Queenstown (South Island, New Zealand)
If you ask where is the most beautiful place that we’ve visited in New Zealand, Queenstown it is.
Located on the South Island of New Zealand, Queenstown sits on the edge of Lake Wakatipu (beautiful blue lake) and is surrounded by the Southern Alps. The landscape is just magical!
It is also one of the most popular tourist towns in New Zealand, but the beauty of this town is worth coming back for.
There are plenty of activities to do in Queenstown, from hiking, biking, skydiving, bungee jumping, wine tasting, river cruise, helicopter tour… so to get the most of this town, a minimum of 3 nights stay is recommended.
1. Explore Downtown Queenstown
Activities: shopping, dining, tourist information, relax by the lake
Central Queenstown is very happening. Major hotels, resorts, backpackers, restaurants, tourist information, supermarkets are all around here.
We came here for dinner, sometimes we just had fish and chips sitting by the lake, this place is stunning. And if you can catch the sunset hour, you will see the most magical sunset.
Watch my Queenstown Vlog, Day 1. Click here to watch on YouTube.
You might like to explore:
“Don’t miss this place if you are love burgers!”
- Open daily 8AM – 5AM
- Address: 42 Shotover St, Queenstown 9300, New Zealand
- Expect to queue for at least 30 minutes for the burger
- CNN : ” Best Burger joint in NZ ? Or the whole planet?“
- Click here for menu
Love New Zealand wines but no time to visit all the wineries in New Zealand?
Come here to taste over 80 New Zealand wines in one place!
- Open daily 10.30am-10.30pm
- Address: 14 Beach St, Queenstown 9300, New Zealand
2. Skyline Queenstown, Gondola Cable Car and Luge
First time to Queenstown? Then take the Gondola (the steepest cable car in the southern hemisphere) up to Skyline Queenstown. There you’ll have the spectacular panoramic view of the town.
On top of the hill, you can take the luge ride (Must Do), high tea at the bar, bungee jump, star gazing at night, romantic dinner for 2, or just simply enjoy the view and Kiwi Haka dance performance.
If this is your first time in Queenstown, I highly recommend taking the Gondola & Luge rides ticket (From $55 NZD). Full price list, see here.
Queenstown Skyline Gondola
- Open daily 9am – 9pm
- Address: Brecon Street, Queenstown (walking distance from the town centre)
- Gondola ride: $39 NZD
- Gondola + 2 luge rides = $55 NZD
- Recommended time spend: 3-4 hours
3. Queenstown Hill Walkway
Love the view but don’t want to spend money or queue with the rest? We found this place just 8 minutes (2km) drive away from Queenstown Skyline base – Queenstown Hill Walkway.
- 1.5- 2.5 hours return walk
- Easy (some steep slopes)
- Tips: Bring water, sunblock
It was quite an easy walk and lots of pine trees around the hill. It smells lovely like Christmas. Totally recommend this place as it’s not crowded yet the view is comparable to Queenstown Skyline.
Click here to watch the video on our walk on Queenstown Hill if you can’t view it below.
4. Spend A Day On Dart River
Queenstown is known as “The Adventure Capital Of The World”. Not gonna risk your life to bungee jump? At least sign up for something easier and less chance of a heart attack.
I’m not a bungee-jump kind of girl, not in a million years anyway. Some kind of activities on the Dart river is good enough to experience Queenstown in a different way.
During our first time in Queenstown, we booked a half-day tour that consists of jetboat on the Dart river, walk through an ancient forest, and drive through Lord Of The Rings and Narnia movie scenes. From $249/person (appx 4 hours). Booking info here.
It was an easy half day tour, not too many physical activities required, suitable for the family of old and young.
We went for Funyak tour (jetboat + kayak) during our 2nd trip to Queenstown as I’d like to experience flowing downstream on the blue Alps water. The trip was about 7 hours long and cost from $369 per person. This tour was amazing. It did require a little bit of paddling but if you are generally fit, it should be ok.
Click here to watch the video on our day trip on Dart River Tour.
Or simply, go for a guided horse riding at the Middle Earth locations where scenes from Lord of the Rings were shot. 1 hour $140, 2 hours $180.
I’m not affiliated with this company but we’ve been on their tour a couple of times, and so far our personal experience has been more than satisfactory. You can check out their website for all the activities they have apart from the tour mentioned above. Booking in advance is recommended too.
Tours available: Jet boating, Kayaking, Horse Riding
5. Go For A Scenic Drive (Free)
A lot of activities in Queenstown aren’t free. But if you have a self-drive car, and don’t want to do adventurous activities, there are plenty of scenic drive around Queenstown that are worth exploring. Better yet, the beautiful scenery is FREE for everyone!
Watch the beautiful scenic drive video blog, here.
5.1 Queenstown To Glenorchy Scenic Drive
Distance: appx 46 km (appx 50 minutes drive)
What to do?
- Enjoy the most beautiful drive in New Zealand
- Stop somewhere or beside Lake Wakatipu for perfect photo or picnic
- Spend half a day at Glenorchy/Paradise to see The Lord Of The Ring shooting scene.
- Join an adventurous tour at Glenorchy (see above)
New Zealand as a whole is already a beautiful country to drive around, but the route from Queenstown to Glenorchy is probably the most beautiful drive in the whole New Zealand in our opinion.
We drove from Queenstown to Glenorchy to join the Dart River Kayak Tour (as described above). Almost every corner we turned was a “wow” moment. We literally ran out of words to describe that amazing view. “Unbelievable, beautiful, amazing, omg, spectacular…”
5.2 Spend Half A Day In Paradise
If you are not going to join a tour of Dart River, just drive to Glenorchy and stop for a quick meal or a drink. Picnic by Glenorchy Wharf and enjoy the view from paradise. There were so many movies filmed here for a good reason, as the scenery is just out of this world.
Movies filmed in Glenorchy and Paradise:
The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Wolverine, and the Hobbit
5.3 Scenic Drive Up To Remarkables Ski Field
Who said you can’t go up to the ski field during summer? Just drive up and enjoy the view!
You can drive from central Queenstown to the bottom of the ski field turn off (15 minutes), then another 25 minutes drive to the summit. The road is half sealed and half unsealed. So need to drive safely.
The free view was just amazing! Make sure you choose a clear and cloudless day!
The day we drove up it was partially covered by cloud, but we still get to see the amazing view half way up. If you are feeling adventurous, you can drive all the way to the top.
It was quite scary and dangerous when the cloud covers the summit and the visibility was low. So if you just want a good picture, you don’t have to drive all the way up. There is nothing to see on top of the summit anyway (during the summer season).
6. Wine Tasting At Central Otago
Wine lovers? You should at least spend a day or 2 exploring the nearby wine region which is Central Otago. It is New Zealand’s most scenic wine region and world’s southernmost wine producing region.
Producing some of New Zealand’s best Pinot Noir, Central Otago also has success in producing white wines like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling.
I will write a full post dedicated to Central Otago wine.
Wineries that we have visited in Central Otago and its subregions:
- Chard Farm (Gibbston Valley, CO)
- Gibbston Valley Wine (Gibbston Valley, CO)
- Peregrine (Gibbston Valley, CO)
- Armisfield (Gibbston Valley, CO)
- Kinross (Valli Wine) (Gibbston Valley, CO)
- Felton Road (Bannockburn, CO)
- Mount Difficulty (Bannockburn, CO)
- Misha’s Vineyard (Bendigo, CO)
- Domaine Thompson (Lowburn, CO)
- Aurum (Lowburn, CO)
- Rippon Vineyard (Wanaka, CO)
Stay tuned for my future post.
7. Arrow Town
Just 20 minutes drive from Queenstown, Arrow Town is a historic gold mining town in South Island New Zealand. It has many well-preserved buildings used by European and Chinese immigrants dating from the gold mining days.
A popular small town often visited by tourists for its gold rush history and beauty, especially during the autumn months (April May) when the trees change colours.
A short half day is enough for this town unless you like to hit the golf course for a game.
8. Day Trip To Milford Sound
Milford Sound is acclaimed as New Zealand’s most famous tourist destination despite it is located in a remote area of the South Island with only one road leading to this place.
It’s not the easiest place to get to and there are not many accommodations available in Milford Sound. Due to its UNESCO world heritage site and national park location, freedom camping is also strictly prohibited. Hence, a day tour is HIGHLY recommended.
You can choose to do a day trip (3 hr 44 min drive just to get there), or bus tour (cheaper but takes even longer), or just take a scenic flight or helicopter tour (30 min one way).
What to do in Milford Sound? Scenic Cruise.
There are a few companies that offer similar tours to Milford Sound from Queenstown, I think the best options is to fly in and take the cruise and fly back in one day. I wouldn’t imagine sitting on the bus for 8 hours in a day although it is much cheaper! So if you have a chance, fly! It’s an once in a lifetime experience!
This is a good option if you don’t want to take a long bus ride or drive to Milford Sound yourself. Good tour to see Milford Sound. Tour information, here.
We took this tour back in 2011. It was expensive but without the super long bus ride, we saved so much energy and time.
The scenic helicopter ride and we got to land on the glacier. 2 hours cruise on Milford Sound, spotted dolphins and the beautiful waterfalls, then an easy helicopter ride back to Queenstown! An experience that can be remembered for a lifetime. Tour information here.
9. Onsen Hot Pools
Ok, this place is like Instagrammers must-go in Queenstown.
Imagine soaking in a cliffside cedar hot tub overlooking the magnificent Shotover River canyon, breathtaking alpine scenery and the romantic spot to stargazing in your own privacy.
The highlight of the pool is that you could convert your pool room from indoor to outdoor and back again at the touch of a button! Each pool can accommodate up to 4 adults.
You can choose from the daytime pool ($95 for 2 adults 1 hour) or evening pool ($119 for 2 adults 1 hour). 1-hour private hot pool pricing, here.
Or you could choose the ultimate hot pools and massage (2 hours) – $432 for 2 adults.
Address: 160 Arthurs Point Road, Arthurs Point, Queenstown, New Zealand (Complimentary shuttle)
Tip: This place is really popular in Queenstown right now. Make sure you book way in advance.
10. Bungee Jump
Ok, I told you I won’t do the bungee jump. But if you don’t mind to get your heart pumping or witness this unique adventure, then at least check out the original bungee jump from A.J.Hackett. This place is just 10 minutes away from Arrow Town, you could always stop by and have a look to feel the excitement.
Do you know the world’s first commercial bungee jump was started right here in Queenstown, at Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge? $205 NZD per jump down from this historic 43 metres bridge, you can jump naked and touch the water too if you dare.
- $205 adult, $155 Child (Yes, kids jump too)
- Open daily 9.30am to 4.30pm
- Kawarau Bungy Centre, State Highway #6 (SH6), Gibbston Valley, Queenstown
- Bungy Bus is free, whether you‘re Jumping or not. Depart from Queenstown Bungee Centre
Sample 5 Days Itinerary in Queenstown
You can shuffle the activities to your preference however here is my recommended 5 days itinerary.
- Explore downtown Queenstown
- Skyline Queenstown (Take a cable car, or hike up)
- Queenstown Hill (2 hours return hike)
- Arrow Town (Historic gold mining town)
- (Feeling adventurous? ) Go for Bungee Jump or just watch people jumping from the bridge – 10 min from Arrow Town
- Dart River Tour (from Glenorchy)
- Scenic drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy
- Milford Sound (fly, self-drive or bus)
- Wine tasting in Central Otago
- Have a beautiful spa at Onsen Hot Pool
What Do You Think?
Have you been to Queenstown? What was the most memorable moment for you?
Any other activities that you think should add to the list? Let me know by commenting below.
Thanks for reading!