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Queenstown is a hugely popular town in New Zealand filled with plenty of amazing things to see and do. That should come as no surprise, however, how do you get off the tourist trail in a town with so many tourists!?
Well, as a local I often find myself asking the same question. Honestly, sometimes you do just need a break from the craziness in Queenstown. To do that I head to one of Queenstown’s hidden gems. These places to visit and activities will have you rubbing shoulders with the locals at their favorite places around town that many visitors miss.
From activities hidden right in plain sight, to hiking trails that somehow missed the typical “Queenstown bucket list”, here are the 10 best hidden gems in Queenstown!
Queenstown Hidden Gems
1. Secret Moke Lake Viewpoint
First up is actually a funny one. The “Secret” Moke Lake Viewpoint is actually a name I gave this hike. Seriously, after finding the viewpoint that was not even a real trail, I wrote a blog about it and called it the “Secret Moke lake viewpoint”. Next thing you know, All Trails was using my name and wrote a blog about it too!
Despite them stealing my name (or validating it?) the hike still remains one of Queenstown’s most hidden, hidden gems! The trail is only hiked by a handful of people, so it’s worthy of a top spot on this list.
The Secret Moke Lake Viewpoint starts at the Moke Lake Campsite just outside of Queenstown. Hiking the trail is considered one of the best things to do at Moke Lake. The unofficial trail leads up to a breathtaking viewpoint over Moke Lake and is really steep. In some parts, it’s actually more of a scramble so this trail is not suited for the faint-hearted or young children. It only takes 30 minutes to reach the top and once there, you’ll have the best seat and view in the house!
Because it’s not an official trail it can be hard to find. So, check out this guide to hiking to the Moke Lake viewpoint before you go.
For another fun activity at Moke Lake, check out this kayaking/SUP tour that includes transport from Queenstown!
2. Searchlight Brewery
My favorite place to drink beer in Queenstown is Searchlight Brewery. Conveniently (for locals) it’s located out of town just off Gorge Road. It’s a small boutique brewery that locals love, and love to keep from visitors.
A friendly guy named Lewis owns and operates the brewery and I’ve known him since the brewery first opened. He loves beer almost as much as I do, and when you taste his brews, you’ll be able to tell that right away! Although a small venue, Searchlight does get the outside seating area buzzing in the summer, so it’s quite the party!
Searchlight Brewery often holds lots of events including live DJs, quiz nights, and more. Your best bet is to check his social channels a week or two before you arrive in Queenstown. That way you can get a ticket to a special event if he is running one. Honestly, they are lots of fun and as I said, the beer is amazing!
Another fun way to visit Searchlight is on a guided brewery tour of Queenstown. This way, you’ll get to check out all of Queenstown’s best craft breweries without having to worry about who’s going to be your designated driver. This brewery tour is honestly so much fun – you can’t go wrong with it!
Related Read: Did you know that the small town of Wanaka (located an hour from Queenstown) has the highest number of breweries per capita out of anywhere in New Zealand?! In fact, visiting a brewery or two is one of the best things you can do in Wanaka!
3. Play frisbee (disc) golf at the Queenstown Gardens
The Queenstown Gardens is not a hidden gem in Queenstown, in fact, taking a stroll through them is one of the best short walks in Queenstown. However, what many visitors don’t know is that there is a free frisbee golf course located under the huge pine trees in the gardens. Playing this frisbee golf course is one of the best free activities in Queenstown. I’ll be honest, it took me a while to find this hidden gem for myself.
The only thing you need to bring to the gardens is your frisbee, but even if you don’t have one you can rent them from the Queenstown Ice Arena in the Queenstown Gardens for only $5. For that fee, you can play a round of disc golf with your friends. That’s a pretty cheap activity for Queenstown standards!
4. Enjoy the sunshine at Sunshine Bay
In the summer months, hitting the beach in Queenstown is one of the best free things to do. However, Queenstown Beach is always packed with people, especially in the summer. Sometimes it can get overwhelming or even hard to find a place to lay down.
Instead, go where I go. Sunshine Bay is a small beach area that’s a local secret and a Queenstown hidden gem. This secluded beach is beautiful and far from the busy streets of Queenstown. As the name suggests, it’s a great place to get some sun, relax, and even have a drink or two. The best part is, that you can do it without the crowds.
From Queenstown, you’ll need to either drive to the parking lot just off Glenorchy-Queenstown Road or walk from town via the short Sunshine Bay Track. The walk itself is beautiful and only takes around 30 minutes one way.
5. Glenorchy Animal Experience
To find some of the best hidden gems in Queenstown you actually have to leave Queenstown! The Glenorchy Animal Experience is one of those. Located in Glenorchy, this small farm is open to the public for sheep shearing demonstrations and meet and greets with the animals.
The best part about this tour is that it only costs $20 NZD for adults and $10 for children. Although self-guided, you do get to feed lots of the animals, and if you’re visiting in the spring, even see baby lambs – which are sooo cute!
Other animals you get the meet include pigs, llamas, farm dogs, chickens, ducks, and more. Kids love the experience and even adults (like myself.) The farm doesn’t see that many visitors and you won’t read about it in many blogs. However, to me, it’s one of the best things to do in Glenorchy!
Related Read: If you’re heading to Glenorchy you don’t always have to spend lots of money! Instead, check out all of the free things to do in Glenorchy!
6. Akarua Wines
There are lots of wineries around Queenstown, however, most are in the Gibbston Valley. Although I love the Gibbston Valley, it’s actually quite the drive from Queenstown. Instead, head to Lake Hayes and visit Akarua Wines.
This beautiful winery is one of the best in Queenstown (in my opinion of course) and their colorful gardens are the perfect place to try some wines and even have a bite to eat.
Their wine tasting fee is $10 NZD, however, if you buy a bottle of wine they wave that fee (you likely will so don’t worry!) The best part is, afterward, you can go and explore Lake Hayes and even walk the Lake Hayes Track.
The best way to get to Akarua is to drive, however, there is a public bus from Queenstown that connects at the Frankton Bus Interchange before heading to the stop at Lake Hayes Estate. There, you can get off and walk to the winery (but just be aware it’s a 2.6-kilometer (1.6 mi) walk each way.) I always bring my bike on the bus instead to make the trip faster!
Related Read: There are also some great wine tours you can choose from in Queenstown. Read my blog to find out about the different tours available.
7. BBQ up at Fernhill
The BBQs at St Omer Park are always being used. Honestly, as a local, it’s so frustrating. To this day, I have not had a BBQ at the park by the lake. Luckily though, when I first moved to Queenstown I lived in Fernhill. On Fernhill Road, there is a small park called the Fernhill Reserve that overlooks the lake. At this park, there is actually a BBQ and almost no one except locals know about it.
That means it’s usually free to use when the other BBQs aren’t, and because it’s up the hill a bit, the views are way better than those from St Omer Park anyway! The BBQ is completely free to use so just bring your food, a few drinks, and have lunch or dinner with a view!
8. Lake Alta Track
Have you heard of Lake Alta Track? Probably not unless you read our guide to the best hikes in Queenstown. However, even if you had were you going to do it? For some reason, this trail just doesn’t attract the crowds and I’m not sure why.
Not only does it start at The Remarkables Ski Field (the road up is stunning,) but it’s also a Lord of the Rings film location. That’s right, the lake and surrounding landscape were used to film the entrance of the Mines of Moria! If you’re not a Lord of the Rings fan, look up the Mines of Moria scene before you go!
The hike to the lake is only 1.75 kilometers (1 mile) each way and once you reach the lake, you can choose to hike up to the saddle for an epic view from above. It’s honestly beautiful! So take a road trip up to The Remarkables and explore one of the least hiked trails in Queenstown!
9. Lake Wakatipu Lookout
Most people either take the gondola or Tiki Trail up Bob’s Peak, or hike the Queenstown Hill Track to get great views of Lake Wakatipu. But for an even easier way to get great views of the lake, just walk or drive up to the Lake Wakatipu Viewpoint.
This small unofficial viewpoint is actually located on Google Maps and lots of tour companies around Queenstown take people here as they drive out of town. But no need for a tour, you can head up here any time of the day for spectacular views of Lake Wakatipu.
The best part is, from town it’s only a short walk and if you have a car you can drive right up to the top. If you bring your zoom lens you can even capture the TSS Earnslaw (one of the cruises in Queenstown.) To time your visit right, leave 1 hour and 15 minutes after the cruise departs. That’s when it heads back to town!
10. Attiqa/The Sundeck
If you didn’t know it was there, you would simply walk by. That’s the best way to describe Attiqa and The Sundeck. The same people own both bars and The Sundeck is located above Attiqa. However, the only way to reach the bars is through a small door in the Queenstown Mall that can be tricky to find.
Locals love this place, especially The Sundeck. It’s the best rooftop bar in Queenstown, and even in winter, you can enjoy the outdoor seating with the many fireplaces and heaters they have. Both bars are a little fancier than your typical bar in Queenstown and prices do reflect that. However, they have a large wine selection, and the cocktails and delicious. Also, on weekends you’ll be able to enjoy live music and a bit of a party in Queenstown.
Come for sunset, dinner, or even a late-night party. Regardless, Attiqa and The Sundeck are favorites among Queenstown locals, so get there early, especially on Fridays and Saturday evenings!
Must-Do Activities While in Queenstown
While in Queenstown there are plenty of other activities that will keep you busy… honestly so many it’ll be hard to choose which ones to do! Below are some of my favorites.
- Central Otago Wine Tour and Tasting – This is my personal favorite wine tour in Queenstown! It is one of the best values for money, for $215 NZD your tour bus will stop at 4 different boutique wineries in the Otago region that include a wide range of wine samples and a provided gourmet lunch platter. As you hop between wineries you’ll gaze out the window at spectacular views.
- TSS Earnslaw Steamship Cruise – This scenic and relaxing cruise in Queenstown is an activity great for any afternoon. The ship you will be cruising on is the Historic TSS Earnslaw and you will get to watch crew members add coal to the flames that power the vessel. Take in the mountain ranges and lush green valleys of Otago. You can also upgrade this tour here to include dinner at Walter Peak High Country Farm.
- Queenstown Canyoning Adventure – Climb and jump off waterfalls, rappel, swim, and trek your way down a part of a Queenstown canyon with a qualified guide. This thrilling full-day activity is perfect for those who love adventure and exploration! As long as you aren’t afraid of heights and have a basic swimming ability you won’t need any other skills.
- Day Trip to Milford Sound With Picnic Lunch – This tour will give you the ultimate ability to explore the beauty of Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park. Not only will your guide stop at several impressive viewpoints on the way from Queenstown but there is also a cruise in Milford Sound included. This small-group tour goes for $249 NZD a person and I think it’s a really great value for a more personalized experience.
- Extreme Jet Boating – Looking for a thrill? Jet Boating is one of New Zealand’s most unique activities. On the tour out of Queenstown, you’ll be able to zoom up the Shotover River through narrow canyons at high speeds and make 360-degree spins. Trust, me it’s epic!
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 get you started, here are a few places I personally love and that would make an awesome place to stay in Queenstown.
Absoloot Hostel Queenstown – $
The first is for budget travelers and that’s 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 $65 NZD, and private rooms begin around $230 NZD. It is easily one of the top cheap hostels in Queenstown and can be booked on Hostelworld.com or Booking.com.
La Quinta Queenstown – $$
If you have a little more money to spend, then you should seriously consider La Quinta Queenstown. It’s a beautiful hotel in a quiet but close location and the views are amazing (although you won’t find me recommending a place without great views!). The rooms are all studio or one-bedroom apartments, which is really handy if you want to cook or even just have breakfast in your room. Prices start at $200 NZD and you can book online here.
Kamana Lakehouse – $$$
For a luxurious stay, you can’t pass on Kamana Lakehouse. This hotel is located just on the outskirts of town, far enough that it’s peaceful but close enough to walk to take a short drive into the center of town. 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.
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 is what most budget backpackers get 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! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (DTRAVEL5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- 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. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
- JUCY – JUCY is one of our favorite rental companies in New Zealand! They have a huge inventory and offer regular cars, small campervans, larger campervans, and even motorhomes! The prices are also super competitive and their multiple offices around NZ make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. You can check availability, prices, and book with JUCY online here.
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!
Queenstown may be the most touristic place in New Zealand but that doesn’t mean you can’t get off the beaten path and explore some of its best hidden gems. With this list, you can take off and explore places most miss, and live like locals enjoying beautiful attractions without the crowds.
Thanks so much for reading My Queenstown Diary. If you enjoyed this article then be sure to check out more of my in-depth blogs about Queenstown and the surrounding areas of New Zealand! Or quickly click through some of these guides I’ve listed underneath.