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.

Where To Stay 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 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.

What Is It Like Arriving At Queenstown International Airport

What Is It Like Arriving At The Queenstown International Airport

Did you know that Queenstown Airport is the fourth busiest in New Zealand?

That said, it’s still relatively small for an international airport, with less than ten gates. Unlike like a lot of other destinations, it won’t take you too long to get through immigration and customs, especially if you have a Smart Passport.

Just keep in mind New Zealand is quite strict with their custom processes, as they are understandably quite protective of their local flora and fauna.

For more of the latest up-to-date information about New Zealand’s Visa, Immigration and Customs, head on over to New Zealand’s official tourism website.

Pro Tip: The flight into Queenstown is absolutely stunning… Especially coming in over the mountains. I don’t usually recommend the window seat on long-haul flights, but flying into Queenstown, I would definitely make an exception.

How To Get To And From Queenstown Airport

Queenstown, New Zealand

I’ve mentioned it a few times, but 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). 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 two aren’t based at Queenstown Airport, but they do offer to do a pickup service, which helps.

Otherwise, there are a few other options to get yourself to and from the airport, which is actually located in the neighbouring suburb of Frankton, 10-15 minutes drive away, the regular public bus services being the cheapest.

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

There are also a number of shuttle providers, which you can find out more about here.

How To Get Around Queenstown

Again, coming back to the rental car point, obviously, that is going to be the easiest way for you to get around.

A lot of Queenstown’s key attractions are around the outskirts of the town and up in the mountains. Some of them do offer shuttle bus services, but certainly not all. Even just wandering up and down the hills around Queenstown can be strenuous, so having a car will be handy for several reasons.

That said, parking within Queenstown is quite limited and can be expensive, with very limited free parking.

Pro Tip: Just make sure your accommodation includes free parking as well, and you won’t have any problems.

Queenstown itself is actually quite an easy town to walk around, so once you’re there, it’s really only a couple of minutes’ walk to anywhere in town. Then if you’d like to go beyond that, there is a limited public bus service that operates.

The Best Things To Do In Queenstown

The Best Things To Do In Queenstown

There is absolutely no shortage of things to things to do in Queenstown. Adrenaline rushes, cultural experiences, art, nature… There is something for everything.

Let’s delve into the best things to do while in Queenstown.

Skyline Queenstown

If you are looking for a rapid-fire introduction to everything that Queenstown has to offer, then Skyline Queenstown should be your first stop.

Located on Bob’s Peak, Skyline Queenstown not only offers panoramic views over the township that are worth the trip gondola trip to the top for the photos alone but is also a destination in its own right.

The iconic Skyline Gondola is the quickest and easiest way to get to the top. And the views on the way up and down as simply amazing.

However, that’s not the only way to the top. If you are feeling a little more adventurous, you can hike the Tiki Trail (which is accessible from the base of the gondola) up to the Skyline complex at the top of Bob’s Peak.

My suggestion for most people would be to take the gondola, but if you want to test out your fitness ahead of some other big hikes around Queenstown, it’s a good option as well.

The trek will take you roughly about an hour, depending on your fitness level. Just don’t use up all of your energy to get up to the Skyline Queenstown complex at the top, as there are several other hikes you can take once you get there.

If hiking isn’t your thing, you’ll still be able to get the heart racing with a couple of runs on the Skyline Luge. It’s really good fun! Highly recommend it.

There are also 30 world-class downhill mountain bike trails if you are so inclined.

Otherwise, for something a bit more low-key and relaxed, there is also a restaurant/bar and cafe if you just want to sit back and take in the views.

I would recommend getting a multi-day pass. Go up once during the day to enjoy the activities at the top and then go up late one afternoon and watch the sunset over the township. Just remember, in the winter, it gets cold quickly up on the mountain!

Shotover Jet

Shotover Jetboat

In terms of adrenaline rushes, the Shotover Jet just might be the ultimate experience that Queenstown has to offer.

If you haven’t seen it, the Shotover River snakes its way down the mountains through a narrow gorge, in some places extremely narrow, to eventually feed into Lake Wakatipu.

So it makes perfect sense that the best way to take it all in would be at a very high speed in a jet boat.

You’ll definitely find other jet boat experiences in and around Queenstown, but the Shotover Jet has exclusive access to the Shotover River, and that part of the experience just can’t be replicated elsewhere.

If that sounds a little too extreme for you, then there is an observation deck (and a narrow bridge if you are game enough) on which you can watch the jet boats fly up and down the river to get a feel for what it might be like. You can also get some cool photos.

It’s definitely one of those experiences unique to Queenstown that you must try while you are there. Check out Klook for the latest deals to save some money before you go.

Otherwise, whitewater rafting is another option on the Shotover River that might be more your pace.

Queenstown Hill

Queenstown Hill

If you want to get out and stretch your legs on one of the more sedate hikes that Queenstown has to offer, then why not take on Time Walk hike up Queenstown Hill?

Easily accessible from the centre of town, just off Belfast Terrace to be exact, this two-hour (return)/2.5 kilometres (up 500 metres in elevation) climb is a great way to warm up if you are planning on taking on the much longer hikes around Queenstown later in your trip.

At the top, you’ll find the ‘Basket of Dreams’ sculpture, which is interesting, but the star attraction, as always, is the stunning views over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. And that alone is worth the effort.

Planning your trip to Queenstown in the winter? Don’t worry. This is one of the hikes that you can do year-round without too much preparation. I’ve even done it in the snow; just bring a good pair of waterproof shoes with you, which you’ll need anyway during the winter in New Zealand.

The Onsen

If you are chasing a change of pace or just looking to relax after an action-packed few days in and around Queenstown, then it might be time to head to the Onsen.

Probably better known for the Instagram photos taken from its hot tubs overlooking the Shotover River. This spa experience is a fantastic way to help your muscles recover after any number of days of hiking, snowboarding, skiing or mountain biking.

Or, you know, you could just book a tub for the Instagram content. Entirely up to you.

Just keep in mind these do tend to book out, so I’d strongly recommend you book once you’ve locked in your flights and accommodation to ensure you don’t miss out. Check out Klook to see if they have a discount offer running.

Kiwi Birdlife Park

Your Queenstown experience doesn’t need to be all action sports and adventures.

You could take a little time to visit the Kiwi Birdlife Park and get to know more about New Zealand, in particular, some wildlife unique to the country like the Kiwi.

An ever-elusive nocturnal creature, it is particularly difficult to just stumble across a Kiwi in the wild, let alone in wandering around town so a visit to the Kiwi Birdlife Park is your best bet for seeing one of the national emblems of New Zealand in person.

They also have a number of other bird and reptile species local to the area that might also grab your interest.

Keep an eye out for the Maori village recreation as well. Kiwi Birdlife Park is located right next to the Skyline Gondola, so you could easily combine the two activities.

Ben Lomond Track


As you may have gathered, there are many (many, many) hikes around Queenstown, but the Ben Lomond Track would easily be the most popular and most achievable.

Starting from the Skyline Queenstown Gondola (top or bottom, depending if you’d like to complete the Tiki Trail as well), this 4-6 hours 11 kilometre (6-7 if you add the Tiki Trail) trek will take you all the way to the summit where your efforts will be rewarded with stunning panoramic views.

You are definitely going to need a degree of fitness to take on the Ben Lomond Track, and in some places, it can be challenging. But in terms of being able to reach the peak, it’s your best option.

Just keep in mind that this trek will need some preparation and will probably be best avoided in changeable conditions as it is quite exposed. But on a clear day very rewarding.

Pro Tip: I would highly recommend that you embark on this hike early in the morning (at least before 8am) so you are in front of the crowds.

Lake Wakatipu

Queenstown, New Zealand

Surrounded by majestic peaks, Lake Wakatipu is the central focus of Queenstown, and at 84 kilometres long, it’s the longest lake in New Zealand (as well as being the third-largest behind Lake Taupo and Lake Te Anau).

Sure, you can enjoy the views across Lake Wakatipu from the Queenstown shoreline or any number of the lookouts and hikes that surround it. But getting out on the water, particularly during the summer, is the best way to take it all in.

My first suggestion to you would be to take a scenic cruise on the TSS Earnslaw. Affectionately known as the “Lady of the Lake”, this over 100-year-old vintage steamship is a unique way to take in both the views and history of Queenstown and the lake.

If that’s a little too laid back for you, then Hydro Attack will certainly change it up. All I can really say to explain the experience is that it is like being strapped into a submersible fighter jet. You’ll see it in person and understand what I mean.

Alternatively, there are a couple of other scenic cruises and jet boats you can take, as well as renting either a kayak or paddleboard to explore the lake at your own pace.

However, make sure you check out Klook and see if you can save some money by bundling experiences.



Perhaps you’d like to know a little bit more about the history of the region? Just 20 minutes outside of Queenstown is the historic gold-mining town of Arrowtown.

Home to more than 60 historic buildings and mining cottages built during the gold rush, Arrowtown is a fascinating throwback to what life what like in the region in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Buckingham Street will plunge you back into the time period with a procession of heritage buildings that make up the small town, well worth taking a short stroll to see.

Then if you’d like to get an even better understanding of what life was like during the gold rush, drop in for a quick visit to the Lakes District Museum, which is very informative.

You could even hire a gold pan and try your own luck on the Arrow River. Just remember the gold rush ended in the 1800s.

Bungy Jump

Queenstown Bungy Jump

Home to the world’s first commercial bungy jumping operation, New Zealand and Queenstown, in particular, is now famous for this adrenalin-fueled leap of faith.

As bungy has grown in popularity, so has the number of providers around Queenstown offering a variety of slightly different jump experiences.

That all said, if you are chasing the original experience, you’ll have to head to the Kawarau Bridge Bungy where the very first commercial bungy jump was offered and still runs to this day.

Again, this is one of those must-do experiences while you are in New Zealand, especially for the young and adventurous.

AJ Hackett’s who runs the site also offers a Zip Line at this Kawarau location. They’ve also got a number of other locations around Queenstown where you can try other creative bungy experiences. Obviously, after you’ve tried the original first.

Check out the latest pricing, and see if you can save money by booking multiple experiences across Queenstown at the same time.


Glenorchy, New Zealand

While you are in Queenstown, do yourself a favour by renting a car and driving out to Glenorchy.

Don’t get me wrong, the small settlement Glenorchy on the northern end of Lake Wakatipu is a quaint little town with a couple of walks and a few things to see and do, making it well worth the day trip.

But the real star of the show is the drive. Queenstown-Glenorchy Rd follows the lake for the entire scheduled 45-minute drive.

However, you’ll find it takes much longer because you will want to stop to take in the stunning views at literally every lookout you come across.

There are tours that will take you out to Glenorchy, stopping in a few vantage points along the way, but really you’ll want to do things in your own time and explore at your own pace. You’ll have no shortage of places to stop to take in views that take you fancy on the way there.

Once you’ve done it, you’ll appreciate the recommendation.



While you are driving all over the region, don’t miss out on visiting Wanaka, about an hour north of Queenstown.

Famous for #thatwanakatree (it’s a thing, it’s even got an address on Google Maps), if you are looking to escape the high-paced, action-packed nature of Queenstown, a day trip out to Wanaka might just be the trick.

Wanaka Lavender Farm and Puzzling World are worth a visit while you are in the area, as are the boutique shops and cafes. But for me, the real attraction was the drive between Queenstown and Wanaka over the Crown Range. It’s an amazing drive with stunning views almost the entire way.

Just keep in mind that Crown Range Road is subject to closures due to snow during the winter, so if you are visiting Queenstown during the snow season, you might have to take the longer route via Cromwell instead. Also an interesting drive, but the Crown Range is something really amazing.

Queenstown’s Snow Resorts

Queenstown's Snow Resorts

No doubt, the number one reason to visit Queenstown in the winter is the world-class snow resorts on top of the neighbouring mountains.

While there are numerous snow-capped mountains surrounding Queenstown, there are four commercial snow resorts, Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, Cardrona Alpine Resort and Treble Cone.

Each of these resorts has its own unique offerings and is high enough up in the mountains to ensure good snow coverage throughout the season. In fact, it is quite reasonable to expect to be able to ski and/or snowboard through September and October.

Let’s have a look at each of the resorts and see which one might suit you. Ideally, you’d try them all. But not everyone has the time.

Coronet Peak

Coronet Peak is the closest of the resort to Queenstown, just a 20-minute drive from the centre of town.

Coronet Peak features six lifts and varied terrain to cater for all ski and snowboarding abilities all across the mountain. However, what makes it really stand out is when they light up the mountain face for night sessions three times a week.

There is something amazing about skiing or boarding at night, so you really must try it while you are in Queenstown.

The Remarkables

The Remarkables are truly as the name implies, remarkable.

Located about 30 minutes outside of Queenstown, this snow resort offers seven lifts with two distinct areas. The face caters to beginner to intermediate-level riders (but still fun), while the basin is definitely for the advanced guys and girls with steeper off-piste terrain, which is perfect on powder days.

You can buy multi-day lift tickets that cover both Coronet Peak and The Remarkables (and Mount Hutt if you are also planning to spend some time in Christchurch) to give yourself a chance to sample both resorts and also save a bit of money.


Cardrona Alpine Resort, about an hour outside of Queenstown, caters more towards beginners and intermediates, at least in terms of runs.

That said, what makes Cardrona stand out are the four terrain parks, two half-pipes and a snowboardcross course. If the park, jumps, and rails are your thing, then Cardrona is the resort for you. Cardrona has five lifts.

Treble Cone

Treble Cone boasts the largest skiable terrain on the New Zealand South Island and is located about an hour and a half outside of Queenstown, just past Wanaka.

While Treble Cone only has four lifts, what makes this resort stand out is its off-piste terrain and plenty of room to get away from the crowds. With wide-open slopes, you’ll be able to enjoy the mountain at your own pace and in your own style. Something that can be a little harder to do at the other resorts during peak days.

Much like the other two resorts, you can buy multi-day lift passes that cover both Cardrona and Treble Cone, so you share your time across multiple resorts.

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

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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And if you have a travel-related question, you would like me to answer, head on over to my contact page to get in touch and let me know.

Photo of author

By 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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