Queenstown History

From early Maori history to the gold rush days, the world’s first commercial jet boat to bungy jumping... find out about Queenstown’s rich history.

Maori History

The first people to roam Queenstown its surrounds were Polynesians who hunted in the area around 1200AD.

Later, Maori people travelled overland to Queenstown in search of food, stone and fibre. Many came from the West Coast and used the area as a resting place. They hunted moa; large, flightless birds. The moa statue in Earnslaw Park is the closest you’ll get to seeing one in Queenstown these days; they were hunted to extinction, possibly as early as 1300AD.


Scotsman Nathanael Chalmers was the first European to visit Queenstown. Chalmers and his guide Reko, a Maori chief, saw Lake Wakatipu in September 1853.

In 1860, William Gilbert Rees and fellow explorer, Nicholas Paul Baltasar von Tunzlemann took the Crown Range route between Wanaka and Queenstown. The Crown Range runs via Cardrona Valley and rises to 1,120 meters, it’s the highest main road in New Zealand.


In 1862, Maori shepherd Jack Tewa was working for Rees. Tewa found alluvial gold in the Arrow River and shortly afterward, his fellow workers William Fox and John O’Callaghan found significant deposits.

A shanty town of canvas and caravans was quickly erected on Ree’s doorstep as miners flooded in from the Australian and Californian goldfields. Many others, with little or no experience, arrived from around the world hoping to strike lucky in Queenstown and Arrowtown.


Did such a lake exist in Europe, it would be classed as one of the most picturesque and wildly grand and magnificent objects of interest to all wonder seekers and would attract tourists from all parts of the continent and America. McKay’s Otago Almanac of 1870.

Queenstown has long been recognised as an area of outstanding natural beauty, and the infrastructure put in place during the gold rush made it easy for early tourists to get here.

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