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Travel Guide

Queenstown travel guide what to do and where to go

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Queenstown @photoholgic

In this Article

Adventure capital of the world, year round Queenstown is a premier visitor destination

A year round holiday location where glorious scenery and outdoors adventures go hand in hand. Queenstown is a resort town framed by alpine peaks with a beautiful lake at the edge. The town is fun, adrenaline laced attractions, leisurely fine dining and indulgent spa treatments and a place where kids have plenty to do and see. From mellow, chilled out holidays to adventures packed with skydiving, canyon swinging, bungee jumping and heli-skiing Queenstown is New Zealand’s premier tourist destination.

For an overview of Aotearoa New Zealand attractions, things to do and places to visit check out the definitive New Zealand travel guide.

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Check out Amazing 12 New Zealand Attractions and pop them on your bucket list.

WHAT TO DO, 6 MUST DO HIGHLIGHTS

  • The classic outdoors alpine scenery is part and parcel of the charm of Lake Wakatipu and Remarkable mountain range, consider a summer lake cruise on TSS Earnslaw Cruises Queenstown to Walter Peak Farm
  • An autumn walking trail to soak up the outdoors from Queenstown hill walking tracks to Ben Lomond Walkway.
  • Splurge on a helicopter ride over the glaciers, the alps and the valleys. Get the adventure juices firing with a winter snowmobile trip.
  • Jet boating, where else to sample an iconic river an exhilarating ride than Queenstown where doughnuts and spins are part of the course
  • Bob’s Peak, skyline views and Queenstown Gondola | Skyline Queenstown. Gondola rides offer selfie holiday moments
  • Eat, drink and market in Queenstown from juice dripping Fergburgers, wood fired pizzas, fine dining lakeside and gourmet counter foods for an impromptu picnic.
Queenstown, New Zealand @samferrara
Queenstown @samferrara

BEST TIME TO GO

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.

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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.

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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  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.

Beautiful views of Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown, New Zealand
Beautiful views of Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown

Weather

Arrowtown Weather Forecast

Helpful link to check for up to date weather information

TIP: Queenstown and the surrounding district is renowned for its light tempting photographers to spend time outdoors capturing the perfect shot.

Winter – Autumn 6 ideas to get you out and about

Crisp, bright blue skies with snow dusted mountain peaks offer winter sports or invigorating outdoors activities

Queenstown, New Zealand @nzsjoel
Queenstown @nzsjoel
  • Drama of central Otago unfolds on a 4WD adventure where gold miners trudged in their thousands
  • Visit Arrowtown on a rainy day to check out main street shops nestled in pretty Victorian buildings
  • Soak up stories at Lake District Museum
  • Buzzing ski fields, apres ski events there is something for all age groups and abilities
  • Winery tours on a hop on and hop off bus or your personal gourmet and food paired tasting
  • Autumn and Arrowtown is a firm favourite of visitors for over a hundred years, check 6 stunning autumn South Island places, things to do & see: NZ Jane for details

Spring – Summer 6 ideas to get you out and about

Daylight stretches into the evening with long twilights creating ample time to pack your day with events.

  • TSS Earnslaw is a summer staple, cruise Lake Wakatipu and enjoy a farm cooked meal at Peak Farm
  • Skippers canyon is ideal in summer with the hair raising narrow gorges at their summer best, perhaps a spot of gold panning might be in order
  • The extended daylight hours is the perfect time for a day trip to Milford Sound
  • Visit Lake Wanaka and selfie the Wanaka tree in the glorious spring twilight
  • Lake Hayes, a wildlife reserve open for fishing and closed to motorised boats. Kayak, SUP or canoe the lake or walk around the lake with mountain peaks reflected in the tranquil water.
  • Day trip to Mount Aoraki / Cook to view New Zealand’s highest peak. Check Aoraki Mt Cook National Park trip guide, what to see & do: NZ Jane for trip inspiration from lupins adding a spring purple haze to the landscape. A photo moment with lupins in spring
Wanaka, New Zealand @stuartdavies
Wanaka @stuartdavies

TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN QUEENSTOWN THAT DOES NOT INVOLVE A VEHICLE

Do you need a car to enjoy Queenstown?

No, it is not necessary. Visitors can hire a bike / e-bike, walk or segway around town. There is a well regarded public bus system between Franklin, Arrowtown and Wanaka.

  1. Skyline Gondola is a mere 5 minutes walk from Queenstown CBD & go stargazing at Bob’s Peak. There are great combo deals with the luge, gondola and dinner options to check out before deciding what to do
Queenstown Skyline Gondola, New Zealand @dmaunsell
Queenstown Skyline Gondola @dmaunsell
  1. Queenstown borders Lake Wakatipu meaning you can walk to the wharf to board TSS Earnslaw or the Spirit of Queenstown for a lakeside cruise. Check out the travel pack section for details about both options
Wakatipu, New Zealand @andreas sjovall Wakatipu @andreas sjovall
  1. Indulge in Fergburger or other delicious eateries in town, plenty of choice from fast food to sit down fine dining.
  2. Queenstown Gardens is an easy wheelchair accessible 3km trail through mature trees, ponds and flowering beds leading to lakeside views.
Queenstown Gardens, New Zealand @QueenstownNZ Queenstown Gardens @QueenstownNZ
Queenstown Gardens, New Zealand @Concrete Playground Queenstown Gardens @Concrete Playground
  1. Go ice skating or get the kids into ice bumper cars at the coolest place in town Queenstown Ice Arena. This is an easy rainy day option for kids
  2. Shop for gifts at the regular arts and crafts markets where one of a kind objects, pop up food stalls and quirky souvenirs will catch your attention
  3. 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 yoghurt there is something for everyone including vegan options. Nobody misses out.
@PatagoniaChocolates @PatagoniaChocolates
@PatagoniaChocolates @PatagoniaChocolates
  1. 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. The end of season sales means high end adventure equipment and clothing is reasonably priced and there are several markets to linger in.
  2. Visit Kiwi Bird Park dedicated to saving endangered species, A refuge for injured wildlife in the heart of Queenstown. The former rubbish dump is now a sanctuary for over 20 species of birds and wildlife.
  3. Lake Wakatipu offers year round water sports from kayaking, canoe trips to paddling by the lakeshore with the kids. Look out for combo specials and daily specials and grab foodie treats from a nearby deli for a picnic.
@kiwibirdlifepark @kiwibirdlifepark
@kiwibirdlifepark @kiwibirdlifepark

ADVENTURE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD

Queenstown’s slogan as adventure capital of the world is justified with numerous tour operators offering a wide range of options for family and friends. The place is stuffed with adventure options with the makings of an expensive holiday.

@heliview
@heliview

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Decide before you travel what is on your bucket list. Check for weekday specials as the middle of the week and outside the school holidays offer the best deals. Remember adventure + food turns an adventure into an occasion and treat for everyone.

TIP – OPENING HOURS

Due to covid19 check for up to date information of tour operator opening hours before deciding when to visit Queenstown. Your bucket list tour might not operate on Tuesdays, avoid disappointment and check details.

ADRENALINE INDUCING

RIDE THE LUGE is where all ages can give the luge a go and wonder about their Olympic winter sport options.

BUNGEE JUMPING CLASSIC OVER THE SHOTOVER RIVER, the doyenne of adventure is still going strong and the place where A J Hackett started it all

SHOTOVER RIVER GIANT ROPE SWING sounds thrilling and scary. Test your head for heights and give it go

ZIP LINING in the mountains and rivers is the perfect backdrop for enjoying swinging between the trees

Bungee Jumping, Queenstown, New Zealand @Arrivalguides
Bungee Jumping, Queenstown @Arrivalguides

WATER ADVENTURES

Lakes, rivers, fiords year round offer opportunities to explore the great outdoors.

Earnslaw Cruise, New Zealand @moorhousekathy
Earnslaw Cruise @moorhousekathy

TIP: Even in the summer months the snow fed waters are cool. A wetsuit hire is often a good option and check the daily water temperature before departing.

JET BOATING the Shotover River is another classic adventure

WHITE WATER RAFTING the swollen snow fed rivers is sure to please

JET SKIING & RIVER BOARDING & WHITE WATER RAFTING

Grades of rapids for beginners to experienced rafters looking for the next thrill . Get out, pop on the wetsuit (supplied) and get wet and wild.

KAYAKING, SUP OR CANOE on picturesque lakes and rivers is an adventure for all age groups and family members. This is a social activity

AERIAL

Jump out of a plane or leap off a cliff with experienced guides and an outstanding safety record makes for a bucket list holiday moment. The sense of wide open spaces, the remote mountain ranges, glaciers, fiords stretched out beneath as you soar, float and fly in the clouds.

PARAGLIDING with an experienced guide where you soar among the mountains and over the lake is sheer joy.

PARASAILING above Lake Wakatipu gives you a whole different perspective of glorious scenery.

HELI-SKIING & HELI-SNOWBOARDING

adds to the excitement of skiing with a chance to get away from the crowded slopes to a place where you get to choose when to let go.

SCENIC FLIGHTS to Milford Sound or a high country farm house for a gourmet BBQ, the choice is yours with the scenic Southern Alps as part of the landscape unfolding between your wings.

@heliview
@heliview

LAND ADVENTURES

Cruisey, slow lane travel where you get to explore the wild outdoors with an experienced guide gets you to the right places at the right time could be your big ticket item.

4WD Macetown, New Zealand @Destination Queenstown
4WD Macetown @Destination Queenstown

4WD SAFARIS, remote scenic where your designed modified vehicle has no difficulties traversing the rugged terrain. For the independent spirit off road buggy driving or quad biking is thrills and bounces galore

HORSE TREKKING finds where movie magic was made from Lord of the Rings series or travels on 19th century gold mining trails.

GUIDED NATURE WALKS is a great way to find off the beaten tracks where the birds and wildlife reign supreme

HUNTING & FISHING GUIDED TOURS is a highlight for overseas and domestic visitors alike

GETTING THERE

  • Queenstown Airport Official Website is located in Franklin, nearby Queenstown city centre and is an international and domestic hub. The scheduled domestic flights connect with Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington. Remember to check for up to date changes. From the airport to town you can use your newly acquired rental car with a pickup at the airport or catch #1 Orbus directly from the airport bus stop which is adjacent to the visitor centre. It is approximately 20 minutes to town on the bus. The public bus service is bright yellow and is unmissable.
  • The airport has a taxi rank at the airport as well as private shuttle services.
  • Queenstown is linked to the rest of the country through state highway one and other major highways. For daily updates on road closures, network issues and parking news check Transport – QLDC
  • There are daily buses to Queenstown from Wanaka, Dunedin, Invercargill and Christchurch to Queenstown. Check Queenstown buses – Public Transport for details. Remember to download the route map and purchase ‘bee card, smart bus card’ to make payment details a breeze. Here the details for a bee card Bee Card – Dunedin
  • There is no rail link to Queenstown.
Queenstown airport, New Zealand @_seb
Queenstown airport @_seb

GETTING AROUND  – FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Is it necessary to have a vehicle while visiting Queenstown?

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 route map and purchase ‘bee card, smart bus card’ to make payment details a breeze. Here the details for a bee card Bee Card – Dunedin.

Queenstown Transport, New Zealand @QueenstownNZ
Queenstown Transport @QueenstownNZ

What is the easiest way visit vineyards?

Join a wine tour, enjoy the day and let someone else take care of you.

Day trips to Aoraki Mount Cook or Milford?

For quick day trips it is best to join a tour. As Queenstown is a premier tourist hub there are tours to most places in the lower South Island.

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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.

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.

Queenstown, New Zealand @_autumn_
Queenstown @_autumn_

TRAVEL PACK INFORMATION

MUST DO DETAILS FOR LAKE WAKATIPU CRUISES

There are two scenic cruises to choose from:

SPIRIT OF QUEENSTOWN managed by Southern Discoveries. The catamaran is a relaxing and comfortable trip.

  • 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 turquoise 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

Spirit of Queenstown Scenic Cruise offers excellent online booking specials.

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Hankering to check out Glenorchy 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) this is an original vessel from the gold rush era. You can observe the boat crew hard at work shovelling 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, if you’d rather, kick back and enjoy a wine or beer or some café food at our on-board Promenade Café and Bar.

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.

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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.

 

Unique journeys, personal adventures.

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