Queenstown, a small town in the heart of the South Island, is New Zealand’s tourist mecca. Surrounded by crystal clear lakes and mountains, it is arguably one of the most scenic spots in the country. It is also a gateway to many of New Zealand’s natural wonders and adventure experiences. Discover some of the best things to do in Queenstown in this guide.
Queenstown’s beauty and adventure capital reputation attracts many tourists, so the place is by no means a secret. It is a year round destination but it can feel especially busy in the summer months (December to February). To avoid disappointment, I would highly recommend booking your accommodation and experiences in advance.
Since Queenstown’s economy is reliant on tourism, it can be quite expensive. However, it is possible to find deals online to try and reduce the costs. Websites like Bookme are a good starting point for this. Thankfully, nature is free. You don’t need all the bells and whistles of the tourism industry to simply enjoy the stunning landscapes around you.
Hope this list of the best things to do in Queenstown will inspire you to visit this incredible part of the world.
The Best Things to Do in Queenstown
Cruise Lake Wakatipu
Queenstown sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, the third largest lake in New Zealand. The crystal-clear waters of Lake Wakatipu have glacier origins. As a result, they are cold even in the summer months. You can still take a dip, but you might not be able to stay in the water for too long.
One of the best ways to appreciate the beauty of this iconic location is by taking a leisurely lake cruise. For a quaint option, you can hop on board the TSS Earnslaw, a vintage steamship, which is a local icon in its own right. A 1,5-hour cruise can be booked online. The other popular option is the Spirit of Queenstown Scenic Cruise which takes you across the lake to the isolated Mt. Nicholas High Country Farm.
Exploring Lake Wakatipu by kayaking and paddle boarding are also an option.
Visit Skyline Queenstown
Visiting the Skyline complex is one of the most popular things to do in Queenstown. It features the steepest cable car in the Southern Hemisphere. It will take you 450 meters above Queenstown to the top of Bob’s Peak. There you can enjoy spectacular views of Lake Wakatipu, the surrounding mountains and the town itself.
Besides the epic views, you can also enjoy a drink at the bar or treat yourself to a buffet meal at the Stratosphere Restaurant. You can also get your adrenaline fix by taking a ride (or two) on the Luge. The complex is also a starting point to a number of excellent walks, from short strolls to full-day hikes.
The price of an adult ticket is $46 NZ ($30 US). You will need to pay more to access the Luge. Overall, it’s not the cheapest attraction. However, there is a way to get the same views for free…
Hike To Bob’s Peak
The Gondola offers an easy way of getting to the top of Bob’s peak but it comes with a price. Luckily there is an alternative option. There is a free hiking route to the top of Skyline Gondola called the Tiki Trail. It will take you up through a forest to the same picture-perfect views.
The trail starts at the base of the Gondola where you can also buy your tickets. Look for the sign indicating the Tiki Trail and then follow the track. The hike takes about an hour to complete and can feel a little steep at times. However, the views are totally worth it.
Try Bungee Jumping
Queenstown is home to the first commercial bungee jump in the world. Today it offers a few epic options for thrill-seekers looking to test their limits.
If you’d like to experience the original bungee jump, head to the Kawarau Bungy Centre that opened its doors in 1988. Perched on top of a cliff, the centre boasts excellent views over Kawarau river. The best thing is that you can enjoy them whether you’re jumping or not. The other popular option is the Nevis, New Zealand’s highest bungee jump. The jump pod is suspended 134 metres above the ground, so this experience is definitely not for the faint-hearted.
You can book these in advance on the experience operator’s website.
Queenstown punches above its weight when it comes to nightlife and partying. With over 100 bars, restaurants and clubs on offer, the town is buzzing every night of the week. Whether you’re after a cosy wine bar or a lively pub, you’ll find something to suit your taste. Many places have happy hours and deals, so visiting just one is not enough.
You can discover Queenstown’s nightlife independently or you can join an established pub crawl. For example, this pub crawl comes with five free shots and free pizza to keep you going.
Take a Ride on the Shotover Jet
Taking a thrilling jet boat ride on the Shotover River is also amongst the most popular things to do in Queenstown. The ride will take you through the rugged Shotover Canyons at high speed and with many spins.
The experience combines a unique landscape and an adrenaline rush, but it is not cheap. Adult tickets are $139 NZ ($85 US) per person. It’s definitely a fun thing to do, but if you’re on a tight budget, don’t sweat it. Queenstown offers many natural wonders that can be accessed for free.
You can book your Shotover Jet ride tickets in advance on the Get Your Guide website.
Just a 20 minute drive from Queenstown lies a charming heritage village of Arrowtown. Established in 1862, during the Otago gold rush, it has retained its character and historic buildings and is now a popular visitor destination.
In Arrowtown, you’ll be able to get a glimpse of what life was like in the late 19th century. Marvel at the quirky miners’ cottages along the main street, enjoy a meal at a cute café or explore boutique shops and galleries. Learn more about the history of the region by visiting The Lakes District Museum. It is considered one of the best small museums in New Zealand.
Arrowtown is also famous for having distinct four seasons. Although it is a year round destination, the town is especially beautiful in late autumn (April and May). That’s when the surrounding nature comes to life with rich gold and orange shades. Absolute heaven for photographers!
Do a Lord of the Rings Locations Tour
Queenstown’s surrounding regions served as a stunning backdrop for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. Although those films came out many years ago, the area is still capitalising on its connection to this cinematic phenomenon.
You don’t have to pay for a tour to visit the locations. New Zealand’s Department of Conservation has a list of the Lord of the Rings locations you can visit around the country. This should help you plan your trip.
However, if you would prefer to join a tour, there are a few options on offer. They vary by duration, cost and locations they visit. Some focus on the immediate Queenstown area and others head to the town of Glenorchy. This full day tour visits multiple filming locations and even has a dress up option so you can create your own Middle Earth experience.
Go to Wanaka
Wanaka is a scenic lakeside town just an hour’s drive from Queenstown. It’s a popular day trip destination, but if your schedule allows, I’d recommend staying there for longer. This small but perfectly formed town has a lot to offer to nature lovers and adventure seekers.
Although still quite touristy, Wanaka is much quieter than Queenstown. The town is nestled on the shores of a crystal clear lake also called Wanaka. The impressive Mount Aspiring National Park offering excellent hiking trails is located nearby. Adventure activities available in Wanaka include kayaking, climbing, canyoning, skydiving and mountain biking. If you’re after a more relaxing experience, why not take a stroll around the beautiful lake, just taking in the alpine views? You can even complement the experience by stopping by at Rippon Vineyard for some wine tastings with a view.
In winter, skiers and snowboarders descend on Wanaka to take advantage of the four skiing areas close by.
See Milford Sound
Amongst all the epic things to do in Queenstown, a trip to Milford Sound is definitely a must. Rudyard Kipling described it as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ and with good reason. It is also part of the Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Located in Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound is undoubtedly one the most spectacular spots in New Zealand. It features towering cliffs, mountain peaks, unspoilt rainforest and epic waterfalls. The area is also teeming with unique wildlife including penguins, seals and dolphins.
You can experience Milford Sound on a boat cruise, by kayak or even flightseeing. If you’re up for a multi-day hike, you can track the famous Milford Track. It starts from Te Anau and ends at the Milford Sound wharf. Along the way, you will discover true New Zealand wilderness. Just a note, the track should be done during the Great Walks season (October to April) and needs to be booked far in advance.
The drive to Milford Sound from Queenstown takes about 4 hours. It is definitely worth it, but still quite demanding. The alternative option is to join a coach tour. There are a few options on offer, including this Milford Sound Coach Tour & Lunch Cruise.
Be mindful that, although Milford Sound is remote, it is still the most accessible fiord within the Fiordland National Park. As a result, it is the most visited tourist attraction in New Zealand so the place might feel quite busy.
Visit Kiwi Birdlife Park
Experience New Zealand’s unique wildlife right in the heart of Queenstown. The 5 acre Kiwi Birdlife Park is home to 20 native bird and reptile species. They are part of a national conservation programme and include kiwi, tuatara, South Island kākā, whio and others. The Park also features landscaped gardens and native trees and is an oasis of calm away from the hustle and bustle of Queenstown.
Kiwi Wildlife Park offers guaranteed kiwi viewings in their specially constructed nocturnal houses. You can learn more about local wildlife through audio guides, Conservation Shows and Kiwi Encounters. Adult tickets cost $49 NZ ($35 US) per person. They can be booked directly on the Park’s website.
With its four excellent ski fields, Queenstown is a popular destination for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. There is also an option for heli skiing if that’s your thing.
The skiing season runs from June to October (New Zealand winter). The ski areas that are easily accessible from Queenstown include The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, Cardrona and Treble Cone. Aside from world-class facilities, they also feature incredible views.
Queenstown is as buzzing in winter as it is in summer, so you are guaranteed a great apres ski experience.
New Zealand is home to many world-class wineries, and you can visit some of them while you’re exploring Queenstown. The Central Otago region where Queenstown is located is famous for its pinot noirs and aromatic whites.
Central Otago boasts around 200 wineries, so you will be spoiled for choice. There are several subregions within it including Gibbston, Cromwell/Pisa/Lowburn, Bannockburn, Bendigo, Wanaka and Alexandra. Each area has its own unique microclimate which subtly affects the flavours of the wines.
You can explore the local wine scene on a guided tour, by bike or a hop-on hop-off shuttle bus. There’s even a helicopter winery tour option if you’re after something special. One thing for sure, there is something for every palette in this incredibly diverse wine region.
Some tours, like this Otago winery tour with gourmet wine & food-paired lunch offer a visit to 3 wineries and a delectable lunch to complement the tastings.
Walk the Ben Lomond Track
If you want to challenge yourself, this full-day hike is for you. The hike is easily accessible from Queenstown’s town centre, but it’s quite steep with a 1,438m elevation gain. It is more suitable for advanced hikers.
The first portion of the hike is the Tiki Trail to the top of Bob’s Peak. You can actually skip the first 400 meters of vertical climb by taking the Skyline Gondola instead. From there you can walk along the ridgeline towards the Ben Lomond saddle. It is a steady walk up and you will be rewarded with incredible views.
From the saddle, you can climb to the Ben Lomond summit. The track to the top is very steep and challenging. Some hikers choose to finish the climb at the saddle and skip the summit altogether. If you press ahead, you will be rewarded with some breath-taking views over Queenstown and the surrounding areas.
Visit Lake Hayes
If you’d like to get away from busy Queenstown, this peaceful lake is the perfect escape option. Just a 15-minute drive from the town centre, Lake Hayes is popular amongst hikers, runners and cyclists. Rowers and kayakers can be spotted in the area too as they make the most of the calm waters.
One of the best ways to enjoy the picturesque views is to do a two to three hour loop walk around the lake. There is also a picnic area perfect for a lunch with a view.
Take a scenic 45-minute drive to the northern end of lake Wakatipu to discover Glenorchy. It is a tiny town surrounded by mountains, pristine lakes and beautiful forests. Its stunning landscapes were made famous around the world by the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies.
Glenorchy enjoys a slower pace of life and is perfect for a day trip from Queenstown. There are some accommodation options there too if you prefer to stay for longer. Glenorchy is perfect for lovers of the great outdoors. For hikers, there is a range of tracks on offer, from easy walks to the multi-day Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. You can also explore the area by horseback, jet boat or kayak.
You can discover the highlights of Glenorchy and Paradise (an aptly named nearby settlement) on a scenic half day tour from Queenstown. Besides visiting iconic beauty spots, you can also enjoy a Lord of the Rings dress up and an afternoon tea.
Do the Queenstown Hill Time Walk
Queenstown offers many walking tracks for all fitness levels. One of the most popular ones is the Queenstown Hill Time Walk. Starting from the town centre, the track will take you to the summit of the Queenstown Hill / Te Tapunui (‘mountain of intense sacredness’ in Māori).
The 1,5 km walk is demanding, but you will be rewarded with spectacular views over Queenstown and its surrounds. The walk will take you between 2 and 3 hours to complete. Along the way, you can learn about the past and present of the area. There are several information plates about the different time periods in the history of Queenstown.
Relax at Onsen Hot Pools
The tranquil Onsen Hot Pools arguably offer the best way to recharge after all the adventuring. Inspired by Japanese bathing traditions, this day spa complex has a selection of elegant cedar hot tubs with breath-taking views over the Shotover River. You can even take pampering to the next level by opting for a face or body treatment after a hot pool session.
Prices start from $107 NZ ($65 US) for 1 adult per pool (soak only). The experience may end up being a pricey one, but it’s worth it.
Find Zen at Queenstown Gardens
Take a break from all the adventurous things to do in Queenstown at the tranquil botanical gardens. Just a short stroll from the town centre, Queenstown Gardens are a perfect option for an easy walk or a picnic with glorious views over Lake Wakatipu.
The gardens feature a variety of plants, a rose garden and a few memorials. You can even try your hand at disc (frisbee) golf while there. The rules are similar to traditional golf, but instead of holes there are 18 targets that you need to hit. The Queenstown Gardens course is the first permanently marked out disc golf course in New Zealand.
Do the Mount Crichton Loop Track
Stretch your legs and learn about the life of gold prospectors in the 19th century on this loop track. It is suitable for all levels of fitness and will take about three hours to complete.
The track can be accessed just outside of Queenstown on the Glenorchy–Queenstown Road. Starting from the carpark, it follows the Twelve Mile Creek to the top of a ridge overlooking Lake Dispute. Along the way, you will discover relics of the gold rush era such as a 24-metre-long tailrace tunnel where the gold-bearing gravel used to be washed.
Another key spot on this track is Sam Summers Hut. It was built in the 1930s when San mined in the area. The hut still provides accommodation for hikers and is managed by the Department of Conservation.
Walk the Routeburn Track
The track will take you through the stunning landscapes of Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park. Routeburn Track features mountain peaks, expansive valleys, crystal-clear lakes, native forests and waterfalls. You will also be able to spot a few native birds along the way.
Routeburn Track is an epic 32 km alpine hiking trail that takes you through the country’s most spectacular landscapes. It is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks that attracts hikers from all over the world.
The track takes 2 – 4 days to complete. The best time to walk it is November through to April. Out of season, it should only be attempted by experienced hikers with alpine and river crossing skills.
If doing the full track is not an option, you can still experience a section of it on this full day guided walk along the Routeburn Track. Note, however, that the starting point for this experience is Te Anau.
The Best Time to Go to Queenstown
The best time to visit Queenstown to enjoy the many outdoor activities on offer is in the summer months (December to February). However, this is also the high season. Queenstown is New Zealand’s ultimate tourist hotspot so it’s never quiet, but summer can feel especially crazy. Make sure to book your accommodation and activities as far in advance as possible to avoid disappointment. Autumn (March to May) and Spring (September to November) are the shoulder season, but the weather can be quite unpredictable. If you’re heading to Queenstown to ski or snowboard, June to August are the best months to hit the slopes.
How to Get to and Around Queenstown
Queenstown has an international airport that receives flights from major New Zealand and Australian cities. You can take a taxi or shuttle bus to get into the town centre. Another option of getting to Queenstown is by road. The most popular route is the scenic 6-hour drive from Christchurch past Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook. If driving is not an option, there is an intercity bus network that connects many South Island towns and cities.
Queenstown’s town centre is quite compact, so you can get around it on foot. The only public transport option is the local bus network. You can find the most up-to-date information on timetables and fare on the official Queenstown Buses website. However, to see many of the attractions on this list, I highly recommend renting a car.
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