Diamond Lake Glenorchy bw

A step back in time

Holiday in Queenstown, adventure capital of the world! Home of soaring mountains, wonderful restaurants, and activities to suit every taste – but how often do we consider that we’re also in a town of historical importance?

Whether you’re choosing Queenstown as your holiday destination, or have an investment property here, there’s something special in knowing this town is more than the latest fad. Long known to local Māori, the first Europeans viewed Lake Wakatipu in the 1850s, and in 1859 Donald Hay explored its waters in a mōkihi raft he had found (made from bundles of flax or bulrush stalks). Even then we had a longing to get out and explore this land, to know more, and a year later in 1860 William Rees settled for good, building a farm - little knowing how many people would pass through the land in the coming gold rush, or settle and make it their home in years to come.

After the thrill of gold had passed, leaving a well-established town with good roading to Arrowtown and beyond, tourists began to arrive in earnest. The stunning scenery and summer walking trails were an instant hit and news spread. In 1912 the TSS Earnslaw, built in Dunedin, launched on Lake Wakatipu, carrying people and goods around the lake – still running today, she’s both an icon and a reminder of a bygone era. Whilst she wasn’t the first boat to carry passengers, she is by far the most famous.

By 1947 tourists were arriving for winter sport as well as summer, with Coronet Peak ski area opening to general applause. By the 1960s commercial jet boating had arrived, these unique craft purpose-built for New Zealand’s shallow braided rivers, from the inventive mind of Bill Hamilton (later Sir William Hamilton), in Christchurch, and enthusiastically purchased around the country. Tourism was in full swing. The 1970s brought white-water rafting to Queenstown, and the world’s first bungy jump leapt into action in 1988.

Today, in 2018, we have more than 200 adventure activities on offer – from humble beginnings Queenstown has become a global icon as a tourist destination, property investment hotspot and luxury retreat. But we haven’t forgotten where we came from; there are glimpses of history around every corner, from the lovingly-preserved buildings of Arrowtown, and indeed the museum, to cafes such as The Bathhouse, to the statue of William Rees in the town centre, and of course the striking sight of the TSS Earnslaw making her way across the lake. Become a part of living history when you’re here, add your story to the many threads that weave the fabric of this town, and imagine what the history books will say in another 160 years…