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Queenstown Hill is the single most popular hike in Queenstown, and rightfully so! It’s a fairly easy hike that most people can accomplish within a couple of hours and the views from the top are seriously impressive. A little work, for a lot of reward – that’s my kind of hike!
From the summit of Queenstown Hill, you’ll have views of Queenstown town center, Lake Wakatipu, and a panoramic view of the mountains everywhere you turn. These epic views had me hiking Queenstown Hill on several occasions including bright and early for sunrise and even in the dead of winter. Yep, you can even hike this route when it’s cold out, and it’s one of the best things to do in the winter in Queenstown!
But let me tell you one thing, the Queenstown Hill hike (and its incredible views) never gets old – I still do it as often as I can! I recommend it to all my visitors, whether they’re visiting Queenstown for 3 days or much longer.
However, if this is your first time tackling Queenstown Hill, then there are a few things you probably should know before you set off. In this blog, I’m going to fill you in on all of the essential info to know before you go, as well as provide some of my personal experiences so you can be sure of what to expect.
Don’t have time to read the full article? If you’re looking for a quick way to get outside and see some amazing views while exploring the city, Queenstown Hill is my top choice! This hike starts off in town, can be accessed year-round, and is doable for those who aren’t avid hikers (but is still exciting enough not to be too easy or boring).
Queenstown Hill Hike Overview
Distance: 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) one way, 5-kilometers return
Elevation gain: About 600 meters (1,968 feet) from downtown Queenstown
Time needed: 2 to 3 hours
Type of trail: Out and back
Queenstown Hill is one of the most accessible hikes in Queenstown. Unlike trails such as Bob’s Cove Track and Mt Crichton Loop, Queenstown Hill starts right from town. On top of this, it can be accomplished in under 3 hours and is also open all year round – perfect for any Queenstown itinerary! The accessibility combined with the stunning views from the summit makes hiking Queenstown Hill one of those must-do activities for both locals and tourists alike.
The Queenstown Hill trail is well-maintained and isn’t a technical hike by any means. It is suitable for people who don’t consider themselves “hikers”, and even children who are up for the challenge. With that said, the hike to the summit is a steady incline without any flat or downhill sections. It is a bit of a workout for sure, but once at the top, it’s totally worth it! In fact, many claim this hike to be one of the best activities to do in New Zealand.
There are tons of viewpoints to explore at the top of Queenstown Hill, and as such, lots of amazing photo opportunities. There is even a metal sculpture called the Basket of Dreams that I’ll you more about later on in this blog.
Related Read: Queenstown Hill is one of the best hikes in New Zealand, find out what the others are in my blog!
Queenstown Hill Hike FAQs
What to Pack
Decent footwear – During the winter you should wear waterproof hiking boots with good grips for ice and snow. During the rest of the year, running shoes should suffice (just watch out for mud!)
Water – There is nowhere to fill your water bottle up along the trail so bring enough water with you. I’d recommend 1 liter per person.
Sun protection – Although the majority of the trail is shaded by trees, at the summit it is very open and you’ll need some protection from the harsh NZ sun.
Windbreaker or sweater – At the Queenstown Hill summit, it’s quite exposed and can be windy. Bringing a second layer will keep you warm while enjoying those rewarding views!
Parking and the Queenstown Hill Trailhead
Parking can be a little tricky because the parking lot at the Queenstown Hill trailhead is tiny (and by tiny I mean it can only fit a handful of cars.) This small parking lot is located on Belfast Terrace and can be found easily marked on Google Maps. This is a residential street though, and there never is much street parking available either.
For that reason, many people walk to the trailhead from Queenstown Center. From Queenstown Center, it’s about a 15-minute walk to the start of the Queenstown Hill trail. This walk is through residential streets and is all uphill gaining about 200 meters (656 feet) in elevation over about 800 meters (0.5 miles). It does add a little extra work to your total hike but might be your only option if there is no parking at the start of the trailhead.
If you want to ensure a parking space, it’s best to hike Queenstown Hill for sunrise. Before the sun comes up, the trail is never busy and you should be able to snag a parking space without worry. This is what I often do!
The Steep Hike Up
Once you’ve reached the trailhead, you still have a lot of climbing to do! Luckily, it isn’t too long and the trail is well-maintained. There is a map at the beginning of the trail and signs along the way including information about the area and its flora and fauna.
The trail is wide and starts with a steady incline through the forest. In the beginning, the trees block out any sort of view until you reach a clearing with a bench. This is a good spot to stop for a rest and catch your breath.
Once you’ve nearly reached the top, you’ll come to a fork in the trail. If you take the trail on the left, it’s a short 5-minute hike via a steep trail. If you take the trail to the right, you’ll end up on a more gradual, but longer, trail. I’ve personally hiked both trails and prefer the steeper option on the way up (getting the incline over and done with quicker is just my style), but I normally take the longer path on the way down. This is totally personal preference though and either trail is just fine.
From the trailhead to the top of Queenstown Hill is 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) and about 400 meters (1,312 feet) in elevation gain. For most people, the hike up takes about 1-1.5 hours, but this largely depends on your pace and it can take much longer (or faster, just ask the local trail runners!)
Reaching the Basket of Dreams
Once you reach the top of Queenstown Hill one of the first things you’ll notice is an unusually large metal sculpture. This is the Basket of Dreams which was created by the artist Caroline Robinson. It was created as a resting place to relax, enjoy the views, and inspire thoughts and reflection.
For many, the Basket of Dreams marks the end of their Queenstown Hill walk. But the truth is this is just the beginning of the best views! From the Basket of Dreams, there is a short loop track that takes you around the top of Queenstown Hill offering the most stunning views! This is what you hiked all the way up for – so enjoy it!
The Views from Queenstown Hill Summit
Besides the Basket of Dreams, from the top of Queenstown Hill, you’ll have views of Lake Wakatipu, Cecil’s Peak, the Remarkables, Bob’s Peak and the gondola, and of course, Queenstown itself! This is the time to take pictures and relax. I often pack snacks or a picnic to enjoy at the top. If you want to be really fancy, bring a thermos of hot chocolate or coffee to enjoy on a colder day.
People often compare the view from Queenstown Hill with the views from the top of the Tiki Trail (aka Bob’s Peak). Although similar, I much prefer Queenstown Hill because the views are more panoramic.
Many people only hike as far as the Basket of Dreams, this isn’t the actual summit of Queenstown Hill. To reach the summit, you must follow another small trail a little further up to the very top. This only adds another 5 minutes to your hike, so I’d recommend going for it!
The hike back down is on the same trail as the way up. Since it’s all downhill, it’ll be much quicker and you’ll likely be down in about 30 minutes or so.
Hiking Queenstown Hill at Sunrise or Sunset
My personal favorite time to hike Queenstown Hill is at sunrise. At this time of day, the trail is the quietest, and the views from the summit as the sun comes up are magical! As I mentioned before, this is also the time of day when you’ll likely snag a parking spot right at the trailhead – bonus!
If you aren’t an early riser, sunset up at Queenstown Hill is pretty spectacular too. Often, sunset is busier than sunrise but still quieter than midday.
Just be sure that if you’re hiking Queenstown Hill for sunrise or sunset, you bring a flashlight or headlamp! Along the trail, the trees provide a lot of shade and it will be dark.
Related Read: Check out my blog for more important hiking tips so you are ready to tackle the best hikes in New Zealand!
Hiking Queenstown Hill in the Winter
Queenstown Hill is one of the few hikes in Queenstown that can be done any time of year – even in the winter! In fact, it is one of the best winter activities in New Zealand. With that said, hiking in the snow can pose a few extra challenges and it’s best to be prepared.
First of all, in the winter there will be snow on the ground as you get closer to the summit. This can make the trail icy and slippery. Good winter hiking boots are highly recommended with crampons being best to have on hand just in case. Hiking poles will also help you keep your balance and give you that much more stability (I never hike without my hiking poles!)
Also, bring warmer clothes and layers to put on once you reach the summit. It’s important to keep in mind that the daylight hours are shorter in the winter and a flashlight might come in handy in case you’re taking longer than you may have anticipated.
The truth is that the views from Queenstown Hill in the winter are even more spectacular than in the summer months. It doesn’t get much better than the mountains all covered in snow – amazing!
Related Read: Queenstown Hill is definitely one of the 40 best hikes on the South Island – find out what the rest are!
Other Ways to Experience Queenstown Hill
Best of Queenstown Sightseeing Tour
If you’re looking for a more relaxing activity in Queenstown and still want to experience Queenstown Hill’s amazing views, we’ve got you covered! This Queenstown Sightseeing Tour not only takes you to visit this iconic viewpoint, but you’ll also get to explore Arrowtown, The Church Cellar Door for wine tasting, the Kawarau Bungy Bridge, and a 25-minute cruise on Lake Wakatipu. This 4-hour tour combines the views of hiking Queenstown Hill with other activities, and is a great introduction to the best places around Queenstown! You can check out the details and book this tour in advance for $199 NZD per person.
Queenstown Hill Quad Biking Experience
This Quad Biking Tour adds a bit of thrill to your Queenstown Hill experience as you can explore the expansive mountain area on a quad. These off-road trails are best explored on a 4×4 vehicle, in which you’ll be trained and given safety instructions so you remain safe the whole time. You’ll get incredible views and an adrenaline-pumping experience all in one! This 3.5-hour tour is for those 16 years and up, it can be booked in advance for $325 NZD per person!
360-Degree UTV Tour
Similar to the quad tour above, this UTV Tour explores the Queenstown Hill wilderness, offering beautiful views of the city below and mountains all around! A UTV (Utility Task Vehicle) is great for those who have little experience with a 4×4 vehicle. It is a type of side-by-side, so it is more like driving a car and you are more enclosed. Children who are 1.3 meters (4 feet 2 inches) tall are allowed to join this tour, so it would be a fun family activity if you have some adventurous kiddos! This 2.5-hour tour can be reserved for $190 NZD per person.
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!
Must-Do Activities While in Queenstown
There are plenty of activities that will keep you busy while you’re in Queenstown. Honestly, there are so many things to do in Queenstown, that it’ll be hard to choose which ones to do! Below are some of my favorites:
- Take a cruise – Aboard the TSS Earnslaw Steamship Cruise you’re in for a scenic and relaxing cruise in Queenstown that’s great for any afternoon. This is one of the last coal-fired steamships in the world and you get to watch the crew add coal to the flames to power the vessel as you take in mountain ranges and lush green valleys. You can also upgrade this tour here to include dinner at Walter Peak High Country Farm.
- Watch a sunset – As the day draws to a close in Queenstown, make sure to head to the shores of Lake Wakatipu to watch a sunset. It’s one of the best viewpoints to watch the sun sink behind the Southern Alps. I like watching from Queenstown Beach or Perky’s Floating Bar where you get a view of the lake and delicious food and drinks too!
- Go canyoning – Climb and jump off waterfalls, rappel, swim, and trek as part of this Queenstown Canyoning Adventure 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.
- See Milford Sound – This day trip to Milford South with a picnic lunch 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.
- Wine tasting – This Central Otago Wine Tour and Tasting is my personal favorite wine tour in Queenstown! It is one of the best values for money as for $239 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.
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!
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.
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 Hill really is one of the best easy hikes in Queenstown. Sure, it might be challenging in parts but overall, most people can accomplish this awesome trail!
I hope this blog has answered all of the questions you have about hiking Queenstown Hill, and maybe inspired you to do it! Trust me, this is one epic hike and the views are well worth the short climb! If you have any specific questions I didn’t answer, please let me know by leaving a comment below, I read and reply to every single one!
If you’re looking for more useful guides head over to my New Zealand or Queenstown page, or browse through My Queenstown Diary for info on other nearby towns. I’ve listed some guides I think you’ll love below to get you started!