Queenstown is a small, picturesque town surrounded by The Remarkables mountain range. Home to some under 20,000 people, Queenstown overlooks Lake Wakatipu and is filled with narrow pedestrian streets, wonderful food, and a crazy nightlife scene.
It’s also the “adventure capital” of New Zealand and the launching pad for every sort of adventure or adrenaline activity you can think of (as well as copious wine tours). Hugely popular, it tends to be a bit pricier than other destinations in the country.
However, as popular as it is, it’s still one of the best places in the country. I love sitting by the lake, watching the sunset with a bottle of wine, hiking the nearby trails, and heading into the mountains or out onto the lake. There are a ton of travelers here and it’s always easy to meet people too.
The crowds may have gotten bigger in recent years but the city remains the best base for exploring the Otago region.
This Queenstown travel guide will help you plan your trip, save money, and make the most of your time here!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Queenstown
1. Do the Nevis Jump
This famous 134-meter (440-foot) jump is one of the highest swings in the world (you’ll free fall for 8.5 seconds!). It’s one of the most popular adrenaline activities in the country and a must for any adrenaline junkie. If you’re ready to take the leap, it costs 275 NZD. You can either do it solo or tandem. Here’s what it looks like. Other activities at the site include the Nevis Catapult (the world’s biggest human catapult) or a more “typical” bungee jump. Buses to the site leave from downtown Queenstown.
2. Go ziplining
Ziplining courses in Queenstown are constantly expanding and changing routes so there’s always something new to try. For example, you can zip down the mountain near the city’s gondola, whizzing through the forest as you look down over the city and Lake Wakatipu. Prices start at 99 NZD.
3. Hit the slopes
Queenstown is located right in the heart of the Southern Alps, making it an ideal spot for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding. The Remarkables has family-friendly slopes while Treble Cone offers uncrowded slopes and pristine vistas. A single-day ski pass costs around 140 NZD. You can also get packages that include a lift pass, lesson, and gear rental starting at 289 NZD.
4. Explore the vineyards
The Otago area is known for its white wines. If you plan to take an organized tour to visit the vineyards, expect to pay around 95 NZD for a half-day tour and 150-200 NZD for a full-day tour. A self-organized tour is cheaper though, and you can bike to a lot of the wineries on the 11-kilometer (6.8-mile) Gibbston River Trail just outside of Queenstown. My favorite wineries in the area include Waitiri Creek, Kinross, and Wet Jacket.
5. Enjoy the waters of Lake Wakatipu
Lake Wakatipu surrounds the town, offering sailing, boating, swimming, and other water activities. One thing to note is that the lake is very, very cold. Even in summer, it’s what I would consider “refreshing.” You can take a sightseeing boat tour out of Queenstown with the ironically named Million Dollar Cruise for as low as 49 NZD for a 90-minute cruise. And for 40 NZD you can hop on board The Luanda Experience, a 70’s-themed party boat! Expect to pay around 25 NZD for a kayak or stand up paddleboard (SUP) rental.
Other Things to See and Do in Queenstown
1. Go biking
Exploring Queenstown by bike is an excellent way to get to the more remote areas around town. There’s the gondola-accessed downhill Queenstown Bike Park or the 75-mile Queenstown Trail that takes you through Lake Wakatipu, Lake Hayes, and Gibbston. Full-day mountain bike rentals start around 69 NZD while e-bike rentals are 129 NZD.
2. Take a helicopter flight
Queenstown is set against a backdrop of The Remarkables mountain range. A scenic flight takes you over secluded alpine lakes, lush forests, and rugged mountain peaks. You can fly over the high points of Coronet Peak, Kawarau Gorge, Shotover River, and Skippers Canyon. For a 25-minute ride, you’ll pay around 215 NZD. It’s not cheap, but the views are epic!
3. Visit the Kiwi Birdlife Park
Located near the Skyline Queenstown, this park is home to more than 10,000 native flora and fauna, various birds, and, most importantly, thousands of kiwis (flightless birds endemic to New Zealand). Beyond a pleasant walk around the sanctuary, there is a cultural show put on by the local Maori. There’s also a Honey Bee Center, with both an outdoor and indoor viewing hive. Admission is 49 NZD for adults.
4. Go off-roading
Queenstown is surrounded by a rugged terrain that’s perfect for off-roading adventures. Tours take you through Skippers Canyon, where you’ll encounter some amazing cliffside views and do some river crossings. Expect to pay around 200-300 NZD for a tour depending on if you go by dirtbike, ATV, buggy, or 4WD jeep.
5. Go skydiving
Queenstown is one of the best places in the world to skydive. You’ll jump out of a plane at 15,000 feet and free fall towards the earth at 200 kilometers (124 miles) an hour for some 60 seconds, all while enjoying the stunning views over the mountains and lake. A dive from 2,700 meters (9,000 feet) costs about 299 NZD, while dives from 4,500 meters (15,000 feet) cost around 479 NZD.
6. Relax on the beach
Cool down in summer by taking a dip at one of the many beaches along Lake Wakatipu. Queenstown Bay, which looks out towards Cecil and Walter Peaks, is the main beach. Since it’s right in town, it’s always packed so arrive early to beat the crowds. You can also visit Sunshine Bay, a small beach west of the city. It’s quieter than Queenstown Bay and offers stunning views of Cecil Peak. There’s also Kelvin Heights beach, located 20-30 minutes from central Queenstown which offers incredible views of The Remarkables.
7. Day trip to Wanaka
Located an hour away, Wanaka is a resort town surrounded by wineries. There’s great hiking here, too (Rob Roy Glacier and Diamond Lake are two trails to check out). It’s the gateway to the Southern Alps’ Mount Aspiring National Park, with some incredible mountains, alpine lakes, and glaciers. While I would spend a couple of days here, if you are short on time, this small town is still an easy day trip to do!
8. Explore Milford Sound
Milford Sound is probably the most popular fjord in New Zealand (maybe even in the world). Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Fiordland National Park, it’s known for towering Mitre Peak, lush rainforests, stunning waterfalls, seal colonies, penguins and dolphins, and rare black coral. It’s a long day from Queenstown with buses leaving at 6am and getting back around 7pm.
While I think it is far better to go from Te Anau (which is much closer), if you are short on time, there are plenty of trips from Queenstown. If you don’t have time but have more money, you can take a scenic flight over the area instead. Prices start from 199 NZD and go up from there, depending on how long you want to fly and whether you also want to land and take a cruise. If you’d rather take the bus for a day trip, you can find tours with companies like awesomeNZ and InterCity starting around 179 NZD.
9. Enjoy a jet boat ride
Jetboat rides are quite popular in New Zealand, but the one on the Shotover Canyon is one of the most iconic. For 25 minutes, you cruise along the river surrounded by canyon cliffs and admire the unique scenery around you. The boat hits an exhilarating 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour, making it a nice mix of scenic beauty and adrenaline-pumping adventure. It’s suitable for families and children too. Expect to pay around 139 NZD per person.
10. Hop on the Skyline Gondola
Just five minutes from town, the Skyline Gondola takes you up the mountain for some stunning views of the area. It’s the steepest gondola in the Southern hemisphere and stretches over 450 meters (1,476 feet). Beyond the amazing view, there is also plenty of hiking and biking to be done at the summit as well as a luge track that you can try. You’ll also find a restaurant with a panoramic view of Queenstown. Round-trip tickets for the gondola are 46 NZD for adults, with discounted combo tickets available that include luge rides and/or a meal at the restaurant.
11. Hike Ben Lomond
Looking for a view from the highest point of Queenstown? Hike Ben Lomond! It’s a steep and challenging hike for experienced hikers only. It starts at the top of the Skyline Gondola and it takes 5-8 hours to complete. The hike allows you to enjoy breathtaking views of both the Remarkables and Coronet Peak. Once you reach the top of Ben Lomond, you’ll have a 360-degree panoramic view of the region. Be sure to check the weather before you go. Also, avoid climbing in the winter!
12. Climb Queenstown Hill
This hike is a lot easier than Ben Lomond and only takes about one hour from the city center to reach the top. If you don’t feel brave enough (or don’t have the time) to hike Ben Lomond, climbing Queenstown Hill is just as interesting, especially if you climb the hill for sunrise. It’s safe to do in the winter too.
13. Drive to Moke Lake
Located 30-minutes from Queenstown, this lake sees very few international tourists. It’s a tranquil place surrounded by mountains in the middle of nowhere. You can swim or fish and hike around the lake. There’s nothing else around, making it a good place to relax. You can camp here too, with basic plots starting at 15 NZD per person.
14. Drive to Glenorchy
Glenorchy is a town 48 kilometers (30 miles) away from Queenstown. The main point of interest is actually not Glenorchy itself but the drive to get there. The road follows Lake Wakatipu and you can stop on your way there to admire the lake with the mountains in the background. Many locals say it’s one of the most scenic drives of New Zealand. The area was also the main filming location for the Lord of the Rings movies due to the epic landscapes and mystical forests here. Once you get to Glenorchy, take some time to walk to the Glenorchy Walkway Scenic Point to take in the view.
15. Enjoy Lake Hayes
Lake Hayes is located 15 minutes away from Queenstown by car and is another good place to disconnect and relax. The lake attracts runners, cyclists, walkers but also families looking to BBQ. It’s possible to swim, kayak, and fish here as well. You’ll see many tables and chairs if you want to picnic, there’s also an 8-kilometer (5-mile) walking trail along the lake too.
For more information on other destinations in New Zealand, check out these guides:
Queenstown Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Hostel dorms cost 25-35 NZD per night in the off-season and 35-50 NZD in peak season, regardless of size. For a private room with a shared bathroom, expect to pay at least 90-110 NZD (private double rooms with an ensuite bathroom are 150 NZD). Free Wi-Fi is standard as are self-catering facilities. Most hostels don’t include breakfast.
For those traveling with a tent, basic plots (without electricity) can be found around Moke Lake for 15 NZD (which includes space for two people). For the larger holiday parks, expect to pay closer to 40 NZD per night for an unpowered site.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotel rooms begin at 150 NZD per night for a double bed, regardless of the time of year. Expect basic amenities like free Wi-Fi, TV, and coffee/tea makers. Some budget hotels include a basic breakfast as well.
Airbnb is also available with private rooms starting at 70-80 NZD. For an entire home or apartment, expect to spend at least 150-175 NZD. Prices double if you don’t book early.
Food – Food in New Zealand consists mostly of seafood, lamb, fish and chips, and specialties like Maori hangi (meat and vegetables cooked underground). Expect to indulge in things like roast lamb, muscles, scallops, oysters, and snapper.
Generally, food prices in Queenstown are a little more affordable than in other cities but, like all places in the country, eating out will kill your budget. A typical restaurant meal of traditional cuisine costs around 17-25 NZD. A burger is 14-20 NZD, while seafood dishes start at 25-30 NZD.
For a three-course meal with a drink, expect to pay at least 50 NZD. You can find sandwiches for around 10 NZD and fast food (think McDonald’s) for around 12 NZD. Chinese, Thai and Indian food is around 14-20 NZD for a filling meal, while a large pizza is around 15 NZD.
Expect to pay around 8-10 NZD for a beer and 11-13 NZD for a glass of wine. Cocktails are 14-18 NZD while a latte/cappuccino is 5 NZD.
My favorite places to eat out are Devil Burger (Fergburger is good but overrated), Left Bank Bistro, Yonder, Kappa, No. 5 Church Lane, World Bar, and 1876.
If you choose to buy your groceries and cook your own food, plan to spend about 65-85 NZD per week on basic staples like pasta, rice, veggies, and some fish or meat. PaknSave is typically the cheapest supermarket.
Backpacking Queenstown Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking, my suggested budget is 75 NZD per day. On this budget, you can stay in a hostel dorm room, use public transportation to get around, cook all your meals, limit your drinking, and do free activities like hiking. If you want to drink more, add an extra 10-15 NZD per day to your budget.
On a mid-range budget of 205 NZD per day, you can stay in a private hostel or Airbnb room, eat out for most of your meals, enjoy a few drinks, take the occasional taxi, and do some paid activities like bungee jumping or riding the gondola.
On a “luxury” budget of 425 NZD per day or more, you can stay in a hotel, eat out for all your meals, drink more, rent a car, and do some big-ticket activities like skydiving. This is just the ground floor for luxury though — the sky is the limit!
Queenstown Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Unless you plan on doing a lot of adventure tours in Queenstown, you can easily stick to a budget here. Here are some tips to help you save money in Queenstown:
- Walk everywhere – Being a small town, it doesn’t take long to walk places. Save your money and walk everywhere if you’re on a budget.
- Cook your own meals – Most of the restaurants in this city aren’t super cheap so you’ll want to cook your own meals if you’re on a tight budget. It’s not glamorous, but it’s cheap!
- Find deals with bookme.co.nz – You’ll often find last-minute deals on tours and activities by using this website. As long as you’re flexible on dates/times, you can save upwards of 30% off! Also try grabone.co.nz for more deals.
- Limit your drinking – Drinking in Queenstown is expensive, and who wants to enjoy some outdoor adventure while hungover anyway? If you must drink, pick up your booze from the supermarket.
- Stay with a local – Even though Queenstown is small, there are still a good number of Couchsurfing hosts here. Just be sure to send requests early if you’re visiting during the busier summer months. You’ll save money on accommodation and be able to get insider tips from a local.
- Get a temporary job – If you’re running low on money and still have plenty of time left in New Zealand, check Backpackerboard.co.nz for temporary paying gigs.
- Transport vehicles – Campervan and car relocation services will provide you with a free vehicle and gas as you drive it from one destination to another. This can be a great way to save a lot of money if you’re flexible with timing. Check Transfercar.co.nz to see what’s available.
- Hitchhike – If you’re heading out of town, hitchhiking is common and surprisingly easy on the main roads. It’s perfectly safe too! HitchWiki has helpful tips for hitchhiking in New Zealand.
- Bring a reusable water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink. Bring a reusable water bottle so you can save money and the environment. LifeStraw makes a reusable bottle that has a built-in filter so you can always be sure your water is clean and safe.
Where to Stay in Queenstown
Queenstown has a lot of hostels. If you’re still looking for a place to stay, here are my favorites:
For more suggestions, check out this list of the best hostels in Queenstown.
How to Get Around Queenstown
Public transportation – You can go anywhere around town on the Queenstown bus. A Bee Card (which you can buy in town, on the bus, or online and load with 5 NZD) makes fares just 2 NZD all around town. Without the card, fares are 3 NZD.
Bike rental – If you want to rent a bike, expect to pay around 39 NZD per day for a city bike. Mountain bikes are 69 NZD and e-bikes are 129 NZD for full-day rentals.
Taxis – Taking a taxi in Queenstown is not necessary since it’s a small town — they are also not cheap. Prices start at 3.25 NZD and go up by 3.40 NZD per kilometer. Avoid them if you can!
Ridesharing – Uber is available in Queenstown but it’s not much cheaper than the taxis. Again, since the town is small, I’d skip the rideshare services unless it’s an emergency.
Car rental – For a small car, expect to pay 35 NZD per day if you rent for at least a week. For short-term rentals, prices are closer to 50 NZD per day. Keep in mind that they drive on the left here. An International Driver’s Permit (IDP) is required for car rentals.
For the best car rental prices, use Discover Cars.
When to Go to Queenstown
Summer is the best time to visit Queenstown, from December to February (remember we’re in the southern hemisphere so the seasons are opposite). The weather is nice all summer, averaging 21°C (70°F). This is also the busiest time of the year so prices are a little higher. However, the town is buzzing with activities so as long as you book your stay in advance you’ll be fine.
Autumn and spring are tricky because the weather is unpredictable. One day is rainy, then snowy, then cloudy, then sunny again. With such varying weather, it can be hard to plan ahead. Unsurprisingly, this is when the prices are the lowest since few people go there during that time. Just make sure to bring rain gear!
If you’re into winter sports, head to Queenstown in wintertime (June-August). Expect temperatures ranging from -4°C to 12°C (25-55°F). That said, if you’re not planning to do any winter sports, I’d avoid visiting in the winter.
How to Stay Safe in Queenstown
Queenstown is a super safe city — even if you’re traveling solo and even as a solo female traveler. There is a relatively low crime rate here and New Zealand is one of the safest countries in the world so incidents are few and far between.
If you rent a car, don’t leave your belongings in your vehicle while out hiking or overnight. Break-ins are rare but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
As earthquakes and tsunamis do occur in New Zealand, consider downloading the Hazard App from the Red Cross. It has all kinds of advice and tips for natural disasters and will also send out warnings and notifications should a disaster occur.
Solo female travelers should generally feel safe here, however, the standard precautions apply (never leave your drink unattended at the bar, don’t walk home alone intoxicated at night, etc.).
If you’re worried about travel scams, you can read about common travel scams to avoid here. There aren’t many in New Zealand though.
If you do experience an emergency, dial 111 for assistance.
Always trust your gut instinct. Make copies of your important documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to friends or family so they’ll know where you are.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance, especially if you’re participating in any adventure activities. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Queenstown Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- bookme.co.nz – You’ll get some really good last minute deals and discounts on this website! Just select what area you’re traveling in, and see what activities are on sale.
- treatme.co.nz – The locals use this website to find discount hotels, restaurants, and tours. You can save up to 50% off things like catamaran sailing lessons or three-course dinners.
- SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
- LifeStraw – My go-to company for reusable water bottles with built-in filters so you can ensure your drinking water is always clean and safe.
- Unbound Merino – They make lightweight, durable, easy-to-clean travel clothing.
- Top Travel Credit Cards – Points are the best way to cut down travel expenses. Here’s my favorite point earning credit cards so you can get free travel!
Queenstown Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling New Zealand and continue planning your trip: