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8 Absolute BEST Day Trips from Queenstown

8 Absolute BEST Day Trips from Queenstown

Queenstown is one of the most popular places for tourists to visit in New Zealand. Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful, home to friendly locals, awesome bars, and restaurants, but there’s also a whole host of memorable activities on offer here that you could easily fill up a full week with activities and still not do them all.

Would you believe me then if I told you that most of my favorite things to do in Queenstown are a little outside of the town itself? Yep, Queenstown is the gateway to some stunning, lesser-known destinations like Arrowtown, Wanaka, and the Gibbston Valley. But also several more popular places like Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, and Mount Cook – which are slightly further afield but still easily doable in one full day!

So, if you’re looking for an exciting way to enjoy a day away from bustling Queenstown – here are 8 of the best day trip options from Queenstown! There’s a wide variety of day trips on this list, from the lush wildlife haven of Doubtful Sound to one of the best wine destinations in the country – Gibbston Valley!

Consider this blog post your ultimate guide to the best day trips from Queenstown!

The BEST Day Trips from Queenstown

1. The Gibbston Valley

Walking the vines at a vineyard in the Gibbston Valley
Just checking the grapes in the gorgeous Gobbston Valley!

The Gibbston Valley is a world-famous wine region renowned especially for its delicious Pinot Noir variety! And what’s great is that it’s just a 30-minute drive (30 km/ 18 miles) from Queenstown, so a day trip here can easily be squeezed into your Queenstown holiday.

This wine-growing region is the highest and coldest in Central Otago, and most of the ground here slopes to the North, thus catching a lot of sunlight. The combination of these two factors makes Gibbston Valley one of the most perfect areas in New Zealand for harvesting grapes. 

Of course, because this Queenstown day trip is so close to town, you may decide to drive it yourself. However, because you’ll likely want to sample all the delicious wines, I recommend joining a guided tour like this one, which I’ll go into more detail about below!

There are 8 cellar doors within the Gibbston Valley area, but my personal favorites include Kinross Winery and Bald Hills Cellar Door. And, of course, you must visit the famed Gibbston Valley Winery, which is a stop on almost every guided tour of the region; hence, it tends to be a little busier than the others.

At Gibbston Valley Winery you can check out the biggest wine cave in New Zealand, which is very cool! It also has a tasting room, cheesery, and restaurant. Plus, there’s an epic view of the surrounding rolling hills and vines from here, so you’re in for a treat! Tastings at the Cellar Door at Gibbston Valley start at just $10 NZD!

As I mentioned, if you want to visit multiple wineries and drink some memorable wines, then it’s best to go on an organized wine tour from Queenstown as opposed to driving yourself. This Valley of the Vines Wine Tour is 4.5 hours long and comes highly recommended. It includes a visit to several wineries, a tasty lunch, and a luxurious minivan to transport you around, all for $263 NZD per person.

Or if you’re after a unique tour that will keep your fitness levels in check, too, then why not book this bike tour to the Gibbston Valley? You will be transported from Queenstown to Arrowtown, where you will be fitted for your bike and given a map before heading off on the stunning trail to Gibbston Valley, stop at any winery you please, and when you’re done, a minibus will pick you up and transfer you back to Queenstown! 

Related Read: Check out what we think are the best wineries in and near Queenstown before you head to the Gibbston Valley!

2. Milford Sound

The Milford Sound Dock with Mitre Peak in the background
Milford Sound is stunning at any time of year!

No trip to New Zealand is complete without a visit to the 8th wonder of the world – Milford Sound; it’s just such an amazing place to visit on the South Island. In fact, this stunning fiord (yes, it’s a fiord, not a sound) attracts over a million visitors annually, most of whom come here from Queenstown.

However, because it’s quite a long drive from Queenstown (3.5 hours/ 288 km each way), you will need to allow approximately 12 hours for this day trip! It’s so worth the long day, though! 

If you have a rental car, you may choose to drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound. As I mentioned, it’s 3.5 hours each way without stops, and believe me, there are plenty of must-visit stops along this drive, particularly after the town of Te Anau. Once you pass Te Anau, you’ll want to make sure to stop at the Eglinton Valley, Mirror Lakes, and the Homer Tunnel, to name but a few. Hence, if your itinerary allows, consider spending a night in Te Anau to break up the drive nicely! 

A boat cruise is a must-do in Milford Sound!

When you arrive in Milford Sound, you must book a boat cruise! This is the best way to see the area as it allows you to get up close to mighty waterfalls and even spot wildlife like the elusive Fiordland penguins and dolphins. Most cruises last 2-2.5 hours. 

As you can imagine, due to Milford Sounds’ popularity, there are numerous different tours operating to the area from Queenstown, and each one varies in duration in price. So, it’s completely up to you which one you choose. 

The most popular tour is this Coach & Cruise Tour which is a whopping 12+ hours long, including 7 hours of driving total, a 2-hour nature cruise, and a couple of stops along the way. But at just $250 NZD, it’s the most budget-friendly option.

But, I think one of the best ways to see Milford Sound is via a fixed-wing plane because that way, you get the best views of the epic scenery without having to deal with huge crowds. Other tour options to choose from include a Fly & Cruise tour (combines both a fly-over Milford and a boat tour) or a 2-day Milford & Te Anau tour if your itinerary allows. However, there are a few different scenic flights to Milford that you can choose from.

3. Wanaka

How gorgeous is Wanaka!

Dare I say that if I had to choose to live anywhere else in New Zealand, it would be in Wanaka? This small beautiful town, surrounded by the Southern Alps, is often referred to as ‘Queenstown’s little sister’ because there are so many similarities between the two towns.

First off, both towns are built around a lake (Lake Wanaka in Wanaka’s case), and both are home to plenty of awesome restaurants and adventure-driven activities. But despite their similarities, many tourists still make the hour’s drive (68 km/ 42 miles) to Wanaka from Queenstown on a day trip. It’s a must-visit town on the South Island, in my opinion. Plus, the drive here from Queenstown via the Crown Range is breathtaking! 

There are heaps of fun things to do in Wanaka. From taking a speedy mountain cart down Cardrona mountain to jet boating the longest river in New Zealand, rest assured, you won’t get bored in Wanaka.

But one of the best activities in Wanaka is going hiking. One of the most famous hikes on the South Island is located here.

In fact, many tourists come to Wanaka just to hike Roy’s Peak Track. This 16 km (10 miles) track is a firm favorite with photographers, thanks to the astounding views of the Southern Alps from its Peak – you’ve probably come across a photo of the view on Instagram! The hike will take approximately 7 hours to complete and is mostly uphill.

Another short but sweet Wanaka activity is walking along the lakefront to Roy’s Bay, where #ThatWanakaTree is located – yep, a tree so famous that it has its own hashtag. This lonely willow tree is the most photographed tree in New Zealand, and visiting is one of the best free things to do in Wanaka

Whilst if you’re visiting Wanaka in winter, you must check out Cardrona Ski Resort, which has wide, open skiable terrain and is ideal for beginners. In fact, this mountain welcomes the most skiers of any ski field in New Zealand. The resort boasts a gondola as well as 2 high-speed quad chair lifts and lots of runs ranging from green to black.

The best way to get to Wanaka from Queenstown is to drive yourself. Alternatively, you can hop on the Intercity Bus which leaves Athol Street regularly and takes 1 hour and 45 minutes to reach Wanaka! Or I like this half-day guided tour that also stops in Arrowtown!

4. Arrowtown

A cute street in Arrowtown near Queenstown, NZ
The main street of Arrowtown!

Arrowtown is one of the most picturesque towns on the South Island if not all of New Zealand! With its old mining-era architecture, scenic walkways, and cute cafes and restaurants, it’s no wonder this tiny town, just a 20-minute drive (19 km/ 12 miles) from downtown, is one of the most popular day-trip options in Queenstown. 

It’s quiet and peaceful for the most part, and a visit here is a great way to escape the busyness of Queenstown. With that said, there are still plenty of things to do in Arrowtown that will fill a full day!  

First up, pay a visit to the town’s main street. The colorful and historic Buckingham Street is home to some excellent restaurants and cafes like Aosta and The Chop Shop, as well as the famous Arrowtown Bakery, where you can taste a kiwi delicacy – the humble meat pie! And you just must visit the Remarkable Sweet Shop, which sells a wide variety of candies.

All the storefronts along Buckingham Street have been preserved from the mining boom era (circa 1862), and walking along the street often feels like you’re in a Country & Western movie. 

A short walk from Buckingham Street, along Bush Creek, is the Arrowtown Chinese Settlement which is a row of tiny old mining huts that once housed Chinese miners. These huts are so basic and give a good indication of the conditions these miners lived in. It’s free to visit, and the information boards along the pathway tell a lot about the mining period. 

While if you want to stretch your legs during your time in Arrowtown,  Sawpit Gully Track is a short scenic hike that gives up German Hill. It starts just past the Chinese Settlement and is 8 km (5 miles) in length, and will take most people 2.5 hours to complete. 

Finally, if you’re after an awesome guided tour of Arrowtown from Queenstown, this Arrowtown and Wanaka Highlights tour is one of the best tours I’ve done. It’s a half-day tour and includes stops at both Arrowtown and Wanaka, as well as the iconic Cardrona Hotel.

5. Glenorchy

The Glenorchy Railway Shed at the foreshore in Glenorchy
Glenorchy’s famous red shed!

The teeny-tiny town of Glenorchy is one of the best day trip options from Queenstown! Not only is there plenty to do in Glenorchy, from jet boating to hiking to enjoying an excellent coffee at Mrs. Woolies General Store, but the drive to Glenorchy from Queenstown is often rated as one of the prettiest in the world. 

At just under a 45-minute drive (42 km/ 26 miles) from Queenstown, Glenorchy is a very popular stop on most people’s New Zealand itineraries. And whether you drive this winding road yourself or hop on a guided tour, make sure to stop along the way (your driver will likely stop many times if you’re on a tour). I mean, there’s so much to see on this short stretch of road – from Wilson’s Bay to Bob’s Cove to Bennett’s Bluff Lookout. 

As I mentioned, Glenorchy is a very small town with a permanent population of around 200 people; you’d be surprised by how many great things there are to do here. And one of the best activities in Glenorchy is hiking.

The famous Routeburn Track starts from here (more on that later), but if you want a more relaxed hike, then the Glenorchy Boardwalk is your best option. This very easy hike begins at the jetty (where the famed red shed stands) and is 5 km (3 miles) long. It’s completely flat the whole way and includes a boardwalk section over the lagoon, so it’s stroller-friendly! 

After a few minutes in Glenorchy, you’ll realize it’s very reminiscent of middle earth (from the Lord of the Rings movies), and that’s because many of the scenes in the movies were filmed here. For example, Faramir Vs. The Oliphaunts is Twelve Mile Delta on the road in; and Isengard is Paradise, a short drive from town.

The best way to see the filming locations is on a guided tour because they can be hard to find and often need a 4×4 vehicle to get to. This is why I highly recommend this organized tour, as it includes a visit to all the filming locations near Glenorchy. 

But, one of my favorite tours in Glenorchy is the Wilderness Jet because not only does it include a speedy jet boat ride down the Dart River, but halfway through, you can get out and explore a remote area and learn about the unique flora, fauna, and wildlife found here!

Related Read: You can also read my personal opinions on all of the top LOTR tours here.

6. Doubtful Sound

A cruise through Doubtful Sound
Doubtful sound is just as beautiful but much less busy than Milford Sound!

Earlier, I gave you Milford Sound, well now, I give you Doubtful Sound – a dramatic, hard-to-reach, magical area hidden within Fiordland National Park. It’s without a doubt one of the best day trips from Queenstown because it’s so unique and difficult to get to, but that only adds to its bucket-list worthiness, in my opinion!

If you were to look for Doubtful Sound on a map, it looks pretty close to Queenstown. But in fact, to reach it, you have to drive to Manapouri (a 2-hour plus drive) and from there, hop on an hour-long boat trip across Lake Manapouri to the other side, where you must then get on a bus into the sound. All in from Queenstown, you will need to allow over 12 hours for this particular day trip, including getting there and the boat cruise.

After about 4 hours of traveling, you will reach the majestic Doubtful Sound – and the starting point for your catamaran cruise through its lush green cliffs and bright blue waters. The cruise is 2 hours and 45 minutes long and includes an informative commentary by your captain. Keep your eyes peeled for the abundant wildlife in the area, including penguins, seals, and dolphins. Your captain will take you all the way out to where the sea meets the sound, and it’s such a picturesque journey, so be sure to take lots of photos.

It’s worth noting that Doubtful Sound can only be experienced on a guided tour!

7. Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Falls Hut and views looking down at Routeburn Flats
Stunning views from the Routeburn Falls Hut!

The Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks, and so as you can imagine, it’s one of the most popular day trip options from Queenstown. The track is a whopping 32 km (20 miles), and if you want to complete the whole thing, it will take between 2 and 3 days. But luckily, there are lots of shorter day hikes that form part of the “Routeburn,” as locals call it, so even if you’re short on time, you can still enjoy this slice of paradise! 

The track traditionally starts just outside Glenorchy at the Routeburn Shelter and finishes at The Divide Shelter on the road between Te Anau and Milford Sound. Of course, you may start the trail from either side, but the Routeburn Shelter is the closest to Queenstown at 70 km (43 miles), or just over an hour’s drive. The best day hikes from the Routeburn Shelter include Lake Harris, Routeburn Falls Hut, and Bridal Veil Falls.

The Bridal Veil Falls hike is between 8 to 10 km (or 5 – 6.2 miles). This trail is wide and mostly flat and so is one of the best options for those who want an easier hike. Along the way, you will be treated to views of the Dart River.

For those who can do a little more hiking in a day but still want to avoid the uphill climbs on the Routeburn Track, then the hike to the Routeburn Flats Hut is a great option. This hike is 15 kilometers return (9.3 miles) and will take about 5 hours to complete, it has only a gradual incline of 300 meters (984 feet) on the way there. But the views from the hut itself are truly spectacular – be sure to take plenty of photos.

If you want a bit of a challenge then Lake Harris is the one for you! It’s the longest day hike option at the Routeburn and is a whopping 25 km (15.5 miles) return. Therefore you’ll need to allow a full day to complete this one. But it’s worth it – Lake Harris is simply stunning.

Alternatively, you can book on a guided day hike of the Routeburn, which is 12 hours long and includes round-trip transport from Queenstown – it’s one of the best tours in Queenstown!

8. Mt Cook

Two people run down the road at the famous Mount Cook Road photo location
I love this photo of us on the road to Mount Cook!

Mount Cook is a lengthy 275 km (171 miles) from Queenstown and will take 3 hours to drive to, without stops, that is. Despite the long travel time, I still think Mount Cook is a worthy day trip from Queenstown, provided you depart Queenstown early in the morning. 

Mount Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand at a mighty 3,724 meters (12,218 feet) and is nicknamed the “cloud piercer.” It also goes by the Maori name of Aoraki. It attracts many tourists every day who come here to hike, climb or participate in the interesting sport of glacier kayaking.

Because you’ll be tight on time, it’s best to pick just one or two activities to fill your day in Mount Cook. I’ve listed the best ones below. 

This  50-minute helicopter tour is a great option for travelers who want to get as close as possible to Mount Cook because you get to see the mountain in all its glory without the crowds! On the tour, you’ll soar over Mount Cook, the Tasman glacier, and across to the West Coast to see Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. An alpine landing is also included! It should come as no surprise that this is one of the best helicopter tours in Queenstown.

The Hooker Lake on the Hooker Valley Track
Sunset reflections at Hooker Lake!

Another one of the best things to do in Mount Cook National Park is to hike the Hooker Valley Track, which starts at the White Horse Hill campground. It’s a flat, easy, and family-friendly hike that will take 1.5 hours each way. There are three swing bridges on this trail that are so photogenic and provide one of the best opportunities to see Mount Cook. Plus, if you hike this trail in the winter months, you will likely see numerous icebergs floating in the lake. It’s one of the best hikes in Mount Cook, in my opinion!

There is also a guided tour option for Hooker Valley that departs from Queenstown that spends 3 hours hiking and the rest of the day visiting several spots in the area, including Mt Cook Village, High Country Salmon Farm, and Mrs. Jones Fruit Orchard.

Related Read: Be sure to stop on the road into Mount Cook for a stunning photo!

Where to Stay in Queenstown

The Hilton Resort and Spa Queenstown
The stunning Hilton Hotel!

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. It’s not that you won’t find something later on, but that all the really good places go first!

To get you started, here are a few places I personally love and that would make an awesome place to stay in Queenstown.

The first is for budget travelers and that’s Absoloot Hostel Queenstown. This small hostel has dorm rooms and budget privates 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! It is easily one of the top cheap hostels in Queenstown.

If you have a little more money to spend then you should seriously consider Chalet Queenstown. I’m a supporter of smaller hotels because I feel you get better service. Based on recommendations, I stayed at Chalet Queenstown when I first arrived. It’s a beautiful hotel in a quiet but close location and the views are amazing (although you won’t find me recommending a place without great views!)

If you’re one of the lucky ones, you know the luxury travelers, then you’re going to be spoiled for choice in Queenstown. I’ve personally stayed at the Hilton Resort and Spa on my anniversary and loved it. If you want an even more luxurious stay, look at Kamana Lakehouse. This hotel has the most beautiful spa overlooking the lake and is definitely one of the best hotels in Queenstown.

There are also lots of amazing Airbnbs in Queenstown as well as bach/holiday homes to rent! You can choose between modern homes, central apartments, cozy cabins, and so much more when staying in an Airbnb.

Thanks for reading!

Riding the Queenstown gondola up to the Luge Track in Queenstown
Thanks for reading!

Queenstown is one of the most popular (and best) tourist destinations in New Zealand for good reason; with so many awesome activities within the town itself and a short drive away, it’s no wonder visitors descend here in their thousands every week. I hope this guide to the best day trips from Queenstown has inspired your upcoming trip!

Is there anything we’ve missed in this detailed guide to the top day trips from Queenstown, let us know in the comments below!

If you enjoyed this blog you may also like to read my other Queenstown travel guides:

Things to do in Queenstown with kids

18 Things to Know Before Visiting Queenstown, New Zealand

25 Exciting Adventure Activities in Queenstown