Queenstown has been attracting visitors from all over the world for close to 100 years. This stunning mountain town, built on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, is easily one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful areas in all of New Zealand.
Would you believe this small town attracts close to 1.5 million visitors every year, well, to me, that’s no surprise because there’s so much to do in Queenstown!
Known as the adventure capital of New Zealand, you’ll struggle to find a better place in the world than Queenstown to try out bungy jumping, ziplining, and jet boating. Not only are adrenalin-pumping activities a-plenty here, but there are also scenic hikes, excellent restaurants, and some awesome places to stay.
A visit to Queenstown will create memories that will last a lifetime.
But before you visit Queenstown, there are some very important things you need to know first. And since I’m a Queenstown local, there is nobody better to help you out than me! In this blog, you’ll find everything you need to know about visiting Queenstown, New Zealand so you can be completely prepared for your trip!
- 1. Where is Queenstown
- 2. History of Queenstown
- 3. What is Queenstown known for?
- 4. Best Time to Visit Queenstown/ The Seasons in Queenstown
- 5. How long should I spend in Queenstown?
- 6. Is Queenstown Expensive?
- 7. Population of Queenstown
- 8. Getting around Queenstown
- 9. How do you get to Queenstown?
- 10. Freedom Camping /Camping in Queenstown
- 11. The best areas to stay in Queenstown?
- 12. Is Queenstown safe?
- 13. Parking in Queenstown
- 14. Best tours/day trips in Queenstown
- Day trip to Glenorchy
- Tours to Milford Sound
- Day trip to Wanaka
- Tours to Gibbston Valley
- Day trip to Arrowtown
- 15. The Best Free Activities in Queenstown
- Self-drive Lord of the Rings Tour
- Watch the sunset at Lake Wakatipu
- Explore Bob's Cove
- Visit Moke Lake
- Head to Lake Hayes
- 16. Best places to eat in Queenstown
- 17. Best hikes in Queenstown
- 18. Nightlife in Queenstown
Tips for Visiting Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown is the jewel in New Zealand’s crown with many tourists arriving in the country specifically to see this lakeside town. Built on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, there are mountain views from just about every spot in town with The Remarkables, Cecil Peak, and Walter Peak ranges looming large over this small town.
Queenstown is a naturally stunning area with an array of outdoor activities available year-round. You can go skiing in winter, kayaking on the lake and mountain biking in the summer, and try out unique sports like rock climbing and skydiving at all times of the year. In fact, it will be hard to find an activity you can’t do in Queenstown.
Here’s everything you need to know before visiting New Zealand’s most famous town!
1. Where is Queenstown
Queenstown is located on the South Island of New Zealand, it is in the Otago region. It is the third-largest town by population size in Otago.
The closest large city to Queenstown is Invercargill, which is a 2.5-hour (188 km/117 mi) drive away and Dunedin which is the largest city in Otago is 3.5 hours (278.5 km/173 mi) from the town.
2. History of Queenstown
It is believed that Queenstown was first discovered in the early 1700s by native Maori and it wasn’t until Europeans arrived in the 1860s that the area was transformed. William Rees and Nicholas von Tunzelmann were the first Europeans to settle here and they established a farm where the town’s center is now built.
The Gold Rush, which began in 1862 after significant amounts of gold were discovered in the nearby Arrow River, was really the makings of Queenstown. As a result of the influx of miners, Rees converted his farm’s woolshed into a hotel which he named the Queen’s Arms (the hotel is still there to this day and has been renamed Eichardts – one of the best hotels in Queenstown).
In the early 1900s, the town became quite the tourist hub thanks to the many walking and hiking trails nearby, and so the town grew. Eventually, more activity providers set up here including the Skyline Gondola which opened to the public in 1967. And when the world’s first commercial bungy jump was set up in 1988 by Aj Hackett at the Kawarau Bridge (where it continues to operate to this day), the town boomed with tourists and so many more hotels and restaurants were built to accommodate this sudden influx.
Today, there are over 200 hotels and 100 restaurants in Queenstown, and it is one of the most popular places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand.
Did you know – Queenstown is said to have gotten its name from Irish settlers, who named the town after another scenic ‘Queenstown’ which is located in County Cork, Ireland.
3. What is Queenstown known for?
Queenstown, New Zealand is perhaps most famous for its natural beauty – built on Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by stunning mountain ranges such as The Remarkables, Cecil Peak, and Walter Peak.
But did you know it’s the adventure capital of New Zealand? With a 134-meter tall bungy jump, super-fast jet boats, speedy zip lines, and more adrenalin-pumping activities available year-round it’s no wonder adventure junkies flock here in huge numbers. Plus, there’s epic skiing available in the winter months and there are no less than 3 ski fields within driving distance of the town!
Queenstown is without a doubt New Zealand’s most popular tourist destination, and as I’ve mentioned, close to 1.5 million tourists visit annually. There are plenty of luxurious hotels with stunning views and excellent restaurants as well as other more relaxing activities for those who just want a chilled-out vacation. You can hop on a scenic flight to Milford Sound (aka the 8th wonder of the world), relax in arguably the most scenic hot tub in the world, and take in the views from a hot air balloon.
If you’re a hiker, Queenstown is the place for you with loads of scenic hikes a short distance from town – my favorites are the Tiki Trail, Wye Creek, and Lake Alta. Some hikes in Queenstown are super easy too, and as such, suitable for the whole family.
Queenstown (and New Zealand) as a whole attracts a lot of Lord of the Rings fans, and the town was used as a filming location for Isengard, Misty Mountains, and the Forest of Fangorn from the popular movie franchise. There is no shortage of LOTR tours that you can take from the Queenstown area.
4. Best Time to Visit Queenstown/ The Seasons in Queenstown
Every season in Queenstown has its pros and cons. For example, summer in Queenstown is hot but extremely busy whereas spring is referred to as ‘off-season’ with lots of great deals to be found in both the restaurants and hotels. With that said, it can rain a lot!
Winter in New Zealand is of course the time to go skiing in Queenstown and it’s also a very quiet time to enjoy road trips as campervans/motorhome rentals in NZ are at their cheapest then. Autumn is easily the quietest time to visit Queenstown and during this time you’ll get the best deals as well as the beautiful colors of fall.
Worth remembering is the seasons here are the opposite of the northern hemisphere. For example, winter in Queenstown runs from June to the end of August. This is completely different from the seasons in Europe, North America, etc.
Summer in Queenstown
Summer is a popular time to visit Queenstown, especially with European and North American travelers who are looking to escape their winter. Many families also visit in this season as the New Zealand and Australian long school holidays fall in summer. Remember, the summer season in Queenstown starts in December and ends in February.
The weather typically ranges from 20°C (68°F) to a maximum of 30°C (86°F) during the day and there’s usually very little rainfall (although some years it can be unpredictable!) A plus for early birds is that the sun rises as early as 5 am. And for night owls, it sets as late as 10 pm.
Winter in Queenstown
The winter months in Queenstown run from June to the end of August and it gets pretty chilly here during these months. Expect temperatures of 8°C (46.4°F) to as low as 0°C (32°F) during the day and at night it typically falls below zero with lows of -6°C (21.2°F.) Despite the cold temperatures, it doesn’t snow regularly in the town itself but expect to see lots of snow dusting the surrounding mountain ranges.
Skiing is the number one activity to do in Queenstown in winter. With three ski fields (Remarkables, Coronet, and Cardrona) within easy driving distance of town, you’re spoiled for choice. Also, during the winter in Queenstown attractions outside of town are much less busy. It’s really a peaceful time to travel outside of town and embark on some of the most popular South Island road trips.
Spring in Queenstown
Spring is one of the best times to visit Queenstown if you don’t mind a little rain. The spring season in Queenstown starts in September and ends in November. Temperatures can reach as high as 22°C (71.6°F), especially in late November but will be much cooler in September (they can fall as low as 8°C or 46.4°F). Expect lots of rain showers so be sure to pack your raincoat and umbrella.
The sun starts to rise around 8 am and sets at 7 pm so the daylight hours are relatively long giving you more time to explore and enjoy the day. By late spring the days are even longer and with the weather warmer, there’s a perfect mix between snow on the mountains and beach days.
Fall in Queenstown
Autumn in Queenstown starts in March and ends in May with temperatures varying from 12°C (53.6°F) to as high as 25°C (77°F). In fact, some of the best weather days I’ve experienced in Queenstown have been at the start of fall (in March). Sunrise averages around 7:30 am daily with sunset at 8:30 pm in March but the daylight gets less and less from April on with sunset at approximately 6 – 6:30 pm in May.
Fall is a great season for couples to visit Queenstown because it’s just so pretty to look at and has a relaxed and romantic vibe. Fall is probably the prettiest season in Queenstown when the town explodes in the typical autumn colors of red, yellow, and orange. The nearby town of Arrowtown (just a 20-minute drive away) is particularly gorgeous. Make sure to bring your camera to snap some pretty photos.
5. How long should I spend in Queenstown?
I recommend spending a minimum of 3 days in Queenstown, it is after all the adventure capital of New Zealand so there are lots of awesome activities available year-round. Our recommendation, however, is to spend between 5 – 7 days in Queenstown to truly get a feel for this scenic town.
Plus, the longer you stay in town the better value-for-money your accommodation is likely to be as many hotels and hostels offer cheaper rates for long-term and mid-week stays.
6. Is Queenstown Expensive?
In short yes, Queenstown is expensive. In fact, New Zealand as a whole is not a cheap country to travel around. But it can be done on a budget. For example, if you visit in the off-seasons of Spring and Fall you can take advantage of discounts at many of the top attractions in Queenstown like jetboating and bungy jumping.
I’m aware that everyone’s idea of ‘expensive is different but let me tell you this – according to a recent survey the average cost of a single person visiting Queenstown for 7 days is around $2700 NZD. Although, if you’re strict with your budget, stay in hostels, do free activities like hiking and cook in, then, you can reduce your daily spending to $70 NZD per day.
It is the adventure capital of New Zealand, and adventure activities in Queenstown are costly! Big-ticket activities like skydiving, helicopter tours, and off-road buggy tours can end up costing a lot. But if you’re a smart traveler and do your research you can end up getting some great deals – for example, a shared helicopter tour in Queenstown is much cheaper than a private one and a fixed-wing plane is cheaper again at about $350 NZD per adult for a scenic flight to Milford Sound.
If you watch out for dinner specials and happy hours it is possible to get a drink for less than $5 NZD and a good meal for $15 NZD. There are also lots of deal websites such as Book Me, Grab One, and First Table that can make going out to eat a lot more affordable.
If you want to truly experience Queenstown, you’ll likely find your wallet suffering. With that said, if you stick to the free things to do in Queenstown then it won’t be too bad.
7. Population of Queenstown
The Queenstown urban area has a population of 15,450 as of June 2021. Due to its popularity with ex-pats, the town’s population has increased significantly in recent years, rising about 5% annually!
According to the most recent census, completed in 2020 the population of the Queenstown-Lakes district is 47,400. The Queenstown-Lakes District includes towns such as Arrowtown, Wanaka, and Kingston.
8. Getting around Queenstown
There’s an excellent public bus service in Queenstown, which costs from $2 NZD per journey. It connects the town’s main suburbs like Frankton, Shotover Country, Arrowtown, Fernhill, and Kelvin Heights with the CBD (or downtown.)
The buses are very regular and reliable. The $2 NZD fares are only available if you have a Bee Card, which can be purchased from the bus driver, the Otago Regional Council office in Frankton, or the i-SITE in the CBD for $5 NZD. It is a convenient tag on tag off system that you can top up online or with the driver. If you don’t have a Bee Card and wish to pay the driver with cash – it will cost $4 NZD per adult per ride.
You can check out the Queenstown public bus timetable here.
You can also grab a ferry from either Frankton Marina, Bayview, or the Hilton Hotel into Queenstown. The ferry service operates approximately every hour and costs $10 NZD one-way or $15 NZD return for an adult.
If you prefer to self-drive, Queenstown is an easy town to drive in, with just one road into the town State Highway 6 (SH6). Even driving further afield to towns like Arrowtown and Wanaka from Queenstown is pretty easy. Traffic in Queenstown tends to be pretty quiet but does get busier at weekends and during school holidays. The only thing I must warn you about is parking, which is sometimes pretty difficult to find in the downtown area.
9. How do you get to Queenstown?
Getting to Queenstown by air
Queenstown Airport is just a 15-minute drive from the center of town and has direct flights from throughout New Zealand including Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.
Further afield, airlines like Air New Zealand and Jetstar both operate flights to here from major Australian cities, namely – Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Gold Coast.
Of course, arriving from Europe, North America, and elsewhere is also possible, but, you will need to connect in either one of the Australian cities listed above or via Auckland/ Christchurch.
Getting to Queenstown by road
Driving to Queenstown from Christchurch is a popular option for overseas tourists, many of whom will have landed at Christchurch International Airport. The drive is 6 hours (481 km/299 mi), without stops. Otherwise driving to Queenstown from Dunedin (278 km/173 mi) or Invercargill to Queenstown (188 km/117 mi) is common and easy. The roads into Queenstown are well signposted and most New Zealand roads are sealed and easy to drive.
Renting a car in New Zealand is a great way to travel and 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 book a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
Alternatively, why not consider renting a campervan or motorhome for your New Zealand vacation – you can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic.
There are daily buses to Queenstown from Wanaka, Dunedin, Invercargill, and Christchurch to Queenstown with InterCity buses. The InterCity bus service is a very reliable service and fares are cheap. There are also scheduled coach tours and backpacker tour buses to Queenstown from other New Zealand cities, but these are typically quite costly as it is part of a tour package.
10. Freedom Camping /Camping in Queenstown
There are lots of different places to camp around Queenstown, however, most of them are paid campsites. Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park, Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park, and Queenstown Holiday Park Creeksyde are the nicest (and most expensive) places to camp in Queenstown. These holiday parks offer plenty of amenities like hot showers, communal kitchens, and more. They should be booked in advance during the summer months as they do fill up.
If you don’t mind more basic facilities, consider one of the DOC (Department of Conservation) campsites near Queenstown. 12 Mile Delta is one of the closest DOC campsites to Queenstown, located on the road to Glenorchy. Another popular one is at Moke Lake. These campsites are first-come-first-serve and cost $15 NZD per person. They are non-powered sites and only have basic facilities like pit toilets.
Freedom camping in New Zealand is popular (camping for free in a certified self-contained vehicle), but it is difficult in Queenstown as there are lots of restrictions. If you have a self-contained campervan, you can freedom camp only in select areas around Queenstown. These are changed regularly, so it’s best to check CamperMate for an updated map of freedom camping spots.
11. The best areas to stay in Queenstown?
Queenstown is actually pretty spread out, and there are lots of different areas where you can choose to stay in Queenstown.
What area you choose to stay in Queenstown depends on what you want to get out of your vacation here. For example, if you’re on a budget you may choose to stay in one of the fantastically priced hotels in Frankton – just a 15-minute drive from downtown. If you want somewhere cute, historic, and quiet then I recommend Arrowtown. If you want to be near the ski field then Arthurs Point is a perfect choice, or if you’re after great views then Fernhill is ideal. And of course, if you want varied bar and restaurant options then downtown/central Queenstown is the best choice for you!
Central Queenstown is conveniently located right on the shores of the stunning Lake Wakatipu and it’s just a 15-20 minute drive from the International Airport. By staying in the center of Queenstown you’ll have a ton of activities on offer within a stone’s throw of your hotel. You’ll also be within walking distance to the best bars, restaurants, and stores in Queenstown.
My top choices for accommodation in Central Queenstown include:
QT Hotel – is considered one of the best hotels in Queenstown, this boutique-style hotel is located on Brunswick Street. The rooms here are stylish and a little quirky and most have fantastic views of The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu.
Tahuna Pod Hostel – is a fantastic budget option in central Queenstown. It is a great hostel option in Queenstown! The Tahuna Pod is located in the heart of it all with Lake Wakatipu on your doorstep. There are a couple of room options available here – dorm rooms to private bedrooms.
The neighborhood of Fernhill is an outer Queenstown neighborhood. It’s a 15-minute walk to the center of town and is a great area to stay in Queenstown. Fernhill is located at the top of a steep hill so the views from up here are astounding. Thankfully, there is a regular bus route from town to Fernhill so you don’t need to walk up the steep hill to get to your accommodation.
My top choices for accommodation in Fernhill include:
Mercure Queenstown Resort – the Mercure is a very popular choice with families as it has a large outdoor pool – ideal for those hot summer days.
Kamana Lakehouse – is newly renovated and has perhaps the best views of any hotel in Queenstown. One of the best features is the private outdoor hot tub and on-site is a gorgeous restaurant with huge glass windows to take in the views. This hotel is a great choice for a honeymoon in Queenstown!
If you’re coming to Queenstown in winter, Arthurs Point is a great area to base yourself in due to its proximity to Coronet Peak Ski Resort. Arthurs Point is only a short drive from Arrowtown too which puts it smack bang in the middle of both Queenstown and Arrowtown. Also, in the area is the very popular Onsen Hot Pools (among the best hot pools in Queenstown!) and the world-famous Shotover Jet.
My top choices for accommodation in Arthurs Point include –
Swiss Belresort – is a great budget-friendly option in Arthurs Point. The rooms here have recently undergone a renovation and are quiet and comfortable. There’s an onsite bowling alley and a bar/restaurant area.
The Canyons B&B – all rooms are spacious and feature a private balcony or patio area as well as a mini fridge There’s also a communal spa and some of the room rates include breakfast.
Arrowtown is probably my favorite little town in all of New Zealand – it’s cute, very photogenic, and historic. It was at the center of the gold mining rush of the late 1800s. In fact, you can explore its historic past at the Arrowtown Chinese Settlement – you can even pan for gold here. The town’s main street called Buckingham Street is filled with lots of great cafes and restaurants including Bella Cucina, Aosta, and The Chop House. Would you believe there are approximately 30 restaurants in this small town!?
My top choices for accommodation in Arrowtown include:
New Orleans Hotel – this historic hotel was built in 1866 and renovated in 2019 so now the rooms here are more modernized white still simple and it’s right on Buckingham St in the center of Arrowtown. The property has an open fire going during the winter and a roomy balcony to enjoy during the warmer months.
Arrowtown Motel – each room has a patio to admire the stunning views. It’s just under 1 km into Arrowtown and is easily walkable.
Frankton is where the International Airport is located as well as the majority of the supermarkets and other superstores such as The Warehouse and K-Mart. If you need to do some shopping this is the area for you – there’s every type of store you can imagine in Frankton. It’s where most locals in Queenstown hang out and there are lots of excellent food options scattered between Queenstown Central and The Remarkables retail parks.
My top choices for accommodation in Frankton include:
The Hilton – this is just a short drive from Frankton on the edge of the Kelvin Heights neighborhood. This is the largest resort in Queenstown with a few onsite restaurants, an award-winning spa, and lots of rooms to choose from. You can also catch the ferry service from the pier into Queenstown (this costs $10 NZD per person (return) or ride the complimentary shuttle.
The Sherwood – is an eco-friendly hotel located on Frankton Road – it’s about halfway between Queenstown and Frankton. It’s quirky and cozy and has an excellent onsite restaurant which is very popular with locals.
Related Read: Check out the best Airbnbs in Queenstown.
12. Is Queenstown safe?
New Zealand is known as one of the safest countries in the world for tourists and Queenstown is no different.
Queenstown is a very safe town. Most thefts are car break-ins so don’t leave any belongings visible in your car – take them with you if you can, or hide them in the truck or another safe place. I should note that car break-ins are still pretty rare here.
It is advisable to still be cautious though, be aware of your belongings at all times as bag snatches (especially at late-night bars) have been known to happen. Again, this is super rare. In fact, most people who lose belongings in Queenstown will have them returned by an honest local or traveler, just check the local police station if you find yourself in this situation.
Worth noting too is that earthquakes and tsunamis can happen in New Zealand, although rare and if they do happen they are pretty mild it’s still worth knowing what to do in case of such an emergency. Check out Get Ready New Zealand for tips on how to stay safe in the event of an earthquake.
13. Parking in Queenstown
Finding parking in Queenstown CBD can be difficult, that’s because the free parking spaces fill up quickly and there are limited paid parking options. Therefore, if you have a car it’s advisable to book a hotel with free parking.
There’s an underground car park at Church Street, which costs from $2 NZD per 30 minutes, and another large car park at 5 Shotover Street which costs from $5 NZD per hour or $12 NZD for a full day.
There are also several council-owned car parks – here you pay at one of the machines and display the ticket on your dashboard. These car parks can be found on Athol Street, Ballarat Street, and Boundary Street/ Gorge Road. Prices typically cost from $1 – $4 NZD per hour.
There are a number of free parking options around the town which will give you from 30 minutes to 240 minutes of free parking. These operate on a first-come-first-served basis so get here early in the morning or later in the evening to nab a space.
Unlimited free parking can be found on Lake Esplanade Road and alongside St Omer Park. Other options include Brecon Street near the gondola which gives you up to 240 minutes free, Stanley Street which offers 180 minutes free, and Coronation Street which has 120 minutes of free parking.
14. Best tours/day trips in Queenstown
There are lots of day trips available from Queenstown to some lesser-known gems like Glenorchy and Arrowtown, that I think are well worth a visit. And of course, Milford Sound is a very popular day trip to take from Queenstown, as you will read below there are numerous ways to enjoy Milford Sound.
Here are some of the best day trips available from Queenstown.
Day trip to Glenorchy
One of the best things about going on a day trip to Glenorchy from Queenstown is the drive there. The road from Queenstown to Glenorchy, conveniently called Glenorchy-Queenstown Road, is utterly breathtaking! Along the way, you can stop at lots of viewpoints and attractions such as Moke Lake and hikes such as Bob’s Cove Track and Mt Crichton Loop. It is only a 46-kilometer (29 mi) drive that takes around 45 minutes, but, if you plan on stopping and enjoying the views you’ll need to allow a few hours.
You can also book this half-day Glenorchy tour that includes transport from Queenstown if you don’t want to drive! You’ll learn about the history of the town from your guides but also have two hours to go off and explore on your own terms.
Lord of the Rings fans will love Glenorchy. Just outside of town, many of the most famous scenes from the movies were filmed, including Isengard, Misty Mountains, the Dead Marshes, and the Forest of Fangorn. You can book this full-day Lord of the Rings Tour which departs from Queenstown and is one of the best-rated LOTR tours, it also includes lunch at a local Cafe!
Another top recommendation for adrenalin-lovers is this Dart River Jet and Paradise tour which includes a speedy cruise down Lake Wakatipu in a jet boat and a visit to the stunning and hard-to-reach area known as Paradise.
Tours to Milford Sound
One of the most popular tours in Queenstown is a day trip to Milford Sound. There are several different tours to Milford Sound from Queenstown and which one you choose depends on how much time you have and what your budget is. In fact, I think a guided tour to Milford Sound is one of the best things to do on the South Island!
The most popular option is the Coach & Cruise tour which is a full-day affair as the drive is just over 4 hours each way, add on a 2-hour cruise and a couple of stops along the way and it’s a 13-hour day in total. It’s also one of the most budget-friendly options. What I love about this specific tour is it includes a nature cruise and because it’s on a smaller boat you get as close as possible to the action. That includes the famous “glacial facial” from the 15,000-year-old Stirling Falls.
This tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound involves a flight there, a cruise once you arrive in Milford Sound, and then a flight back to Queenstown. A 40-minute return scenic flight in a small fixed-wing plane is a fantastically quick option to get to Milford Sound which boasts stunning views along the way. On this tour, you get the best of both with a fly-over Milford Sound and a 2-hour boat cruise through it.
This tour is a very popular option as it combines a coach tour that takes the scenic road from Queenstown to Milford, a cruise in Milford, and then you return to Queenstown with a scenic flight. Basically, it’s the entire package in one This is a 9-hour tour in total, so not as long as the coach options described earlier (which typically last a whopping 13 hours.) You literally cut the driving time in half on this tour!
Or you can choose to self-drive to Milford Sound from Queenstown, keep in mind this will take 4 hours each way but you have more freedom as to when and where you stop.
Day trip to Wanaka
Wanaka is a tiny, gorgeous town surrounded by the Southern Alps. As an adventure lover’s paradise, there are tons of fun things to do in Wanaka. From mountain quadding down the very steep Cardrona mountain to jet boating the longest river in New Zealand – I can assure you, you won’t get bored in Wanaka.
One of the most famous hikes in New Zealand is located right here in Wanaka – Roys Peak! Not for the faint-hearted, this hike has easily the most stunning views in all of New Zealand near its summit. Roy’s Peak Track is a favorite with Instagram-lovers due to the phenomenal view of the Southern Alps from the famous viewpoint. It is a 16-kilometer (10 miles) trek that takes around 7 hours to complete. The hike itself is mostly uphill with the odd viewpoint along the way, but for the majority of the hike, there isn’t a whole lot to see.
One of the quirkier must-do activities in Wanaka is to snap some photos of #ThatWanakaTree, a tree so famous it has its own hashtag. This lone willow tree is the most photographed tree in New Zealand, it is easily reachable from town, just follow the lake’s edge to the left.
For the kids, there’s Puzzling World just outside of town which is filled with the weird and wonderful – including a maze, an illusion room, and some wacky buildings!
Tours to Gibbston Valley
The Central Otago wine region is the world’s southernmost commercial wine-growing area. The area is most famous for its Pinot Noir. The closest wine region to Queenstown is the stunning Gibbston Valley, which is just a 20-minute drive from the town.
There are lots of different wine tours to choose from in Queenstown from a guided E-bike wine tour to a fun hop-on-hop-off bus, and there’s even a super-luxurious helicopter wine tour. There’s definitely a wine tour for everyone and every budget in Queenstown.
Although, this full-day tour option takes you to some of the best wineries in Queenstown. It is a guided tour that brings you to both the Gibbston Valley and the Bannockburn wine regions in New Zealand with stops in the historic towns of Cromwell and Arrowtown. Allow 6.5 hours in total for this tour.
Day trip to Arrowtown
Arrowtown is one of the cutest towns in New Zealand. Known for its old architecture, lack of traffic, and beautiful scenery, Arrowtown is a quiet place great for escaping the hustle and bustle of Queenstown. I recommend spending at least three hours here.
One of the best things to do in Arrowtown (and it’s free too) is to visit the Arrowtown Chinese Settlement which showcases the huts Chinese miners lived in during the gold rush. Some of the huts have also been restored so visitors can step back in time and see just how hard Chinese settlers had it back then. To reach the settlement walk along Buckingham Street towards Bush Creek. Located on the grassed area is the Chinese Settlement.
There’s also a great hike located in Arrowtown, that is a favorite with locals – the Sawpit Gully Track is a beautiful short hike that leads up German Hill before looping back down to Arrowtown. The trail starts just past the Chinese Settlement and in total is 8 kilometers (5 miles) long with a 400-meter (1,312 feet) elevation gain taking around 2.5 hours.
Afterward, be sure to check out one of the many great cafes in Arrowtown like my personal favorites Provisions and The Chop Shop.
If you don’t have a car and are based in Queenstown you can multitask and see two cities in one on this tour of Arrowtown and Wanaka. It lasts for 6 hours and you can learn a lot about both areas from your guide and also have the freedom to stroll around by yourself.
15. The Best Free Activities in Queenstown
Queenstown is known as an expensive place to vacation, but surprisingly there are a lot of awesome free things to do here. From watching the sunset to driving your car to some of the Lord of the Rings filming locations, you’ll be surprised at just how easy it is to have fun in Queenstown without spending a single dollar.
Some of my favorite free activities in Queenstown include:
Self-drive Lord of the Rings Tour
Did you know that many of the Lord of the Rings filming locations were shot very close to Queenstown? Well, you can go on many different Lord of the Rings organized tours to see these locations. While I do highly recommend these tours, they aren’t cheap. So, if you want to stay on budget, simply organize your own self-driven Lord of the Rings tour!
Go to the DOC website to map out your route and then create your own scavenger hunt to find the locations. You can actually get GPS coordinates right from the website as well as detailed descriptions of each location and what scenes were filmed. This website works for LOTR film locations all around New Zealand too!
Watch the sunset at Lake Wakatipu
Lake Wakatipu is the perfect place to relax at sunset and enjoy a drink by the water. The colorful sunset reflects off the calm lake, and with the mountains as its backdrop, this is a winning view!
There are a few restaurants on the shore of Lake Wakatipu that are perfect for catching the sunset, although they aren’t technically “free” as you’ll have to buy something to sit there.
The beach in town is another great spot to enjoy a sunset next to Lake Wakatipu – for free! This area is actually alcohol friendly until 10 pm so you can bring your own beers or even wine if you want! On a warm summer’s day, the atmosphere here is really vibrant and fun. Expect to see families, groups of friends, and maybe even live music or street performers!
Explore Bob’s Cove
Bob’s Cove is only accessible by car and about a 15-20 minute drive outside of Queenstown along the road to Glenorchy (the location can be found on Google maps.) This small bay is worth the drive, so much so that Peter Jackson (the director of Lord of the Rings) has a house there!
Bob’s Cove lookout hike is one of the most popular trails around Queenstown. It is short and easy taking most people only 20-30 minutes each way. From the top, you’ll have views of the bluest part of Lake Wakatipu!
In the summer months, you could cool off from the hike with a swim in the lake!
Visit Moke Lake
Moke Lake is probably one of my favorite places near Queenstown! It’s only about a 30-minute drive and is simply breathtaking! You can camp at the lake, walk one of the many trails, join a kayaking tour, or just enjoy the view of Moke Lake and the surrounding mountains. I find it to be such a peaceful area.
The most popular hiking trail in the area is the Moke Lake Loop Track. This trail takes you around the perimeter of the lake. The entire loop takes about 2-3 hours to complete. While it is a beautiful hike, the picture above is not taken from there and I think that there is an even nicer hike (that most people don’t know about!)
There’s a gorgeous secret viewpoint here too, accessible via a steep trail. In fact, I’ve written a detailed blog about the Moke Lake Viewpoint trail. This trail is unmarked and only known to locals, so you will need exact instructions to be able to find it!
Head to Lake Hayes
Lake Hayes is another stunning lake near Queenstown. The lake is about a 15-minute drive out of town but can actually be reached by public bus as well.
At the lake, there is a walking trail going right around the lake – Lake Hayes Track. Personally, my favorite thing to do at Lake Hayes is to watch the sunset and just relax! Some people love swimming here, especially in the summer months.
16. Best places to eat in Queenstown
Good food and Queenstown are two of my favorite things so I’m excited to share this list of the best restaurants in Queenstown with you!
There are over 100 restaurants in Queenstown so for visitors and locals alike, it can be overwhelming to choose. Below I’ve summarized a few of my personal favorite places to eat/the best restaurants in Queenstown.
Jervois Steak House
Located conveniently underneath the Sofitel Hotel and just steps away from the Skyline Gondola – this authentic steak restaurant is super-popular. It’s a luxury dining experience with excellent service and booking in advance is definitely recommended.
All of the meat served at Jervois Steak House is of the best quality and sourced (where possible) in the local area. On the varied menu here are dishes like the Signature Prime Rib, 150-day grain-fed Black Angus, and the Jervois cut eye fillet on the bone. Once you choose your meat you then must decide, which amazing sauce/s should accompany your meal.
Blue Kanu specializes in Polynesian/Asian food with lots of seafood. Some of my favorites include the Golden Shrimp and Whole Fish. Both are delicious! For those who are not a fan of seafood, they have plenty more including ribs (these are so good!) and my favorite dish on the entire menu is the Duck Nachos. Seriously, all the food here is good and it comes with its own unique twist so don’t expect anything boring!
Blue Kanu is a laid-back restaurant and the staff wears floral shirts for that cool Polynesian vibe.
Not only are the views from Stratosfare some of the best in Queenstown, but the huge buffet is about quality and not quantity (although you can eat as much as you like.)
The Stratosfare serves a lunch and dinner menu which are both buffets. Tickets are booked in advance and include your gondola ride up (and down) to the restaurant. The lunch buffet is cheaper than dinner but in my opinion, it’s that beautiful sunset over Queenstown that makes this restaurant so special. I myself have only done the dinner buffet.
You must ride the gondola to get to the Stratosfare, and this is an additional cost. I recommend buying the gondola and dinner package in advance to get the best deal.
White and Wongs
White and Wong’s is a relatively new restaurant in Queenstown, the food here is the perfect mix of Asian cuisines. I love all the meals from the wok, especially the Shaking Beef. Or, if I’m feeling like something light the Thai Beef Salad is amazing! For a starter, it’s dumplings of course and there are lots of delicious flavors to choose from. My partner loves the Char siu pork bun too!
What I love about the food at Wong’s is that it’s not heavy or greasy. It’s fresh, full of flavor, and colorful.
Last but certainly not least is a small burger joint that’s more famous than Queenstown itself. Fergburger is the “it place” to visit if you want to eat Queenstown’s best burger. In fact, every visitor should try one of their delicious burgers.
I personally love the Classic Fergburger with blue cheese. It’s my go-to bedtime snack after a night out (partly because late at night is the only time you can get Fergburger without having to wait in line for ages!)
Fergburger is open from 8 am to 4:30 am so you can pretty much get a burger at any time of the day. There is almost no seating at the restaurant so take your burger down to the waterfront or Queenstown Gardens and enjoy it in the sun!
17. Best hikes in Queenstown
- Length: 5 kilometers (2.1 miles) return
- Duration: 2 to 3 hours
- Elevation Gain: 600 meters (1,969 feet)
- Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
- Best Time To Go: year-round
Queenstown Hill is a beautiful hike located in the heart of town. The trail winds its way up Queenstown Hill until you reach the Basket of Dreams, a steel sculpture said to help inspire dreaming. From here, you can sit back and enjoy breathtaking views over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.
Queenstown Hill is a 5-kilometer (2.1 miles) return hike that climbs around 600 meters (1,969 feet) in elevation from Queenstown downtown. The trail is well maintained and it takes around 90 minutes to walk up at a slow pace. If you only have time for one short walk in Queenstown, make it the hike up Queenstown Hill!
Length: 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) return
Duration: 6 to 8 hours
Elevation Gain: 1,483 meters (4,865 feet)
Best Time To Go: November to March
Another awesome hike in Queenstown is the Ben Lomond Track. This trail is more suited to the experienced hiker. If you hike the entire way up and back you’re going to need somewhere between 6 to 8 hours depending on how fit you are.
From the summit, the views are worth the challenge. With 360-degree views of the Southern Alps, you can sit back and enjoy my favorite view of Queenstown!
The trail starts from a few different places around Queenstown with the most popular and recommended being at the end of Brecon Street at the Queenstown gondola. From here, you can either take the gondola up to Bob’s Peak and hike from there, or start on the Tiki Trail before transferring to Ben Lomond Track.
Lake Alta Track
Length: 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) return
Duration: 2 hours
Elevation Gain: 200 meters (656 feet)
Best Time To Go: December to March
The Lake Alta trail starts from The Remarkables Ski Field high above Queenstown, which sits 1,200 meters (4,000 feet) above Queenstown and is accessed by a very windy and steep road. In the summer months, it costs $10 NZD per vehicle to drive this road.
From the parking lot of the ski field, you’ll then hike even higher along the trail until you scramble up the hillside to Lake Alta. After, you can relax by the lake or continue hiking up to the saddle for an epic birds-eye view.
This trail is short but steep and for some strange reason, not many people hike it. This surprises me not only because it’s such a cool hike but because it’s another Lord of the Rings film location. The scene where the fellowship enters the Mines of Moria was filmed here!
So, if you’re a lover of alpine lakes or LOTR then the Lake Alta trail is one hike in Queenstown you need to check out!
Length: 4.2 kilometers (2.6 miles) return
Duration: 3 hours
Elevation Gain: 450 meters (1,476 feet)
Best Time To Go: October to April
The Tiki Trail leads to the most famous view of Queenstown – the view from Bob’s Peak near the Skyline Queenstown building. That’s right, the Tiki Trail ends at the same place as the Queenstown gondola offering the same famous view.
This epic trail is the start of the Ben Lomond Track and from the top, you can stare down at Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and the Remarkables. It’s easily one of the most beautiful places to take photos around Queenstown.
Reaching the top via the Tiki Trail isn’t a walk in the park. Although a short trail of only 2.1 kilometers (1.3 mi) each way, you need to climb 450 meters (1,476 feet) in elevation over that distance. The start is really steep, and in some parts, you need to be careful.
The trail starts at the end of Brecon Street at the Queenstown gondola and takes around 1 hour to hike up. Once up the top, be sure to have a look around and see all of the different activities available at Bob’s Peak. My favorite thing to do is ride the Queenstown Luge – a gravity-fed go-kart track. But there’s lots more to do and you can find suggestions in my Tiki Trail hiking guide.
18. Nightlife in Queenstown
If you’re looking to party in New Zealand, Queenstown is the perfect place! Although just a small town, Queenstown has a vibrant nightlife with tons of awesome places to party or join or a bar crawl around town. From craft beer bars to Latin dance, to mechanical bulls, and bar crawls you can find it all in Queenstown! In fact, partying is one of the best things to do in Queenstown indoors!
But if you’re not local to Queenstown, it can be hard to know where to go. When it comes to finding a place to party in Queenstown, a lot of the best spots are a little hidden and tucked away off the main tourist drag.
Below are some of the most popular bars and nightclubs to party at in Queenstown. They were each hand-selected by me based on where I like to go, and where is always the busiest.
1876 is the go-to party place for locals, backpackers, or anybody who is budget-conscious for that matter. They have a $4 NZD happy hour menu as well as some $5 NZD beer and wine deals too! That, combined with their cheap (and tasty) food menu is enough to draw a crowd.
1876 is open for lunch, dinner, and of course, late-night partying. They often have live music or a DJ to get the dancefloor going. The indoors is for dancing with some table space, and outside they have a beautiful patio that even has heaters for outdoor drinks in winter! In the summer, this patio is the place to be for a few drinks under the sun.
World Bar is one of the classier places to drink and party in Queenstown. It’s attached to Yonder, which is a really trendy café in Queenstown and shares the same owners. However, instead of avocado toast and mimosas, World Bar serves high-end cocktails and late-night snacks.
World Bar is a place to go on the weekends or when they have a DJ. This is when you can expect a crowd and a lively atmosphere with dancing (although they occasionally have a cover charge.) On other nights, sometimes World Bar can be a bit quiet for my liking. With that said, I often stop in for one or two cocktails before heading elsewhere. You know, start classy before moving onto one of Queenstown’s underground nightclubs.
Their cocktails are absolutely delicious. You’ll pay for that quality though, at over $15 NZD per drink it’s certainly not cheap. But boy, let me tell you, they are worth it!
The Bunker is another restaurant that turns into a party place late at night. It is actually one of the nicer restaurants in Queenstown with good cocktails, but by 11 pm on the weekends, it turns into quite the bumping place. Unlike some of the other nightclubs in Queenstown, The Bunker is actually an upstairs venue (no underground basement here.)
Cowboys is a Kiwi’s take on an American-style country nightclub. With tacky country décor and a huge mechanical bull, it is definitely a different type of bar then you’ll find anywhere else in Queenstown.
Don’t be mistaken though, Cowboys plays all types of music and isn’t limited strictly to country.
Besides that, there is a mechanical bull that you can ride for a $2 NZD donation, they have 1-liter glasses of beer, pool tables, shuffleboards, and a bumping dancefloor. It’s a late-night place that is very busy after midnight on weekends. In fact, Queenstown locals have a saying that goes” if you didn’t finish your night at Cowboys, did you even go out?!”
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!
Thanks for reading!
I hope this detailed blog has helped you gain a deeper understanding of gorgeous Queenstown, New Zealand. As you can see there’s so much to do here from awesome hikes, delicious restaurants, and epic nightlife. As well as that if you’re on a budget there are plenty of free activities too!
Is there anything we’ve missed in this detailed guide to Queenstown, let us know in the comments below!
If you enjoyed this blog you may also like to read my other Queenstown travel guides:
Things to do in Queenstown with kids
Queenstown to Mount Cook scenic drive