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Queenstown is my favorite place to visit in New Zealand. The huge range of things to see and do in Queenstown is what initially made me move there. No joke, the list of activities you can choose from in Queenstown is seemingly endless.
This is especially true in the month of December.
December is the first month of summer in Queenstown – and what an exciting time to visit! This is when all of the summer-only activities begin, and when you combine that with Christmas and New Year, December in Queenstown is full of fun just waiting to be had. You have the festive events as well as plenty of outdoorsy adventure activities in Queenstown to keep you busy all month long.
Honestly, I think December is one of the very best times to visit Queenstown, New Zealand.
So if you’re lucky enough to visit Queenstown in December, I want you to know all of your options when it comes to things to do, where to stay, and what to expect for your visit! This is why I wrote this blog – here is your ultimate guide to Queenstown, New Zealand in December!
Why Visit Queenstown in December
Queenstown is such an amazing place in December. It’s vibrant, busy, and full of life!
Although in December you’ll have to say goodbye to the snowcapped mountains, you’ll be able to welcome the warm weather that will have you relaxing at the beach and sipping cocktails in the sun. Queenstown is as much of a summer paradise as a winter one. But that’s not all. Many of my favorite activities in Queenstown can only be done in the summer months, like December.
So, get your bucket list ready, here are the 15 best things to do in Queenstown in summer!
Related Read: Heading to Queenstown in the winter? Check out my blog!
Queenstown Weather in December
In December, expect average highs to be around 22 degrees Celcius (72 degrees Fahrenheit) and lows around 9 degrees Celcius (48 degrees Fahrenheit). With that said, it can get as hot as 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) during the summer months.
Surprisingly, December is actually the wettest month in Queenstown with around 11 days and 78 mm (3 in) of rain. Don’t worry though, there are plenty of fun things to do in Queenstown when it’s raining too!
Queenstown Events in December
Queenstown Lake’s Christmas Show
This is a local, community-driven event suitable for the whole family. You can expect various performances from local singers, dancers, and actors alike. Santa may even make an appearance himself!
The show is held at the Queenstown Events Centre. This year’s date has not been set yet. Ticket prices range between $5-35 NZD, with free admission for kids under five. You can check out updates on their Facebook page.
Wanaka is a slight venture outside of Queenstown, but great for a day trip. While you’re there you can check out Santa’s Grotto if you’re visiting in December.
The event has market stalls, Santa appearances, and a number of fun-filled family events! Along with that, The Grotto has fundraisers to help the community and accepts donations. The event is typically open in the first weeks of December, but official dates have not been released yet. Tickets are around $5 NZD each.
Crankworx Summer Series
If you’re a fan of mountain biking, you’re not going to want to miss this! Five of the world’s best mountain bike athletes visit three iconic destinations, one of them being Queenstown. At each destination, four races occur, as the athletes compete for the CLIF Crankworx Summer Series title.
The Crankworx Summer Series is having events in Queenstown December 4-5, 2021. Other events in surrounding areas will be happening between November 27 – December 12, 2021.
Things to do in Queenstown in December
1. Explore the Queenstown Gardens
Easily one of the best things to do in Queenstown in December is to wander the botanical gardens. The Queenstown Gardens are located right in town, are free to visit, and are simply stunning – why not go check them out! There is a 2-kilometer (1.2 miles) loop you can walk through the gardens that take you along Lake Wakatipu’s shoreline, through a forest, and of course, among flowers and perfectly manicured garden beds.
In December, the Queenstown Gardens are typically in full bloom making them even more special to visit.
One of the other interesting features of the gardens is the disc golf course (frisbee golf.) You can bring your own frisbee and test your skills on the free course. This is a favorite pastime of many Queenstown locals, but there’s no reason tourists can’t join in on the fun. You do need to bring your own frisbee, which you can rent from the Ice Arena in Queenstown for only a few dollars.
2. Bike Lake Hayes Loop Track
Lake Hayes Loop Track is an easy bike trail located only a 20-minute drive from central Queenstown. This trail circles the stunning Lake Hayes – aim to be here just before sunset to see a gorgeous reflection of the surrounding peaks on the lake.
This track can get pretty busy, especially with walkers and joggers, so be careful and ring your bell to alert them of your approach. On a hot December day, I highly recommend ending your cycle with a very refreshing swim in the nippy Lake Hayes. Be sure to check signage around the lake, however, as sometimes bacteria levels in the Lake can be high and swimming is not permitted.
This track is 7.9 kilometers long (4.9 miles) in total, and the most popular access point is from the car park at the Lake Hayes Pavilion or from the North Lake Hayes picnic area. The track is pretty much all flat, besides one uphill climb on the Rutherford Roadside, this part is also quite narrow so beware of approaching walkers or cyclists.
There are honestly so many amazing biking trails in Queenstown to be experienced! If you have the time, I would try to check out at least a few.
The most extreme December activity in Queenstown is, of course, skydiving! I’ve personally skydived twice in my life, once in Canada and once in Australia. Although I haven’t had the chance to skydive in New Zealand (yet) it’s definitely something I’ve heard awesome things about!
In Queenstown, you have the choice between a few different skydiving experiences. You can book right in town and choose between 9000 feet, 12000 feet, and 15000 feet jumps. The difference between these jumps is the amount of freefall time and the price. The 15,000-foot jump is the most expensive but offers the longest free fall time. Also, bragging rights come along with completing the highest and most crazy 15000 ft jump!
Alternatively, for a super cool experience, you can also book this full-day tour to Mount Cook that includes either a 10,000 ft skydive, 13,000 ft, or 15,000 ft. That’s right, you’ll experience NZ’s tallest mountain (Mount Cook) from up in the sky! Although a long day, Mount Cook is a must-see destination on the South Island. I can only imagine that skydiving there would be seriously epic.
4. Hydro Attack Queenstown
Have you heard of the Hydro Attack Shark? Not likely, because it is an activity that is unique to Queenstown. Rumor has it, the guy who designed these cool machines has a patent on them and that’s why you’ll only see them in Queenstown.
The Hydro Shark is like a jet ski but it also goes underwater like a shark.
Basically, you sit in a seat behind the driver, and like a fighter jet, they close the windscreen over you. Then, you’ll fly across the water before the shark makes fast dives below the water and then pops up out of the water. I’ve never done it before but it’s always zooming around on Lake Wakatipu and I’ve often wondered what it’s like.
The Hydro Shark isn’t a cheap activity and for a 15-minute ride, it’ll cost you upwards of $155 NZD. With that said, it’s unique to Queenstown and easily a top adventurous experience.
Note: The Hydro Shark is often fully booked during weekends or peak seasons, be sure to book your experience in advance to avoid missing out!
5. Go canyoning
My favorite adventure activity in Queenstown is canyoning. I know, that’s a big statement, but it’s true! Canyoning is just so much fun, and to me, it’s the perfect combination of a thrilling experience without being too crazy. You can’t do canyoning during the winter months in NZ, so December is the perfect time to take advantage of this activity!
There are many different canyoning experiences you can choose from in Queenstown including half-day and full-day options. Personally, I think the half-day experience is enough though and the one I did was a ton of fun. The half-day canyon is located in the Gibbston Valley and the full-day one is in Mt Aspiring National Park.
Either way, both are amazing and you’ll have so much fun zip lining, repelling, swimming, jumping, and navigating a canyon to the endpoint.
The water in the canyons is cold, but you are given a wetsuit, helmet, and life jacket for the tour. You’ll also get a harness for repelling down into the canyon. The tour companies do recommend that you have a certain amount of comfort in the water, but seriously it’s so much fun!
6. Visit Wilson Bay
About 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) from Queenstown you will see signs for Wilson Bay. This is your first stop along the scenic drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy.
This bay is beautiful, and in December, makes for the perfect place for a swim. Otherwise, just enjoy the views, watch the ducks, and check out the area. Although just a quick stop on this drive, it’s well worth checking out.
7. Wine tour through the Gibbston Valley
You can do wine tours any time of the year in New Zealand, however, in Queenstown, there’s no better time than in December! It’s warm and the vineyards are luscious and green!
On your own adventure or on a guided wine tour you can explore the beautiful Gibbston Valley and try lots of different wines under the New Zealand sun. The best part is, that almost all of the wineries have beautiful outdoor gardens to enjoy the views of the vines with a mountain backdrop. That’s why I love the Gibbston Valley as a December activity.
There are lots of different ways to explore the Gibbston Valley with the first and easiest on a guided wine tour from Queenstown. These tours usually cost around $200 NZD per person and include lunch, all your tasting fees, and transport. You can choose from a beer and wine tour (great if you have beer loves in your group) or a standard wine tour with snacks.
The next way is on a hop-on-hop-off wine tour. These are really cheap and only include your transport so you can head off and travel at your own pace. The tour includes a map to help you plan your journey and they can recommend a heap of great wineries to visit.
If you want to get out and enjoy the fresh air then why not explore the Gibbston Valley on a bike and wine tour. For those wanting to go for a bike ride in Queenstown and do a wine tour, this kills two birds with one stone! And don’t worry about peddling too much, the above-linked tour includes e-bikes!
The last way is on your own. It’s actually really easy to do, and you’ll just need to plan your route out before you go. Some wineries that I personally recommend visiting are Kinross, Gibbston Valley Winery, Akarua Wines, and Waitiri Creek Wines (which is also Cargo Brewery!) In one day you could visit all four and visit some of the best wineries in the region.
8. Drink New Zealand craft beer
Speaking of drinking, did you know that Queenstown is home to three craft breweries that each have their own on-site bar!? Yep, that’s right, in such a small town there’s no shortage of beer!
My personal favorite of the three is Searchlight Brewery. I love their outdoor bar and Lewis (the owner) is a really friendly and humble guy. The brewery is located a little out of town in an industrial area, so if you’re after a more beautiful location, consider Altitude Brewery or Canyon Brewing.
Altitude is also located out of town but along the edge of Lake Wakatipu in Frankton. You can actually ride or walk there along the edge of the lake following the Queenstown Trail. Canyon Brewing is the furthest from Queenstown but it’s actually located above Shotover Canyon right where the Shotover Jet leaves from. The location is beautiful and you can have a beer outside and walk over the edge of the canyon for a look!
To be honest, all of the breweries make amazing craft beer in Queenstown, so it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite in that aspect. Just pick the one you like the sound of or just visit them all on a craft beer tour in Queenstown!
9. Bob’s Cove
About 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) further from Wilson Bay you’ll find Bob’s Cove. This is one of the most beautiful beaches and bays around Lake Wakatipu.
After you’re done, you can even cool off with a swim before hitting the road once again.
The ziplines in New Zealand are next level, so this is one activity for any adventure enthusiasts. Make your way on the gondola (or hike the Tiki Trail) up to the top of Bob’s Peak. From here, you can actually do the Zip Trek ziplining tour!
You can choose from a range of tours when booking which include as few as 2 zip lines and as many as 6. From the ziplines, you’ll zoom along the mountainside with breathtaking views of Lake Wakatipu.
The Moa Tour has 4 different lines that start low and gradually increase in their height, length, and speed. This is ideal if this is your first time ziplining.
The 1-hour Kereru Tour while shorter than the Moa is a bit more thrilling as it includes 2 lines and a 22-meter drop (72 feet) at the end.
If you choose the Kea Tour you’ll get to do 6 lines along with the world’s steepest zipline which descends 30 stories at 70 kilometers (44 miles) an hour!
The tours are guided and you’ll take your time learning about the area along the way. In fact, the 6 zip line tour is almost 3 hours long!
You can book one of these epic experiences online in advance. Prices range from $112 NZD to $199 NZD.
11. Go on a hike
Going on a hike in Queenstown during summer is a must-do activity. The best part is that there is a hike for everyone! Seriously, there are trails that take only 30 minutes (like Bob’s Cove Track mentioned above) and others that take 8+ hours! Below are a few of the top hikes with all different difficulties in Queenstown.
Mt Crichton Loop Track – If you’re visiting Queenstown with kids and are looking for an interesting trail with a history lesson, then Mt Crichton Loop is perfect. Along the way, you’ll be able to explore an old gold mining tunnel and even check out the Sam Summers historical hut.
Lake Hayes Loop – It’s hard to top a trip to Lake Hayes on a beautiful summer’s day. The Lake HayesLoop is a 5-kilometer-long (3 miles) trail that circles the lake giving you breathtaking views from every angle.
Queenstown Hill – No hike is as popular in Queenstown as Queenstown Hill. This 5-kilometer (3 miles) round-trip hike takes you high above Queenstown to enjoy magnificent views. Don’t be fooled by the length of the trail though, it’s still quite the challenge.
Ben Lomond Track –Ben Lomond Track is one of the hardest hikes in Queenstown. The trail begins on the Tiki Trail (trail to the top of the gondola) before you make a left turn and head for Ben Lomond Summit. It’s a 7 to 8-hour hike that’s hard but absolutely spectacular!
12. Relax at the beach
During December in Queenstown, you simply can’t beat spending a day at the beach. This family-friendly activity that’s completely free!
There are three spots to visit depending on what you’re looking for all close to Queenstown. The most convenient is Queenstown Beach, with that said, it not only gets busy but also a little rowdy.
Instead, head to my favorite spot, Sunshine Bay. This small secluded bay is popular among locals but it’s much quieter than Queenstown Beach. You can access the beach via the Sunshine Bay Track or drive to the parking lot.
Last is Bob’s Cove, which I went into detail about above.
13. Drink at an Ice Bar
One of the most popular things to do for tourists in Queenstown is to have a drink at one of the ice bars in town. Nothing like cooling off in the warm months of December in an ice bar! At an ice bar, you can have a drink or a shot out of a cup made completely of ice from a bar made of ice. You’ll get all geared up in warm clothing before entering a freezing room where almost everything is made from ice!
There are actually two different ice bars located in central Queenstown, Minus 5° ICE BAR and Below Zero Ice Bar. Both offer more or less the same experience so you really only need to visit one or the other. It usually costs around $35 NZD to visit an ice bar with an included drink. They have different shots, cocktails, or even non-alcoholic drinks available. This is also just a quick activity that can be done in under half an hour.
To bundle and save some money I recommend joining this ice bar crawl which costs $40 NZD and includes the entrance fee to one of the ice bars. You’ll also receive 5 free shots and pizza during the night as you visit 5 of the best bars in Queenstown.
14. Ride the Luge
The most family-friendly adventure activity in Queenstown in December is riding the Luge! This gravity-pulled go-kart will have you racing down a track on the side of a mountain! The best part is that you control the speed, so if you’re nervous about it, just use the break and have a more controlled ride. But if you’re looking for a thrill, then let go of that break and you’ll fly (seriously, over the jumps you’ll get real air!)
The Luge is located at the Skyline building up at the top of Bob’s Peak. This means you must either hike the Tiki Trail or ride the gondola to get there. If you choose to ride the gondola, consider buying this package deal with the gondola and luge included as you’ll get a discount this way. Also, you need to buy at least two Luge rides, one is never enough and they make you go down the slow track on your first time. Round two is when you get to have all the fun!
Similar but different to parasailing is paragliding! Instead of being pulled behind a boat, you’ll fly off the edge of a mountain! To me, paragliding is much more thrilling than parasailing and well worth doing in Queenstown in December.
It’s an adrenaline rush as you go running off the edge of a mountain (attached to a professional of course.) However, once you’ve been in the air for a few minutes it becomes a lot more relaxing and you can really just enjoy the view.
Expect to pay around $235 NZD for a flight, and you can choose between a paragliding or hang gliding experience in December.
Where to Stay in Queenstown in December
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 – especially in the peak season of December! 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.
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!
I hope you enjoyed this guide on how to plan your trip to Queenstown in December! Queenstown is truly a magical place in December and has so much to offer from adventure to hiking to eating, I’m sure you’ll enjoy every minute of your time there!
Before you visit Queenstown, be sure to look around on this website more. I have written tons of detailed articles about Queenstown and other amazing places to visit in the South Island that I’m sure you’ll want to check out! Or scan through some of my other popular blogs here: