The Ultimate Travel Guide to Queenstown
When someone says the word Queenstown, what pops into your head? A beautiful town nestled amongst the mountains along the shores of Lake Wakatipu? Skiing? Some of the best food and drink the country has to offer? Hiking? Picture-postcard scenery? Adrenaline fuelled adventure activities? Queenstown has all of these things and more, so we’ve decided to create the Ultimate Queenstown Travel Guide for anyone wanting a quick weekend getaway or a full-blown holiday. Whether you’re on a tight budget or wanting a bit of pampering and luxury, Queenstown accommodates all, with the destination being well-known for both backpackers and those with deep pockets alike. If you’re planning on visiting Queenstown, have a read of this article for the best insider tips on how to make the most out of your time in one of the most beautiful places New Zealand has to offer.
Planning your trip to Queenstown:
When planning your trip to Queenstown, make sure you take into account what kind of holiday you’re after. Are you wanting to hit the slopes at one of the many ski fields dotted amongst the alpine terrain, or are you after the experience of a sweltering Central Otago summer? Perhaps you’ve read about the autumnal wander both Queenstown and it’s goldmine-era neighbouring town Arrowtown becomes once the leaves start to drop, or maybe you’re hoping to hit the hikes once the trails re-open in mid-October. Whichever season strikes your fancy, make sure you research when the school holidays are before you go - you’ll want to avoid these. Prices go up significantly during this time period, as every person and their dog descends on the town for a much-needed break. Make sure you book your flights well in advance to minimise extortionate travel costs, as last-minute return flights can leave your eyes (and bank accounts) stinging.
How to get around Queenstown:
Once you arrive in Queenstown, there are a few different ways you can head into the town centre from Frankton, where the airport is located. You can hire a car from one of the many car rental companies at the airport, request an Uber (good luck finding one!) Or for $10 cash, catch the bus from the terminal outside the entrance of the airport. The buses run every 15 minutes or so, so if you’re not in a rush, it’s a nice alternative way to get your bearings and take in the jaw-dropping scenery on the ride in. If you think you’ll use the bus more than once during your stay, then it’s worth buying a Bee Card from the bus driver for $5, and loading at least $10 (the minimum amount) on it. With this card, every future bus ride will only cost you $2.
If you’re planning on staying in the town centre for most of your trip, then you probably don’t need to hire a car, as everything is within walking distance and finding a park can very quickly become a game of Tetris. However, if you are wanting to do a few day trips out of Queenstown and explore some of the surrounding towns in Central Otago such as Arrowtown, Cromwell, Clyde, Wanaka, or Alexandra, then hiring a car is the best way to go, as Intercity buses are few and far between, and won’t take you to all the nooks and crannies where the best beauty is.
Queenstown offers more things to do and see than most people who actually live there could ever experience in a lifetime.
However, we’ve narrowed it down to some of the top things to do and see in Queenstown, depending on what you’re into:
There are the classic Adrenaline Junkie experiences, such as AJ Hackett Nevis Bungy, SkyDiving, Zip Lining, and the Shotover Canyon Swing, not to mention the multiple companies that offer thrilling jet boating experiences along Shotover River or the shores of Lake Wakatipu. Although prices have dropped significantly since COVID-19, these adventures can still get pretty pricey, so check out Travelguide for some epic deals on all things thrill-related and more.
If you’re after more of a relaxing experience, Onsen Hot Springs is an upscale day spa offering private, cedar-lined hot tubs overlooking the Shotover River Canyon. With a glass of champagne in one hand, a sliver of Whittaker’s Sante Bar in the other and world-renowned scenery directly in front of you, it really does feel like you’ve reached a spa-filled heaven.
If you’re more interested in getting a workout while basking in nature’s glory, then you’re spoilt for choice in Queenstown, with a variety of hikes ranging from 45 minutes to a full day march. Queenstown Hill or the Tiki Trail, which takes you to the top of the Skyline Gondola, are two of the shorter walks reaching about an hour one-way, depending on your fitness. They’ll both leave you breathless, but rest assured, the views are well worth it.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, Ben Lomond is a demanding climb with a 1,438m elevation gain, but worth every drop of sweat (and swear word) you may utter on the way up. With 360 degree views of the Remarkables, Queenstown, and Lake Wakatipu, this full-day hike should only be attempted in good weather, and isn’t for the faint-hearted - but it’s one to tick off the bucket list. Make sure you bring plenty of water, as there is nowhere to fill your drink bottle on the way up.
For those after more family-friendly activities, Disc Golf, otherwise known as Frisbee Golf, located in Queenstown Gardens is a fun way to explore some of the beautiful scenery along the lakefront while taking part in a popular activity for both locals and tourists alike. You can buy the discs at one of the many souvenir shops in the town centre, or some hostels even hire them out for free.
The Skyline Gondola is also a must, if not for the experience of the gondola (you can walk up to the top via the Tiki Trail for free), but for the chance to try the purpose-built luge carts on the way back down. Race your friends or try and beat your personal best - things can get pretty heated on this course!
Finally, depending on what time of year you decide to come, a Queenstown Travel Guide wouldn’t be complete without the mandatory mention of skiing. With four ski fields in the surrounding areas (Cardrona Alpine Resort, The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, and Treble Cone), Queenstown is THE place to go skiing and snowboarding. The ski seasons vary slightly between the fields, with some open from June-September, and others staying open a little longer - weather dependent, of course. If you’re heading to Queenstown in winter, a day on the slopes is one you won’t regret, whether you’re a complete pro, or a complete novice.
With Queenstown being one of New Zealand’s top tourist destinations, it offers every kind of accommodation one could want, from camping to hostels, to motels, to resorts, to AirB&B’s, to five-star luxury hotels. You won’t find another town in New Zealand with this much choice in accommodation, with many winning awards globally for their services. (Don’t try to Freedom Camp though, unless you want to incur a hefty fine!) There are simply too many places to single out any in particular, so have a browse on Booking.com and Hostelworld and compare prices and reviews. Top tip - steer clear of any that have a rating below 8.5!
Best places to eat:
Queenstown really is a food and wine lover’s paradise. With some of the top wineries such as Chard Farm and Gibbston Valley just a short drive away, there are many different wine and food tours to choose from.
If you’re after a chic, modern cafe with the best brunch food in town, then Vudu Cafe and Larder on Rees Street in the town centre is a must. With gluten free and vegan options available and food made with fresh, seasonal, and local produce, their menu is mouth-wateringly good - and their coffee is on-par with Wellington. Oh, and their sister cafe, Bespoke Kitchen by the Skyline Gondola is just as good. Need we say more?
A trip to Queenstown wouldn’t be possible without trying one of the famous Fergburgers. Located on the main drag, this global success story has been operating since 2001, with celebrities such as Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber, and Orlando Bloom amongst the throngs of tourists that happily join the daily hour-long lines for one of these fresh, locally-sourced phenomenons. These days, the wait isn’t nearly as long, but don’t expect to be in and out in a jiffy. If you’re short on time, why not try a delicious pie or danish from their sister shop Fergbaker, or a creamy gelato from Mrs Ferg Gelateria. Wherever you eat, you won’t be disappointed!
If you’re after some Asian flavours, Tham Nak Thai offers extremely affordable prices and has hands down one of the best Pad Thai’s in New Zealand.
Madam Woo offers yummy middle-range Malaysian Fusion, and Hawker & Roll offers Malaysian street food at a cheap price.
If you’re after a Kiwi Classic while sitting on the lakefront, Erik’s Fish and Chips is a delicious food truck tucked away on Earl Street, using locally sourced ingredients with a flare - and their entire menu is gluten free!
If you’d prefer more of a fine dining experience, then Botswana Butchery offers a luxurious dining experience with private suites and impeccable wine and food knowledge. It books up quickly though, so make sure you reserve a table in advance.
Blue Kanu is another upmarket restaurant that is a must-try during your stay in Queenstown. A mix of Pacific and Asian style, they have taken the best of two cultures and flavours to create ‘Polynasia’ - an exotic experience that you won’t find anywhere else.
As you can see, Queenstown has something for everyone: the single traveller on a budget, the couple on their honeymoon, a whole family, a girls weekend getaway, or a retired adventurer. Whatever stage of life you’re at, Queenstown has something for you. Take this Queenstown Travel Guide with you and see for yourself! You won’t regret it.