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The BEST 5 Days in Queenstown Itinerary – From a Local!

The BEST 5 Days in Queenstown Itinerary – From a Local!

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Queenstown is one of the most popular places to visit in New Zealand, for good reason! I mean, it’s breathtakingly beautiful with its cobalt blue lake and snowcapped jagged peaks, and it’s also the world’s adventure capital. So, if adrenaline-pumping activities like bungy jumping and jet boating are your travel love language, Queenstown will be right up your alley.

For this itinerary, I’ll show you Queenstown from the eyes of a local. Of course, I’ll include big-hitter activities like the historic TSS Earnslaw cruise and the Skyline Gondola, but the city is so much more than that, so I’ll also introduce you to some of my favorite hidden gems in Queenstown.

You’ll also get to take a trip to cute tiny towns (hello, Glenorchy), visit a working farm, take a day trip to the gorgeous Milford Sound, and soak in what I believe to be the most scenic hot tub in the world!

So pack your hiking boots and sense of adventure as we dive into the best 5 days in Queenstown itinerary!

Don’t have time to read the full article? Five days in Queenstown just begins to scratch the surface of this wonderful place! Don’t miss out on a cruise on the iconic TSS Earnslaw, checking out Queenstown’s yummy restaurants, or taking a day trip to Milford Sound. Although my absolute favorite activities are wine tasting in Gibbston Valley and exploring Queenstown’s amazing hiking scene!

Day 1 – Get Acquainted with Queenstown 

It’s your first day in Queenstown, and boy, have I got a great itinerary in store for you today! I always say that you should spend your first day in a new place getting to know it. And that’s the plan for this morning – a casual breakfast at a famous spot and a wander around the town’s vibrant streets.

But it’s just the morning that has a chilled vibe today, as I’m also recommending a hike up Queenstown Hill and riding the Skyline Gondola for your first day in Queenstown. You only have 5 days in this lakeside paradise, so you must pack in as much as possible! If you can, my suggestion is to spend a week in Queenstown as it allows for a slower-paced itinerary.

Morning – Iconic Queenstown breakfast and wandering around town

Queenstown beach in summer
Spend some time admiring Queenstown Beach this morning!

You’ll spend your first morning exploring downtown Queenstown. Today, I recommend a casual breakfast, a stroll through Queenstown Mall, and a walk along Steamer Wharf and Queenstown Beach. It’s a great way to get your bearings in the lovely lakeside downtown area. 

For breakfast, I recommend heading to the Queenstown institution, Fergbaker on Shotover Street (sister to the world-famous Fergburger, which is right next door!). It’s a very casual spot, there’s no seating inside, but there are a few benches outside. Their baked goods are heavenly. I always go for their jalapeno bagel with cream cheese and Pan au Chocolat. Of course, coffee from Fergbaker is a must, too. It’s strong and delicious and is certain to wake you up! 

After Fergbaker, head straight for Queenstown Beach with your baked goods and sit on the sand (well, it’s mostly stones) or the wall and enjoy your breakfast while taking in the breathtaking view. While the South Island doesn’t have a ton of beaches, Queenstown Beach is one of the best!

From there, head to the left and explore Queenstown Gardens. I don’t advise walking the whole trail here, as it will take around 30-45 minutes and you have limited time. After a short stroll through the “Gardens,” as the locals call it, walk back beside Queenstown Beach to Steamer Wharf at the other end. This is where the TSS Earnslaw leaves from (but more on that later). 

Next, head to Queenstown Mall, the main pedestrianized thoroughfare in Queenstown, which is lined with restaurants, the best cafes in town, and some souvenir shops and stylish clothing stores. 

Late Morning – Hike Queenstown Hill 

View of the remarkables from Queenstown Hill
You get an awesome view of the Remarkables mountain range from Queenstown Hill!

It’s a good thing you saved your legs by skipping the full Queenstown Gardens trail, as your next activity is to hike up Queenstown Hill. This local favorite hike is 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) long. It takes you high above Queenstown, so, as you can imagine, the views of downtown and Lake Wakapitu from the summit are wow-worthy! 

At the summit, it’s not just epic views you’ll see but also the famous Basket of Dreams sculpture, which is said to inspire dreaming. 

This morning’s hike will take most people around 3 hours, but keep in mind it’s quite a difficult trail because of how steep it is. Yup, you’ll be gaining 600 meters (1,696 feet) in elevation. In saying that, the track is well-maintained and signposted, so it’s suitable for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. 

The Queenstown Hill trailhead starts from Belfast Terrace, a short walk from the center of town. Here, you’ll find a small parking lot and a sign for the Queenstown Hill track.  

Related Read: You may be wondering when is the best time to visit Queenstown? Well, the summer months are full of fun outdoor activities, but winters in Queenstown are equally beautiful and have fewer tourists!

Afternoon – Visit Bob’s Peak

The luge in Queenstown, New Zealand
The Luge at Bob’s Peak is so much fun!

You’ve packed a lot into day one so far, and it’s not even lunchtime yet! You’re probably feeling a little hungry, so why not go for lunch with a view? This afternoon, I recommend hopping on the Skyline Gondola to Bob’s Peak (a whopping 450 meters/1,476 feet above Queenstown), where you can enjoy a yummy lunch at the scenic Market Kitchen Cafe, an adrenaline-pumping luge ride, go on a hike, or if you have time try out ziplining or paragliding!  

If you’re not all hiked out, you can hike to Bob’s Peak via the Tiki Trail – a super-famous but strenuous track that’s 2.1 kilometers (1.3 miles) long.

But, if, like me, one hike a day is enough, the gondola ride takes just 5 minutes and costs $52 NZD. And, of course, have your camera on hand because the views are stunning on the ride up. The gondola station is located at the end of Brecon Street, not too far from the Queenstown Hill trailhead. 

As I said, there are heaps to do at the top, but if you’re visiting Queenstown with kids an absolute must-do is to ride the luge on Bob’s Peak! What exactly is a luge, you may ask? Well, think of it like a go-kart except without a motor. Instead, it’s gravity that gets you to the finish line. Honestly, they go super fast, and because the track is quite steep, you’ll likely be using the brakes a lot!

Luge tickets come combined with your gondola ride, and prices start from $73 NZD for two luge rides per adult and $51 NZD for kids. You may purchase luge and gondola tickets in advance here!

Visitors with more time tend to spend a full day at Bob’s Peak, but because you only have the afternoon here, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to complete one of the below fun activities as well as the luge. But, in case you’re doing good for time, I’ve listed three other awesome things to do up here. And remember, if you don’t get the time today, you’ll just have to return in the future and tick them off! 

  • Paragliding – A very appealing activity for adrenaline-chasers – paragliding from Bob’s Peak involves you literally running off the side of the mountain! This bucket-list-worthy experience costs $320 NZD, and as you can guess, the views as you descend into Queenstown are phenomenal!
  • Ziplining – You can speed along one of the steepest ziplines at Bob’s Peak. Ziptrek’s zipline has a 21-meter (69-foot) drop at the end that will surely make your stomach drop too! This 1-hour ziplining experience costs $119 NZD per person. 
  • Hiking – If you’re an avid hiker, then try to squeeze in the easy 2.4-kilometer (1.5-mile) Skyline Loop Track up here. 

Evening – Dinner in Queenstown

the patio at Public Kitchen and Bar near Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown
Public Kitchen & Bar (one of my suggestions for dinner)! Photo Credit: Public Kitchen & Bar

For your first dinner in Queenstown, I advise hopping on the gondola back into Queenstown. Of course, Stratosfare Restaurant & Bar up at Bob’s Peak is a worthy contender for dinner with its awe-inspiring views and delicious buffet. But, honestly, there are way too many awesome restaurants in Queenstown to try, and you’ve got limited time. My top picks for the best dinner in Queenstown are Blue Kanu (my favorite!), Botswana Butchery, and Public Kitchen & Bar. 

As I said, my top choice for dinner tonight is Blue Kanu. Specializing in Polynesian cuisine, a mix of Pacific Island and Asian food, this is a very unique dining experience. Their roast duck nachos are to die for and I love the coconut and caramel braised pork belly.  

A more upscale alternative for your first night is Botswana Butchery. This is a short walk from Blue Kanu on Marine Parade, facing Lake Wakatipu for some pretty lakeside views. Here, they pride themselves on offering locally sourced ingredients and fine cuts of meat. It really is as fresh as it sounds!

Your third option for this evening is the Public Kitchen & Bar on Steamer Wharf, where the TSS Earnslaw departs from. If you time it right, you may just get to watch the historic ship coming into the dock as you tuck into your dinner. This casual waterfront eatery also specializes in using local produce. If you can try just one dish here, I adore their Akaroa salmon dish.

Money-saving tip: If you plan your Queenstown itinerary in advance, you may be able to snag a table on the website First Table. This website allows you to get 50% off your food at most restaurants in Queenstown. 

Day 2 – Day Trip to Glenorchy

For your second day’s activity, you’ll need to rent a car in Queenstown as you head out to the breathtakingly beautiful tiny town of Glenorchy. It’s around a 40-minute drive from downtown Queenstown, and unfortunately, there are no public buses between the two destinations. If you don’t have a rental car, your only other option is to book a guided tour to Glenorchy from Queenstown. And I’ve suggested some great ones below!

I won’t tell you too much here about what I have in store for you today, but I will say that it involves a yummy meat pie, an Insta-famous red boat shed, and an awe-inspiring remote lake!  

Breakfast – Head to Frankton

Brunch at Odelay in Queenstown, New Zealand
Yummy! Photo credit: Odelay
Food from Odelay in Queenstown, New Zealand
A healthy Photo credit: Odelay

If you’re renting a car (which I highly recommend), you’ll likely need to pick it up at Queenstown Airport. So, as you’re heading that way, I suggest having breakfast at Odelay Café in Remarkables Park, right by the airport.

It’s a local favorite thanks to their great (and strong) coffee and big-portion breakfasts. I love their Eggs Benedict!

Morning – The scenic drive to Glenorchy

Bob's Cove Jetty
Bob’s Cove Jetty – one of my suggested stops on the drive to Glenorchy!

The drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy is known as one of the prettiest drives in the world! If you drive yourself, you can make as many stops as you’d like. But, as there are no public buses and rental cars can add up, taking a guided tour is a great way to experience this scenic stretch of road. That way, you can enjoy the views and learn a ton of history as you explore!

This 4-hour tour departs from Queenstown and makes stops at scenic viewpoints along the way, such as Bennet’s Bluff, the Glenorchy Wharf, and even Lord of the Rings filming spots. The views continue to be spectacular as you make your way to the small town of Paradise, so you can imagine how scenic this place is just from the name. If you are looking to dive into the history and culture of Glenorchy, you’ll love this tour! You can book it in advance for $179 NZD per person.

If you have extra time to spare or end up driving yourself, the route will take about 45 minutes without stops. Of course, I recommend taking your time on the drive to Glenorchy and stopping off at a couple of the picturesque stops along the way. I’ve listed the prettiest and most popular stops below:

  • Wilson Bay – Just a 9-kilometer (5.6-mile) drive from Queenstown will have you at your first stop. The stunning Wilson Bay backdropped by Cecil Peak – this is just a quick photo stop, or if you’re keen, take a dip in Lake Wakatipu from here. But beware, it will be cold as the water here averages 14°C (57°F). 
  • Bob’s Cove – A short 5-kilometer (3-mile) drive from Wilson Bay is Bob’s Cove, aka one of the best beaches in Queenstown. What I love most about it is that you’ll usually have it to yourself. If you leave Queenstown early enough, you’ll have time to walk Bob’s Cove Track up to Picnic Point, which will take around 30 minutes. If you didn’t swim in Wilson Bay and regret it, you can dive off the scenic jetty here at Bob’s Cove! You’ll likely see a queue of people lining up to jump into the icy water.
  • Bennett’s Bluff Lookout – Your final suggested stop before Glenorchy is Bennett’s Bluff, which provides the best view of the whole drive (and is included in the tour mentioned above!). Honestly, it’s postcard-worthy. This is just a quick stop-off, so park your car at the small parking lot on the left side of the road and walk the short trail to the viewpoint. 

Lunch – Have a pie (and a coffee) from Mrs Wooly’s General Store

The front of Mrs. Woolly General Store and Cafe
Mrs. Woolly General Store and Cafe!

The humble meat pie is a Kiwi treasure. I’ve never eaten as many meat pies as I have in New Zealand. They’re simple but delicious! And one of the best places to try a meat pie is right here in Glenorchy at Mrs. Wooly’s General Store

They come in various flavors, my favorite is the salmon pie, but the steak and mushroom pie is probably the most popular. Other than yummy pies,  they also serve excellent coffee and baked goods. If you haven’t picked up a Queenstown souvenir yet, here is a great place to do it, as they sell lots of quirky locally made souvenirs in their store! 

Afternoon – Spend some time in Glenorchy

Glenorchy shed with views of the mountains in Glenorchy, New Zealand
Glenorchy is such a cute town!

After lunch, your first stop in Glenorchy has to be the famous Glenorchy Boatshed, which is right before you get to the Glenorchy Wharf. It’s hard to miss as it’s painted bright red! It’s a favorite spot with photographers as the shed sits at the start of a long boardwalk and is backdropped by snowcapped mountains.

After gazing at the lake and the boatshed, you can find more incredible views on the Glenorchy Walkway. This easy boardwalk trail is 5 kilometers (3 miles) long and will take you under an hour to complete. The crown jewel of this trail is the Glenorchy Lagoon, often called the Mirror Lakes by locals because the water’s calm surface reflects the surrounding mountains. 

Glenorchy is all about goregous views, and you’ll certainly find them here. The best part is this is a completely free thing to do in Glenorchy, which is my favorite type of activity!

Late Afternoon – Glenorchy Animal Experience

A lady feeds llamas at the Glenorchy Animal Experience
Feeding the animals at the Glenorchy Animal Experience is so much fun!

Animal lovers, this next stop is for you! The Glenorchy Animal Experience is a family farm that’s conveniently located just 5 minutes from Glenorchy. You’ll find friendly animals like llamas, Clydesdale horses, lambs, and guinea pigs here. And the best part is that you can pet and feed most of the farm animals here! 

If you time it right, you may catch the daily sheep shearing demonstration at 2:30 pm. A self-guided tour of this scenic farm will set you back $25 NZD per adult and $15 NZD per child ages 5-15. 

If you choose to take a tour and still want to enjoy the Glenorchy Animal Experience, then this guided tour from Queenstown to Glenorchy is a brilliant option. It includes a stop at the Glenorchy Animal Experience and all the other top Glenorchy attractions like Paradise (more on that below), the red boatshed, and stops at the goregous scenic viewpoints. You can book this tour for $194 NZD online here!

Drive out to Paradise

The paradise sign in Paradise, New Zealand
Welcome to Paradise … literally!

Your next stop is the aptly named Paradise (because, well, it is Paradise on Earth!). It’s around a 25-minute drive from Glenorchy, and in my opinion, it’s a must-visit especially if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan as many of the scenes from the franchise were shot here. Paradise is home to the Misty Mountains, Isengard, and Forest of Fangorn which “Ringers” (LOTR fans) will be very familiar with. 

If you’re keen on learning more about how the scenes were shot, a good idea is to book a Glenorchy Lord of the Rings tour. Not only will you be taken to the filming locations with a local guide who can answer all of your questions, but you’ll even be allowed to see costumes and props from the series up close (and even take photos with them!). Some of the best LOTR film locations in Paradise include:

  • Misty Mountains – As you drive from Glenorchy to Paradise, the mountains you see in the distance are the Misty Mountains from the Fellowship of the Ring.
  • Isengard – From the Isengard lookout, you can stare out, and using your imagination (as a lot of animation was used in the movie), imagine Isengard in the valley below. 
  • Forest of Fangorn – As you look out over Isengard, turn to your right, and you’ll see a forest – this is the Forest of Fangorn!

You probably won’t have the time this afternoon, but in case you do, head out to the Routeburn Track which begins at the Routeburn Shelter not too far from Paradise. It’s one of the Great Walks of New Zealand and one of my favorite hikes in Glenorchy. You can do a short nature walk as a day hike on the Routeburn Track that takes you through some beautiful forests and along the edge of the Dart River.  

Related Read: If you’re interested in renting a campervan for your time in Queenstown, then check out my guide to the best campervan rental companies in Queenstown!

Evening – Sunsets and stars 

Enjoy your evening and don’t rush back to Queenstown because I have a few recommendations before you do! First, how about a casual dinner of delicious dumplings at Queenies in Glenorchy and then a stop on your drive home at one of my “happy places” in the region – the breathtaking and serene Moke Lake (a bit of a hidden gem in Queenstown)!

Eat at Queenies Dumplings 

dumplings from Queenies Dumplings in Glenorchy
Yummmm! Photo courtesy of Queenies Dumplings

Queenies Dumplings is a local favorite, and for good reason. Their dumplings are the main selling point and they are AMAZING! But they also serve up yummy noodle soup and BBQ pork on rice if you’re after something a little more substantial. You can dine in this casual eatery if you wish, or my recommendation is to get your food to go and enjoy it at Moke Lake (your next stop).  

Stop by Moke Lake on your return to Queenstown

Bailey sits at the top of the secret Moke Lake viewpoint
The view from the Moke Lake Viewpoint is so worth it, if you have time!

You may think you’ve had your fill of scenic places for today, but I’ve got one more in store for you, and trust me, it’s a good one – Moke Lake. What’s great is that it’s just a short detour off the road from Glenorchy to Queenstown. 

This photogenic lake is, as I said, one of my favorite places to visit in Queenstown. It’s located around 45 minutes from Glenorchy, but I should warn you that the final section of the road into the lake is a gravel road, so you will need to drive slowly. 

There are lots of different things to do at Moke Lake, but you likely won’t have time for too much this evening. Depending on how you’re doing for time, you could walk some of the Moke Lake Loop Track or hike up to the “secret” viewpoint. Or my suggestion is to find a quiet spot and sit and watch the sunset with your Queenies dumplings! 

If you can, hang around here until after dark, as it’s a popular stargazing spot, thanks to this remote spot’s lack of light pollution! 

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Day 3 – Explore the Area

Day 3 in Queenstown is a busy one, and it’s a bit of a mixed bag of activities. In the morning, I suggest getting your adrenaline pumping with a heart-stopping activity like jet boating, bungy jumping, or skydiving. Queenstown is, after all, the adventure capital of the world! In the afternoon, I advise a guided tour, which one you pick depends on the type of traveler you are. You can go on a Queenstown wine tour, a Lord of the Rings tour, or a bike riding tour.

Morning – It’s adventure time!

Kawarau Bridge Bungy in Queenstown, New Zealand
A bungy jump off Kawarau Bridge is one of my suggested activities for this morning!

There is no shortage of adventure activities in Queenstown, there are heaps of activities to choose from. My personal favorite is jet boating as it’s thrilling, quintessentially Queenstown, and overall, one of my favorite things to do in the city. Jet boating will have you clinging to your seat as your driver speedily zips along Lake Wakatipu and accomplishes several 360-degree turns.

There are a variety of jet boating experiences in Queenstown, namely the famous Shotover Jet, which speeds through the Kawarau River just outside of town and is undoubtedly the most popular. But I absolutely loved my KJet experience, which departs from the wharf next to Queenstown Beach. It’s an hour-long tour that takes you out on Lake Wakatipu and then onto the Kawarau River and Shotover River. And it’s reasonably priced, too with rates starting from $135 NZD. 

If jet boating doesn’t float your boat, I’ve listed 3 other awesome adventure activities in Queenstown below. There’s certain to be an activity that intrigues you on this list!

  • Bungy jumping – Did you know that the first-ever commercial bungy jump happened in Queenstown? Yep, operated by AJ Hackett the Kawarau Bungy is one of the most famous jumps in the world. You’ll be jumping from the historic Kawarau Bridge with a fall of 43 meters (141 feet), and just below you is the fast-moving Kawarau River. Other popular jumps (all are operated by AJ Hackett) are the Ledge Bungy up at Bob’s Peak or the Nevis (aka the highest bungy jump in the country!). 
  • Skydive – This is probably the most nerve-wracking activity on the list! Here in Queenstown, you can do a 9,000 foot, a 12,000 foot, or a whopping 15,000 foot jump. For the latter, you’ll be freefalling for a whole minute! I’ll be honest, I’ve done many skydives worldwide, and your first jump will be the scariest, but what better place to jump from a plane than in beautiful Queenstown? You can book skydiving in Queenstown online here.  
  • Canyoning – Last but not least on the list is canyoning, which I admit is my favorite! On this half-day canyoning tour, you’ll explore a scenic canyon by ziplining, rappelling, cliff jumping, and so much more. I should add that you can only do canyoning in Queenstown during the summer. So, if you’re visiting Queenstown in December, this should be top of your bucket list!

Related Read: You may also be interested in a Queenstown scenic flight tour this morning, there’s plenty to choose from!

Lunch – A casual lunch in central Queenstown

queenstown mall
Have lunch somewhere along the Queenstown Mall today!

If you choose the KJet boat ride for your morning activity, your best bet is to enjoy a casual lunch in Queenstown before heading off on your afternoon adventures. But, even if you picked one of the other adventure activities, you’ll likely be dropped back to central Queenstown at the end. So, lunch in Queenstown it is on day 3! 

My top choices for a casual lunch in Queenstown are Caribe Latin Kitchen (serving delicious Caribbean cuisine), Captain’s Restaurant (specializing in steak and seafood), or Winnie’s (yummy pizza!). All these eateries are located along Queenstown Mall, the main pedestrianized street in Queenstown that I mentioned earlier.  

Afternoon – Guided tour

A lady runs through grape vines in the Gibbston valley between Queenstown and Wanaka
A Gibbston Valley wine tour is incredibly popular with visitors to Queenstown!

After refueling with a delicious lunch, it’s time to prepare yourself for a jam-packed afternoon. My advice is to book a guided tour that will allow you to see another side of Queenstown. 

As a wine aficionado myself, I recommend spending the afternoon on a Gibbston Valley Wine Tour. This is a must for all you wine lovers reading as this is one of the best wine regions in New Zealand.

The Gibbston Valley is just 20 minutes from Queenstown CBD, and thanks to its high and sunny location, it produces some of the best Pinot Noir in the world. With the Kawarau River on one side and looming mountains on the other, it’s a super scenic spot to sit with a glass of great wine and learn all about the wine-making process in the region. Some of the most popular wineries in Queenstown, or the “Valley of the Vines,” as it’s often called, include Chard Farm, Peregrine, Kinross, of course, Gibbston Valley Winery.

Of course, you can’t drink and drive, so your best bet if you want to sample the incredible wine is to book a half-day wine tour.  

As you’re tight on time, this budget-friendly hop-on hop-off self-guided wine tour is an excellent option. It is similar to the hop-on hop-off buses you see in most major cities worldwide except, in this case, you’re hopping off at wineries instead of historic sights. It’s a very popular option as it allows you to explore the region at your own pace. Buses depart from Queenstown every 45 minutes, and you can choose from a half-day (4 hours) or full-day ticket (8 hours) starting at $66 NZD. 

Another good option is this Classic Wine Tour, which lasts from 1:30-5 pm. It costs $199 NZD per person, including roundtrip transport from hotels, afternoon tea, and all tastings. Not only will you get to taste delicious wine at three excellent vineyards (you’ll also get to indulge in a cheeseboard at one of the wineries), but you’ll also get to stop at the Kawarau Suspension Bridge and other scenic sights on the drive into the valley. 

Or perhaps a scenic bike riding tour is more your style. Ideal for active travelers or anyone who loves spending time in nature, this self-guided tour includes transport to the beginning of the easy Queenstown bike trail, which takes you past the Kawarau Bridge (home to the world’s first bungy) and into the Gibbston Valley wine region. You’ll also be collected at the end of your ride. It’s great for those on a budget, as prices start from just $90 NZD, including all your equipment and a map so you don’t get lost! 

Some other awesome half-day tour options include:

  • Lord of the Rings tour – If you didn’t have time to see the Lord of the Rings filming locations like Misty Mountain and Isengard while you were out in Glenorchy on day two, then consider booking this Lord of the Rings guided tour, which takes you to various filming locations around Queenstown and Glenorchy as the guide explains how they made this iconic trilogy.
  • Self-drive Wanaka tour – Don’t fancy the structured nature of guided tours? Then, why not become a tour guide for the day and rent a car to drive the scenic Crown Range into Wanaka, stopping at famous stops like the Cardrona Hotel and the Cardrona Bra Fence along the way? But be sure to allow enough time to explore all the best things to do in Wanaka. It’s often called Queenstown’s little sister as the two towns are very similar, but Wanaka has a more relaxed vibe! However, you can still explore Wanaka on a tour from Queenstown if you want to learn more about this quaint town!

Why I Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here!

Evening – Dinner and wander around Arrowtown

Buckingham Street in Arrowtown during summer in New Zealand
Buckingham Street in Arrowtown during summer
An old house from the Chinese Settlement in Arrowtown, NZ
A hut at the Chinese Settlement here!

This evening, you’ll need to make your way to Arrowtown – aka, one of the cutest small towns in New Zealand. You can either drive there yourself in your rental car, hop on the number 2 bus from downtown Queenstown, or book an Arrowtown tour from Queenstown.

Arrowtown is a former gold mining town, and wandering the main street here (Buckingham Street) will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

You’ll have dinner here this evening, but first, I recommend getting a taste of this quaint town. First, head over to the Chinese Settlement along Bush Creek where you’ll see a series of small huts. This is what the Chinese miners used to live in during the mining boom in the region.

If you have time, there are some great hikes from Arrowtown. I love the Sawpit Gully Trail, which offers beautiful views of the Arrow River and Lake Hayes in the distance. 

Just before dinner, take at least 30 minutes to walk up and down colorful Buckingham Street. Here you’ll find the historic buildings that house some great souvenir and clothing stores, quaint Arrowtown cafes, and some of the best restaurants in town. Speaking of restaurants, my recommendation for dinner tonight is Slow Cuts, which specializes in slow cuts of meat like braised brisket. They also serve up excellent craft beer from Lake and Wood Brew Co., a local brewery here in Arrowtown!

Another good dinner option is Aosta, also on Buckingham Street – this is an upmarket Italian eatery that’s become increasingly popular since it opened in 2019.

Day 4 – Day Trip to Milford Sound

Scenic flight into Milford Sound, New Zealand
What a view!
Huge waterfall in Milford Sound
Mitre Falls in Milford is a phenomenon!

You didn’t think I’d put together a 5-day Queenstown itinerary without including a visit to Milford Sound, did you? Often called the “8th Wonder of the World” Milford Sound is a must-visit if you have a few days in Queenstown. I’ve even included a day trip to Milford on my 3 Days in Queenstown itinerary – it’s that much of a no-brainer activity!

Despite its name, Milford is not a sound but a fiord, because it was carved out of glacier melt some 2 million years ago. When you visit, you’ll witness jaw-dropping scenery– think steep cliffs, rocky valleys, and waterfalls as tall as 1,000 meters (3,280 feet)! It’s a beautiful place to visit at any time of year no matter the weather, but honestly, I think it’s at its best when it’s raining. This is lucky as Milfird Sound is one of the wettest places in the world – it rains an average of 182 days a year here.

Nestled within the lush Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound is a 3.5-hour drive from Queenstown, which is why you’ll need at least a full day to explore it. The drive from Queenstown to Milford can be a nerve-wracking experience if you’re not used to New Zealand roads, especially in the section between Te Anau and Milford Sound. I always recommend taking a guided tour to Milford from Queenstown, as it’s a stress-free way to enjoy this stunning part of the world.

Since it’s such a long drive, I say, let someone else do the hard part and sit back in your comfortable seat as you watch the stunning scenery pass you by! On the drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound, the top sights to look out for include Eglinton Valley, Gertrude Valley, and the Homer Tunnel. However, there are a few different ways to get to Milford, somewhat of a choose-your-own-adventure activity!

Bailey looks out from the deck of a cruise in Milford Sound and enjoys the view
I mean it’s pretty beautiful!

As you can guess, in a tourist hotspot like Milford (it attracts over a million visitors every year), there’s lots of choice on great tours from Queenstown to Milford.

Most tourists opt to catch one of the bus tours from Queenstown to Milford. This is a great option, but keep in mind it’s a long day (allow between 12 and 13 hours). My top choice is this full-day tour to Milford Sound because it offers a more personalized experience as it’s a small group tour.  

The drive gets broken up a bit as you stop at scenic viewpoints along the way. For the cruise section of the tour, you’ll be boarding the smallest boat in Milford Sound, which enables you to get up super close to the mighty Mitre Falls to experience a “glacial facial.” What’s that, you may ask?! Well, your captain will take you so close to the waterfall that you’ll get to feel the ice-cold water from the waterfall splash on your face. This top-rated tour is priced at $299 NZD. 

If you’ve got a bigger budget, then this Fly-Cruise-Fly Milford Sound tour is ideal because it’s just 5 hours long, which means more time in Queenstown! As you can imagine, the views from the air en route to Milford are simply stunning. You’ll also get to see Milford up close as you take a 2-hour cruise included in the tour. Expect to pay $645 NZD per person for this Milford Sound flight, which isn’t too bad for a Milford Sound flight considering all it includes! 

Lastly, this bus-cruise-scenic flight tour is another awesome Milford tour option, as it involves a bus journey there, a scenic cruise, and a flight back. The best of all worlds! And because you’re avoiding the lengthy coach journey back, it’s a shorter tour at 8.5 hours. This popular option will set you back around $732 NZD per person and can be booked in advance here!

In short, Milford Sound is undoubtedly one of the best day trips you can take from Queenstown!

Related Read: Doubtful Sound is another fiord that’s popular with tourists, as it’s so remote you can only reach it with a tour. You can read about the best Doubtful Sound tour from Queenstown here!

Day 5 – Relax and Enjoy the Scenery 

Have I saved the best until last? I recommend ticking off some of the most iconic Queenstown sightseeing activities for your final day in this slice of paradise! This afternoon, you’ll hop on board the historic TSS Earnslaw for a cruise across Lake Wakatipu, where you’ll enjoy a delicious BBQ lunch at Walter Peak Farm. I bet you were wondering when I’d suggest this classic Queenstown experience, well, here it is on your final day! 

Then, the evening calls for some relaxation after the crazy-busy days before, which is why a soak in the famous Onsen Hot Pools will be exactly what the doctor ordered! 

Morning – Brunch at Vudu

Pancakes in Vudu café and larder in Queenstown, New Zealand
Look at those pancakes! Photo credit: Vudu Café and Larder

It’s a slow start this morning, which will make a nice change from the fast-paced mornings of days 1-4. I recommend hitting up Vudu for one of the best brunches in Queenstown. I know that’s a big statement but honestly, their food is so fresh and delicious! I adore their halloumi with poached eggs, but another popular dish here is the pina colada french toast. 

Oh, and don’t forget a coffee to fuel you up for the rest of the day’s activities. Vudu’s coffee is full of flavor and strong. In fact, this is known as one of the best coffee spots in Queenstown

After brunch, spend some time wandering around Queenstown and ticking off anything you didn’t get to see on day one. Maybe take a longer stroll through Queenstown Gardens or walk some of the best hikes on the South Island!

Afternoon – Lake cruise and gourmet BBQ lunch

Bailey on the TSS Earnslaw
Jugging along on the TSS Earnslaw!
Local meats at the Walter Peak Station dinner cruise with the TSS Earnslaw
Local meats at the Walter Peak Farm dinner cruise with the TSS Earnslaw

This afternoon’s activity is one of the most popular tours in Queenstown, and for good reason! The TSS Earnslaw Lake cruise and buffet lunch is legendary, and seeing this coal-powered ship chugging along Lake Wakatipu is an iconic Queenstown experience. But, what’s truly bucket list worthy is hopping on board the 100-year-old ship, it’s like a floating museum! The Earnslaw is the last remaining vessel from the Gold Rush, and when you’re on board, you can see the workers shoveling coal into the burner! 

Even though the boat cruise across the lake is super scenic, the buffet lunch at Walter Peak High Country Farm was my highlight. There were roasted meats, seafood, a variety of sides, as well as heavenly homemade desserts. This spread is served up at the Colonel’s Homestead at Walter Peak Farm, and the lake views as you eat are postcard-worthy! 

While over at Walter Peak, you’ll also watch some farm demonstrations such as a sheep shearing demo, and witness how the sheepdogs round up the sheep.

The TSS Earnslaw cruise with BBQ lunch departs at 11 am and 1 pm daily from the Steamer Warf right in town. It costs $175 NZD per person and will last around 3.5 hours. It sells out quickly, so be sure to book this tour in advance, here!

Evening – Soak and sunset

This evening’s activities continue with the relaxation theme – and it’s the perfect way to cap off this ultimate 5-day Queenstown itinerary! You’ll begin your evening at the Onsen Hot Pools, arguably one of Queenstown’s most scenic hot pools, and end your stay in Queenstown with a casual and light dinner of woodfired pizza. You’ll probably still be full from all that delicious food you devoured at Walter Peak! 

Onsen Hot Pools

View from the Onsen Hot Pools hot tubs
Can you imagine anything more relaxing?

Luckily, your time in Queenstown isn’t quite over yet! This evening it’s time to reminisce on your memorable couple of days in Queenstown with a soak in the luxurious Onsen Hot Pools, located just a short drive from town

Here at Onsen Hot Pools, you can book a private hot pool (up to 4 people) with mountain views. You can choose from a variety of spa packages, or simply book a soak starting at $97 NZD for an hour. This is a super popular experience, so it’s essential you book it in advance. And if you can, try to book your hot pool experience for sunset!

Dinner – Takeaway pizza

Bailey and her friends at Fat Badhers Pizza in Queenstown, NZ
The pizza here is delicious and HUGE!

After your blissful Onsen experience, it’s time to head back to Queenstown for pizza. I suggest getting a takeaway pizza from Fat Badger, which locals (like me!) say is the best pizza in town. Their pizzas are American-style, packed full of flavor, and HUGE! A large pizza from here should feed four people.

Take your pizza to Queenstown Beach to enjoy it with a view! I like to sit on the wall overlooking Queenstown Beach and take in the views as you can see Cecil Peak, Walter Peak, and the mighty Remarkables in the distance. What a beautiful way to end your five days in Queenstown, and maybe you’ll already be planning your next visit!

Where to Stay in Queenstown

Hot Tub over looking the river and mountains at Kamana Soak in Queenstown, New Zealand
Photo credit: Kamana Lakehouse

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!

Dorms are around $55 NZD, and private rooms begin around $210 NZD. The Absoloot Hostel is easily one of the top cheap hostels in Queenstown and can be booked on Hostelworld.com or Booking.com.

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

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.

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.

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!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey enjoys a drink at Perky's Floating Bar with views of Lake Wakatipu
Thanks for reading!

I hope this 5-day Queenstown itinerary will help you maximize your time in this stunning lakeside town. I do think 5 days is the perfect amount of time to spend in Queenstown, as it really allows you to get a true feel for the place. My first visit was supposed to be for just a few days, and then I ended up moving here! I hope you love Queenstown as much as I do.

Before you visit, be sure to check out my blog all about New Zealand. I’ve 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 read! Here are some of my most popular guides: 

3 BEST Mount Cook Tours from Queenstown +Tips Before Booking

10 BEST Helicopter Tours in Queenstown

How to Plan the MOST Romantic Queenstown Honeymoon