10 Must-See Historical Sites In Queenstown

Queenstown (or New Zealand for that matter) is probably not at the forefront of your mind when thinking about historically rich destinations to visit. It may not be up there with Europe and Asia as a history buff's version of a buffet lunch. Even a Maori settlement in Aotearoa is relatively recent in comparison to Ancient civilizations like the Egyptians and the Greeks, but don't think for a second there isn't plenty of history to wet the whistle of even the keenest 'past' pundits. For a small town at the bottom of the world, Queenstown packs a punch when it comes to significant places and things ready to be explored. So what are the best historical sights to visit in Queenstown?...


1. Arrowtown

Arguably this isn't just one site, but it's my list and I'm going to list it as such because I want to. Also, there are so many spots in Arrowtown that to save space and time I wanted to lump them together (check out this article for a more in depth look at why you should visit Arrowtown)! Like many towns in the area, it sprang out of nowhere after gold was found in the Arrow River. A by-product of the goldrush era, Arrowtown, similar to Queenstown, is one of the few historical settlements that stood the test of time and is still around today for us to explore. Buckingham Street is the central hub and will transport you back to the golden glory days of the late 1800s. Colonial buildings and facades line the narrow street and the Lakes District museum offers great insight into the early colonial settlers and what life was like during those formative years. A short stroll from the town center is the Chinese village where visitors can walk through original miner cottages built by the Chinese prospectors who settled in the area seeking their fortune. Arrowtown is a must visit for anyone looking to immerse themselves in the local history.

How to get here? Click here for location and directions in Google Maps.

2. Skippers Canyon Settlement and Road

Does the unofficial title of 'New Zealand's most dangerous road' get you buzzing? If so, keep reading. Located about 25 minutes out of Queenstown (off the Coronet Peak access road) you will find Skippers Canyon. The road into the canyon is touted as one of the country's most dangerous as well as spectacular. It's a one way road that hugs (and sometimes cuts its way through) the cliff edge of the canyon and Shotover river, offering those brave enough to enter unforgettable scenery. The road leads to the old Skippers Canyon mining settlement (another relic of the gold rush era) crossing over an old suspension bridge which was first opened in 1901 and sits about 100m above the river, making it one of New Zealand's highest. Just over the bridge sits the site of the Old Skippers Village. The remains of some of the old buildings can still be found although unfortunately a fire in 2017 caused one of the last traditional structures to burn down. The old school house has been rebuilt to its original state and visitors can walk through and read about the history of the settlement and its inhabitants.

How to get here? Click here for location and directions in Google Maps.

3. Eichardt's Hotel

Eichardt's Hotel, Queenstown
Eichardt's | Credit: @anywhere_goes // Instagram

A site you are unlikely to miss whilst visiting Queenstown is Eichardt's Hotel. One of Queenstown's oldest buildings, the hotel now operates as high-end accommodation on the lakefront. The building sits on what was the original wool shed built by William Rees who was the first European to occupy the land that is now Queenstown's town center. Only a couple of years after setting up his high country station gold was discovered in the area and Rees's land became the center for local activity. Capitalising on the rush and later partnering with businessman Albert Eichardt, he opened what was then known as the Queens Arms in the woolshed before selling the business to Eichardt who rebuilt and renamed the hotel to how it stands today. If you're not lucky enough to be staying at the boutique hotel you can still soak up the atmosphere of the historic building by enjoying some food and/or a drink at the Eichardt's Bar and Restaurant by the lakefront.

How to get here? Click here for location and directions in Google Maps.

4. The T.S.S. Earnslaw

The T.S.S. Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown
T.S.S. Earnslaw | Credit: @auhasardspr // Instagram

A visit to Queenstown wouldn't be complete with out a trip on the magestical lady of the lake. The T.S.S. Earnslaw (or 'Earnie' for short) is one of the area's oldest inhabitants at the ripe old age of 107. She has spent most of her life ferrying passengers around Lake Wakatipu and is still looking as fresh as the day she was launched. Currently she spends most of her time taking visitors between Queenstown and Walter Peak Station for a buffet that is out of this world. For history buffs or fans of maritime transportation, the Earnslaw is a must do! With an open viewing platform that looks directly down into the engine room, guests can watch some of Queenstown's hardest workers shoveling the coal into the furnace to keep the old boat steaming along.

How to get here? Click here for location and directions in Google Maps.

5. Macetown

Another one of the area's many gold rush settlements, Macetown is the hardest to reach on this list. Access to Macetown is restricted to hikers, bikers and experienced 4x4 drivers only (as well as licensed tour operators). Getting to Macetown requires crossing the Arrow River near Arrowtown and fording a number of river crossings, which means in high rainfall the old site is cut off due to the river level being too high for access. Those that do make the journey will be rewarded with incredible scenery and a true pioneering experience. At the settlement there are a number of information boards that show photographs of how the town once looked in its heyday and some very old mining antiques. My suggestion is to head out in the spring whilst the lupins are in full bloom for the most epic photo opportunities.

How to get here? Click here for location and directions in Google Maps.

6. The Kawarau Bridge

Historical for a couple of reasons. The suspension bridge was completed way back in 1880 to provide a more direct route for prospectors to gain access to the Queenstown goldfields. For almost 80 years the bridge was one of the main access routes to the area until 1963 when it was replaced by a new bridge a little further up the river. The original bridge still remains and was classified by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust as a Category I historic place. More recently the bridge itself has once again cemented its spot in Queenstown's (and the world of extreme sports) history books as the birthplace of commercial bungy jumping when in 1988 AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch started offering thrill-seekers the chance to throw themselves from the bridge (albeit with a stretchy rope around their ankles). If you are not keen on jumping off, the bridge offers the public a great vantage point to watch those seeking their adrenaline fix.

How to get here? Click here for location and directions in Google Maps.

7. Kingston Flyer

Operating from the 1880s until 2011 (more sporadically in recent years), the Kingston Flyer is an old Steam Train that operated a service from Kingston at the southern end of Lake Wakatipu to Gore, Invercargill and occasionally Dunedin on the East Coast. Although the majority of the track that it used to run on has been pulled up, in more recent times the train has been used as a tourist attraction operating on a 14km preserved track between Kingston and Fairlight. The Flyer has changed ownership a number of times in the last decade and the locomotive and its carriages now sit dormant at the end of the line near Kingston Wharf. There are currently plans to get the train up and running again but for now it is still well worth a visit to see the old train. Make sure to stop into the the Flyer Cafe at the the Kingston Station for a coffee, food and a chat to the friendly locals to learn more about the train's history (and hopefully future).

How to get here? Click here for location and directions in Google Maps.

8. Cardrona Pub

New Zealand's oldest continually operational pub is a must visit spot if you are in the area. Located in the Cardrona Valley (35mins drive from Queenstown on the way to Wanaka), the pub is not only a historical gem but the perfect spot to stop for a bite to eat or a scenic aprés drink during the winter season. Steeped in local history and lore, the pub is a great place to learn about the area's past gold mining heritage or swap stories of your own by the open fire with fellow travellers and the friendly locals. One of the pub's more controversial historical characters (Jimmy Patterson) was the pub's longest serving publican who, legend has, preferred not to serve women and would limit the amount of booze a man could have depending on their direction of travel (two drinks if heading to Wanaka and only one if making their way over the treacherous Crown Range towards Queenstown). Thankfully nowadays the pub is a little more female friendly.

How to get here? Click here for location and directions in Google Maps.

9. Sam Summer's Hut

Huts, history and hidden waterfalls, here's why you need to check out the Mt Crichton Loop Track and Sam Summer's Hut! Starting from the Glenorchy Road 15mins outside of Queenstown is the Mt Chrichton Loop Track. Like the name suggests, the track is a 3-4 hour loop hike that takes you through native forests, past waterfalls, old quarries and the historic Sam Summer's Hut. A local legend from the pioneering years of Queenstown, Sam built and lived in this hut, which still remains today and can be used for overnight accommodation by trampers. Visiting the site is like stepping back in time and gives visitors a glimpse at what life and accommodations would have been like for those on the quest for gold in Queenstown in the early 1900s. If you find a sign pointing to the rock fissure (before reaching the hut), then I suggest taking the detour through to the river on the other side. If you follow this up stream you can find a beautiful (and freezing cold) swimming hole underneath one of the waterfalls. Make sure to bring warm/dry clothes to change into if you're thinking of going for a dip!

How to get here? Click here for location and directions in Google Maps.

10. Hiking Trails

Although not specifically one distinct historical site, a number of the Queenstown trails offer visitors and outdoor enthusiasts plenty of information in regards to the area's past and the characters that helped shape it. Dotted along a number of the trails in the area (inc. Queenstown Hill and Morningstar Track in Arthur's Point) are information boards that share the history of Maori and European settlement in Queenstown as well as sharing knowledge of local flora and fauna that can be spotted along the way.

How to get here? Get outside and find them!!!

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