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 favorite 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 Queenstown
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. The trick is – 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. Crossing off every activity on this list could 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!
1. Hike Queenstown Hill
Queenstown Hill is one of the best hikes in Queenstown with the most rewarding views in Queenstown. It starts from pretty much right in the town center, so if you don’t have a car then hiking Queenstown Hill is super convenient.
The hike to the viewpoint is all uphill but only takes around an hour and the views from the top are absolutely breathtaking! If you can work up the motivation, hiking 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 organized tours (which if you have the money, I highly recommend) or, if you want to stay on budget, simply organize 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 to Ben Lomond Summit
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-degree 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!
For many, the summit is too daunting to attempt. Instead, just hike to the saddle. It’s much easier and will shave a few hours off your hike time. You can read more about the hike in the link above.
4. Enjoy a sunset on the Shores of Lake Wakatipu
Lake Wakatipu is the perfect place to relax at sunset and enjoy a drink by the water. The entire beach area is alcohol friendly until 10 pm and the atmosphere is really something special. While in Queenstown you should spend at least one sunset here.
Here are some of our personal FAVORITE tours and experiences in Queenstown:
5. Wander the Saturday markets
On Saturdays, the Queenstown markets set up at the marina in town. They run from 9 am to 4:30 pm. At the markets, 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 put on by local artists.
6. Hike to Bob’s Peak (Skyline/Gondola)
A Gondola ride to Bob’s Peak costs $39. But, if you want to save the money you can actually walk up for free on the Tiki Trail! Although somewhat steep, this trail is well marked and easy to find. The hike only takes about 1 hour to reach the top.
Although the trail doesn’t offer much for views along the way it is through the forest and you’ll find yourself standing next to some seriously tall pine trees!
7. Quiz nights
If you have a lot of random knowledge, then why not try your luck at winning 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” – a local 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 around 1 hour each way.
At the end of the drive, you will finish in the small town of Glenorchy. Glenorchy is just as picturesque as the drive itself and some even say it’s even more beautiful than Queenstown. Spending a day here as part of a Queenstown itinerary is a great idea!
If you don’t have a car then consider joining this tour. It’s definitely not as cheap as driving yourself but do you really want to miss one of New Zealand’s most beautiful drives!
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 the Mount Chrichton Loop Track. 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 30s! There is a beautiful waterfall next to it and an old tunnel to explore as well.
10. Explore 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. However this small bay is worth the drive, so much so Peter Jackson (director of Lord of the Rings) has a house there!
11. Go hiking at Moke Lake
Moke Lake is probably one of my favorite spots near Queenstown! It is only about 30-minute drive and is simply breathtaking! You can camp at the lake, 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.
If you want to hike to the viewpoint pictured below, you’ll have to read the post linked above. This trail is unmarked and only known to locals.
This particular tour is all about visiting the most beautiful places around Queenstown and it actually visits Moke Lake! For less than $120 this full-day tour is a great choice! Book online in advance!
12. Lake Hayes
Lake Hayes is another stunning 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 favorite thing to do at Lake Hayes is to watch the sunset!
For information on the bus check out the Queenstown journey planner
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 favorites of all of the cheap things to do in Queenstown, I just loved hanging out with the animals!
There are some amazing things to do in Glenorchy, check them out:
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 for free.
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 for 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.
Of course, this activity would be very boring if you didn’t see anything, but hey its $10.
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 favorite 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.
We LOVE food! So, during our 7 months in Queenstown we ate almost everywhere, and have written a food about what we think is the absolute BEST food in Queenstown!
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 organized 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. You can find these on Book Me.
There is a new tour in Queenstownt hat is a hop-on hop-off beer tour. It is a little classier than a pub crawl but involves just as much (if not more) alcohol! You should book online in advance to avoid missing out!
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
During winter in Queenstown, you can get a bus up and back to the Remarkable ski field for $20. 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.
In the summer, you can head up to the Remarkables and do the hike to Lake Alta. If you don;t want to hik eit alone, consider booking this guided hiking tour!
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 favorite wineries are Mt Rosa, Gibbston Valley, and Akarua. Just be sure to have a designated driver if you are going to drink!
You can visit the wineries on your own and just pay the tasting fees, or if you really want a wine experience, then you should book a wine tour! This tour is our personal recommendation and you’re guarenteed to have a fantastic time!
If you love wine, then a wine tour is the way to go, here are some awesome choices:
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 center that is open for visitors called 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. There is a great company that 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 onboard making it a nice place to hang out for a couple of hours!
Here are the scenic cruise options from Queenstown…
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!
If you don’t want to have to peddle, you can also rent E-bikes for the day. This way, you’ll cover more ground and not have to work as hard! It’s a win-win!
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. You can get a gondola and Luge pass for less than $50 USD!
The Luge is a fun go-cart like experience that is really reasonably priced when bought in a combo with the gondola pass.
Views from the top of Bob’s Peak are amazing! Stay up for sunset and after it gets dark to check out the stars!
There is also an amazing restaurant up at Bobs Peak. Imagine, lunch with such an incredible view! Book your gondola and lunch online in advance to avoid missing out.
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!
Visit the Gibbston Valley on a guided tour:
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 this hour-long ride with KJet and ride on Lake Wakatipu, Kawarau River, and Shotover River. Otherwise, if you want the cheaper option, this Go Orange jet boat experience offers a 30-minute ride for $69.
There are a few choices for Jet Boating trips in Queenstown…
Where to stay in Queenstown
Queenstown is filled with amazing things to do but also awesome places to stay! One thing about Queenstown though, if you don’t book in advance you will miss out on the best places! Heres our list of recommended hotels in Queenstown!
When booking hotels we always use Booking.com. The reason? They are hoestly always cheaper (we have booked over 250 hotels with them) and if you find a better price they’ll match it garenteed (even if its a special on their own website)!
The Flaming Kiwi Backpackers – This was the first place I ever stayed in Queenstown. Its a great budget backpackers with a very social vibe. The building is kinda old but honestly its great value and even has onsite parking for free! A dorm bed here will cost you around $28 NZD per night!
YHA Queenstown Lakefront – The YHA Lakefront is a more luxurious backpacker hostel that’s literally located 20m from the edge of Lake Wakatipu! A dorm bed here will cost you around $35 NZD pr night.
Melbourne Lodge – Another beautiful hotel located in the heart of Queenstown. What I love about this place is it sits on the end of Queenstown near the airport meaning that you never have to drive through town to visit the ski fields or many major attractions. It’ll save you time and all-round it’s a fantastic place to stay! Rooms here can be as little as $130 NZD per night!
Novotel Queenstown Lakeside -If you want to be close to town then you can’t pass on the Novatel. It’s literally right in the town center near the bustling beach and walking streets. Great hotel, great location and all round a great place to stay! Rooms start at $225 NZD.
Rydges – I haven’t actually stayed at the Rydges but my brother has. He recommends it as one fo the best places to stay in Queenstown for location, price, and amenities! Surprisingly rooms start at only $150 NZD per night here.
Hilton Queenstown Spa & Resort – Bailey and I spent our anniversary at the Hilton and really loved our stay. Its located a little out of town but they run a free shuttle every 30 minutes. The rooms are beautiful in classic Hilton Style and great value starting at $225 NZD per night.
Many of the places may be booked up if your looking last minute. In that case you can browse all hotels availible in Queenstown here!
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! 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!
November 4, 2019