33 Free and Cheap Things to do in Queenstown
There are actually many free or cheap things to do in Queenstown. This blog is about 33 of my favourite free and cheap things to do in Queenstown! This is your ultimate guide to Queenstown on a budget!
Ultimate Guide to Free or Cheap Things to do in
Lets’ face it, Queenstown isn’t the cheapest place to live or visit. In fact, on the surface it seems ridiculously expensive. Almost all day tours start from $150 NZD which makes the idea of actually doing anything in Queenstown on a budget seem impossible, right? Wrong!
After having lived in Queenstown for the last six months I have discovered that while many things to do in Queenstown are not so cheap, there are actually a lot of free or cheap things to do in queens town – you just have to know where to look as tour companies don’t like to advertise these options.
Lucky for you, today I am sharing my ultimate list of free or cheap things to in Queenstown. To do all of these things would take you weeks, so you are sure to stay busy while in Queenstown. And to me, most of the cheap things to do in Queenstown are actually the best things anyway!
Also, make sure you read until the bottom as I have included my general money saving tips for Queenstown as well! These tips are also useful in other parts of New Zealand and have seriously saved my bank account!
Free things to do in Queenstown
Let’s start with the best – free things to do in Queenstown! To be completely honest, there isn’t a ton of things to do in Queenstown for free that isn’t hiking, but there are a few! And in my opinion, the hikes are really the best part anyways and you should aim to do as many as you can while in Queenstown!
1. Hike Queenstown Hill
Queenstown Hill has to be the easiest hike with the most rewarding views in Queenstown. It starts from pretty much right in the town centre, so if you don’t have a car that is no problem.
The hike is all uphill but only takes just over an hour. The views from the top are absolutely astounding! If you can work up the motivation, getting up there for sunrise is just magical.
2. Self-driven Lord of the Rings tour
Did you know that many of the Lord of the Rings filming locations were very close to Queenstown? Well, you can go on many Lord of the Rings organised tours (which if you have the money, I highly recommend) or, if you want to stay on budget, simply organise your own!
Go on the DOC website to map out your route and then create your own scavenger hunt to find the locations. You will need a car for this activity but it would be a fun adventure and worthy of a day!
3. Hike Ben Lomond
Ben Lomond is a more difficult hike that will take you all day or about 6-8 hours depending on our fitness level. It is an incredible mountain to climb with 360 panoramic views! In the winter, it can be dangerous to reach the summit because of snow and ice, but in the summer it’s completely safe.
If you are looking for the best hike in Queenstown, this would be it!
4. Sunset at Lake Wakatipu
Lake Wakatipu is the huge lake that Queenstown sits on the edge of. A sunset here is always gorgeous, and while you’re in Queenstown you should plan to catch as many of them as possible.
5. Saturday markets
On Saturdays, there are markets set up at the marina in town in the morning and early afternoon. Here you can buy souvenirs and all other sorts of goodies, but if you want, you can wander around for free and enjoy the live music!
6. Hike to Bob’s Peak (Skyline Gondola)
The Skyline gondola costs about $40 to ride and it takes you to the top of Bob’s Peak. But, if you want to save the money you can actually walk up there for yourself on the Tiki Trail! Although somewhat steep, this trail is well marked and easy to find and only takes about 2 hours to get to the top. The trail doesn’t offer much for views along the way but it is through the forest and you’ll find yourself standing next to some seriously tall trees!
7. Quiz nights
If you have a lot of random knowledge, then you might even be able to win something by attending one of the many quiz nights in town! Many different places have quiz nights such as Tuesdays at Rhinos, Sundays at Loco, or Mondays at Lucy’s. But besides quizzes, lots of local budget bars offer other fun games nights like bingo!
For a complete updated schedule of everything that’s on in the Queenstown bar scene just pick up one of the free copies of the “Lakes Weekly” which is the local favourite magazine for finding what’s happening in Queenstown!
8. Drive to Glenorchy
If you have a car, then for only the cost of fuel you can take one of the most scenic drives in all of New Zealand – the drive to Glenorchy. This is definitely one of the best things on this list of cheap things to do in Queenstown! The drive is gorgeous at every turn and only takes about 40 minutes.
At the end of the drive, you will finish in the small town of Glenorchy that is just as picturesque as the drive itself. Head out to the water’s edge and walk out onto the jetty. The views are so different than Queenstown and utterly stunning.
9. Stay at the Sam Summers Hut
Most of the Department of Conservation huts along hiking trails cost money, but the Sam Summers Hut near Queenstown doesn’t! And the best part is it only takes about 1 hour to walk there on a very easy and very flat trail. Keep in mind, because the hut is free it isn’t maintained very regularly and is very small with only three beds. The beds are first come first serve.
The hut is really cool to check out even if you don’t plan on spending the night because it is a hut still standing from back in the 30’s! There is a beautiful waterfall next to it and an old tunnel to explore as well.
10. Bobs Cove
Bobs Cove is a popular local hangout. Go for a short walk to the lookout, sit by the lake, or take advantage of one of the public BBQs.
Bobs Cove is only accessible by car and about a 15-20 minute drive outside of Queenstown.
11. Moke Lake
Moke Lake is probably one of my favourite spots near Queenstown! It is only about 30-minute drive and is simply breathtaking! There, you can camp, walk one of the many trails or just enjoy the view of Moke Lake and the surrounding mountains. I find it to be such a peaceful area.
You can actually go fishing at Moke Lake as well. If you have a rod with you, or if you rent one in town, you can throw in a line!
12. Lake Hayes
Lake Hayes is another lake near Queenstown. The lake is about a 15-minute drive out of town but can actually be reached by public bus as well. At the lake, there is a walking trail going right around the lake. Personally, my favourite thing to do at Lake Hayes is to watch the sunset!
Cheap things to do in Queenstown (under $20)
$20 NZD is not very much money, so finding cheap things to do in Queenstown under $20 is not always the easiest task. Below are what I have discovered are the best cheap things to do in Queenstown!
13. Glenorchy Animal Experience
Glenorchy is another small town only a short 40-minute drive away from Queenstown. Believe me, the Glenorchy Animal Experience is totally worth the drive! It is essentially a farm petting zoo, but it is so much fun. Feed the alpacas, sheep, lambs, pigs, donkeys and more! And if you have never been on a farm in New Zealand before then this is a great option!
Entrance to the Glenorchy Animal Experience is $20. This is one of my favourites of all of the cheap things to do in Queenstown, I just loved hanging out with the animals!
14. Eat Fergburger
One of the most popular things to do in Queenstown is to eat at Fergburger! Fergburger is arguably the most popular place to eat in all of New Zealand for tourists.
You would think that a place like this would be expensive, but it isn’t! A classic Fergburger will only cost you $12 NZD and they are pretty big, one fills me up! If you want anything fancier you can add extra cheese, patties, or go with something different like a venison burger and spend more, but it’ll still come in under the $20 budget!
15. Drink at the beach
One of the most popular places to be in Queenstown in the summer is at the beach. Right in town, there is a small rocky beach which fills with people on a nice day all hanging out and drinking. Instead of spending money drinking at a pub, grab a six-pack from the bottle shop down the road and then head to the beach! In Queenstown, it is actually legal to drink at the beach until 10 pm!
In the winter, go tobogganing! If you have a car you can drive up to one of the ski fields such as Coronet Peak or the Remarkables and slide down the snow. You can slide down on your bottom, a garbage bag, or buy a sled from Kmart for $10! In winter, this should definitely be on your list of cheap things to do in Queenstown!
17. BBQ at the Lakefront
There are various free, public BBQ’s scattered around the lake. Along the road to Fernhill, you will find several as well and some in Fernhill too. Get some food from the grocery store and some friends and have a BBQ with a view for only the cost of your groceries! This is definitely one of the cheapest options of the cheap things to do in Queenstown.
18. Visit the Underwater Observatory
The Underwater Observatory is a small room a few meters under the surface of Lake Wakatipu. It costs $10 to visit and there are glass walls so you can watch the fish and anything else swimming in the lake. When I went, there was actually an eel swimming right up against the glass which was very cool!
You’ll find the entrance to the Underwater Observatory at the lakefront near the KJet jetty next to Perky’s Floating Bar. If you can’t find it, just ask anybody who works near the lake, they will point you in the right direction.
19. Eat out for Lunch or Early Dinner
If you want a nice meal out without breaking the budget then you need to eat either at lunchtime or have an early dinner. Many places in Queenstown have lunch specials for $20 or less, or early bird dinner deals. The dinner deals usually end at 6:30-7 so you need to go out early!
There is also a website called First Table, that offers 50% off restaurant bookings if you book in early. It is my favourite website to use for going out for dinner! Other times you will find deals just by walking the streets around 5:30 or check out advertisements in the Lakes Weekly magazine.
20. Enjoy $4 Drinks
While some bars in Queenstown will cost upwards of $12 for a pint, other bars charge as little as $4 during happy hours! One pub, in particular, that is famous among locals for cheap drinks is called 1876. During their Happy Hour they offer $4 tap beer or cider as well as the house wine. Don’t fret when happy hour is over though because they offer $5 drinks all day every day!
A few other places that offer some great drink specials include Rhinos, Loco, and Surreal. If you are a local, Coalfire has a great selection of craft beer on tap and does a local price for only $6 for a pint!
21. Join a Pub Crawl
Want to party? Well, Queenstown is a great place to do so! If you are looking to meet a few new people then an organised pub crawl is the perfect option. The names of the companies in town that do the pub crawls are Big Night Out, and Kiwi Crawl. The regular price is about $20 per person but they often have specials on that are much less.
22. Drink at an Ice bar
There are two different ice bars in town, Minus 5 and Below Zero Ice Bar. If you want to try out the novelty of an ice bar then Queenstown is your place to do it! They will dress you up in warm clothing and serve you shots or cocktails out of glasses made of ice!
Entrance is about $20, but if you watch for specials and book through the website Book Me you can often get free entrance with the purchase of a drink!
23. Bus to the Remarkables
For $20 you can get a return bus ticket up to the Remarkables ski field in winter. Even if you don’t want to ski or snowboard there is an amazing view up there and its fun to play in the snow! You don’t need to have ski or snowboard passes to hang out at the ski fields, the passes are just for using the chairlifts, so play in the snow, climb the hills, and slide down the slopes as you please!
You can also drive yourself up to the Remarkables. Just be cautious in the winter that you may need to have snow chains. You can hire snow chains in Queenstown for the day for $20 from ski and snowboard rental shops.
24. Visit Wineries
You don’t need to spend hundreds on a wine tour to check out some of the incredible wineries near Queenstown. Central Otago is famous for incredible Pinot Noir so visiting a couple of the wineries in the area is a must for any wine lover.
Most of the wineries offer tastings for around $10-15 a person allowing you to try several different wines. Some of my personal favourite wineries are Mt Rosa, Gibbston Valley, and Akarua. Just be sure to have a designated driver if you are going to drink!
25. Aqua Bike Ride
The Aqua Bike is the huge bike that floats on water. You peddle the same as you would on a normal bike but this giant bike allows you to float on the surface! At the lakefront at the beach, you can rent one of these Aqua Bikes for 20 mins for $25. This is for two people, so $12.50 each!
Sort-of Cheap Things to do in Queenstown ($20-70 NZD)
26. Visit the Kiwi Bird Park
Right in town is a bird conservation centre that is open for visitors, the Kiwi Bird Park! Here, you can watch Kiwi birds get fed or learn about their conservation efforts. There are several different species of birds to check out as well!
Admission for an adult is $50 but includes all of the shows. You can also get special family passes, or sometimes discounted tickets on Book Me.
27. Go on a Scenic Cruise
You can take a scenic boat cruise on Lake Wakatipu. The company Southern Discoveries offers an awesome cruise for only $39. The cruise lasts about 2 hours and takes you for a tour of the most scenic places out on the lake. For an awesome view of Queenstown and the surrounding area from the lake, this is a great option! You can also buy food and drinks on board making it a nice place to hang out for a couple of hours!
28. Go Cycling
Renting a push bike in Queenstown costs only about $40 for the day. With a bike, you can explore many of the different cycling trails around Queenstown. Ride out to the Frankton Arm, Jacks Point, or even to Lake Hayes. This is a great way to get around if you don’t have a car or even just a fun day activity!
29. Stand Up Paddleboarding
Watersports Queenstown rents out stand-up paddleboard for $30 for 45 minutes. Test your balance and go show off in the lake! The paddleboards can be rented right at the beach during the summer months!
30. Kayaking on Lake Wakatipu
If stand-up paddleboarding isn’t your thing then kayaking might be the better option. For the same price, $30 for 45 minutes you can take a kayak out exploring! This is a great little adventure and a budget option in compared to going on a guided kayaking tour.
31. Ride the Gondola and Luge
If hiking the Tiki Trail to Bob’s Peak sounds like too much effort then the Gondola is a great alternative. You can get a return pass for the gondola for $39. If you are going up, I highly recommend combining it with the Luge.
The Luge is a fun go-cart like experience that is really reasonably priced when bought in a combo with the gondola pass. Pay $57 for three Luge rides and the gondola!
Views from the top of Bob’s Peak are amazing! Stay up for sunset and after it gets dark check out the stars!
32. Gibbston Valley wine tasting and cave tour
The Gibbston Valley Winery was the first winery in the area. They are also the only winery that has a wine cave. For $39 you can get a tour of the winery, wine cave, and wine tastings! They will also provide transport from Queenstown round trip for $35 extra, but you can also always drive yourself. It is about a 30-minute drive and a gorgeous one at that!
33. Jet Boating
Last on my list of cheap things to do in Queenstown is Jet Boating! Jet boating is one of the most popular activities in Queenstown. You cruise along the lake or rivers at high speeds doing 360-degree spins! For $99 you can do an hour-long ride with KJet and ride on Lake Wakatipu, Kawarau River and Shotover River. Otherwise, if you want the cheaper option, Go Orange offers a 30-minute ride for $69.
Tips for Saving $$$ in Queenstown
Knowing about the free and cheap things to in Queenstown is great, but you will likely want to do a couple of the expensive things while you’re here too. Here are a few of my tips for saving a little bit of money while in Queenstown:
- Check out the websites Book Me and Grab One. Both of these websites offer discounted excursions, tours, activities, and restaurants! Many things on these websites are up to 50% off!
- Consider visiting in the shoulder seasons. Queenstown is busiest from June to September and then again from December to March. The other months are considered the shoulder seasons and that is when there is all of the specials and deals on things to do, see, and eat!
- Book things in combos. You can always get a better deal when you buy more. Ask any booking agency about discounted packages.
- ASK! Ask for a discount, you’d be surprised how many tours or bars will give you a discount if you just ask. Oftentimes places in Queenstown have a “locals” discount but they are really able to give it to anybody, especially if that means making the sale.
- Book restaurants using the website First Table. This website is just awesome as it saves you 50% off all the food you order! The catch is that you need to book in advance, often several days in advance.
If you follow these guidelines for saving money and stick to mostly the free and cheap things to do in Queenstown then your trip to Queenstown might not end up being nearly as expensive as you may have expected!
Do you know of other free or cheap things to do in Queenstown that we haven’t mentioned? Tell us in the comments!
And, don’t forget to check out all of our blogs on Queenstown, we literally have dozens of great travel guides!
October 26, 2018