Queenstown, New Zealand – A Travel Guide

If it isn’t already, New Zealand should be very high on your bucket list of places to visit in your lifetime – and then within that list, you’ll undoubtedly name Queenstown. Sitting on the shores of the beautiful Lake Wakatipu, and easily listed in one of the top three places I would like to live, Queenstown quite literally has something to offer everyone.

When to Go?

Anytime, of course! Queenstown is 110% a year round destination and it remains relatively busy all year round. Peak seasons are considered to be Winter (June to September), Summer (December – March) and pretty much any time Australia or New Zealand has school holidays 😂.

We’ve been now in both early August and mid-September, and definitely found it to be busy in August, and not too bad in September. I did notice in September, that quite a few hotels still had vacancies, and we never had a problem finding a place to eat.

Obviously if you’re going to ski, then the best time to go is August. I am so wary when it comes to booking ski holidays any earlier than late July – I mean are you guys crazy! (Risky biscuits! 😱). Of course, I understand that some people are bound by specific travel dates, but when you’re taking a holiday whose enjoyment or success heavily relies on weather, aim for the most reliable time period.

If you’d like the lowdown on the ski resorts in Queenstown, or are looking for some advice for your winter holiday in Queenstown check out my post, ‘A Guide to your Winter Holiday in Queenstown, New Zealand’.

How to Get There?

I mean obviously you’re going to fly! From Sydney, direct flights operate daily to Queenstown, Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington – so you really do have your pick of where to start your trip.

If you’re only visiting the Queenstown area, then fly there of course. If you have a little more time up your sleeve, a popular itinerary is to fly into Christchurch and out of Queenstown, so that you can self-drive and explore in between. I would recommend having at least 10 days of time on the ground up your sleeve for this itinerary.

Where to Stay?

Queenstown is not a huge city with an abundance of accommodation. With this in mind, I would recommend booking your accommodation as soon as you know when you’ll be there.

The main advice I have when looking for a place to stay in Queenstown, is to keep in mind that Queenstown is on a hill. Generally speaking, the further away you are from the lake, the further up the hill you’ll be. And we all know how hard that would make rolling home after a delicious, filling dinner 😬

You want to stay somewhere below the main road (yellow) to avoid the aforementioned hilly area…

I have stayed at both The Waterfront Queenstown and Coronation Lodge before, and they were both awesome.

The Waterfront Queenstown is apartment style accommodation about 5 minutes walk from the centre of town. All apartments have amazing water views, great kitchen facilities and a spacious lounge room. This property is not cheap, but we got a really good early-bird deal, and it was worth it.

Coronation Lodge is a really cute, cosy and comfortable lodge only 5 minutes walk from the lakefront and another 2 minutes into the centre of town. They have a range of room types to suit couples or trios, including a studio suite with a kitchenette. The bathroom even had heated tiles, which was awesome! 😍

There really is a range of accommodation types for any budget in Queenstown. The key is just to book early to avoid disappointment 👍🏼

Car Hire & Getting Around

If you plan to explore wider New Zealand, it’s definitely worth hiring a car. Car hire can be quite cheap if you shop around, and (here it comes again) book in advance! (Are you sick of me saying that yet? 😂). The part that is not cheap though is the fuel, which is priced around $2.40 per litre (September, 2019).

Hot Tip – Hire a 4WD to be able to really get off the beaten path! Many of the roads heading up into the higher alpine are dirty and rocky. If you’re interested in seeing these areas, having a car with some guts is highly recommended.

While New Zealand lacks reliable public transport options outside of city centres, Queenstown is pretty well set up. If you plan on just staying in Queenstown, you’ll be able to get around with a pretty reliable bus network servicing from the airport to town, and town to the ski fields. Most activity companies and day tours have included bus transfers so you just need to be able to reach the city centre easily.

Things to Do

Alright, now we get to the fun stuff. I have seen some blog posts out there that have 30+ fun or free things to do in Queenstown 😱. However, I’m just going to cover off on some of the things I have personally done, and would recommend.

Go Skiing

Naturally, this is my first idea 😂. If you’re planning your trip around the winter months, you almost cannot get away with not heading up to the slopes for even just one day. It doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced skier or a newbie. Pick a day that has beautiful weather forecast, hire some gear locally and head on up!

If you’re interested in reading more about the the ski fields for a winter based holiday, check out my post, ‘A Guide to your Winter Holiday in Queenstown’ for a more detailed overview.

Drive to Glenorchy

While there is not a whole lot to do in Glenorchy, this little lakeside town is worth a visit. The whole excursion will likely take you half a day. The drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy is renowned for being one of the most beautiful and scenic in the Queenstown area.

The road itself is about 45km’s long, and is conveniently named Glenorchy-Queenstown Road. The drive weaves through forests and along the cliffs’ edge, surrounded by mountains, all alongside of Lake Wakatipu. It truly is stunning 😍.

When you get to Glenorchy, there are a few little cafes to have some morning tea or lunch at while you soak in the small town vibe. You’ll also want to check out the Glenorchy wharf and famous little red boat shed.

Skyline Gondola & Buffet Lunch

Heading up the Skyline Gondola is the perfect way to see Queenstown from above. Seriously, it’s actually quite breathtaking. The gondola ride itself is also not cheap, so I would highly recommend that you make a morning of it and incorporate a few activities.

At the top of the Skyline Gondola you can have a few runs on the Queenstown Luge, go paragliding or hike the Ben Lomond track! There is also a cafe for you to grab a coffee and a snack between all the Luge racing.

Hopefully you also bought a ticket for the buffet lunch at Stratosphere restaurant, so that after a morning of activities, you can enjoy a delicious feast. Bookings for lunch and dinner are highly recommended and don’t forget to request a window seat! Aim to schedule this for a day when the weather is looking fine – you don’t want any rainy interruptions to the phenomenal views up here!

Hike the Ben Lomond Track

Hiking the Ben Lomond track can be a half-day or full-day activity, depending on how far you want to hike and how good your fitness levels are. It’s considered an ‘easy’ hike, but unless you’re somewhat of an experienced hiker, I think you’ll find it breath taking (literally 🤣, I was puffed!).

The Ben Lomond Track offers spectacular 360 degree views over Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountain ranges. We only walked about 40 minutes from the top of the Gondola, and even still the views really were stunning.

If you only want to hike to the saddle, you can supposedly do it in 4-6 hours return from the top of the gondola. So, you could do this as a morning activity, before downing some delicious buffet to reward yourself! 🤷🏼‍♀️

If you want to hike all the way to the summit, plan for a full day of hiking. Make sure you pack tons of water, plenty of snacks and layers of clothes if you’re hiking in cooler seasons.

Be an Adrenaline Junkie

Queenstown is well known as a provider of bulk adrenaline activity options. If you want to, you can skydive, bungee jump, bungee swing or paraglide – all in one town! Any of the tour offices in town will be able to help you with these activities.

I’ve been skydiving before, and I would never, ever considering bungee jumping (hello spew city 🤮), so we chose paragliding with GForce Paragliding Queenstown. They operate from the top of the Skyline Gondola, so we worked this into our trip up the Gondola, as the paraglide price does not include the gondola ticket.

For an activity that looks quite relaxing and serene, I got super nervous right before we did it. You have to run and jump off a cliffside to get going basically 😬🤷🏼‍♀️. It was super fun though, and it does cost less than skydiving!

Hot Tip: Needless to say, paragliding is very weather specific. The wind has to be absolutely spot on. If you have a week in Queenstown, I would recommend to book it in for your first or second day, so that you have plenty of opportunity for rescheduling throughout the week. If the weather doesn’t play ball, GForce will offer a full refund if a future date won’t work for you 👍🏼.

Go Jet Boating in Shotover Canyon

A lot of people say the jet boating is a tourist catch, this may be true (it’s pricey), but don’t let this deter you. The Shotover Canyon is really cool, and the jet boating is super fun! The ‘ride’ lasts for about 25 minutes and along the way the driver will tell you a little about the canyon and randomly do 360 spins extremely close to the canyon walls 🤯.

These drivers go through an insane amount of training before they are allowed to take passengers and when you see how they drive, you’ll know why! They speed over waters only 10cm’s deep in some areas, and know the river like the back of their hands. If you’re going in winter, make sure you rug up 😬

Take a Scenic Helicopter Ride

Would a trip to Queenstown be complete without a Glacier helicopter landing? Probably not.

There are a few different packages on offer around Queenstown, and none of them are cheap. A short 20 minute flight will set you back around $200 per person 🤑. Is it really worth it? If you have room in your budget, then yes, definitely.

I have always had a fascination for helicopters, so to finally ride in one was awesome. Secondly, the views are just jaw-dropping and you do get an alpine, glacier or snow landing. It’s just a surreal experience and I would highly recommend you add it to your bucket list.

Anything Else?

As I mentioned earlier, there is probably 101 things that you can do around Queenstown. The possibilities are endless so long as your budget is as well.

A few other things that you could do would be to take a day tour to Milford Sound, visit Arrowtown or Cromwell (for the Cromnuts 🤤), or just have a good old food and drink ‘hop’ around town. Queenstown has endless possibilities when it comes to delicious food and drink 😍.

Get Budget Savvy

After reading all these amazing things to do, you’re probably thinking you’ll never be able to afford a trip to Queenstown. You definitely can! Just plan ahead like I always say, pick a few things that you absolutely want to do, and save a few extra pennies with these tips.

  • Book in advance – you knew I’d bring that up didn’t you. Seriously though, plan your trip, keep an eye on pricing and pounce when it’s looking good.
  • Save money on activities by taking advantage of combo deals. We saved a bunch of money by booking our weeks activities with one agent on the first day.
  • Book an accommodation with a kitchenette. Even having brekky at home will put an extra $25 per day in your pocket! I swear by this rule.
  • Buy some snacks from the supermarket to eat throughout the day. I’m talking muesli bars, pieces of fruit, nuts, chocolate – anything that you can easily chuck in your pocket or handbag.
  • Drink during Happy Hour – this one is one of my favourites and such a great way to still have a good time, without spending $10 on a beer 🙃

Anyway guys, no matter what you end up doing in Queenstown, I know you’ll have an amazing time in one of my favourite places in the whole world 🙌🏼. If you’re planning a trip to Queenstown, and have any questions, feel free to drop them below ☺️

Queenstown is without a doubt the most popular destination on New Zealand's South Island, and with good reason! There is a mountain of things to see and do.

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