Cradled by the stunning snow-capped mountain ranges and framed by the crystal-clear waters of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is one of, if not the, most popular tourist destinations in New Zealand.
With its combination of adrenaline-filled adventure and natural beauty, it’s easy to see why.
Luckily for you’ve been fortunate to visit Queenstown several times, so let me help you uncover all of its hidden gems and must-see experiences.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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 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 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.
Save Money On Queenstown Attractions
With so much to see and do in Queenstown, the admission to all these attractions can really add up. A great way to save money is to make sure you take advantage of the bundle ticket offers.
Personally, I use the Queenstown Klook Pass to save money by bundling a handful of the big-ticket attractions. But you can also find specials on many of Queenstown’s other attractions on Klook as well.
Make sure you also read my ultimate guide to Queenstown, covering everything else you need to know for your trip.
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.
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