Queenstown: History

The Adventure City

Queenstown History

The history of Queenstown is dominated by gold. Although history shows Maori explorers frequently passed through the area in search of food and the highly sough after Greenstone (New Zealand Jade), the area was void of permanent inhabitants when the first white settlers arrived around 1850. The area originally provided little more than a stunning backdrop for a sheep station, but with the discovery of gold in the Shotover River in 1862, that quickly changed.

Within a year the area had been transformed into a bustling mining town with a population of several thousand as one of the biggest gold rushes in New Zealand history flourished. The town at the centre of the activity was deemed fit for a queen by the government and the town was subsequently named Queenstown. During this time, Lake Wakitipu became a main hub of transportation with scores of boats and paddle steamers transporting goods and passengers the length and breadth of the lake.

The early prosperity of Queenstown was short lived and by 1900 the gold had virtually disappeared along with most of the town’s population. Apart from the occasional burst of gold mining activity, the town floundered as a tiny backwater until the 1950’s when the area began to appear on the radar of holiday makers. The real turning point for Queenstown was in the 1980’s with the rise in popularity of adventures sports. Although Queenstown’s stunning location has brought fame and prosperity, it has also brought hardship for residents with flooding being a problem throughout Queenstown’s history. Rising lake levels have been a serious concern with steps being sought to avoid a repeat of the 1999 flood which flooded a third of Queenstown.

Today, Queenstown is one of the world’s most popular adventure tourist spots and plays host to millions of adventure hungry tourists from around the world each year.