Best things to do and places to go in 12 hours Queenstown
Discover the best things to do in Queenstown, New Zealand in an action packed day. The South Island’s premier visitor destination is the place to go to wrap up your New Zealand experience. From the iconic bungee jumping to a charming Victorian 19th century heritage gold mining Arrowtown, to a cruise on Lake Wakatipu and, the best bit … some time to go shopping.
It’s a lot to cram into the suitcase of activities in Queenstown. Let’s start the day early with a great breakfast on the go. For pesky details about getting to Queenstown, getting around, best time to go, the weather and transport / accommodation check the Travel Pack Section at the bottom of the itinerary.
A self-guided road map to key activities
Your day at a glance:
- Arrowtown for a town heritage walk
- Bungee jump at Kawarau Gorge
- Gibbston Valley vineyards
- Roaring Meg Waterfall
- Lake Wakatipu cruise
- Squeeze in shopping
- Sunset views – Queenstown wharf + ice creams
Gondola and Bobs peak panoramic views.
Arrowtown is a postcard tourist town neatly wrapped as a preserved nineteenth gold mining settlement. Arrowtown is not quite Queenstown although the short 10 minute drive makes you wonder if you’ve left town. Arrowtown is the poster town for picturesque scenery. The town is an authentic nineteenth century settlement, not a replica creating an open air museum experience. There are contemporary cultural attractions from art galleries, stores merchandising souvenirs and giftware. Shops are packaged in the charming ornate Victorian main street. The village is framed among the luscious alpine scenery with mature trees lining the streets and the Arrow River.
ARROWTOWN – SHOPPING AND RETAIL THERAPY
Arrowtown’s main street represents major New Zealand branded designer wear. The area is blanketed in snow during winter with warm cosy merino wool garments, rugged outdoor clothing designed to withstand alpine winter conditions as well as a raft of glorious local artisan goods. For small easily portable gifts remember to check out the museum gift shop with artisan arty crafty goods well represented. Need to take a break for five minutes, you will be spoiled for choice with eateries scattered among the main street offerings.
As a major tourist destination Arrowtown is not a place for a bargain.
Duration: 2 hours.
NEXT KAWARAU GORGE SUSPENSION BRIDGE BUNGEE JUMP
Go for a classic, where the New Zealand inspired adrenaline high fall rubber band experience was invented as a tourist attraction. The views of the Gorge are breathtaking with the happy screams of bungee jumpers as a regular soundtrack. The original AJ Hackett bungy jump originated at the Kawarau Suspension Bridge. Give it a go and / or people watch. The Kawarau Gorge is a stunning location for the 43 m drop. Adrenaline doesn’t get any better when watching other people deliberately throw themselves off a bridge. For thrill seekers challenge the senses with a zipline across the Kawarau River.
You are now in the GIBBSTON VALLEY with its vineyards visible from SH6 tempting you to further explore the Gibbston Valley, perhaps Rockburn Stable Cellar Door or pop into Gibbston Art Gallery for a wander. Perhaps lunch in the Gibbston Valley is on the cards? This is a serious temptation for wine trail buffs to linger in the boutique award-winning Gibbston Valley. For ideas of an extended day in a premium wine district check out Queenstown / Arrowtown day trip wine & cycle trail – Best Bits.
Duration: 10 minutes – 2 hours or longer.
ROARING MEG WATERFALL
Is it fun, when you find an instagram location that is not on everyone’s else’s feed. The power station outflow is the Roaring Meg. The water is the deep alpine blue of glacial streams and the Kawarau River is glorious.
The hydroelectric power station harnesses the Kawarau River. The River is Lake Wakatipu’s only outlet. The river flows into Lake Dunstan near Cromwell. The beautiful gorges cut by the river add to the beauty of SH6 between Cromwell and Queenstown. The small power station is supported by a 10 m dam lying 3.6 km north of Roaring Meg waterfall.
Getting to Roaring Meg waterfall
Follow the supplied map and look for signage Roaring Meg Power Station, turn onto the indicated side road. There is a car park just past the station. The waterfall is visible from the car park. There are no toilets.
A great place for gorge photos as well as viewing a waterfall.
Duration: ½ hour.
EARLY – MID AFTERNOON
Return to Queenstown for a classic lake cruise.
There are two scenic cruises to choose from:
SPIRIT OF QUEENSTOWN managed by Southern Discoveries. The catamaran is a relaxing and comfortable trip. Spirit of Queenstown Scenic Cruise offers excellent online booking specials.
- Departs Thursday – Monday
- Relaxing and spacious modern catamaran
- Skipper’s commentary on Lake Wakatipu’s history and highlights
- Visit Bob’s Cove and its remarkable cobalt water and native bush
- Enjoy stunning views towards Glenorchy, Mt Earnslaw and the Southern Alps
- Take panoramic photos from the open-top viewing deck
- Onboard café and bar serves hot and cold beverages and snacks throughout the cruise
HERITAGE COAL FIRED TSS EARNSLAW LAKE CRUISE
Hankering to check out Glenorchy (historic farm homestead) this is a great way to see the sights without a vehicle or road trip.
Heritage, coal fired TSS Earnslaw operated by Real Journeys (Milford Sound tour operator with several combo specials) is an original vessel from the gold rush era. You can observe the boat crew hard at work shoveling coal in the burner. The gourmet lunch on board is a favourite with the slow lane visitor.
The 90 minute cruise across Lake Wakatipu showcases some of Queenstown’s spectacular alpine scenery while offering you plenty of time to explore a piece of Queenstown’s living history – the over one hundred year-old TSS Earnslaw.
Inside a visit to the engine room reveals the giant steam engines at work. Close by you’ll be able to view the collection of historical photos in our mini-museum, check out the bridge or indulge in a snack and watch the world go by.
Cruises depart regularly throughout the day. You can choose to undertake just the cruise, or combine it with a visit to Walter Peak High Country Farm for a guided farm tour, horse trek, independent cycling, gourmet barbecue lunch or dinner.
Both cruises are a great way to enjoy the lake from the water. It is not necessary to repeat the experience unless several leisurely days on the lake is on your bucket list.
A few minutes spare to shop … go for it and be a tourist. Buy a branded Queenstown T shirt and go shopping. The compact, easy walkable town is home to international brands, fashion stores, independent retailers and art galleries. If you are in Queenstown at the end of the winter or summer season sales means high end adventure equipment and clothing is reasonably priced. For visitors from the northern hemisphere New Zealand is a unique opportunity to reverse your seasons. Our summer is America / United Kingdom winter.
Sunset views from Sunset from the Queenstown wharf is a popular summer pastime, sharing the experience with family, friends and an ice cream from Patagonia Chocolates. With ice cream, sorbet and frozen yogurt there is something for everyone including vegan options. Nobody misses out. Then it’s off to catch the gondola for the evening lights of Queenstown below as you enjoy a well earned dinner skyhigh at Bob’s Peak. Queenstown Gondola. Gondola rides offer selfie holiday moments.
In a day you’ve ticked off Queenstown although we know you will be back as there is plenty more to see and do. Queenstown is located in the province of Otago with a host of attractions and activities for visitors, to get inspired check out Things To Do In Otago § Places to go, Activities, & Sightseeing.
TRAVEL PACK INFORMATION
QUEENSTOWN TOP PICKS – WHERE TO EAT
New Zealand’s top visitor destination is a small town packed to the rafters with glorious eateries and cafes. Why cater in your cramped motel room when tempting foodie treats are on every corner. From healthy to indulgent, from snacks with sweet buzz to savoury bites the range offers something for everyone.
Waterfront location with an open fireplace is an invitation to step inside. In summer there is seating overlooking the lake. The quirky interior is homage to the heyday of the steam paddle boats with memorabilia decorating the interior. Look carefully for the stuffed possum. An all day menu and liquor license gives diners a chance to relax and savour the location. There is an emphasis on seasonal produce and locally sourced ingredients.
A popular kids menu with the cheeseburger or pulled pork with mac’ n cheese croquettes winners.
Yonder is central Queenstown cafe culture at its best. Innovative edgy menu with a focus on vegetarian and vegan options. Extraordinary range of lattes from turmeric, beetroot and black sesame alongside green, black and herbal teas. The heated outdoor seating is situated in a cosy courtyard.
A cafe that transitions from daylight hours of brunch / lunch cafe to evening cocktails and live music. For those who like drinks with their dinner choice Yonder have 12 taps of New Zealand’s best craft beer like Panhead, Emersons Brewery and Macs Craft Beer. Seasonally crafted cocktails and an all-weather beer garden, which is great for any season. During the evening there is a live DJ comedy routine.
Does not offer a classic kiwi kids style menu.
Organic coffee and excellent interpretation of a cafe menu creates truly delicious food. The multi-time winner of ‘NZ Café of the Year’ specialises in fresh seasonal ingredients without processed foods. The menu caters for vegetarian, vegan and gluten free diners. And what child can resist bacon or sausage, egg & toasted soldiers or a lunchbox of sandwich cheese, vegemite or honey, juice, chips, fruit & chocolate fish.
QUEENSTOWN, SOUTH ISLAND – GETTING THERE
Queenstown, as befitting a top visitor destination, has its own airport. Your flight will swoop over the Southern Alps as you land. There are domestic connections from major hubs such as Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and regional airports, Dunedin and Nelson.
Book a window seat and get excited about the panoramic views flying over the Southern Alps.
QUEENSTOWN, SOUTH ISLAND – GETTING AROUND
No, it is not. There is plenty to do and see within the town centre. To get out and about in the region there are regular shuttles to Arrowtown and Wanaka. Check Queenstown buses – Public Transport for details. Remember to download the Queenstown route map and purchase ‘bee card, smart bus card’ to make payment details a breeze. Here are the details for a bee card Bee Card – Dunedin.
Yes, definitely … ORbus offers public bus services between Queenstown and Frankton(suburb) and Arrowtown.
Easy as with major rental companies located at the airport making pickup and drop off effortless. There are handy tips for overseas visitors about driving on the ‘left’ hand side of the road.
Join a wine tour, enjoy the day and let someone else take care of you.
Always check the travelling time to the place you want to see. If you are in a coach for most of the day you could be disappointed. Think of moving closer to your bucket list place to maximise your time spent there.
Walking in Arrowtown is a breeze. Walking is the best way to explore the town. As a very popular visitor destination, traffic congestion makes parking problematic. Check Parking Queenstown local government parking zones for the district.
WHERE TO STAY IN QUEENSTOWN
Queenstown accommodation ranges from functional budget conscious backpacker to world beating luxury. With the hills offering great views it is advisable to check the location to avoid disappointment. Due to proximity to Queenstown Wanaka, Franklin, Arrowtown and Gibbston are alternative places to stay where vineyards, bed and breakfast and boutique hotels offer plenty of choice for visitors. The town offers visitors plenty of choice with Airbnbs or Bookabach accommodation.
Spoil yourself and check your accommodation has Lakeside views. It’s a must.
Kamana Lakehouse. This hotel has the most beautiful spa overlooking the lake
Chalet Queenstown. It’s a beautiful hotel in a quiet but close location and the views are breathtaking.
BEST TIME TO GO TO QUEENSTOWN
December to February, peak summer season (Southern hemisphere). Long summer days have over 17 hours of daylight. Daytime temperatures reach between 20°C (68°F) and 30°C (86°F). Queenstown’s 45° south latitude means that dawn is as early as 5am, while dusk settles around 10pm.
Summer is the peak season with accommodation booked out quickly. Booking beforehand is strongly recommended.
Spring (September to November), while prone to showers, is a great time to get a bargain on tour operators and it is easy to pick the time that suits you. Spring is a great alternative to the summer peak season. Temperatures can go as high as 22°C (71.6°F) especially in late November however September’s temperature is hovering around (10°C or 46.4°F). Spring is characterised by sudden showers and rainy days.
Europeans and North Americans love visiting Queenstown in the depths of their winter. New Zealand is the perfect winter escape with its balmy summer climate.
Autumn (late March – early May) is romantic with a leaf fall that is bronze tipped, crisp leaves littering the ground with colour. The mountain peaks have a dusting of snow creating the magical iced look. The temperatures are cooler with warm sunny days. It is unforgettable with autumn’s blaze of colour, a favourite thing for photographers wishing to capture the red and gold foliage contrast with the deep blue lake and mountains. Temperatures range from 12°C (53.6°F) to as high as 25°C (77°F).
What to pack in spring / autumn in New Zealand:
- Pack waterproof layer and sturdy closed walking shoes
- Clothing layers as it can be much warmer in the middle of the day
What to pack in summer in New Zealand:
- Loose light clothing with a warmer layer for chilly nights
- Waterproof layer, just in case (New Zealand is an island)
- Sunscreen for those warm sunny days
Winter and road trips are not a good combination. Snow and ice can close roads as well tour operators could be running on limited hours. This is obviously apart from the ski field operators with three ski fields within an hour of Queenstown. Queenstown’s three ski fields Remarkables, Coronet, and Cardrona within easy driving distance of town.
- Remarkables: 27 km ( 35 minutes)
- Coronet Peak: 15.8 km (20 minutes)
- Cardrona: 58 km (1 hour)
Ski season is a buzz with the Queenstown Winter Festival (July) and the Luna Light Festival (June). The winter months in Queenstown run from June to the end of August and it gets pretty chilly here during these months. Temperatures range from 8°C (46.4°F) to as low as 0°C (32°F) during the day and at night it typically falls below zero with lows of -6°C (21.2°F.) The town itself does not have regular snow storms, expect to see that in the surrounding mountain ranges.
Weather in Queenstown
Arrowtown Weather Forecast – helpful link to check for up to date weather information.
BEST BITS TRAVEL GUIDE