All Articles An adrenaline lover’s guide to Queenstown

An adrenaline lover’s guide to Queenstown

Get your blood pumping in bungy jumping's founding city.

Petrina Darrah
By Petrina Darrah11 Apr 2024 4 minutes read
AJ Hackett Bungy's Ledge jump
AJ Hackett Bungy's Ledge jump
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

Queenstown proudly bills itself as the adventure capital of the world, a title earned from a long local tradition of dreaming up new ways to jump off things, speed through things, or otherwise test both limits and vocal cords. Everything here is superlative, from the world’s first commercial bungy jump to the world’s steepest zipline. Between jumping, swinging, and whizzing through the air and across water, your body—and your heart rate—will go full tilt for your entire stay.

The great thing about this buffet of adrenaline-fueled activities is that there really is something for everyone. You’ll never ever see me jump out of a plane, but I would strap myself into a jet boat to speed up and down rivers all day.

Another thing I love about Queenstown is how easy it is to tackle without a rental car, a novelty in a country that relies heavily on cars to get around. You can reach a number of hikes and activities on foot from the town center, and tour operators located out of town often provide transport.

Check out these epic adventure sports and their adrenaline rankings to see just how thrilling a visit to Queenstown can be.

Become a jet boat speed fiend

Adrenaline level: 9/10

A Dart River Adventures jet boat in a fjord
A Dart River Adventures jet boat
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

The modern jet boat was developed by Bill Hamilton, a South Island sheep farmer who wanted to zoom boats around the shallow, braided rivers of Otago back in the ’50s. Hamilton came up with a system that propelled boats forward by thrusting a jet of water out the back of the craft. This differs from a normal motor boat, which uses a propeller and needs deeper water to operate. The Hamilton-style jet unit means boats can zip across much shallower water and are much more maneuverable. His idea caught on, and jet boating is still one of the most popular adventure activities in Queenstown.

Shotover Jet’s iconic red jet boats have hurtled through the Shotover Canyon since 1965, whipping through 360 spins and sending many a shriek bouncing off the narrow canyon walls. The boats are impressively nimble, sometimes skimming across as little as four inches of water, and reaching speeds of 55 mph.

Other operators sprint up and down almost every other significant body of water in the area. Dart River Adventures sends a jet boat up the Dart River in Glenorchy, at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu, while KJet blasts across the trifecta of Lake Wakatipu, the Kawarau River, and Shotover River.

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Take adventure to new heights on a 15,000-foot skydive

Adrenaline level: 10/10

Skydiving with NZONE
Skydiving with NZONE
Image: Tripadvisor/Explorer05731494622

Another one from the history books, NZONE was New Zealand’s first commercial tandem skydive. As the only skydive operator in Queenstown, the NZONE team has transported brave jumpers to 15,000 feet for more than 30 years now, and it’s still one of the most epic skydiving locations in the country.

Before making the leap, you’ll get to enjoy a 15-minute scenic flight up to altitude. If you’re leaping from 15,000 feet, you can look forward to up to 60 seconds of freefall at speeds of 124 miles an hour, followed by three to four minutes of floating above the sweeping alpine scenery.

Tip: Book the premium package, which includes commissioning a photographer to freefall alongside you, so you can get shots of your jump in action, as well as the bird’s eye view of Queenstown below.

Take a leap of faith on a bungy jump

Adrenaline level: 10/10

Shotover Canyon Swing
The Shotover Canyon Swing
Image: Tripadvisor/Management

Bungy jumping is one of Queenstown’s most iconic adrenaline-fueled activities, thanks to AJ Hackett who opened the world’s first commercial bungy jump at Kawarau Bridge in 1988. Today you can still leap from this very same spot, if you dare to plummet 141 feet straight down to the Kawarau River, with an optional dunk into the bright blue water at the bottom.

AJ Hackett has two other bungy jumping sites near Queenstown, including the highest bungy in New Zealand: the 449-foot-tall Nevis Canyon Bungy, where the free fall lasts for more than eight seconds.

If you want views of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu on the way down, The Ledge Bungy from Skyline Queenstown is another great option closer to town.

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Zipline through forest canopies

Adrenaline level: 8/10

Ziplining with Paradise Ziplines
Ziplining with Paradise Ziplines
Image: Tripadvisor/Management

Queenstown is home to one of the world's steepest ziplines, offering a ride that shoots down the equivalent of 30 stories at speeds of up to 43 mph. Ziptrek Ecotours runs this zipline and a network of other wires through the forested slopes of Bob’s Peak on the northern fringe of town.

Ziptrek has top notch sustainability credentials, aiming to have such a light impact on the local environment that if all of the ziplines and treehouses were disassembled, the area would be in better shape than when the business first set up shop.

A little further afield is Paradise Ziplines, an operation stringing wires above the rivers and through chasms in Mount Aspiring National Park, near Glenorchy. Shooting straight through native forest, you’ll hurtle above bright blue rapids on a fast-paced tour.

Get bird’s eye views on a tandem paraglide

Adrenaline level: 8/10

Tandem paragliding with GForce Paragliding
Tandem paragliding with GForce Paragliding
Image: Tripadvisor/stephenjohnp2017

The soaring peaks around Queenstown inspired paragliders in the early ’90s, who started hiking up to rocky crags and leaping off them in a running jump, harnessed to a curved fabric wing. It’s slightly less terrifying than skydiving, so it’s a great option if you’re too nervous to jump out of a plane, or want to build up to a skydive.

The first commercial paragliding outfit in Queenstown was G Force Paragliding, which opened in 1991. Today, their paragliding flights take off from the top of the Skyline Gondola, so you’ll have prime views of Queenstown and the Wakatipu basin below. Depending on how comfortable you are in the air, your paragliding pilot might offer to do a few tricks for you.

Another outfitter, SkyTrek, takes paragliding to another height, literally, with New Zealand’s highest commercial launch site from 4,000 feet up Coronet Peak. This peak is 20 minutes outside of Queenstown, so you’ll be surrounded by mountains instead of swooping over town, and the higher launch means a longer flight time.

SkyTrek also offers tandem hang gliding—the only providers of this experience in New Zealand. If you’ve always wanted to know what it feels like to fly like a bird, there might be no better place to try than swooping over the stunning landscapes around Queenstown.

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On rainy days

Many of Queenstown’s outdoor adventure activities are best enjoyed or only possible with clear skies, but you can still ramp up your adrenaline on wet weather days:

  • Go white water rafting. A bit of rain doesn’t matter if you’re careening down rapids on the Shotover or Kawarau Rivers, as you’ll be getting wet anyway.
  • Hop on a quad bike with Off Road Adventures and embrace the excitement of a muddy track. Quad bike tours can typically run regardless of the weather.
  • If you really don’t want to get wet, try the iFly indoor skydiving experience.
Petrina Darrah
Petrina Darrah is a travel writer from New Zealand with a passion for outdoor adventure. Her writing has appeared in publications like The Washington Post, Conde Nast Traveler, and National Geographic Traveler. To see more of her work, check out her portfolio or follow along on Instagram.