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Queenstown is one of my favorite places in the entire world, known for its breathtaking scenery, friendly locals, epic restaurants, and a wide array of adventure activities. One of the best ways to explore Queenstown is by joining one (or many) of the guided tours available.
Whether you’re visiting Queenstown for 3 days or a full week, tours will help you experience this gorgeous town to the fullest. However, there are so many tours in this scenic town that it can be hard to choose which ones to do during your stay here. That’s why I’ve put together this list to help you narrow it down, including tours for the adventure-driven and those who just want to chill out. Basically, I’ve thought of everything so that you don’t have to!
Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand, so it’s no wonder that most of the tours on this list will be sure to get your adrenalin pumping. From skydiving to bungy jumping to jetskiing, Queenstown is the place to be if you like your activities to be fast-paced, lots of fun, and memorable!
So, I won’t keep you waiting any longer; here are 15 of the absolute best tours in Queenstown!
The BEST Tours in Queenstown, NZ
1. Jet Boating
Jet boating is, without a doubt, one of the most popular tours in Queenstown. This fast-paced activity will take you pummelling down Lake Wakapitu or zooming around the rivers outside town.
Imagine reaching speeds of up to 90 km/hour (56 miles/hour) while taking in some of the region’s most scenic sights. Not only that, but your experienced driver will try to scare you with heartstopping 360-degree turns and unexpected stops.
You will get drenched, but no need to worry as splash-proof clothing is provided. Regardless, it’s so much fun and suitable for the whole family!
My top tip if you don’t want to get wet is to sit behind the driver, as he/she never will never intentionally get themselves wet!
What’s great, too, is that jetboating is one of the cheapest adventure tours in Queenstown. There are 5 different operators to choose from, including the famous Shotover Jet, but in fact, I highly recommend the K-Jet – it was one of our favorite things to do in Queenstown!
I recently did the 60-minute KJet ride and what’s handy is that it departs from the main pier in Queenstown – so there is no need to travel outside of town. The boat zips away from town and down the Kawarau and Shotover Rivers, at times getting up to a speed of 95 km per hour! In fact, KJet prides itself on being one of the fastest jetboats in Queenstown.
It costs as little as $116 NZD. There’s no height restriction too, which means kids can join in the fun for as little as $62 NZD! As I mentioned, it’s one of my favorite adrenalin-pumping tours in Queenstown, and I laughed the entire ride!
K-Jet tours are available year-round. You can also hop on this jetboat from their marina at Frankton, if you wish!
Related Read: Looking for other budget-friendly activities? Check out these free and cheap things to do in Queenstown with kids!
2. Gibbston Valley Wine tour
If you love wine, then you just have to check out the Gibbston Valley wine region during your time in Queenstown. Just 30 minutes from Queenstown, the Gibbston Valley is home to 8 cellar doors where you can taste lots of delicious wine, including the famous Pinot Noir, which is most commonly grown in this region.
So, if you want to truly enjoy the best of this region and sample some seriously awesome wine, then I highly advise joining a guided tour.
We really loved this afternoon boutique wine tour, which at between 3-4 hours is handy if you have a jam-packed schedule because it means you can fit in another incredible Queenstown tour in the morning.
On this particular tour, you will visit 3 of the most popular wineries in the Gibbston Valley, where you will sample up to 15 different wines and take in the stunning scenery. Plus, a delicious local cheese platter is also included in the price. Learn all about how the different wines are made, what varieties are grown in this region, and why.
This small group tour includes return transfers from Queenstown CBD and costs from $192 NZD per person. Which I personally think is very reasonable, considering what’s included!
3. TSS Earnslaw BBQ Lunch
I’ve had a lot of great food in Queenstown, but in fact, one of my favorite foodie experiences in town was the spectacular BBQ lunch that’s served up over at Walter Peak. Not only is the food seriously delicious, with a plethora of cuisines served up buffet-style, from colorful salads, ribs, beef brisket, and seafood to sweet-tasting desserts and more, but the journey to get there is completely unique.
The only way to enjoy this BBQ lunch is to hop on the historic TSS Earnslaw steamship and cruise across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak, where your lunch is served in a building rich in history (known as the Colonel’s Homestead).
The TSS Earnslaw is, in fact, the last remaining vessel from the gold rush. The tour company RealNZ (previously called Real Journeys) restored the ship and now offers this tour, which I reckon is a must-do tour in Queenstown. It’s a traditional coal-powered ship, and while on board, you can watch workers shoveling coal into the burner!
Also included in this particular tour is a sheep shearing demonstration as well as the chance to see the sheep dogs round up the sheep. It’s such a great experience, and kids especially love this part of the tour.
Allow 3.5 hours for this tour, and prices start at $147 NZD per adult. The TSS Earnslaw departs from its dock at 88 Beach Street, right in the heart of downtown Queenstown.
4. Lord of the Rings Tour
If you’re a ‘ringer’ – aka a Lord of the Rings fan, I think it’s safe to say that visiting New Zealand is on your bucket list. Many kiwis credit this insanely popular movie franchise with putting New Zealand on the tourist map!
And did you know that many of the scenes from these movies were filmed in and around Queenstown?! Yep, Arwen’s river flood is Skippers Canyon; Edoras to Helm’s Deep is Deer Park Heights; Dimrill Dale is Lake Alta atop the Remarkables, and River Anduin is the Kawarau Gorge – to name but a few.
But, because many of these locations are hard to reach and require a 4×4 vehicle to get to, the best way to see them is on a guided tour. There are a few different Lord of the Rings tours in Queenstown to choose from, but to me, one stands out from the rest.
I learned so much about the movies on this half-day tour which takes you to Deer Park Heights, Kawarau Gorge, and up the Remarkables to see where some famous scenes were filmed. Your knowledgeable guide will tell you some interesting facts about the filming of these scenes, about the films in general, and also some fascinating tidbits about Queenstown itself. I really enjoyed his commentary!
What’s cool, too, is that on this particular tour, you get to drive through the Arrow River and pan for gold! So, even if you’re not a LOTR fan, you will enjoy this awesome Queenstown tour!
Be sure to take plenty of photos on this tour because the scenery is truly breathtaking. Allow 4 hours for this tour, and prices start from $257 NZD per adult.
5. Milford Sound Coach Day Trip
Milford Sound is one of the most beautiful places in all of New Zealand. Known as the 8th wonder of the world – this fjord (yep, it’s actually a fjord, not a sound) is breathtakingly beautiful and is home to unique flora and fauna as well as abundant wildlife like dolphins and penguins.
In fact, joining a tour here from Queenstown is something that most tourists to Queenstown do! It’s such an easy day trip from Queenstown, too. And I have to agree, of all the tours listed here, a visit to Milford Sound is a must-do in my opinion.
As you can imagine, there are plenty of tour options from Queenstown to Milford Sound, from hopping on a luxurious helicopter, getting a fixed-wing plane, or getting a coach here. The most popular option (and one that tends to book out well in advance) is this return coach tour because it’s the cheapest option at just $179 NZD per person. But be warned, it’s a long day at over 12 hours, including a whopping 7 hours on the coach!
The coach is very comfortable, though, and along the way, you will be treated to the epic scenery within Fiordland National Park, and your driver will stop at Te Anau, Eglinton Valley, and the Mirror Lakes so that you can take some photos!
As soon as you reach Milford Sound, you will hop on a boat for an hour and 45-minute long nature cruise. Your captain will take you up close to some of the most impressive waterfalls in NZ, as well as the rocky outcrops, so that you can see the elusive Fiordland Penguin. You should also keep your eyes peeled for the friendly dolphins native to the area. Also included in the price is a picnic-style lunch which will be served onboard the boat, as well as tea and coffee.
As I mentioned, the day is a long one at 12.5 hours total (including 3.5 hours of driving each way). You will need to depart Queenstown at 7:00 am and should get back at 7:30 pm. So, if you get travel sick or have small kids, this may not be the ideal tour for you.
This is one of the most popular tours in Queenstown, so be sure to book it online in advance.
Related Read: Eglinton Valley and Mirror Lakes are two of the best stops on the way to Milford Sound, – check out the others!
6. Take a Scenic Flight/ Helicopter Tour
Queenstown from above is a sight to behold, it’s one of the best ways to see the region in all its glory. See the snow-covered mountain ranges and deep blue lakes and rivers from a prime vantage point – your seat in a luxurious helicopter!
Locals will tell you that Queenstown can only be fully appreciated from above, so why not join one of the best tours in Queenstown – a helicopter tour? I will say that it’s not the cheapest tour on this list, but it’s definitely a bucket-list activity and one that you will remember forever!
One of the most reasonably-priced helicopter tours in Queenstown is this 20-minute Pilots Choice option. Sure, it’s short and sweet at just 20 minutes, but it takes in sights like Lake Wakatipu and the Southern Alps and even includes an alpine landing. Yep, your pilot will expertly land at 5,046 feet (1,538 meters) above Lake Wakatipu so that you can take some awe-inspiring photos. All that for the cheap rate of $264 NZD per person!
Plus, because there are just 6 seats in the helicopter, it allows for a more personalized experience. Pick up and drop off from your Queenstown accommodation is included.
Alternatively, if you’d prefer a fixed-wing plane tour (these are like mini airplanes), then this Milford Sound and Glaciers flight is a fantastic option. It’s an hour long and costs from $439 NZD. Although because of the structure of the fixed-wing plane, it can’t land remotely, unlike the helicopter. There are also a few different scenic flights to Milford Sound that you can choose from!
Related Read: Check out 7 of the best scenic flight tours on offer in Queenstown!
7. Dart River Funyak
Another memorable tour option in the Queenstown area is this funyak tour which operates in the picturesque Dart River in Glenorchy, a 30-minute drive from Queenstown. It’s one of the most unique tours from Queenstown to Glenorchy, which is a super scenic area to explore.
Now, I bet you’ve never heard the term ‘funyak’ before. Well, they’re essentially blow-up kayaks and are a play on the words ‘fun’ and ‘kayak.’ Yes, you will definitely have a lot of fun navigating the Dart River and the canyons around it on these kayaks!
This awesome funyak tour includes an exhilarating jet boat ride down the Dart River before hopping on your funyak and exploring the river at a more casual pace. Because of the smaller size of the funyak, you can get into smaller rock pools and hidden streams. No experience is necessary as these devices are easy to handle, and you will paddle behind your experienced guide, who will ensure you are safe at all times.
This particular tour costs $397 NZD per person, is just over 8 hours long, and includes hotel drop off and pick up from your Queenstown accommodation.
Canyoning is an adventurous sport and is best described as a type of mountaineering where one must travel through canyons using various techniques like climbing and rappelling. It’s popular with Queenstown locals and adventurous tourists who are after a challenging tour that will get their heart pumping.
As a result, there are plenty of canyoning tours on offer from Queenstown!
I’ve been lucky enough to experience several different canyoning tours on my travels, and I must admit this canyoning tour in Queenstown was my favorite! It’s a half-day tour, so, 4 hours in total and takes place out at Kawarau Canyon – a short drive from Queenstown.
On this tour, expect to jump from cliffs, rappel down a waterfall and slide down natural water slides. Sure, it’s a little scary at times, but it’s completely safe, and an experienced guide is on-hand at all times to help you if needed. Plus, all safety gear is included (including a thick wetsuit to keep you warm!)
No experience is required, but I should point out that because it’s a water-based activity, you need to be comfortable in the water. It’s also important not to be afraid of heights as you will be jumping off steep cliffs, as well as the above a reasonable level of fitness is advised.
All you need to take with you is a swimsuit and a change of clothes. This particular tour costs from $224 NZD per person. It’s worth noting that canyoning in Queenstown is only available in the summer months; however, this activity sometimes opens in late spring, depending on the weather.
9. Shotover Canyon Swing
Now, this is one to tell your friends at home about! A little similar to a bungy jump but less extreme, the Shotover Canyon Swing involves you plunging from 109 meters (358 feet) while attached to a safety rope, of course, and swinging into the Shotover Canyon.
Your stomach will drop as you free fall for 60 meters (197 feet) from the platform! The canyon itself is scenic, very middle earth, and is such a beautiful spot for such an adrenalin-pumping tour!
You can even do the Canyon Swing attached to a plastic garden chair or tandem (with another person). There are 70 jumping styles to choose from – just ask your jump master for some ideas!
This is a great option for anyone who doesn’t have the nerve to bungy jump but is still after a similar adrenaline-filled experience. This also makes it one of the most popular adventure tours in Queenstown.
On the other hand, jumping while attached to a plastic chair is the ultimate experience for thrill-seekers!
The Shotover Canyon Swing costs $234 NZD per person and includes pick up and drop off to Queenstown. Allow 3 hours for this Queenstown tour!
Moving on quite nicely to the next Queenstown tour on the list – ziplining. If you’ve ridden the gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak, you’ll know that one of the best activities in Queenstown is located here – Ziptrek ziplining tours operate from this prime vantage point, complete with outstanding views over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.
There are several different ziplining tours to choose from depending on how brave you are and how much time you have. The shorter tour option features just 2 ziplines, while the longer, more thrilling 3-hour tour boasts 6 ziplines.
I loved this 3-hour zipline experience because not only does it include 6 different ziplines, one of which is the steepest tree-to-tree zipline in the world – it boasts a 21-meter drop, but the views are stunning too. As a matter of fact, this zipline descends 30 stories at 70 kilometers (44 miles) per hour! And it costs a purse-friendly $195 NZD per person.
While the 1-hour zipline experience includes 2 different zip lines and costs $99 NZD.
You can either hike to the zipline starting point via the Tiki Trail or get the Skyline Gondola; note the gondola ticket is extra!
11. Quad Biking Tour
Another incredible tour in Queenstown that’s sure to get your heart racing is this quad bike (aka ATV tour) on Queenstown Hill, which takes in incredible scenery at high speed. On this tour, you drive the quad yourself on off-road terrains, like across rivers and up steep mountains – it’s so much fun!
And you actually want it to be raining when you do this tour because then you can whizz through mud and puddles! You will be provided with weatherproof gear, too, so there is no need to worry about getting your clothes dirty!
Would you believe that quad bikes can reach speeds of 144 km (90 miles) per hour?
This 3.5-hour long guided tour starts with a safety briefing where your guide will show you the ropes so that you can expertly drive this high-powered vehicle.
Anyone over 16 years of age can join this tour, and it’s suitable for beginners too. Expect to pay around $309 NZD per person.
For true daredevils only, this next tour is definitely bucket-list-worthy. Yes, for true thrillseekers, what can compare with a 15,000 feet skydive above Queenstown’s majestic landscape?! Not a whole lot!
Of course, if you want to ease yourself into the sport, you can try the 9000 feet or 12000 feet skydive. But, the 15000 feet jump is a real challenge as it involves a whopping 60-second free fall at speeds of up to 200 km per hour! The views from the plane before you jump and while you’re falling of the Remarkables are spectacular! In fact, you’ll be falling at a height twice that of the Remarkables!!
For the 15000 feet jump, allow up to 4 hours, this one costs $515 NZD per person, but the lower jumps cost less, so keep that in mind if you’re on a budget. Free transport to and from Queenstown is included!
13. Guided tour to Arrowtown and Wanaka
Back in the day, Arrowtown was New Zealand’s most coveted gold mining area. Today though, it’s a cute little town that boasts a rich history.
Arrowtown has managed to preserve much of its historic charm and is nothing short of picture-perfect. And in autumn, it’s one of the South Island’s major foliage highlights – definitely not to be missed! With some of the brightest fall colors around, it’s a major autumn destination.
That’s not to say that Arrowtown isn’t awesome at every other time of year, too. Whether it’s shopping you’re after, a taste of history, a dive into the local food at some of Arrowtown’s best cafes, or some world-class hiking, there are lots of different things to do in Arrowtown. And the best part is that it’s located only a short 15-minute drive from Queenstown.
One of the best ways to experience Arrowtown is on a tour from Queenstown. My recommendation is this specific guided tour. Not only will this tour bring to Arrowtown, but it also visits Wanaka and some of the top attractions there including the Wanaka Tree. It’s a great sightseeing tour from Queenstown showcasing some of the cutest nearby towns.
This particular sightseeing tour is 7.5 hours long, includes hotel pick-up/drop-off, and costs $259 NZD per person when you book online here.
Another awesome activity that takes place from the top of the Skyline gondola, also known as Bob’s Peak, is paragliding. Unlike the adrenalin-pumping skydive, paragliding is actually quite a relaxing experience! That’s because even though you’re jumping from a height, your descent is quite slow, so you can take in the breathtaking vistas on the way down.
You will be strapped into a safety harness which is connected to your experienced guide, who will tandem glide with you, and then you will run off the mountain and into the air. It sounds very scary, but it’s honestly so thrilling – it’s such an adrenaline rush!
You’ll be in the air for approximately 15 minutes before landing in Queenstown. The tour is suitable for beginners or those looking for a thrill; whatever type of flight you’re after, it can be catered to. Prices start from $255 NZD per person, and you will need to allow 1.5 hours for this activity.
On a sunny day, kayaking is the perfect way to get some sun and exercise at the same time. The calm waters of Lake Wakatipu are perfect for it and there is a large area that is off-limits to boats. So you don’t have to worry about noisy boats and waves. You can hire a kayak from the beach in town and head off on your own to explore the lake, this is a cheap but fun thing to do in Queenstown.
However, one of the best guided tours I did in Queenstown involved kayaking at Moke Lake. This lake is a hidden gem in Queenstown and is about a 20 minute drive from town. In fact, the scenery here is very similar to middle earth.
This small group tour starts with a safety briefing before your handed a map and given the freedom to paddle the lake at your own pace. Allow 3.5 hours for this particular activity, prices start at a very reasonable $146 NZD and transfers to and from Queenstown are included.
Where to Stay in Queenstown
Finding the right place to stay in Queenstown can be hard. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of awesome choices, but things book up fast! For that reason, I highly suggest booking your accommodation well in advance.
Honestly, during peak times, any of the best hotels in Queenstown will be fully booked several weeks in advance…you have been warned! To help you plan ahead, here are a few places I personally love and that would make an awesome place to stay in Queenstown.
Kamana Lakehouse – $$$
For a luxurious stay, I highly recommend Kamana Lakehouse. This hotel is located just on the outskirts of town. Although it’s super peaceful, it’s just a 5-minute drive into the center of town. The place overlooks both the lake and the mountains, and the onsite restaurant uses local, seasonal ingredients to create the freshest meals. To top it off, many of the rooms boast lake views, and some even have outdoor baths!
The trick will be snagging this for your dates (it’s a popular place!). Rooms start around the $400 NZD mark, and you can check availability and book online here.
La Quinta Queenstown – $$
If you’re looking for a mid-range hotel, then you should seriously consider La Quinta Queenstown. This beautiful hotel is right by the airport but still very quiet. Plus, the views are amazing (although you won’t find me recommending a place without great views!). The rooms are all studio or one-bedroom apartments, which is really handy if you want to cook or even just have breakfast in your room.
Prices start at $200 NZD and you can book online here.
Absoloot Hostel Queenstown – $
My top choice for budget travelers is the Absoloot Hostel Queenstown. This small hostel has dorm rooms and budget private rooms, and it’s really clean and comfortable. The location is in the heart of Queenstown – the window from the kitchen looks out over Lake Wakatipu!
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. My top choice for a motorhome company is Star RV because they have beautiful motorhomes at affordable prices. You can check prices and availability for Star RV motorhomes online here. Alternatively, you can use Motorhome Republic to search all motorhomes in NZ. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.
Thanks for reading!
And that’s a wrap on 15 of the best tours in Queenstown, as you can see I’ve included the creme-de-la-creme of Queenstown tours – and there’s an activity suitable for everyone on this list! Whether you choose just one or several of the tours on this list, I just know it will only add to your experience in this bustling resort town!
Before you visit Queenstown, be sure to look around on this website more. I have written tons of detailed articles about Queenstown and other amazing places to visit in the South Island that I’m sure you’ll want to check out! Here are some of my most popular guides: