Queenstown has a rich heritage dating back to the early Maori. The Waitaha people explored and lived in Te Wai Pounamu (the place of greenstone) from as early as 850AD. While exploring the South Island of New Zealand the Waitaha saw Lake Wakatipu from the top of the Crown Range and thought it was the ocean. Throughout the 1500’s – 1700’s more iwi (tribes) came to the region and united into one named Ngai Tahu. The Wakatipu was important to the iwi who used the area mostly for a base for hunting and gathering food and pounamu (greenstone).
The first European settlers to the region were William Rees and Nicholas Von Tunzelman who leased land from the government to use the fertile grazing land for sheep farming. Rees owned the first boat on Lake Wakatipu that he used to bring in materials and people from Invercargill into Queenstown Bay. By 1861 a small community of people were living in Queenstown, known then as “The Camp”.
A shepherd working for Rees discovered gold in the Arrow River in mid-1862. The word spread of his find and a gold rush began with miners from all over the world descending on the Wakatipu. As the mining community grew, Rees capitalised on the opportunities supplying goods and services to the hungry miners. Gold was then discovered in the Shotover River in 1863, the region boomed and permanent buildings saw “The Camp” transformed into Queenstown.
After 50 years of gold mining, the people who stayed in the Wakatipu reverted back to farming as their main source of employment. But the international fascination with Queenstown had begun and tourism was an ever growing industry for the region.
The railway from Dunedin to Kingston in the late 1870’s opened up the Wakatipu to the rest of New Zealand, but it wasn’t until the 1930’s that considerable developments were made to encourage visitors to Queenstown. The area was connected by road to Christchurch and the dominant summer visitor period made way for the considerable interest in skiing. Now a year round visitor destination, growth in tourism was proven to be Queenstown’s economic future.