For a city known as the “Adventure Capital of the World”, Queenstown, New Zealand, offers an enormous amount of cultural fare as well. In fact, many visitors to New Zealand remember the Maori art as much as anything else that they saw during their holiday, and modern artists continue to reinterpret that culture as well as more contemporary, Western themes.
Many modern tourists like to get a feel for the authentic culture of whatever part of the world that they are visiting, and Queenstown does an excellent job of making sure that its Maori residents have the opportunity to explain to visitors what they have believed and how they have lived for centuries. A quick gondola trip to Skyline Queenstown can get you to the theatre where you can step into the milieu of the Maori.
Traditional songs and dances are performed, and you might tremble when the haka is performed (made famous on rugby pitches around the world as part of the All Blacks pre-game routine) or gasp when the poi display is done. Queenstown’s leading Kapa Haka group will share its stories and traditions to help you understand those who came to the South Island 600 years before any white men settled in New Zealand. The 77-seat theatre brings the Maori world up close and personal, and the decorations and carved sculptures only add to the charged atmosphere.
Another era that was significant in Queenstown’s history was the gold rush of the mid-1800s, much of which was centered in the neighboring village of Arrowtown. You can either take a helicopter ride over the area and see where the early miners panned for gold in the Shotover River, or visit the Lakes District Museum in Arrowtown. The museum also has Maori art and history exhibits, as well as memorabilia that hearken back to an era when the local population mushroomed, as anyone with a pan and a lucky streak rushed to the region.
Queenstown can also be a picturesque spot where you can indulge in your own artistic ventures. The Queenstown Centre for Creative Photography offers total-immersion weekend workshops for those who want to perfect their abilities—and what an amazing tableau for better photos!
You can also embark on a Queenstown Art Adventure and have a personal tutor accompany you to a choice spot as you paint away while gazing at The Remarkable Mountains or Lake Wakatipu. During these outings, you can also visit private artists’ studios and several dealer art galleries. Lunch is usually held at local vineyards, where award-winning wines are served. If you do make your debut in the Kiwi art world, the tour guide will let you take home all of your materials and your masterpiece, ready for framing. You can also bring your own art group with your materials and take advantage of a bit of coaching while you try to capture one picturesque sight or another. The outings kick off at 9 a.m. and will have you home in time for dinner.
If you simply want to browse the work of others, Queenstown offers several galleries. The Fine Art Gallery sells the work of many top Kiwi artists, while the Milford Galleries specializes in contemporary art and sculpture. The David John Gallery features one of New Zealand’s most famous realist painters, while the Toi o Tahuna showcases modern Maori art.
Other galleries include the Artbay, Central Art Galleries and the Ivan Clarke, all of which have enough works to keep you busy for hours. For more lowbrow fare, you can always visit the weekly craft fairs in the area. For music lovers, concerts are held year-round, as well as an international jazz festival on an annual basis. There’s plenty of culture both ancient and modern to stimulate your senses in a variety of ways in a town that could remind you of an Alpine village, but with an oceanic climate and Kiwi hospitality.
With so much on offer, you have no excuse for not grabbing a rental car from one of the many car hire companies in town (such as Omega Car Rental Queenstown), and traveling around Queenstown’s many galleries.