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For those looking for a beautiful short walk in Queenstown, Sunshine Bay Track is a top choice. The trail follows the edge of Lake Wakatipu to the beautiful Sunshine Bay. Here, you can relax, enjoy some sun, and maybe even go swimming (that is if you can brave the cold water!)
As a local, the trail is the perfect place to head to when I want to escape the crowds of Queenstown Beach. Along the way, you can even visit an 8-meter-tall (26 feet) waterfall! Overall, it’s one of my favorite hikes in Queenstown!
In this blog, I’ll share everything you need to know about Sunshine Bay Track before you go!
Overview of Sunshine Bay Track
Distance: 4 kilometers return (2.5 miles)
Elevation gain: 50 meters (164 feet)
Time Needed: 1 to 3 hours
Type of trail: Out and back
Sunshine Bay Track is an easy 4-kilometer (2.5 miles) return hike that starts just outside of Queenstown town center on the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy. The trail follows the edge of Lake Wakatipu up onto the cliffs high above the lake. From the cliffs, you get breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and Queenstown.
The trail is rated as easy and without stopping you can walk there and back in just under an hour. With that said, I recommend allowing a few hours so you can spend some time enjoying all that Sunshine Bay has to offer.
Although the trail isn’t flat, there is only a very mild elevation gain making it great for most fitness levels – it’s even a fun activity for families in Queenstown! Hiking Sunshine Bay Track is easily one of the best things to do in Queenstown – but still remains a hidden gem or an off-the-beaten-path activity.
Sunshine Bay Track FAQs
What to Pack
Water – There is nowhere to fill your bottle on the trail so bring at least 1 liter of water per person.
Runners –You can easily hike Sunshine Bay Track in runners, but if it’s been raining, hiking boots would be better.
Sun protection – The New Zealand sun is so harsh. Sunscreen and a hat are a must and a long sleeve shirt is also wise.
Snacks – A picnic lunch is a perfect thing to bring. Once you arrive in Sunshine Bay you’ll want to stay awhile!
Parking and the Sunshine Bay Trailhead
There are two ways to access the Sunshine Bay Track. The first is to drive from Queenstown to either the One Mile Car Park and walk from there. You can also just park on the side of the road at the trailhead but just do so with caution, accidents do happen here. With that said, parking at One Mile Creek is minimal and often completely full during the day.
The other way is to walk from the town center (which is what I personally do.) From town, you can take a stroll along Lake Wakatipu through St Omar Park until you reach One Mile Creek. From here, continue on along the side of the road and lake until you reach the sign for Sunshine Bay Track. You do have to walk on the side of the road until you reach the trailhead, so be careful!
Walk Along the Cliffs to Sunshine Bay
The trail begins flat along Lake Wakatipu but quickly heads up onto the cliffs. From here on out, the trail is up and down until you reach Sunshine Bay.
At the trailhead, you would’ve noticed the sign says there’s a waterfall around 10 minutes into the hike. This waterfall is called Two Mile Creek Falls and is a nice short stop along the trail (however the waterfall isn’t that impressive in my opinion.) You do need to venture off the main trail to view the waterfall and most people miss it – so be sure to keep an eye out!
Continue on for another 10 minutes and you’ll reach a viewpoint called Gilly’s Point. From here, you’ll have amazing views of the surrounding area and there’s even a bench to take a rest at to enjoy the view. This is my favorite stop on the hike and I always keep an eye out for the TSS Earnslaw Queenstown cruise sailing past!
Be sure to keep turning around as you make your way to Sunshine Bay as this is where you’ll get the best views of Queenstown. After around 30 minutes in total, you’ll arrive at Sunshine Bay.
Related Read: Want to join a scenic cruise in Queenstown? Check out my guide that compares each Queenstown cruise!
To me, the highlight of Sunshine Bay Track is the trail itself but a close second is Sunshine Bay. The beach can be accessed by car so it can get busy in the summer, but when compared to Queenstown Beach, it’s nowhere near as busy. To be honest that’s why I love Sunshine Bay so much. It’s quiet, relaxing, and gets a lot of sunshine! Hanging out at Sunshine Bay Beach is easily one of the best things to do in Queenstown in the summer.
Once you reach the beach get out your towel and picnic lunch, sit back and relax. Although you still have to walk back, be sure to stay awhile, and if you can brave the cold, jump in the lake! A very popular activity here is stand-up paddleboarding which I love because it’s a great workout and you don’t have to get in the freezing water!
Once finished at Sunshine Bay simply walk back via the same trail.
Related Read: Hanging at the beach is one of the more relaxing things you co do in Queenstown. Read about some other activities you can do to unwind!
Essential Info You Need to Know
- The DOC has traps in the area to catch and kill pests like stoats and possums. For this reason, be sure to keep your dog on a leash and close by at all times.
- The cliffs give you beautiful views but stay on the trail as it’s dangerous.
- If you walk from town allow around 1 hour and 45 minutes hours to walk the trail without stopping
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 get you started, here are a few places I personally love and that would make an awesome place to stay in Queenstown.
Absoloot Hostel Queenstown – $
The first is for budget travelers and that’s Absoloot Hostel Queenstown. This small hostel has dorm rooms and budget private rooms and it’s really clean and comfortable. The location is in the heart of Queenstown – the window from the kitchen looks out over Lake Wakatipu! Dorms are around $65 NZD, and private rooms begin around $230 NZD. It is easily one of the top cheap hostels in Queenstown and can be booked on Hostelworld.com or Booking.com.
La Quinta Queenstown – $$
If you have a little more money to spend, then you should seriously consider La Quinta Queenstown. It’s a beautiful hotel in a quiet but close location and the views are amazing (although you won’t find me recommending a place without great views!). The rooms are all studio or one-bedroom apartments, which is really handy if you want to cook or even just have breakfast in your room. Prices start at $200 NZD and you can book online here.
Kamana Lakehouse – $$$
For a luxurious stay, you can’t pass on Kamana Lakehouse. This hotel is located just on the outskirts of town, far enough that it’s peaceful but close enough to walk to take a short drive into the center of town. Many of the rooms boast lake views, and some even have outdoor baths! The trick will be snagging this for your dates (it’s a popular place!). Rooms start around the $400 NZD mark and you can check availability and book online here.
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It is what most budget backpackers get for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (DTRAVEL5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
- JUCY – JUCY is one of our favorite rental companies in New Zealand! They have a huge inventory and offer regular cars, small campervans, larger campervans, and even motorhomes! The prices are also super competitive and their multiple offices around NZ make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. You can check availability, prices, and book with JUCY online here.
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
Sunshine Bay Track is an easy, straightforward trail in Queenstown that leads to a secluded beach. When it comes to short hikes, it’s easily one of the best. In fact, I’d compare it to the famous Bob’s Cove Track!
Thanks so much for reading. I hope this blog has helped you plan your upcoming walk to Sunshine Bay. If you did find it helpful then be sure to check out more of my blog, I have lots of guides about Queenstown and the surrounding area! Or see some of my other popular posts below.