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5 Reasons to Avoid Queenstown in Summer (And a Better Alternative!)

5 Reasons to Avoid Queenstown in Summer (And a Better Alternative!)

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You might be wondering why someone from Queenstown would be telling you to avoid this city during arguably the best season of the year. No, I’m not trying to have all the fun without you, I promise!

I’ve lived here since 2018 and have experienced my fair share of summers in this city. I think it’s fair to say I have some sound advice when it comes to helping you plan the perfect vacation and avoid unnecessary stress and hassle.

That’s actually why I wrote this article, to help you understand the biggest reasons why you shouldn’t come here during the summer (it can be a pain in the butt). But don’t worry, I’ve included an alternative I think is even better than the summer months too! 

When is summer in Queenstown?

View from a clearing of Queenstown along the Tiki Trail, New Zealand
View from a clearing of Queenstown along the Tiki Trail, New Zealand

Unlike North America, summer in New Zealand is from December to the end of February. This is the most popular time to visit Queenstown by far, but it may not be when you want to visit! I’ll go through the five reasons you should avoid summer and when to come instead.

1. It’s overcrowded

People disembark the TSS Earnslaw and make their way to the Walter Peak Station restaurant in Queenstown
People disembark the TSS Earnslaw to go to the Walter Peak High Country Farm restaurant

With fantastic weather and plenty of things to do comes lots and lots of tourists. I know you’ll be a tourist yourself when visiting, but I doubt you want to be shoulder-to-shoulder with other people the entire time! 

The amount of people in Queenstown seems to explode overnight once December rolls around. This is when New Zealand, Australia, the United States, and many other countries have school breaks, so everyone comes to visit. It does calm down a little bit in February, but it’s still super busy. 

It’s difficult to find a quiet location or activity during this time of year. It can quickly become overwhelming and put a damper on activities that were supposed to be relaxing and fun.

2. You’ll pay a lot more

RealNZ jet boating in Queenstown
Everything, including tours, goes up in price during the summer!

This may seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. The prices for everything skyrocket during the summer. From gas to groceries, tours, and restaurants, expect to pay more everywhere. This is especially bothersome if you’re trying to travel on a budget.

And the wait times! Nothing is worse than when you’re starving and you want to eat but you have to wait over an hour just to sit down at a restaurant. All the while surrounded by other hungry people? No thanks. If you do come during the summer, I recommend making reservations!

This goes for experiences as well (especially popular ones like Milford Sound) so if you have a tour you’re dying to do book it MONTHS in advance. They sell out quickly!

Related Read: I have a guide on my 15 favorite tours in Queenstown so you can book the ones you want now!

3. The New Zealand sunburn is real 

Bailey on the back deck of the Spirit of Queenstown scenic cruise in Queenstown
Long-sleeved shirts like this are a good idea to pack!

Everyone has had a nasty sunburn. If you haven’t, I envy you and I hope you keep it that way. If you have, you know exactly how terrible they are! Well, New Zealand might have the harshest sun I’ve ever experienced.

The Ozone layer here is especially thin and if the sun catches you without a hat or sunscreen it can seriously ruin your day. I’ve had some nasty burns here so take my word for it – don’t let it happen to you!

While it’s worse in the summer, the sun can burn you during any of the four seasons. I recommend long-sleeved shirts, hats, and plenty of sunscreen to stay protected on your visit.

banner asking people to click to join the Queenstown Diary Facebook Group

4. Expect to encounter lots of screaming kids

Queenstown Arts and Craft Market
Queenstown Arts and Craft Market

I love kids, I really do, but a screaming child is a screaming child and I doubt that’s what you like to listen to on what should be a fun vacation. Like I said before, summer is when schools around the world have seasonal holiday breaks so you get lots more kids. Especially of the screaming variety.

Summer vacations (or winter if you’re from North America) are different from region to region, but typically Australia is from mid-December to the end of January and New Zealand is roughly the same.

I will leave the Australian school holiday calendar and the New Zealand school holiday calendar here so you can plan accordingly, regardless of when you visit.

Related Read: When you’re here, you MUST visit Milford Sound. It’s a long drive, so I go through the best Milford Sound tours from Queenstown here!

5. People aren’t as friendly 

Bailey at The Bathhouse in Queenstown, New Zealand
Enjoying a coffee at the Bathhouse

If you haven’t worked in the service industry, it can be difficult to explain how crazy working in the summer can be. It’s rough!

While it’s rare that someone would be outright mean to you during your visit, it’s worth noting that service industry staff are severely overworked during the summer. This means that it’s not uncommon to encounter stressed employees who are at their breaking point. Of course, they will still take care of you, but you won’t receive the same level of friendliness and service you get during the slower months.

Tipping in New Zealand isn’t expected, but if you want to make your server’s day, consider leaving them a tip!

So when should you visit? 

The TSS Earnslaw sets sail from Queenstown, New Zealand
Taking a cruise on the TSS Earnslaw is a must whenever you visit!

If you can manage visiting Queenstown during March that is absolutely when I recommend you visit! You still get incredible weather, everything is cheaper, all the activities and hikes are open, but just about all of the tourists have gone home. 

Keep in mind that it does cool down towards the end of March, however, and that the beginning of the month is the sweet spot. Besides that, all of the issues I mentioned above (except the infamous New Zealand sunburn) are no longer a problem making for the best time to visit!

Must-Do Activities While in Queenstown

Bailey with two of her friends at Perky's - Floating Bar Queenstown at sunset
Fall in love with Queenstown at sunset!
bailey stands at the front of the TSS Earnslaw in Queenstown
A cruise on the TSS Earnslaw is a unique way to explore!

Once you decide when you’re coming to Queenstown, it’s time to plan your itinerary! 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.
  • Extreme Jet Boating – Looking for a thrill? This jet boating tour delivers! You’ll zoom up the Shotover River through narrow canyons at high speeds and make 360-degree spins. Trust me, it’s epic!

Where to Stay in Queenstown

Hot Tub over looking the river and mountains at Kamana Soak in Queenstown, New Zealand
Photo credit: Kamana Lakehouse

Finding the right place to stay in Queenstown can be hard. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of awesome choices, but things book up fast! For that reason, I highly suggest booking your accommodation well in advance.

Honestly, during peak times, any of the best hotels in Queenstown will be fully booked several weeks in advance…you have been warned! To help you plan ahead, here are a few places I personally love and that would make an awesome place to stay in Queenstown.

Kamana Lakehouse – $$$

For a luxurious stay, I highly recommend Kamana Lakehouse. This hotel is located just on the outskirts of town. Although it’s super peaceful, it’s just a 5-minute drive into the center of town. The place overlooks both the lake and the mountains, and the onsite restaurant uses local, seasonal ingredients to create the freshest meals. To top it off, many of the rooms boast lake views, and some even have outdoor baths!

The trick will be snagging this for your dates (it’s a popular place!). Rooms start around the $400 NZD mark, and you can check availability and book online here.

La Quinta Queenstown – $$

If you’re looking for a mid-range hotel, then you should seriously consider La Quinta Queenstown. This beautiful hotel is right by the airport but still very quiet. Plus, the views are amazing (although you won’t find me recommending a place without great views!). The rooms are all studio or one-bedroom apartments, which is really handy if you want to cook or even just have breakfast in your room.

Prices start at $200 NZD and you can book online here.

Absoloot Hostel Queenstown – $

My top choice for budget travelers is the Absoloot Hostel Queenstown. This small hostel has dorm rooms and budget private rooms, and it’s really clean and comfortable. The location is in the heart of Queenstown – the window from the kitchen looks out over Lake Wakatipu!

Dorms are around $55 NZD, and private rooms begin around $210 NZD. The Absoloot Hostel is easily one of the top cheap hostels in Queenstown and can be booked on Hostelworld.com or Booking.com.

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!

You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your campervan or motorhome through JUCY or Star RV! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey poses for a photo in Queenstown
Thanks for reading!

There you have it, I’ve spilled the beans on why you shouldn’t visit Queenstown in the summer! While it’s still the most popular time to come if you can avoid the peak of summer (and ideally come at the beginning of March!), I think you’ll have an even better trip to New Zealand.

For more insider tips on Queenstown and New Zealand, check out my blog here or some of the articles below I think will be helpful!

The BEST 5 Days in Queenstown Itinerary!

18 Things to Know Before Visiting Queenstown, New Zealand

10 Hidden Gems in Queenstown (Suggested by a Local!)