Queenstown is a resort city in the midst of the wilderness, catering to those who prefer their activities fast, dangerous, and varied. With all of the sludging, bungeeing, heli-biking, luging, and more at your disposal, it's true that authentic culture tends to take a backseat. Still, there are opportunities to bask in the traditional Maori customs and gold-mining lineage that have developed Queenstown into the destination that it is today.
The Maori presence in Queenstown is hardly the tribal lifestyle that travelers may envision; the closest you'll get is the Kiwi Haka Cultural Experience, a performance of song, dance, clothing, and custom put on in a little theater at the Skyline facility. Instead, you'll find that the Maori people of the area have largely incorporated into modern society, while Maori phrases like the ubiquitous kia ora (basically “hello”) are mainstays in the conversation of many New Zealanders.
The other prevalent aspect of Queenstown's history is the influx of local settlements in the 19th century due to the prodigious amounts of gold to be drudged up from the canyons and rivers of the Otago region. Many adventures that you'll be undertaking will also have a cultural element to them: the ride along the dangerously narrow cliff-top road or the jet boat through the river into Skippers Canyon includes a terminus at Skippers Point, a former mining town that only has a few buildings that remain well-preserved. A 4-wheel drive or mountain biking trek that criss-crosses the Arrow River up to Macetown (near Arrowtown) brings you to a very similar destination of abandoned building foundations and a few preserved houses. Then again, your best chance to encapsulate the area's history may be to visit theLakes District Museum in nearby Arrowtown. The museum has plenty of displays and artifacts from the multiple historical influences in the Queenstown area, while a walk along the main street in Arrowtown will be a chance to transport yourself back to the décor and styles of 19th century New Zealand.
For more information on what is available on the cultural end of the spectrum, browse through our activities or check with our embark community.