New Zealand’s South Island is Sheer Eye Candy

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Queenstown as seen from a nearby mountaintop.
Queenstown as seen from a nearby mountaintop.

If there’s one patent impression from scores of memorable experiences that astonishes visitors to New Zealand, it is that this enthralling destination is bathed under an eerie, unnatural quality of light. A golden glow, perhaps from its global position in the antipodes, is most remarkable in the early mornings and late-afternoons when sunlight oozes like honey over the land.

It’s no wonder that the country serves as a backdrop for fantasy films like “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Its distinctive ruggedness, along with its sheer beauty, is the undisputed star. Forget special effects concocted by some computer animation geek in the gloomy corners of a Hollywood studio. Images impossible to duplicate are alive, well and palpable in New Zealand.

Large cities like Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch have no lack of attractions to transform visits into singular and unforgettable experiences. These cities—formidable destinations in themselves—continue to draw the lion’s share of visitors. But if one’s interest lies in seeing the colorful and magical side that is exclusively New Zealand, the South Island’s Queenstown—an eye-catching lakeside town with a tad over 10,000 fortunate residents—just might be New Zealand’s prime adventure and action destination. It’s a clean and picturesque city on the shores of Lake Wakapitu. Spectacular peaks with names like The Remarkables, Cecil Peak and Ben Lomond loom in the background, providing exquisite mountain views from any point in town.

Outdoor activities here are enough to fill the “want-to” list of most active travelers who will encounter adrenaline rushes that are hard to top. Queenstown has a reputation as New Zealand’s capital of adventure tourism and is the self-proclaimed birthplace of bungee jumping. Locals call it “Screamstown” with tongue firmly planted in cheek—and they’re not far off the mark.

Here, white-water rafting, mountain biking, extreme skateboarding, fly-fishing, white-knuckle trips in jet boats (another New Zealand innovation), hiking, camping and, of course, bungee jumping, are very easy to find. In winter, skiing reigns supreme along four world-class ski resorts that lie only minutes away from town-center.

A more passive adventure can be had on board The TSS Earnslaw, a 100-year-old steamer making regular runs around the lake where the eye-popping scenery simultaneously humbles and awes.

“As most activities in town are half- or full-day experiences,” says Ben Chapman, trade manager, Destination Queenstown, “visitors usually only get to experience two or three while here. The fact is that the list is as vast as your imagination. There are hundreds of activities on offer—from mild lakeside nature walks to helicopter flights and skydiving. More passive activities like golf, cycling and wine tourism are also booming. Combining these experiences with the unparalleled scenery and the adventurous nature of Queenstown makes us a unique destination.

“Queenstown offers a culture that is not too dissimilar from the U.S. Yet it is uniquely special, making it an attractive market and an easy sell for travel agents.”

One of the more appealing hotels in town is Rydges Lakeland Resort Queenstown, a member of Rydges Hotels & Resorts with properties throughout Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. This is a 255-room lakeside property with panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains from every room, and clients can take a leisurely 5-minute stroll into the center of town. Its perfect location, in fact, propels The Rydges to the top tier of Queenstown hotels. Rates vary throughout the year, but generally run from approximately $150 per night dbl for a standard room, to about $350 for an ample suite.

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