Winter in Queenstown is such a beautiful time of the year. I actually prefer the season over others. Despite the cold, I love the snowcapped mountains, the lack of people on hiking trails, and the winter prices! In fact, winter is one of the cheapest seasons to travel, with accommodation, car and motorhome rentals, and many tours at their lowest prices.
Of course, I also love skiing (which isn’t cheap), and every chance I get you’ll find me up at The Remarkables enjoying New Zealand’s daily spring skiing temperatures (compared to Canada.) But not every day during winter in Queenstown should be spent skiing.
You see, there are actually a ton of awesome things to do in winter in Queenstown. So regardless of whether you ski, snowboard, or are just here for the mulled wine and cheap things to do, there’s something for you this winter in Queenstown.
Here’s my guide to the 15 best things to do during winter in Queenstown and some other info you need to know before your winter travels!
Related read: On a budget? Check out our guide to all the best free things to do in Queenstown.
Queenstown in Winter FAQs
Things to do in Queenstown in Winter
1. Hit the slopes
The number one thing to do in Queenstown in winter is to hit the slopes. It’s the main reason most people come to Queenstown in the winter, and to be honest, I don’t blame them. Skiing and snowboarding is so much fun and if you’re coming from places like Australia, it’s likely the only place to go nearby with decent snow. With that said, don’t expect North American ski hills, they’re much smaller in New Zealand!
There are three ski hills close to Queenstown called The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, and Cardrona. The two I personally love are The Remarkables and Cardrona. Although Coronet Peak is a good ski field, the snow is often really hard due to its location.
Regardless, hit the slopes this winter in Queenstown and we may even bump into each other (hopefully not too hard!)
2. Cruise Lake Wakatipu
Going on a cruise is one of the best things to do in Queenstown at any time of the year. From Lake Wakatipu, you’ll get to enjoy magnificent views of the mountains around you and see it all from a whole new perspective.
There are a few cruise companies in Queenstown to choose from but all of them more or less take the same route on the lake with the main difference being price and transport style. The Spirit of Queenstown is the cheapest option with a 1.5-hour cruise starting at only $39 NZD. On a modern catamaran, you’ll cruise the lake with commentary from your captain and food and drinks available for purchase onboard.
The second is the TSS Earnslaw. This 1930s steamship is powered by coal and onboard you can visit the engine room to see coal being shoveled into the boilers. It’s a larger vessel with more charm, but the cruise does costs significantly more starting at $70 NZD for a 1.5-hour cruise. The TSS Earnslaw also has other tour options that can include a Walter Peak Farm tour or even a gourmet lunch at the farm.
If you still can’t decide, then check out our guide to picking the best lake cruise in Queenstown!
3. Go stargazing
If you’re looking for a free activity to do in Queenstown then you can’t go past stargazing. During winter, the Milky Way shines bright above Queenstown. However, if you really want to see the stars (like in the picture above) you’re going to need to take a short drive out of town.
My favorite places to go are Moke Lake and on the highway between Queenstown and Glenorchy. From both places the stars are unreal! Also, check the daily Southern Lights (aka Aurora Australis) radar to catch a glimpse of the most spectacular light show in the world.
If seeing the stars on your own isn’t enough, you can actually join stargazing tours in Queenstown where you’ll get to look through a high-powered telescope and spot planets, the international space station, and more.
4. Take a day trip to Milford Sound
Milford Sound is best explored in the winter months. Don’t get me wrong, I love the warm sunsets in the summer on the Milford Sound foreshore, but seriously, the place is so overcrowded! During the winter, Milford is quiet and much more peaceful, cruises are cheaper, the famous Miter Peak is dipped in snow, and fewer boats sail the fiord making it my favorite time to visit!
From Queenstown, you can jump on a range of day tours but the cheapest are the coach, cruise, coach tours that include your cruise, transport, and a small packed lunch. On these tours, half of the adventure is getting to Milford Sound and your tour will stop at some amazing places enroute. These tours usually take 12.5 hours because Milford Sound is 4 hours from Queenstown by road!
Last, is the option to rent a car in Queenstown and drive yourself. This is my top choice and I highly recommend spending the night in Te Anau or in Milford Sound at the Milford Sound Lodge so you can properly explore the road to Milford Sound. It’s one of the best road trips in New Zeeland that’s best done without a tour!
5. Ride the gondola up to Bob’s Peak
Taking the gondola up to Bob’s Peak is one of the most iconic activities in Queenstown. Of course, it’s one you can do any time of the year, but in winter, those mountain views are just so much more spectacular!
The gondola up to Bob’s Peak costs $44 NZD for adults and $26 for kids. Although not cheap, it is the easiest way to get up the top to explore things like the Luge, go paragliding, or even enjoy a meal at the Stratosfare Restaurant. If you do want to enjoy the view from Bob’s Peak on a budget you can always hike the Tiki Trail to the top. This short but grueling hike is one of the best in Queenstown.
Taking the gondola is just your means of transport and the best part about Bob’s Peak is the views over Queenstown from the top. So no matter what your budget, make sure you go and enjoy those snow-dipped mountain peaks that you can only see in winter in Queenstown!
Related read: You can also easily hike Ben Lomond Track from Bob’s Peak. For more info, check out my guide to the hike.
6. Visit a local brewery
Winter in Queenstown isn’t all about the outdoors. As a local, I love heading inside to cozy up by the fire – and what better way to do it than with a cold craft beer from a brewery in Queenstown.
There is one brewery, in particular, that’s perfect for this and that’s Searchlight Brewery. It’s located a little out of town just off Gorge Road but the cute little brewery has a fireplace and some of the best craft beer in New Zealand.
There are a few other breweries in Queenstown including Altitude Brewery located along the edge of Lake Wakatipu in Frankton. They also have a fireplace perfect for cozy nights. The last brewery in town is Canyon Brewing. They’re the largest in town but they have the most beautiful location and the largest indoor dining area.
7. Go on a winter hike
Hiking isn’t just for the summer in Queenstown. In fact, if you like to avoid the crowds, winter is the time to go! Of course, there are some hikes best left to the summer (especially for those that are inexperienced) but there are lots that anyone can do in winter too.
One of my favorite hikes in winter is Queenstown Hill. This short 5-kilometer return hike only takes a few hours to walk and starts from right near the town center on Belfast Terrace. The trail leads up to Queenstown Hill Summit and from the top, you can enjoy breathtaking views over Queenstown.
Another short hike in Queenstown is Bob’s Cove track. This hike only takes 30 minutes but the views from Picnic Point are spectacular.
8. Visit the Onsen Hot Pools
If you haven’t heard of the Onsen Hot Pools before then you’re going to want to act fast. This beautiful spa is home to New Zealand’s most famous private hot pools. A quick search on Instagram will return thousands of beautiful photos of people enjoying a private hot pool with magnificent views. Onsen is so famous that the pools book out months in advance, especially in winter.
For two adults, you can expect to pay $126 NZD for a one hour soak in either a semi indoor or outdoor pool. The tubs can fit up to four people though so even larger groups can enjoy the pools.
The Onsen Hot Pools aren’t located in Queenstown but instead a short 10-minute drive away near the Shotover Canyon. They overlook the valley and this is easily one of the most romantic activities to do in Queenstown.
9. Go on a wine tour
Wine tours aren’t just for the summer season. In fact, wine tours are just as good in winter because let’s face it, wine is good any time of the year! So, why not head out to New Zealand’s best wine region the Gibbston Valley.
Unlike other wine regions in New Zealand, the Gibbston Valley is home to extremely small boutique wineries. The experience of tasting the wine is very personal and some wineries make such small batches that taking home a bottle or three is a must.
The most prominent wine in the Gibbston Valley is Pinot Noir and many of the wineries have won huge awards even beating the French! Some of my favorite wineries include Gibbston Valley Winery, Kinross (a cellar door for some of the smallest wineries in the region), Mt Rosa, and Waitiri Creek Wines.
You can join lots of different tours including wine tours with lunch, beer and wine tours (perfect for those with beer lovers in the group), hop on hop off wine tours (for budget travelers), and even wine tours that include a helicopter ride over the Gibbston Valley.
10. Go on a scenic road trip
Winter road trips are the best! Not only are most attractions far less busy, but as I’ve said before, the views are just so much more beautiful. I have a few favorite road trips I love doing from Queenstown.
The first was mentioned above and that’s from Queenstown to Milford Sound. There so many amazing places to stop and this road trip is full of adventure. With that said it is long, and personally, I always stay in Te Anau the night before I get to Milford sound so I can take my time on the most beautiful part of the journey. Between Te Anau and Milford Sound, there are highlights such as the Key Summit, Lake Marian Track, and Mirror Lakes.
Another shorter road trip is from Queenstown to Glenorchy. This 46-kilometer journey is breathtaking, and along the way, you can explore so many amazing places and viewpoints. The best part is that once you arrive in the cute town of Glenorchy, you’ll get to explore all the best things to do in Glenorchy that includes hiking parts of the Routeburn Track (one of the best hikes in Glenorchy) and the Glenorchy Animal Experience.
Last, is the road trip from Queenstown to Wanaka. This is one road trip most visitors do because let’s face it, there are a ton of awesome things to do in Wanaka so you need to visit! On this road trip, you can stop along Crown Range Road admiring New Zealand’s highest main highway as well as stop at attractions such as Bradrona and the historic Cardrona Hotel.
Seriously, if you’re heading to Queenstown in winter check out all three of these road trips and drive at least one!
11. Enjoy a winter festival
Most guides to the best things to do in winter in Queenstown only include the famous Queenstown Winter Festival in their list. However, in order for your trip to line up with only one festival, you’d need to be very lucky. Instead, let me tell you about the three best festivals in Queenstown during winter:
Queenstown Winter Festival
Of course, the most famous and largest winter event is the Queenstown Winter Festival. Personally, I love the Winter Festival and look forward to it every year. It’s a huge event and during the festival you’ll be able to enjoy various events, mulled wine, and of course, fireworks! The Queenstown Winter Festival runs in the middle of June but you do need to check their website for up to date info as the dates change slightly every year.
LUMA Southern Light Project is a light festival held in the Queenstown Gardens on the Queen’s birthday weekend at the end of May/start of June every year. Luma is completely free and during the event, the Queenstown Gardens are decorated with lights to create a sensory experience. There are also food trucks and pop up bars in the gardens!
Related read: Strolling the Queenstown Gardens is one of the 10 easiest hikes you can do in Queenstown! Find out what the other 9 are!
Winter Pride is Queenstown’s very own LGBTTQI+ festival. The event is huge and usually filled with free entertainment, however, in 2021 only patrons will be able to attend. The festival runs at the end of August, and in 2021 specifically, it is from the 27th of August to the 5th of September. It’s a shame the festival has no free events this year (because 2020 wasn’t exactly great for festivals and events) but you can get more info about tickets on their website.
12. Party the night away
One of the reasons I love Queenstown is that no matter what time of the year or what day of the week it is, there’s always something going on. From dancing the night away to cocktails on the rooftop, there’s plenty of places to party in Queenstown.
A few of my favorites include The World Bar – a trendy bar with amazing cocktails, The Sundeck – for the best rooftop views, and of course Cowboys – where every big night ends with a ride on the mechanical bull.
You can also join pub crawls in Queenstown that run every night from Tuesday to Saturday. There is even a pub crawl that includes a stop at an ice bar in Queenstown. The good thing about pub crawls is you’ll get to meet lots of other visitors and make friends. The events usually have a theme so people often get dressed up and it’s really fun!
13. Do something crazy
Most adventure activities in Queenstown run all year round. Despite the cold, you can still jump out of an airplane, off a ledge, and even a bridge. My personal recommendation is to go skydiving. Although I’ve never done a jump in Queenstown, I have gone twice before (in Australia and Canada,) and let me tell you, the views you get during the jump are out of this world!
Just imagine falling towards The Remarkables Mountain Range with epic views of Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown. Of course, you may not remember much especially with that much adrenaline running through your veins. You can choose from a 9,000-foot, 12,000-foot, and 15,000-foot jump in Queenstown.
If you’re even crazier then why not go bungy jumping. I’ve done it a few times and find it scarier than skydiving. The largest bungy in Queenstown is Nevis but there is also Kawarau Bridge and The Ledge as well as the Shotover Canyon Swing.
Don’t let winter stop you from doing something crazy in Queenstown!
14. Go for a drink at an ice bar
Queenstown is home to not one, but two ice bars. For a place so small I find that kind of weird, but hey, a little competition is great for visitors. On a winter’s day, you may already feel like you’re in an ice bar, but you won’t get the experience of sitting at a bar and drinking out of a cup both completely made of ice. It’s something you have to do at least once in your lifetime and one of the best indoor activities in Queenstown.
The two bars are very similar and choosing between the two isn’t important. Below Zero Ice Bar and Minus 5 Ice Bar are the two bars and they’re both located in the heart of Queenstown. Prices for two cocktails and entrance are $40 at both bars and they have cheaper prices for kids and mocktails too.
15. Eat Fergburger
Last but certainly not least of the best things to do in winter in Queenstown is to eat Fergburger. I know this makes just about every list I write, but seriously, it’s that good! Plus, why come all the way to Queenstown and not get to rate the burger yourself!?
Fergburger has lots of burgers to choose from, however, their famous burger is anything with the beef patty which is what put this place on the map (or maybe it was actually Ed Sheeran.) With that said, their venison, chicken, pork, and vegetarian options are really good too. A burger only costs around $13 NZD so this is a cheap activity in Queenstown and a burger you just have to eat at least once (but will likely eat more!)
You may have to wait a while in order to get your burger, especially around 5 pm when everyone heads back from the ski hills. To avoid waiting over an hour eat outside of this time – like at 2 am after a night out like I do!
Where to Stay in Queenstown in Winter
When it comes to where to stay in Queenstown in winter this all depends on what you’re here for the most. If it’s skiing at Coronet Peak or The Remarkables then there are hotels for each ski field, if it’s for the vibrant town then there also a hotel for you. Below are the best hotels for different reasons and trips!
Hilton resort and Spa – The Hilton is easily the best hotel if you’re skiing at The Remarkables due to its close location to the ski field access road.
Swiss-Belresort Coronet Peak – If you plan on skiing at Coronet Peak why not stay at the bottom of the access road. Swiss-Belresort is the best for this but there are also a few other hotels nearby you can check by clicking the map on the link above.
Nomads Queenstown Backpackers – For budget travels Nomads Queenstown is one of the best places to stay in Queenstown. Its location is perfect, and they have dorms and budget private rooms.
Crown Plaza Queenstown – if you want to stay close to town but in a nice hotel, Crown Plaza Queenstown is my choice. It’s in the heart of town along St Omar Park and they even have lake views!
You can also choose to stay in one of the amazing Airbnbs available in Queenstown! Airbnbs are great for having a unique experience and are generally cheaper than hotels too. You can browse all Airbnbs in Queenstown here.
Thanks for reading!
There’s really no shortage of amazing things to do in Queenstown in winter. But to be honest, winter is not just about that. It’s about the snow, views, atmosphere, and of course, the mulled wine! It kind of reminds me of home…just without the minus 30 temperatures!
Thanks so much for reading! If you found this blog helpful, then be sure to stay awhile and browse around. This blog is all about Queenstown and the surrounding area!