It takes some mental agility to visualise just how the Dart Valley looked 18,000 years ago, at the peak of the last ice age, when the formidable Dart Glacier gouged Lake Wakatipu down to bedrock.
Today the braided riverbed is the conduit for exciting jet boat excursions into the heart of Mt Aspiring National Park for two hours of breathtaking scenery. It’s a white-knuckle ride with a few 360° turns thrown in to keep the adrenalin flowing. The magical ride in the dream-like landscape passes majestic Mt Earnslaw, the Rock Burn Gorge and Paradise. Paradise was named for the paradise ducks, but nonetheless is an idyllic slice of Heaven, which has appeared in feature films as the Rocky Mountains and the European Alps.
Glenorchy, at the head of Lake Wakatipu, is the staging post for the river excursion and for the Routeburn Track (which rivals the famous Milford Track for majestic scenery), the Rees/Dart Track and the Greenstone/Caples Track.
Queenstown, so named because ‘it was fit for Queen Victoria,’ is a picture-perfect town in a lake and mountain setting that ranks alongside the very best alpine resort situations in the world. Known these days as the ‘Adventure Capital of the World’ for its 100 or more different outdoor activities, this exhilarating town can satisfy every desire from extreme action to complete relaxation.
Scenic viewpoints are legion, but by far the most accessible is Bob’s Peak at the top of the Skyline Gondola – it feels like being on the top of the world. From here keen trampers can ascend Ben Lomond, which overlooks the entire region. Queenstown Hill and Deer Park Heights are lesser promontories, which also evoke feelings of awe and grandeur. A highlight excursion here is the TSS Earnslaw vintage steamboat cruise on the lake, which gives a totally different landscape perspective.
Arrowtown is a historic gem that must be seen at all costs. This gold rush town is as authentic as you can get, down to the restored Chinese shanties, colonial miner’s cottages and shops, plus the nearby ghost towns of Macetown and Skipper’s Canyon.
Aerial sightseeing includes local helicopter jaunts, plane trips to Milford Sound, aerobatic and balloon flights.
There are not enough superlatives to describe the scenic values of Queenstown – it is incomparable. It is the perfect holiday retreat where you can do everything or nothing. Go there for action, peace, solitude and scenery – you choose!