Queenstown Itinerary – a guide to the South Island’s adventure town

The number one adventure spot in New Zealand, potentially the world, Queenstown has to be on everyone’s list when visiting the South Island of New Zealand. Alongside all the adrenaline-fuelled activities, actually lies a peaceful, beautiful town on the edge of Lake Wakatipu that is just waiting to be explored. So you’ve got a few days to see the town, and luckily we’ve planned out the perfect way to fill these, with our Queenstown itinerary!

Why go to Queenstown?

Now, just in case you need a little more persuasion as to why Queenstown has to be high up on your plans for a trip to New Zealand, here are a few reasons this is a must-stop place.

  • In a country known for its outdoor activities, Queenstown is the jewel in the crown. So whether you’re keen to check out the ski scene, or get wet and wild white water rafting or jet boating down the Shotover River there are activities for everyone. And let’s be honest you have to do a Bungy Jump in your life. And Queenstown, or more specifically Kawarau Bridge is home to the first ever commercial Bungy Jump, created by the founder of the sport.
  • The scenery in and around Queenstown is some of the most stunning in the world. Whitecapped mountains, thick green forests and the glistening lake make this an amazing place to explore, and particular hike if you’re that way inclined.
  • It’s a great base in the South Island, as you can do heaps of day trips to nearby Glenorchy, Lake Hayes, The Remarkables and Paradise. Or further afield like Mount Cook, Lake Wanaka, Milford Sound and Lake Pukaki.

How much time should I spend in Queenstown?

We’ve put together a two day Queenstown itinerary but as there is so much to do, you could honestly spend 4 or 5 days there. In case you do have time to extend, you’ll find we’ve listed heaps of other activities to add to your roster, plus our recommendations for other places to visit on the spectacular South Island.

Our suggested Queenstown Itinerary

  • Day 1 | Skyline Gondola, Bob’s Peak Walk, Queenstown Luge, Jet Boating & Dinner at Fergburger
  • Day 2 | Bungy Jumping, Explore Arrowtown & Sunset Cruise

How to get to Queenstown

By air

If you’re not doing a South Island road trip, then you’re probably aiming to get into Queenstown via plane, which is actually very convenient!

The airport, which is just 15 minutes from the city centre, has daily domestic flights to places like Christchurch as well as Auckland and Wellington on the North Island. It also sees quite a bit of air traffic from Australia, with direct flights from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

Check out the latest options on Skyscanner.

By Bus

The best provider in New Zealand is probably Intercity, which offers good coach trips between major cities. As an example, they have a daily bus from Christchurch which leaves at 8.30am and stops in Ashburton, Geraldine, Tekapo, Omarama, Cromwell and Frankton. The latest schedules and booking options are on their website.

Self-drive

Most people find themselves in Queenstown with a rental car or campervan. For rental cars, we are always quite happy with Thrifty, and have found we often get an upgrade with them. Check out their latest deals here.

For campervans, we suggest using a bigger operator like Britz, since they have a base in Queenstown.

In terms of getting into Queenstown, this could be done as part of your South Island itinerary. We arrived from Christchurch, as the drive between Queenstown and Christchurch is absolutely beautiful! That said, we broke up the journey by staying overnight in Lake Pukaki, which we highly recommend!

Day 1

Glide up the Skyline Gondola

You can’t help but notice it as you enter Queenstown – the cable car or gondola ‘bubbles’ lazily moving up the hill. And the Queenstown Skyline is undoubtedly a must-visit when you’re in the town. Actually the Skyline complex is more than just the gondola, but more on that later…

It’s literally a 5 minute walk from the town centre, after which you’ll be whisked up the side of the hill to find spectacular views before you: Coronet Peak, the towering mountains of The Remarkables and the glistening Lake Wakatipu. The gondolas each take up to four people and carry you about 450 metres up to the top of Bob’s Peak.

Gondola tickets (return journey) are 44 NZD (29.50 USD / 22.30 GBP) for adults and 26 NZD (17.25 USD / 13.20GBP) for children although there are a number of combo deals including family tickets, with the luge included or even dinner or lunch options.

Location: Brecon Street, Queenstown 9300

Open: 8.00am – 9.00pm daily

Photo courtesy of Skyline Luge

Take a walk on Bob’s Peak

While you’re up at the gondola, you have the option to do a bit of a walk (or two), if you’re keen on a bit of tramping. The most popular are the Loop Track and the Lower Ridge Track.

The Loop track is 30 minutes of easy walking which sees you pass the Luge to the reservoir, through the trees and back. The Lower Ridge track sees you follow the track through the trees to an amazing viewpoint with spectacular panoramic views. This one is a bit tougher since it’s a bit of uphill, but also only takes 25 minutes. Both are clearly marked.

Other hikes include the One Mile to Lakefront – 90 minutes of easy walking past the hydro dam; the Moonlight Track which is a more strenuous 6 hour route where you end up at Arthur’s Point; and the Ben Lomond Summit which takes about 5-6 hours but is the highest peak in the area so gives you the best views possible. The best overview of the hikes near the Skyline is available on their website.

Lean into the Luge

Now we mentioned it earlier, but you can buy a combo ticket for the skyline and the luge, and we highly recommend you do!

It’s about 800 metres of slightly hair-raising fun as you circumnavigate the custom-built luge track around many a twist and a turn. There are two tracks – Blue and Red which have different difficulties – as an example, kids need to be 6 years old and 110cm or taller to do the blue unaccompanied but 135cm tall for the red.

What’s great about the luge is that there is a chairlift that scoops you up and takes you back up the hill, for you to do it all over again!

Photo courtesy of Skyline Luge

Jump onto a thrilling jet boat

If you haven’t had enough heart pumping fun on the luge, our pick is to go jet boating on the Shotover River.

In case you didn’t read about it in our Hanmer Springs article, jetboating was actually invented in New Zealand! A local engineer from Canterbury, Bill Hamilton, developed the boat, which is a propelled by a jet of water out the back of the boat.

There is nothing to get your blood rushing like jetboating, trust us! Racing along the Shotover River at high speed whilst doing 360 degree turns and taking hairpin turns while holding on for dear life is something we want to relive over and over again!

There are quite a number of jet boat providers in Queenstown, which can make selecting one a little tricky. Our suggestion? Book the top-rated tour on Get Your Guide, which gives you a one hour jet boat ride operated by the world’s first commercial jet boat company.

Your experience would then include both the Shotover and Kawarau River, plus heated handrails to boot!

Dinner at Fergburger

So have you really been to Queenstown if you haven’t stood in a queue for a Fergburger? Apparently not. This local institution turns out absolutely enormous hamburgers which have been called ‘the best burgers in the world’.

To be honest, the jury is still out on that one. They’re good but are they the world’s best? We’re not so sure.

Either way, you have to try one. Our tip? Try to go early (6pm) rather than in peak dinner times, else you might find yourself with a wait for over an hour! Alternatively, they are open to 5am (yup, geared towards backpackers I’d say!), so you could always try a burger as a midnight snack…

Location: 42 Shotover Street, Queenstown 9300

Open: 8.00am – 5.00am daily

Photo courtesy of Othree / Flickr

Day 2

Bite down and go bungy jumping

Why not kickstart your day with another adrenaline-filled activity? Bungy (or bungee) jumping! Let’s be honest, if you’re going to do it, then you have to try it when in Queenstown, as it’s really the home of the sport.

AJ Hackett invented an elastic bungy cord in the mid 80’s, putting it to the test on the Upper Harbour Bridge in Auckland to make the first ever ‘bungy jump.’ His subsequent jumps in France (and his brief jail sentence for jumping off the Eiffel Tower), made bungy jumping pretty famous and prompted Hackett to start his own company: AJ Hackett. His first location? The Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge right here in Queenstown which became the world’s first commercial public bungy location.

It’s a 43m drop where you are able to even touch the water if you so wish. And, if you’re a little scared, there’s a tandem option too. At time of writing, the cost was 205 NZD (136 USD / 104 GBP) for adults and 155 NZD (104 USD / 78.50 GBP) for children. You could also opt for the zipline at the same location, which is a 130m line going at about 60 km an hour and is perfect for families.

AJ Hackett Bungy also has some other options in town, if you’re prefer. This includes Bungy Jumps at The Ledge (near the top of the Skyline where you can ‘freestyle’ jump) or, if you’re really a thrill seeker, the tallest Bungy in New Zealand: the Nevis. This one is an 8.5 second freefall down 134m. Both of these locations also offer bridge swings if you prefer.

Location: State Highway 6, Gibbston Valley, Queenstown 9384

Open: 9.00am – 5.00pm daily

Explore Arrowtown

Now that your pulse has slowed, it’s worth getting a bit further out of town, to one of our favourite locations on the South Island: Arrowtown.

It’s a 20 minute drive (there is also a bus if you prefer), out of town but you’ll find yourself in the middle of one of the original ‘gold rush’ towns of New Zealand.

Gold was struck in the Arrow River back in 1862, prompting a thousand or so miners to flock to Arrowtown and found the town. It hasn’t lost much of this 1800’s charm as you’ll find quaint little buildings flanking the main road; it’s worth just spending time walking down it and popping into the little boutiques as you go.

That said, if you have time to spare, we’d recommend you head over to the Arrowtown Museum and hire yourself a gold pan! For just 3 NZD (2 USD / 1.50 GBP) you get a gold pan, a shovel and instructions before you head down to the bubbling river below and try your hand at finding gold.

It’s a great activity for kids (or, in our case, gold-obsessed husbands!) and can take as little as 30 minutes or as much as 3 hours. We unfortunately didn’t find any gold but you could always just buy yourself a small vial of it in the nearby gold gift shops.

If you head to Arrowtown, you must also do your taste buds a favour and indulge in a pie from the Arrowtown Bakery. There’s a short queue outside this bakery for a reason: think flaky, deliciously baked pastry and perfectly saucy fillings. I’m still dreaming of the chicken pie I had there, which was a very affordable 6.50 NZD (4.30 USD / 3.30 GBP).

If you’ve got more time we’d sugest also checking out our suggestions for wineries in the Gibbston Valley later in this article. It’s in the same area so great to combine these activities.

Sail into the sunset

To end your second day, it’s worth getting out onto that beautifully blue, glassy lake of Lake Wakatipu.

Try to time your cruise for sunset, to get 90 minutes of breathtaking views: the reflections of the lake, the towering green trees and the white-capped peaks punctuated by orange and pink-streaked skies. It’s almost poetry.

We’d recommend the steamer liner, the TSS Earnslaw, which also transports you back in time as you hear about the oldest working coal-fired passenger ship in the southern hemisphere! You can book it on Get your Guide here.

Bonus activities to add to your Queenstown itinerary

Now you might not think that two days in Queenstown is enough, and who could blame you? If you have more time to commit, here are a few other items you could add to your list or even swap out of our Queenstown itinerary above.

And as there is so much to do here, we haven’t even covered everything: you could check out Lake Moke, go canyoning, try your hand at Frisbee Golf or tackle one of the many other walking or mountain biking trails in the town. Queenstown is just packed with great things to do.

Look at the mirrored Lake Hayes

Tired of all those heart-thumping activities? Get some down time by taking a 15 minute drive to the gorgeous Lake Hayes. This one is known as the ‘Lake of Mirrors’ as its perfect glassy surface throws back reflections of the Wakatipu Basin. The ideal place to sit and relax…

Pack a picnic and bag yourself a table and chairs, and just take in the scenery. That said, if you’re keen hikers like us, you’ll want to tackle the Lake Hayes Trail, an 8km loop where you’ll see the best of that amazing countryside. If you’re a mountain biker this is also a great trail to attempt.

Get out to Glenorchy

About an hour from Queenstown is the gorgeous hamlet of Glenorchy, made slightly ‘Instagram’ famous for its boat shed. But there is more to Glenorchy than just a snap of its Instaworthy shed.

The drive out to Glenorchy is a key part of the appeal as you will want to pull over every 10-15 minutes to see the amazing scenery as you take in the Humboldt and Richardson mountain ranges.

What to do there? Try one of the day walks like the Routeburn Track or even just a short loop around the Glenorchy Lagoon. The nearby Glenorchy hotel also does a lovely high tea.

If you have time, head a bit further north out of Glenorchy to the aptly-named town of Paradise. This is the place that Peter Jackson used in ‘The Two Towers’ for Boromir’s death.

Go wine tasting in the Valley of the Vines

A stone’s throw from Arrowtown and 30 minutes from Queenstown is the ‘Valley of the Vines’, the Gibbston Valley. Like it’s other South Island counterpart, Marlborough, this area has some incredible vineyards, many of which have won international awards for their vintages.

If you’re a fan of Pinot Noir you’re in luck – the cool climate means that they produce some amazing Pinot Noirs. That said, white wine drinkers will also be spoiled for choice.

Our suggestions for tastings? Definitely Gibbston Valley winery, which also offers a cheese pairing (yes, we’re already in love), and then Brennan Wines and Peregrine, if you are keen on Pinot Noir.

Skiing on the nearby slopes

If you’re heading to Queenstown in winter, you can add another outdoor activity to your hitlist: skiing (or snowboarding!). Within easy reach of the town centre are a few great ski areas: The Remarkables, Coronet Peak and Cardrona.

The Remarkables live up to the name, as these are absolutely beautiful peaks which make for an incredible vista. Apparently they are so named since they are one of only two mountain ranges in the world which run north to south.

Situated 40 minutes drive from Queenstown, this 265 hectare ski area is great for beginners but also has a few black runs that will get your pulse racing!

Even closer to Queenstown (about 25 minutes) is Coronet Peak, the country’s first commercial ski field. A similar size to The Remarkables, but Coronet also offers you night skiing (until 9pm). If you’re about in summer, the area also has some fantastic mountain biking trails.

Last, but definitely not least, is Cardrona or ‘Cardies’ as the locals like to call it. It’s a bit further – about 75 minutes – but is the largest in the area with over 345 hectares of fluffy powder. There is a terrain park, runs for every type of skier (from beginner to expert) and its far less crowded because of its location.

Navigate the river on a white-water raft

That famous Shotover River is not just great for jet boating and bungy jumping, but for rafting too. The river has Grade 3 to 5 rapids which means it’s a pretty exhilarating, thrilling experience.

We’d advise you book this as a tour experience, in that you’ll be able to start with a 4 x4 drive in the beautiful Skippers Canyon, getting to see the raging river from above before you head into it. The white-water rafting then starts in the relaxed Deep Creek before you hit those more aggressive rapids, and go ‘dark’ in the Oxenbridge Tunnel, where you’ll paddle for 170 metres in almost complete darkness.

If you’re a water baby and love a bit of a rush, this one should definitely be added to your Queenstown itinerary.

Book your white-water rafting experience here.

Go sky diving

Last but definitely not least, why not get a birds-eye view of Queenstown with a tandem sky dive? Now, we didn’t do this one in Queenstown since the weather didn’t play ball, but we would have loved to see the town from the air. Well, 9,000 feet in the air that is.

Jump out of a plane and freefall for 25 seconds at over 200 kilometres an hour, as you see Lake Wakatipu laid out before you. You’ll be paired with a top-notch instructor so if you’ve never done a sky dive before, you are in very safe hands.

Book a sky dive with leading operator, Go Orange, here.

Day trips or other attractions near Queenstown

Haven’t bored you yet? In easy range of Queenstown are even more spectacular places to see, some of the most beautiful gems of the entire South Island. Here are a few of our favourites, done as a day trip or even as part of your South Island itinerary.

Milford Sound

Queenstown is a great jumping-off point for Milford Sound and you’ll find lots of operators offering tours including boat or helicopter outings.

It’s really one of the most iconic and renowned places in New Zealand, and most people would consider it a must-visit place on a South Island jaunt. Down the Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound is about a 4 hour drive, so not the easiest to do as a day trip.

That said the sound (well, actually, it’s a fiord since it was created by a glacier not a river), is absolutely incredibly beautiful. Check out options for boat trips here.

Christchurch itinerary - Milford Sound

Lake Wanaka

If you’re travelling out of Queenstown towards Arrowtown, you might as well continue on to the exquisite Lake Wanaka. Looking out at Mount Aspiring National Park, you almost can’t believe the colour of the water at Lake Wanaka; it’s something to behold!

By the way, if you’re looking to stay overnight in Wanaka, we have a suggestion for you. Instead, try to head north towards Lake Hawea and the West Coast. Here you have very secluded places to camp where you’ll only run in to a few other travellers and wake up to some epic sunrise views. We used the Department of Conservation facilities of Kidds Bush Reserve.

Mount Cook National Park

Four hours from Queenstown is the highest mountain in all of New Zealand, Mount Cook. Mount Cook is set in the Mount Cook / Aoraki National Park and is one of the most spectacular places we’ve ever seen, and so accessible!

We’d recommend that you try one of the many walks in the National Park and if you’re doing the trip as a day trip, we’d recommend the 30 minute return, Tasman Glacier View Track (that’s the link to our complete guide on it, by the way).

Alternatively, stay over near Mount Cook and try the Hooker Valley Track. It’s a 3 hour return journey, but is relatively flat and easy, and well worth it for the views!

Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo

About three hours from Queenstown are the two Colgate-coloured lakes of Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki. Tekapo is the more famous one, and you’ll probably find many a tourist there trying to take a photograph of the Church of the Good Shepherd.

We preferred Lake Pukaki which has a gorgeous blue lake, soaring mountains and some amazing freedom camping. You literally drive up Hayman Road and find yourself a deserted camping spot for the night if you’re in a tent or campervan.

Camping at Lake Pukaki drone

Where to stay in Queenstown

There are a number of good Queenstown hotels, apartments and camping options available. Here is our pick of the best Queenstown accommodation:

Budget: Probably the best Queenstown backpackers is the YHA Queenstown Lakeside. You know what you are in for with YHA – a strong national brand, good activities and clean dorms. The Queenstown branch also has epic views and even a drying room for ski equipment in winter.

Mid-range: There are a number of great holiday apartments and our pick is an Agoda Home, the Closeburn Lake. This is a huge mansion which has been made into rooms and apartments, and has beautiful views.

Luxury: We like to stick to well-known brands and, in this case, the Novotel Queenstown comes out tops. It’s well-located, well-appointed and even has spa pools!

Campervan / Holiday Park: We were recommended by our campervan company to stay at Creeksyde, and we were really happy with it. The holiday park is on the outskirts of town meaning you are out of the bustle, but a very easy walk into the city centre. It’s also right at the foot of the Skyline Gondola, which is very convenient. A well-run operation with great staff, good facilities and good powered sites, it gets our vote.

When is the best time to go to Queenstown?

Generally summer, between December and February, is the best weather in Queenstown since you’ll be able to maximise all those amazing outdoor activities.

If you’re keen on snow sports, the winter of June to August is ideal although you could try the shoulder season in September, which sees less tourists and still probable ski or snowboard conditions.

Lastly, don’t want to brave the crowds? Spring (September to November) can be slightly chilly but still warm enough, and much quieter than the peak summer season.

By the way, if you’re heading to Christchurch, trust us, the drive from Queenstown to Christchurch is epic – one of the best road trips that we’ve ever done. And for when you get to Christchurch, check out our Christchurch itinerary for everything to do in New Zealand’s oldest city.

So that’s our Queenstown itinerary; definitely a favourite New Zealand travel guide! Let us know in the comments below or get in contact with us here if you think we’re missing anything!

What camera equipment and other gear do we use?

We’re living proof that you don’t need the most expensive gear to travel the world and take good photos. Here are some of our must have items that make it into the packing list for all our travels.


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