Queenstown History

Queenstown owes its success to both gold and adrenaline rushes.

Maoris were the first to arrive in Queenstown on their quest for pounamu (greenstone) although there was no evidence of them permanently settling in the area.

The Maoris led the first Europeans to the region in 1853 but it was another seven years before two explorers, William Gilbert Rees and Nicholas von Tunzelmann, decide to establish farms here.

However, the discovery of gold two years later in the Arrow and Shotover rivers changed everything. A gold rush ensued.

The arrival of thousands of prospectors, including a significant number of Chinese miners, enabled Queenstown to develop rapidly and within a year, streets were constructed and buildings erected, while the population swelled to several thousand.

By 1900, the gold had dwindled, the miners moved on and the population fell to around 200. Queenstown became a sleepy rural town.

But thanks to the region’s scenic beauty, walking trails were established that created a fledgling tourism industry. During the summer, people would come to explore the famed Milford, Routeburn and Hollyford tracks, using Queenstown as an overnight stop.

In 1947, New Zealand's first commercial ski field, Coronet Peak, opened and the town grew into a year-round resort. There are now four downhill ski areas near Queenstown.

Queenstown’s reputation as an adventure capital started with jet boating in 1958. White-water rafting followed in 1974 and, in 1988, AJ Hackett launched the world’s first commercial bungee jump at the 43m-high (120ft) Kawarau Bridge.

Today Queenstown attracts hundreds of thousands of adrenaline-seeking daredevils every year keen to sample everything from river surfing, parasailing and canyoning to abseiling, zip-lining, kite-skiing, zorbing and paragliding.

Tourist numbers have also been boosted by movie mania – the filming of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit movies by native New Zealander Peter Jackson in and around Queenstown have spawned umpteen tours.

Did you know?
• William Rees originally named the town ‘Camp’.
• The TSS Earnslaw steamship has been plying Lake Wakatipu since 1912, the same year Titanic set sail.
• The first US president to visit Queenstown was Bill Clinton in 1999.

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