Queenstown, New Zealand – The Ultimate Guide

A bustling resort town surrounded by natural beauty, Queenstown is probably best known as the action sports capital of the world.

But it’s not just thrill seekers that flock to Queenstown. With a thriving restaurant and art scene, there are so many reasons to visit this South Island destination.

Originally a gold-mining town founded in the 1800s. Today, Queenstown is a popular tourist destination, attracting visitors from all over the world who come to enjoy activities such as skiing, snowboarding, bungee jumping, skydiving, hiking, and mountain biking.

Now, before I get into all the details about Queenstown if you haven’t already seen it, I’ve also put together a fairly comprehensive guide of all the things you should know before you visit New Zealand with a lot of general information that covers phone/internet, money, getting around the whole country etc… that you might also find helpful.

Did you know that Queenstown is not a city? It’s actually A relatively large township by New Zealand’s standards but a town nonetheless. It’s only got a standing population of less the 16,000 people, but that swells dramatically with the roughly 22,000 international visitors arriving through its airport each month.

Where is Queenstown

Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown is located on the South Island of New Zealand, in the Otago region. It is situated on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and is surrounded by the Southern Alps.

The town is approximately 160 kilometres (100 miles) southwest of Dunedin, the largest city in the region, and about 480 kilometres (300 miles) southwest of Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island.

A Brief History Of Queenstown

Queenstown’s modern history begins in the mid-1800s, during the New Zealand gold rush. The town was founded in 1860 by European explorers William Rees and Nicholas von Tunzelmann, who were the first to settle in the region when they established farming and grazing property on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.

Just two years later, in 1862, gold was discovered in the nearby Arrow River, and Queenstown quickly became a hub for gold-mining activity. The town named after Queen Victoria grew rapidly, attracting miners, merchants, and entrepreneurs from all over the world.

By the late 1800s, however, the gold rush had begun to wane, and Queenstown’s economy shifted to farming, sheep shearing, and tourism. The town’s stunning natural beauty and mountain scenery made it a popular destination for tourists, and in the early 1900s, the first hotels and guesthouses were built to accommodate them.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Queenstown began to emerge as a centre for winter sports with the establishment of ski resorts and other recreational facilities. This further boosted the town’s tourism industry, and today, Queenstown is one of the most popular destinations in New Zealand, attracting millions of visitors each year.

Prior to European settlement, the area was known as Tahuna in Maori, meaning “shallow bay,” and was an important site for fishing and gathering of food, home to the Ngai Tahu tribe.

Today, the Ngai Tahu tribe is one of the largest Maori tribes in New Zealand and still has a strong presence in the Queenstown area. The tribe’s cultural traditions and history are celebrated and preserved through various cultural centres and events in the region.

What’s The Best Time Of Year To Visit Queenstown

What's The Best Time Of Year To Visit Queenstown?

You’ll find that Queenstown is a year-round destination, and the best time to visit largely depends on your interests.

If you are chasing the snow, then Winter is the best time to visit Queenstown for some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the Southern Hemisphere.

The town transforms into a winter wonderland, with ski resorts such as Coronet Peak and The Remarkables offering world-class skiing and snowboarding. However, it does get very cold, and accommodation and activities can be expensive.

That said, Summer is also the peak tourist season in Queenstown. Warm temperatures and long daylight hours make the region ideal for a range of outdoor activities, such as hiking, mountain biking, and water sports.

While Autumn and Spring in Queenstown offer mild temperatures, stunning fall foliage, and fewer crowds.

How To Get To And From Queenstown

How To Get To And From Queenstown

By Air – Queenstown Airport

Queenstown Airport is the main point of entry for visitors arriving into Queenstown. The airport is well connected domestically with direct flights from major New Zealand cities, Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.

Air New Zealand (the country’s national carrier) and all of Australia’s major airlines also operate direct services to and from Australia’s major cities, including Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Pro Tip: The flight into Queenstown is absolutely stunning. The view coming in over the mountains is nothing short of stunning. So, while I don’t usually recommend window seats on longer flights, flying into Queenstown, I would definitely make an exception.

If you are flying into New Zealand for the first time, or even just the first time in a while, I would also recommend checking out this post filled with handy tips and advice. Particularly what it’s like going through customs and immigration on arrival into the country.

As for getting to and from the airport, it is conveniently located just a 15-minute drive from Queenstown’s town centre, despite being located in the neighbouring suburb of Frankton.

The cheapest way to get into town is to take advantage of the regular public bus services. There are also a number of shuttle providers that are a little more convenient if you have big luggage, which you can find out more about here.

Taxi and Uber also service the airport and will cost you about $25-$30NZD, depending on where you are staying in Queenstown.

That said, I highly recommend renting a car when you travel around New Zealand, especially Queenstown.

There is so much to see and do that having your own transport just gives you a lot more flexibility to fit things into your own schedule.

All the big rental car companies are present at Queenstown Airport, which is incredibly convenient (I recommend Thrifty or Avis). And they can also supply snow chains if you are planning on driving to the snowfields. That said, renting a car in New Zealand can be expensive.

You might find that you can save yourself a decent amount of money by using rental car companies like Go Rental and Rent-A-Dent, both of which I’ve used in the past. They use slightly older cars (usually only a couple of years old), but it is a good way to have your own transport without breaking the bank. These cheaper rental car services aren’t based at airports, though, so it’s a little less convenient, but they do offer to do a pickup service.

By Coach

If you stop in Queenstown is part of a much larger trip exploring the South Island of New Zealand, there is a coach service that connect the popular tourist destination with its neighbouring cities.

InterCity operates daily coaches that interlink Queenstown to Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill.

By Road

If you are planning on driving to Queenstown, the township is located on the New Zealand State Highway Route 6. The roads around Queenstown offer some of the most amazing views you can experience.

That said, if you are planning on driving, you will need to give yourself more time than you might expect. The roads through the mountains don’t offer a lot of overtaking opportunities, so you there it is highly likely to be caught up for long periods behind slower-moving trucks that also need to use the roads to supply Queenstown.

How To Get Around Queenstown

How To Get Around Queenstown

Queenstown, within the township itself, is a relatively navigate on foot. Around Lake Wakatipu, it is relatively flat, making it easy to walk around.

Once you start heading to the outskirts of the township, particularly up to the Skyline Gondola or Queenstown Hill, it does get quite steep. But the walk is always rewarded with a good view.

Public Transport

There is a limited public bus service that operates within Queenstown and connects the surrounding area. That said, it doesn’t link up with many of the key tourist attractions you might want to visit.

Given the number of tourists that visit Queenstown each year, many of those attractions offer their own shuttle bus service into town. Even the snow resorts run shuttle bus services. However, many of these need to be booked well in advance to ensure you get a seat.

Driving

With that in mind, having your own transport will give you plenty more options during your stay in Queenstown.

That said, there are a few things you need to know about driving around Queenstown. The streets within the centre of Queenstown are often very busy (in fact, at the time of writing this – September 2023 – many roads are still closed for work on the essential underground services).

Also, parking is very expensive and hard to find. I would strongly recommend making sure that your accommodation includes free parking as well, and you won’t have any problems.

In the winter, driving in snowy and icy conditions can also be tricky if you’ve never experienced them before, and you will need to keep an eye out for road closures, particularly if you plan to drive through the mountains.

Other than that, the road network around Queenstown is well-maintained and easy to navigate.

Where To Stay In Queenstown

The Best Things To Do In Queenstown

As you will have worked out by this point, Queenstown is most definitely a tourist town. As such, there is an abundance of accommodation options; it’s just a matter of finding somewhere to stay within your budget.

Because of its high influx of tourists during both the Summer (December-February) and Winter (June-August), it can be very expensive to stay in Queenstown. However, if you’re not particularly fussed about going to the snow resorts and are willing to be a little flexible, there are some amazing deals to be found from September to November and March to May.

In terms of styles of accommodations, everything is catered for in Queenstown. There is a huge range choices when it comes to Hostels and Luxury Hotels. The only thing I’ve found with Queenstown is that the middle-of-the-range style accommodation can be a little bit hit-and-miss.

That said, I’ll run you through some of my recommendations from my trips to Queenstown.

Starting with the luxury end of town, the most deluxe option the town has to offer is Eichardt’s Private Hotel looking right over Lake Wakatipu. It’s easily the top tier of accommodation.

Not quite as elite as Eichardt’s, QT Queenstown and The Spire Hotel are also very good five-star boutique-style hotel options right in the heart of the town. In comparison, Hotel St Moritz Queenstown is also very, very nice, just a short stroll down Lake Esplanade.

Now for those middle-of-the-range options. These are a little more scattered around Queenstown, but you can certainly walk into town from each of them. Just note the walk into town is always downhill, and the walk back is a little more strenuous.

  • Ramada Queenstown Central – Modern, luxurious, comfortable and most importantly, right next to the bus stops for the snow resorts.
  • The Lofts Apartments – Across the road from Lake Wakatipu, this is a very good option if you are looking for self-contained apartments.
  • Lomond Lodge Motel & Apartments – The most central of these options, these are just a short walk to both the town and the Queenstown Gondola.
  • Autoline Queenstown Motel – Another very good self-contained accommodation with stunning views of the Remarkables.

If you are travelling on a really tight budget, there are also many hostel-style options across Queenstown. Jucy Snooze is unique in that it offers both private rooms and pod-style beds. At the same time, Nomads is quite a popular hostel right in the centre of town.

You can also save some money by staying just outside of Queenstown in the town of Frankton (where Queenstown Airport is located), but I’ve not stayed there and don’t have any recommendations.

The Best Things To Do In Queenstown

There is so much to see and do in Queenstown, that I’ve picked out my best suggestions for the attractions you can’t miss in this blog post.

Where To Find Food/What To Do In The Evenings?

What Is It Like Arriving At The Queenstown International Airport

I’m just going to address this first, but you may or may not be aware that Fergburger is a Queenstown staple. Once you get there, you’ll see the crowds of people at all hours and realise what I mean.

Now this might be a controversial opinion, but while Fergburger is very good (I can’t dispute that), there are a couple of other equally as good burger places in Queenstown (Devil Burger in particular) which don’t have anywhere near the same wait times. That said, if you happen to be going past Fergburger and the wait times are reasonable, grab yourself a Ferg Deluxe with a side of fries with the aioli.

With that out of the way… Look, you’ll understand the importance when you arrive. Queenstown does cater really well to the tourist market with both food and evening entertainment.

Down by the waterfront, along Beach and Rees Streets, is popular with a really good selection of cafes, bars and restaurants.

The mall (aptly named Mall Street on the map), Church Street and Camp Street also offer a good variety of tastes and atmospheres, from simple take-out places to bars and sit-down restaurants, all of which are often a bit cheaper than down by the Lake. While if you are looking for boutique-style bars etc, head to Searle Lane.

But to be honest, everything worthwhile is within a couple of blocks; just wander around until you find something that grabs your interest.

Queenstown, New Zealand

If you’d like to get more information to help plan your trip to and around New Zealand… Check out the rest of my blog posts.

Also, make sure you check out the travel tools I use most to help you save money when booking your next trip.

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About the author

Rhys Vandersyde

Traveller, Photographer, Content Creator - I've spent the last 20 years actively seeking out new destinations and new adventures. Find out more about me here: vandersyde.com.au

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