the South Island) over 800 years ago. Seasonal hunting prospects and the prized greenstone pounamu drew them to the head of Lake Wakatipu, as the stones could be found in plentiful supply around the Routeburn and Dart Valleys. Pounamu was valued not only because it was strong and durable, but also because it was extremely beautiful. The stone could be carved into toki (adzes), chisels, mere (short clubs) and personal ornaments such as hei tiki (necklaces) and ear adornments.

Māori also harvested the leaves of tikumu (mountain daisy) for cloaks and the highly-valued fragrant oil from taramea (wild Spaniard), found on the mountainous snowlines. This was taken to coastal villages where it was traded for goods. Travelling seasonally between mahinga kai (customary food gathering) sites, Māori feasted on the region’s seafood, eels, birds and plants, leaving rock art and planting ti (cabbage trees) to guide future generations.

EUROPEAN SETTLEMENT

When Alexander Garvie first spotted a stunning, jagged mountain range in the distance during a reconnaissance survey of the district in 1857, he named them the Remarkables. But the first European to set eyes on Whakatipu wai Maori (Lake Wakatipu) was Nathaniel Chalmers in 1853. With the payment of a three-legged pot, he was guided by the celebrated Maori chief Reko up the Nevis Valley where, at the summit and en route to Wanaka and Hawea, Chalmers spied the lake. Sadly, Chalmers suffered severe food poisoning and, close to death, was taken back down the Mataura River in a mokihikihi (flax leaf) raft where he recovered, but never saw the lake again.

Reko returned three years later, this time in the company of John Chubbin, John Morrison and Malcom Macfarlane, who were the first European men to finally stand on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. Unfortunately, as the men gazed in awe at the beauty that surrounded them, Morrison lit his pipe, threw away the match and unwittingly set alight the area now known as Kingston.

The inferno burned for three hours, but the men and their horses survived by standing neck-deep in the lake until the blaze finally died down. Ironically, this act of destruction created an access way to the district that would later bring many more people and animals.

One of these was the Scots-born West Australian pioneer Donald Hay, who famously found a hidden mokihikihi raft and, with a blanket as a sail, set off to explore Lake Wakatipu. Battling winter storms and freezing water, he landed on the shores of what is now called Frankton. Setting off on foot he eventually found the lake that bears his name, though it has been incorrectly recorded in history as Lake Hayes. Intending to stake his claim, he returned to Dunedin only to discover it had already been allocated to a man who had never even set foot in the area. Disgusted, he returned to West Australia and never set eyes on either lake again.

Soon enough, more people began arriving in the district to farm, but the first to settle in the Wakatipu Basin were William Rees, an Englishman, and Nicholas Von Tunzelmann, also from England via Estonia, Germany, Switzerland and Canada.

Rees would record the men’s struggle to access the area from the Cardrona area in the north a few weeks later in the Otago Witness – “Speargrass, often more than three feet high, and masses of matagouri constantly impeded us, especially in the gullies. Our trousers from the thighs downwards were filled with blood and it was with the greatest difficulty that our poor horses and pack mule could be urged to move forward.”

However, their painful journey was rewarded by what Rees described as one of the most beautiful sights they had seen in the colony. As the men wove their way into the Wakatipu Basin, the Shotover River was given a name in memory of Shotover Park, the English residence of Rees’ business partner. Rees eventually settled where Queenstown now sits, while Von Tunzelmann settled in nearby Fernhill.

THE 1860s GOLD RUSH

Unknowingly, Rees and Von Tunzelmann had settled in the heart of what was to become Otago’s biggest goldfield. It was Rees’ farmhands who found the first gold in the area. The initial discovery was made by Jack Tewa in 1862 by the Arrow River, where an ‘X’ still marks this spot today.

However, Rees implored him to keep it a secret, as he knew once word got out a gold rush frenzy would begin. Besides, he had a shearing season to finish before his farmhands got wind of a more lucrative way to earn a living. Unfortunately for Rees, it didn’t take long before the secret was finally revealed.

Within a few months of Tewa’s discovery by the Arrow River in 1862, two more of Rees’ farmhands had also struck gold. A few hours after taking a Sunday stroll from The Camp - now Camp Street - to a spot where the Shotover and Kawarau rivers meet, Thomas Arthur and Harry Redfern were in possession of 9 ounces of gold. Within two months the pair had earned themselves four thousand pounds at the claim they had christened Arthur’s Point.

Meanwhile at Maori Point in Skippers Canyon, two young men, Raniera Erihana and Hakaria Maeroa, were frantically running alongside the river trying to rescue their dog, which had been swept downstream. This incident led to the discovery of gold gleaming in a crevice, and by nightfall the pair had gathered 25 pounds of the precious metal.

Realising that his privacy at the lakefront was at an end, Rees pulled down his woolshed and replaced it with the Queen’s Arms hotel to service the hundreds, and later thousands, of miners, traders, packers and wagons that poured into The Camp.

Eventually this hotel would be renamed Hotel Eichardt, after the ex-Prussian Guard who bought it from Rees in 1869. Eichardt then rebuilt the establishment in 1871, using brick and stone, and the same hotel still serves visitors today.

Queenstown became a roaring goldmining town, and the district’s population boomed despite the huge toll of mining on human life. Flooded rivers, cave-ins, bone-breaking physical labour, violent fights and the occasional murder were just some of the perils of goldmining life.

In its heyday, the Central Otago gold rush saw remote boom towns pop up all over the district, most notably at Skippers and Macetown, but as the gold dwindled so did the people, leaving ghost towns in their wake.

These ghost towns include many Chinese settlements, although one has since been restored by the river in Arrowtown. Chinese miners played a big part in Arrowtown’s history after 1869, when they were invited to fill the vacancy created by the European miners who had left for the West Coast gold rush in 1864.

Predominantly from the Guangzhou area, the men left behind the over-populated and poverty-stricken towns and cities hoping to find their fortune in New Zealand. The stories of local characters such as storeowners Ah Wak, Wong Yow, Su Sing and Ah Lum are still remembered today.

QUEENSTOWN TODAY

The gold rush had gained Queenstown plenty of international attention, and gradually tourists began replacing goldminers.

Before the advent of commercial skiing, Queenstown’s fledgling tourism industry mainly operated in summer when people could more easily access the lake town. Activities on offer included fishing, hunting, hiking, sailing and, of course, sightseeing. Shops and activities were mainly concentrated around Queenstown’s lake front because most people arrived by boat.

Queenstown's famous "Lady of the Lake" began operating in 1912, when it set off on its maiden voyage from Kingston. Originally designed to carry sheep, cattle, and passengers to high country stations around the lake, the Earnslaw now runs tourist cruises to the Walter Peak high country station.

By the time Coronet Peak opened as the South Island’s first commercial ski field in 1947, the town had become both a winter and summer destination.

Jet boats began zipping down the local rivers in the 1950s, and in 1967 the first gondola travelled up Bob’s Peak. Vineyards were gradually planted, cultivating Queenstown’s future as a premium wine and food destination.

More commercial ski resorts opened, and in 1988 the first commercial bungy jump cemented Queenstown’s reputation for adventure. In the 1990s, when international flights began to arrive, Queenstown was well on its way to being an all-season destination.  

With four distinct and unique seasons Queenstown has year-round appeal with each season offering a markedly different experience. We enjoy a continental-style climate with long hot summers and cool, crisp winters. Queenstown truly offers something for every season, very few activities aren’t available year round, and it’s no exaggeration to say you can experience more here in a day than some do in a lifetime!

Queenstown sits at latitude 45° south against the dramatic backdrop of the Southern Alps. Our location means summer brings long, warm days with lots of time to enjoy the outdoors. The colours of autumn are famed internationally as Mother Nature’s show of red and gold blankets the hills and countryside. In winter you’ll experience the stunning snow-capped mountains and a winter paradise for snow sport enthusiasts. When spring breaks it transforms the area with bright colours, green valleys and a sense of energy and playfulness. You can literally ski in the morning and golf or mountain bike in the afternoon!

The best time to visit Queenstown depends entirely on your interests. It is a true year round destination with appeal in every month of the year. 

For the current weather forecast, visit Metservice now.

DEPARTURE & DURATION

Duration: 12:20pm - 17:30pm (approx. 5 hours)

  • Departing everyday (excluding Christmas Day - 25th December)
  • Complimentary hotel pick ups beginning from 12:20pm (Please confirm your pick up location for your exact pick up time)
  • Pick up also available from central Queenstown at 12:30pm from the Station Building on the corner of Shotover Street and Camp Street.
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TERMS & CONDITIONS

  • Child age 0-14 years old (inclusive). 
  • All prices in NZ$ GST included.
  • Bellbird Tours Ltd reserves the right to alter prices, times, itineraries or arrange alternative transportation and services.

CANCELLATION POLICY

  • Trips cancelled with 24 hours notice prior to tour departure receive full refund.
  • Trips cancelled less than 24hours and up to 12 hours prior to tour departure receive a 50% refund.
  • Cancellations made within 12 hours of tour departure are not entitled to a refund.

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