Highway 89 over the Crown Range
If you're headed to Queenstown from Wanaka, I suggest taking Highway 89, the Cardrona Road over the Crown Range instead of Highway 6. This route is actually shorter than the Hwy 6 route but you'll likely stop for many more photos and be careful...the roads can become pretty icy. The road is fully paved but it's still pretty narrow and winding but the view is worth it...just take your time. It should take you approx. 1 hour to drive from Wanaka to Queenstown on this route. You may need chains for your tires in the winter though we were fine without them.
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Queenstown Duck Tour
A unique way to explore Lake Wakatipu and other Queenstown sites is by DUCK!! The Queenstown duck is an amphibious vehicle that can go on both land and lake. This 90 minute tour is fun for the whole family and the guides are very knowledgeable and also funny! Don't forget to bring a camera there lots of beautiful scenery along the way.
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Airport Transportation is efficient
Queenstown Airport is located in Frankton, about 10 kilometres from the town centre.
A taxi ride would take you about 10 minutes and set you back just under NZ$ 20.
Also several shuttle bus companies operate between the airport and the town centre. Cost is about NZ$ 8 for the 15 minute ride.
You pay only NZ$ 6 for the public bus (ConnectaBus) to the Town Centre. It operates between 6.30am and 11pm. It services all major hotels and goes as far as Sunshine Bay and Fernhill on the road to Glenorchy, and to Arrowtown. It takes about 20 minutes to get into town. Departure about every 20 minutes.
Several car rental companies have offices at the airport (Apex, Avis, Budget, Hertz, National, Maui, Britz, Thrifty).
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Two Ways to Get around in Queenstown by Bus
The best and cheapest way to get around by public transportation is Connectabus. It travels every 20 minutes on a route between Fernhill, Queenstown, Frankton, Airport and Arrowtown. It operates as a hop on/off bus.
The fares are calculated in 3 zones. Zone 1 is between Queenstown’s town centre and the Airport/Remarkables Shopping Centre. A single ticket for this zone costs NZ$ 6.
Great value is a day pass which covers all 3 zones. It costs just NZ$ 13.
Exact route, stops and timetables on their website.
Phone (03) 441 4471
A pure sightseeing experience is a trip on a genuine British double decker bus. Stops along the way are Lake Hayes, AJ Hackett’s Bungee Bridge at the Kawarau River, the Gibbston Valley Winery, Arrowtown and Edith Cavell Bridge.
The trip (daily service) takes about 3 hours and includes a 50 minute stop in Arrowtown. Departure is at 9.30am, return at 12.30pm, at the corner of Camp Street and The Mall.
Cost is NZ$ 48 (children under 15 years $ 25, children under 5 years free).
Phone (03) 441 4421
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One of the most stunning airports to fly into.
Queenstown is situated in the Southern Alps mountain range of the South Island of New Zealand. The location is amazingly picturesque and beautiful. To fly in and out of Queenstown is the best way to appreciate the wonderful location.
Air New Zealand and Qantas are the main airlines servicing Queenstown with a few small companies taking you to smaller locations.
Flights take you to and from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in Australia, as well as Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin in New Zealand.
To fly in you soar over the main alpine range which forms the backbone of the South Island and gives you stunning views of the land, especially on the figure 8 flight plan on the way out.
The airport is well serviced for a destination of it's size, and caters for the traveller very well. You can collect your rental car here or catch a shuttle into town.
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If your plans only include Queenstown, then you will likely just pay the money to fly here directly. If you are planning to venture out and see a little bit more of the South Island, than I would recommend renting a car in Christchurch and making a circle tour of the island from there. This will save you the extra fee to fly into Queenstown (a regional airport) and will allow you to see some of the wonderful sites like Wanaka and Mount Cook on your way in.
We chose to rent from Budget on this particular trip, because it offered the best deal on a full sized 4 door vehicle for the 4 people on the trip. On our particular journey they were offering a deal where you paid for 3 days and received 4. We doubled this for an 8 day rental at the price of 6!
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TSS Earnslaw (The TSS stands for Twin Screw Steamer) is a staely old steam vessels which plies Lake Wakatipu for tourist cruises. You can choose to do an afternoon cruise or an eveing trip including dinner at Walter Peak.
The steel-hulled Earnslaw is 51 metres long and 7.3 metres wide, weighs 330 tons and at full speed can travel at a speed of 13 knots, burning a ton of coal an hour!
The Earnslaw was at one time the major transport across the lake and is licensed to carry 810 passengers. Since 1969, it has been purely used for leisure cruises.
Flying into Queenstown can be exciting
Flying into Queenstown can be exciting in two ways. First, on a sunny day: You can admire the spectacular alpine scenery and get an idea how wonderful your time in Queenstown will be if the weather stays nice. Second, on a cloudy, foggy or grotty weather day, you get a strange feeling in the stomach region because you know, although you do not see, that the steep mountain range of the Remarkables is right beside you, and that somehow you fly right into the Remarkables, and on the other side you could crash into Deer Park Heights… The flight path is like a narrow hallway. Should I not have told you this? ;-)
Queenstown Airport is an international airport but you should not take this title too seriously. They get direct flights from Australia (Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane) in winter, and that’s it. The big rest is domestic, and the airport is serviced by Air New Zealand and Qantas. (And later this year by JetStar.)
Direct domestic service is from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
... and flying out can be impossible ;-)
Update 21 Feb 2009
After not being able to fly out of Queenstown due to heavy rain my husband asked me to give you the advice to rather book with Air New Zealand and not with Qantas if you feel the need to fly to Queenstown. I was told the problem is that Qantas obviously do have the necessary equipment to start and land at this difficult airport in adverse weather conditions - but the pilots are not licenced to operate it in New Zealand. So Qantas cancels flights much faster than Air NZ - and you have to look and pay for accommodation while they wait for good weather, and this can take up several days if you are unlucky.
My advice is not to put Queenstown at the end of your itinerary before your international flight out of New Zealand from Christchurch or - especially - Auckland. If you depart from Auckland you should always have a reserve day in the North Island for driving to the airport and not depending on a domestic flight. So best you get down to Queenstown at an early stage of your trip and work your way up north. Put activities in Auckland, the Coromandel, Northland or Rotorua at the end of your holiday, from there you can easily drive to Auckland Airport. If you fly out of Christchurch it is an 7 hour drive from Queenstown, so no real problem. There is only one bus company (Atomic Travel) that leaves Q'town in the afternoon, and it is rather a fast service. There is also a good chance of getting a relocation car for little money. That BTW is what my husband did to get back to Christchurch. It cost him NZ$ 10 plus the petrol.
Photo 2 shows an impression with Lake Hayes, shortly before landing.
Photo 3 shows the take-off near the Remarkables.
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Qantas Flights to Queenstown
Qantas offered really cheap flights into Queenstown. We flew from Auckland to Christchurch and then on to Queenstown for $80 one way. To get deals like this you need to book ahead and book online. This was considered offpeak also as it fell just before the busy winter season (although we did catch the first day the mountain opened for snowboarding/skiing!). Check out the Qantas website for details of flights and prices and book online using a credit card to make the most of the discounts.
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Queenstown is served by direct domestic flights to and from Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland.
There are also direct international flights to and from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
Our original flight path with Qantas was Perth to Sudney and onto Queenstown. We were unable to land in Sydney due to a dust storm so the flight was redirected to Melbourne.
As there were no immediate connections to Queenstown from Melbourne we were forced to spend the bight there before flying to Auckland the following morning for a connecting flight to Queenstown.
Other than the inconvenience, Qantas looked after us by arranging meals and accommodation in Melbourne and organising a new flight path to Queenstown.
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How to get around
The easiest and best way to get around Queenstown is to walk. Yes, walking is not only healthier it also gives you a pleasant look around the area.
If you stay a little too off the main town area, you can hire a taxi. Or rent a car for a day or so. Agencies like Avis, Budget and National have their offices in Queenstown.
Also a car is useful if you want to visit the quaint little town of Arrowtown and Glenorchy. Otherwise go with tours, but frankly speaking it is not cheap.
Queenstown is currently served by Air New Zealand with regular direct and connecting flights from all major centres. You can fly direct from Sydney year round with Air New Zealand International and in the winter additional flights operate directly from Brisbane.
Qantas also flies direct from Sydney and Brisbane during the winter.
Flying in to Queenstown
Do fly into Queenstown. The last leg of our journey was from Christchurch to Queenstown. It was a clear day and we were able to follow the journey all the way with our map, and an added bonus was that the pilot gave a running commentary: "...and over there you can see Mount Cook, the highest...".
The approach to Queenstown airport is interesting too. You bank round the mountains and can see the lake ahead. The final run in brings the port wing-tip apparently within feet of the mountain-side. It has to be one of the most spectacular landings since the closure of the old Hong Kong airport (from my experience I also recommend Nice, France and Hewanorra, St Lucia).
The terminal has recently been upgraded to accept international flights and it quite smart, with a small selection of shops and refreshments. We were easily able to pick up our hire car.
getting a ride
Accessing the resort by road is a scenic and economic option. There are regular bus services connecting Queenstown with other South Island towns and all major rental car companies are represented.
No matter how you choose to get to Queenstown, you'll marvel at the views, changing countryside and magnificent waterways. You can take a rental, taxi, or bus, or travel exotically by light plane, helicopter, bicycle, horse and buggy or double decker London bus.
Being a local from Queenstown, I can say first off that it is an expensive place to live, not just to visit. The local population is about 40% British who now live there permanently, most of the rest are travelers. There are few actual locals who were born/raised there as it is such an expensive place.
The lest expensive mode of transport is the local Connector Bus (yellow bus). If you are using this, get the day pass (NZD$17 per day) or if you are there 3+ days just get the weekly pass. This pass will get you onto any yellow bus, no matter which zone its going to. This bus goes to Fernhill, Sunshine Bay, Arrowtown, Jack's Point (Shotover Jet), Kelvin Height's, Frankton, Airport & Remarkables Park (local's shopping area). A single journey into or out of the airport is NZD$7. Compare this to a taxi ride from the airport to downtown Queenstown ($40-$60 one way) and you're saving a lot of money.
The only downside to the local transport is some of the drivers are quite rude and they don't always run to schedule early morning/late night.
Good Luck with your travelers to this beautiful (but expensive) location!
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