By Caroline Thorpe
Situated amid mountainous splendour halfway along the eastern shore of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown was founded during the gold rush on New Zealand’s South Island in the 19th century. Today, homes in and around the former mining town are the most expensive in the country.
Heavily dependent on tourism, which accounted for 55.6 per cent of local GDP last year, Queenstown’s economy is performing well, according to data provider Infometrics. In the past five years, GDP in the town and surrounding area grew by 8.7 per cent, compared with a national growth rate of 3.4 per cent over the same period. The local population has also expanded, increasing by an average 6.1 per cent a year between 2014 and 2019 to 41,700. In 2018, 1,920 international and domestic migrants settled in the Queenstown-Lakes District.
Queenstown has paid a price for its popularity: local infrastructure has struggled to cope with tourist numbers. However, last month the national government pledged NZ$90m to improve roads and public transport in the town. “Such a small group of ratepayers having to maintain...the jewel in the crown of our visitor economy, with a huge number of visitors arriving each year, is not sustainable,” New Zealand transport minister Phil Twyford told Crux, a local community website.
New Zealand’s parliament voted to ban sales of existing homes to non-resident foreigners in August 2018, unless they are from Australia or Singapore or can prove their actions will have wider benefits to the country. Queenstown, with a reputation for attracting wealthy international buyers, was one of the markets firmly in the government’s sights when it introduced the ban. At the time, trade minister David Parker told MPs that international buyers had purchased one in 10 homes sold in the Queenstown-Lakes District in a recent quarter.
Though Queenstown property remains the nation’s most expensive, with house prices averaging nearly NZ$1.2m, compared with just over NZ$687,000 nationally, growth has stalled. Prices increased 0.8 per cent in 2019, compared with 7.3 per cent in 2018, and sales volumes have fallen by around 20 per cent from their 2016 peak, according to Corelogic. Those foreigners still eligible to buy might want to take advantage of the slowdown and strike now. Sotheby’s International Realty is marketing a five-bedroom house with uninterrupted views of Lake Wakatipu, five miles west of Queenstown, for NZ$8m-10m.
Residents of Queenstown — dubbed New Zealand’s “adventure capital” — are never far from an adrenalin rush. Skiers and snowboarders can shun the ski lifts and make for the perfect powder of peaks such as Mounts Pisa and Aspiring in a helicopter with Harris Mountains Heli-ski during the winter months. Water lovers can “surf” the rapids of the nearby Kawarau River with a Riverboarding guide and daredevils with a head for heights can brave the Canyon Fox, a 445m-long zip line ride across Shotover Canyon. Children get in on the action early: snowboarding is on the PE curriculum at Queenstown Primary School.
There is plenty to calm the nerves, too. The 110km-long Queenstown Trail is a walking path that takes in rivers, lakes and mountain ranges and offers opportunities to spot wildlife including the elusive kea, a rare alpine parrot. Millbrook Resort, a 20-minute drive from Queenstown, was voted New Zealand’s top luxury spa resort at the World Luxury Spa Awards in 2019.
Looking for a home in Queenstown? Check out the FT’s Property Listings.
Photographs: Dreamstime; Alamy