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33 Free and Cheap Things to do in Queenstown, New Zealand

33 Free and Cheap Things to do in Queenstown, New Zealand

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Let’s face it, Queenstown isn’t the cheapest place to visit. In fact, it seems ridiculously expensive! Almost all tours start from $150 NZD which makes the idea of actually doing anything exciting in Queenstown on a budget seem impossible, right?


After having lived in Queenstown myself, I have discovered that while many activities in Queenstown are not cheap, there are actually a lot of free or cheap things to do in Queenstown – you just have to know where to look! Some of my favorite activities are actually affordable, like finding the best hikes in Queenstown or hitting its lively bar scene!

Lucky for you, today I am sharing my ultimate list of free or cheap things to do in Queenstown. And to me, most of these things to do in Queenstown are actually the best activities anyway!

Tip: 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!

Don’t have time to read the full article? Here are our absolute favorite free and cheap things to do in Queenstown!

  1. Go on this thrilling jet boat ride for only $99 NZD!
  2. Explore Glenorchy and see adorable farm animals at the Glenorchy Animal Experience.
  3. Have drinks at the Ice Bar, where everything is literally made of ice!
  4. Stop by New Zealand’s largest wine cave and go wine tasting for only $20 NZD.
  5. Hike Queenstown Hill for the best views of the city and Lake Wakatipu!

Budget Things to do in Queenstown ($50-$99 NZD)

To start, let’s look at the budget-friendly activities. Although a bit pricier than others on this list, here are the best things you can do in Queenstown, New Zealand for only $50-$135 NZD per person!

1. Visit the Kiwi Birdlife Park

a Kea bird stares at the camera at the birdlife park
Closeup image of a Kea mountain parrot in New Zealand

Right in town is a bird conservation center that is open for visitors called the Kiwi Birdlife Park! Here, you can watch Kiwi birds (and several other rare NZ species of birds) get fed or learn about their conservation efforts. Exploring this park is the perfect activity for families in Queenstown!

Kiwi Birdlife Park operates kind of like a zoo in the sense that you can just walk around on your own and check out the birds. They also offer scheduled shows such as their “Kiwi Encounter” and “Conservation Show.” The dates and times of all shows are listed on their website.

Admission for an adult is $55 NZD but includes all of the shows. You can also get special family passes, or sometimes discounted tickets when you purchase online in advance here. This includes an audio guide, so you can move at your own pace but still reap the benefits of a guided tour. Be sure to check out the Conservation Show, this one is my favorite because you can see a wide variety of animals!

Kiwi Birdlife Park is open every day (except for Christmas) all year round from 9 am to 5 pm.

2. Go on a Scenic Cruise

Enjoying the spirit of queenstown scenic cruise
Me, on a Queenstown Scenic Cruise!

Many people don’t know this, but you can jump on a scenic boat cruise of Lake Wakatipu for cheap.

There is a great company that offers this awesome cruise for as little as $49 NZD! The cruise lasts about 1.5 hours and takes you on a tour of the most scenic places out on the lake, such as the Kawarau Dam, and past the immaculate lakeside homes. The cruise departs from Queenstown center a few times daily making this a convenient activity to squeeze into your already busy Queenstown itinerary.

You can also cruise on the historic TSS Earnslaw, which is a definite must-do activity in Queenstown! This hits the ceiling of our budget activities at $99 NZD per person, but you’ll get 1.5 hours on the steamship to take in the incredible views of Lake Wakatipu. The TSS Earnsalw is an icon in Queenstown, and this tour makes it convenient to board and cruise.

Dan and I have done both of these cruises on a few different occasions. When we lived in Queenstown, it was an activity we always took friends and family who visited us to do. It is one of those things that everybody will enjoy and it’s really affordable too!

Alternative Activity: It’s a bit more expensive but you can take the same historic cruise on Lake Wakatipu combined with a gourmet BBQ lunch for a longer and more immersive experience! This also stops at the legendary Walter Peak High County Farm, which is very unique to visit.

3. Go Cycling

Bike riding between Queenstown and Arrowtown
Bike riding between Queenstown and Arrowtown
bike riding to Arrowtown
A stop at Altitude Brewing is a must!

Renting a bicycle in Queenstown costs only about $49 NZD for a half day and $69 NZD for a full 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! When you rent bikes, ask the rental shop for a map and some trail recommendations – there are way too many to list here!

The bike route from Arrowtown to Queenstown is gorgeous and there are fun stops you can make along the way. We have booked this bike tour a few times because they shuttle you to Arrowtown and provide a bike, helmet, and trail map with recommended stops along the way. We have found some of our favorite cafes and breweries along this route, and it makes for a beautiful day of exploring! The trial is 30 kilometers (18 miles) and can take anywhere from 4-8 hours, depending on your stops.

You can book a mountain bike for $90 NZD, or if you want to save your legs a bit and have room to stretch the budget, an e-bike is $140 NZD.

This bike tour is similar to the previous option, as it provides a mountain bike or electric bike, a shuttle to Arrowtown, a trail map, and recommendations for stops. They also provide information about the scenery around you, like what the rivers and mountains in the distance are, and where some of the Lord of the Rings film locations are along your route! This tour is convenient because you don’t have to coordinate a drop-off time, you can simply lock the bike up outside the Queenstown Gardens and they get it for you. Mountain bikes can be reserved for $87 NZD and e-bikes are $135.

This is a great way to get around Queenstown if you don’t have a car or even just a fun day activity!

4. Ride the Gondola and Luge

the luge track at the top of Bob's Peak
The Luge track up at Skyline!

The gondola in Queenstown is an iconic activity that takes you up the side of a mountain to Bob’s Peak high above Queenstown. Let me tell you, it is one very scenic gondola ride! Many people opt to take the gondola as the Tiki Trail to Bob’s Peak is quite an effort, so this is a great alternative!

At the top of the gondola, you’ll find the Luge. The Luge is a fun go-cart-like experience, except the cars are only powered by gravity and you control your speed with a break as you race downhill! I know it doesn’t sound thrilling, but it actually is. Everybody who rides the Luge loves it and you can get some serious speed if you want.

But the top of Bob’s Peak isn’t just about the Luge, the views from up there are amazing! I recommend staying up for sunset and after it gets dark to check out the stars! The gondola operates until late so you don’t have to worry about catching a ride back down.

You can get a return pass for the gondola for only $52 NZD. I highly recommend combining it with the Luge for the best deal, you don’t want to miss out on the Luge! The gondola plus 3 luge rides is $73 NZD and the gondola plus 6 luge rides is $79 NZD. Not a bad price for all the fun you’ll have up here!

5. Gibbston Valley Wine Tasting and Cave Tour

Bailey running through a vineyard in the Gibbston Valley

The Gibbston Valley Winery was the first winery in the area around Queenstown. They’re also the only winery that has a wine cave (that is actually the largest wine cave in all of New Zealand!) For only $38 NZD you can get a tour of the winery, wine cave, and wine tastings!

If you want to include transportation, the experience will be $75 NZD per person, but you can also always drive yourself. It is about a 30-minute drive and a gorgeous one at that!

You should book your tour and tasting online in advance as they have a limited number of spaces. The winery and cave tour operates daily at 12 pm and 4 pm. However, there are a number of different experiences you can book including “prestigious” tastings or tours including lunch.

But if you’re a real wine lover (like me!) then you should probably just spoil yourself and do a complete guided wine tour of the region. I’ve done this specific wine tour and absolutely loved it. The tour visits the Gibbston Valley Winery and includes the cave tour, but also stops at some of the lesser-known boutique wineries in the area! Plus you don’t have to worry about driving and can dive deeper into New Zealand’s best wine region.

This tour is a bit out of budget, but if you’re a wine connoisseur, you’ll be so happy you did it! You can book it in advance for $219 NZD per person.

Related Read: Queenstown is centrally located near New Zealand’s West Coast, which is home to some of the best outdoor activities! You can add a few of these stops to your itinerary to keep the exciting adventures rolling.

6. Jet Boating

Selfie in the kjet jet boat
Ready to go for a ride!

The last item on my list of budget things to do in Queenstown, New Zealand is Jet Boating! Jet boating is one of the most popular adventure activities in Queenstown. You cruise along the lake or rivers at high speeds doing 360-degree spins and sharp turns!

Jet Boating in Queenstown is super popular, and for good reason. It is one of the only adventure activities in the area that is suitable for families and pretty much all ages. Plus, it is also way more affordable than other adventure tours!

And I have to admit, when you aren’t busy screaming and laughing because of the thrill, you’ll notice that the views are pretty amazing from out on the water too!

For $135 NZD you can do this hour-long ride with KJet and ride on Lake Wakatipu, Kawarau River, and Shotover River. We’ve done this tour before and it was so much fun, plus the guides were very entertaining. It departs from the Main Town Pier, so it is very convenient to get to from Queenstown Central.

Otherwise, if you want the cheaper option, this RealNZ jet boat experience offers a 25-minute ride for $99 NZD. It’s still a thrill and a fantastic way to see Lake Wakatipu and the Kawarau River, but budget-friendly!

All jet boat operators offer tours all year round during daylight hours. Most companies have hourly rides departing, but they can book up in advance so it is best to book. Both jet boat experiences mentioned above depart from right in Queenstown at the wharf, but there are other jet boat tours that operate on the outskirts of town such as Dart River Adventures.

Cheap Things to do in Queenstown (under $50 NZD)

$50 NZD is not very much money these days, so finding cheap things to do in Queenstown under $50 NZD is not always the easiest task. Below are the best cheap things to do in Queenstown, New Zealand!

7. Glenorchy Animal Experience

Feeding some of the friendly animals at the Glenorchy Animal Experience  with a gorgeous view
Me, feeding some of the friendly animals with a gorgeous view!

Glenorchy is a small town only a short 45-minute drive away from Queenstown. Here, you will find a cute little farm that offers the Glenorchy Animal Experience.

Believe me, the Glenorchy Animal Experience is totally worth the drive! It’s essentially a farm petting zoo where you can interact with the animals. Feed the alpacas, sheep, lambs, pigs, donkeys, and more! When I went, there were so many little baby lambs running around and they were adorable!

They also offer a daily sheep shearing demonstration at 2:30 pm which is no extra cost to watch.

The entrance fee to the Glenorchy Animal Experience is $25 NZD for an adult (with discounts for children) and you just pay once you arrive. It is open daily from 10 am to 4 pm.

You can also visit the Glenorchy Animal Farm when you take this full-day Queenstown to Glenorchy tour! This is ideal if you don’t have transportation or are curious about exploring the surrounding area. There is a ton to see between Queenstown and Glenorchy, such as Mt. Critchen Loop Track, Bobs Cove, and the Glenorchy Animal Experience, of course! You can reserve this tour for $194 NZD.

This is one of my favorites out of all of the cheap things to do in Queenstown – I just loved hanging out with the animals! Not to mention, visiting a local farm is one of those “must-do” things to do in New Zealand!

8. Eat Fergburger

Double Ferg Burger classic in Queenstown
So good!
Burgers cooking at Ferg burger in Queenstown
The grill almost never stops!

One of the most popular things to do in Queenstown is to eat at Fergburger! In fact, Fergburger offers the best burger in Queenstown.

You would think that a place like this would be expensive, but it isn’t! A Classic Fergburger will only cost you $15-$20 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 $25 NZD mark!

They have a large selection to choose from, but my personal recommendation is the Classic Ferg with blue cheese, it’s delicious!

9. Drink at Queenstown Bay Beach

Queenstown Bay Beach on a sunny summer's day
The beach is a popular summer hang-out spot!

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 called Queenstown Bay Beach. It fills with people on a hot day all hanging out and drinking.

Instead of spending money drinking at a pub, grab a six-pack from the bottle shop (liquor store) down the road and then head to the beach! Here you can swim, relax, listen to live music (if it’s around), and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere that is Queenstown!

In Queenstown, it is actually legal to drink at the beach until 10 pm!

10. Ride the Cardrona Sightseeing Gondola

Cardrona sightseeing Gondola
Cardrona sightseeing Gondola

Just 30 minutes north of Queenstown is Cardrona Alpine Resort, one of the top places for skiing and snowboarding in New Zealand! During the winter, this area is covered in snow and has world-class runs (be sure to add this to your New Zealand winter itinerary!). But during the summer, it’s an entirely different world to explore!

You can pick up a sightseeing pass that includes a ride in the Cardrona Gondola, which is an enclosed gondola, that gives breathtaking views the whole way up. Once you’re at the top, you can embark on one of the many hiking trails and then stop by the Vista Bar for a pint and a snack! The sightseeing pass is only $35 NZD and includes a return ride.

While it’s a bit more expensive, you can’t skip out on mountain carting at the top! Mountain carts are essentially adult-sized tricycles that can handle downhill mountain terrain- they are thrilling for sure! You can book them for 2 hours and have three tracks to choose from, depending on your adventure preference. This mountain cart experience is $163 NZD per person!

11. BBQ at the Lakefront

BBQs at Saint Omer Park, Queenstown in Queenstown along Lake Wakatipu
Saint Omer Park, Queenstown

There are various free public BBQs scattered around Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown. You will find several in Saint Omer Park only a 5-minute walk from the town center. There are also some in Fernhill at the Fernhill Reserve.

So, 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 things to do in Queenstown for a meal!

Tip: Public BBQs in Queenstown are available on a first-come-first-serve basis. During peak times (lunch and dinner) on nice days, they are often all being used. So, get there early to snag one!

12. Visit the Time Tripper Queenstown at the Underwater Observatory

An eel up against the glass in the Underwater Observatory in Queenstown
When we were in the Underwater Observatory an eel swam right up against the glass!

The Time Tripper Queenstown is a small underwater observatory a few meters under the surface of Lake Wakatipu. This experience starts with a quick 30-minute video journey through time that explains the history of Lake Wakatipu and how it was formed by a giant glacier. Afterward, you’ll be able to look through the glass walls and 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 Time Tripper at the lakefront near the KJet jet boat dock next to Perky’s Floating Bar. If you can’t find it, just ask anybody who works near the lake, and they will point you in the right direction.

Of course, this activity would be a bit boring if you didn’t see anything, but hey, it’s only $15 NZD!

13. Eat out for Lunch or an Early Dinner

Food at Blue Kanu in Queenstown
Blue Kanu is one of our favorite restaurants in Queenstown.
Raw fish at Blue Kanu in Queenstown
Blue Kanu’s dishes taste as good as they look!

If you want a nice meal out without ruining your budget, then you need to eat either at lunchtime or have an early dinner. Many places in Queenstown have lunch specials for $20 NZD or less, or early bird dinner deals. The dinner deals usually end at 6:00 pm so you need to go out early!

There is also a website called First Table, that offers 50% off restaurant bookings if you book 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 pm or checking out advertisements in the Lakes Weekly magazine.

Tip: We LOVE food! So, during our 7 months in Queenstown, we ate almost everywhere, and have written about what we think is the absolute BEST food in Queenstown as well as where you can find the best restaurants in Queenstown too!

14. Enjoy $5 Drinks

Having a beer in Queenstown

While some bars in Queenstown will cost upwards of $12 NZD for a pint, other bars charge as little as $5 NZD during happy hours!

One pub, in particular, that is famous among locals for cheap drinks is called 1876. During Happy Hour, they offer $5.50 NZD tap beer or cider as well as the house wine. Don’t fret when Happy Hour is over though because they offer $6 NZD drinks all day every day!

There are lots of great bars in Queenstown, and a few other places that offer some great drink specials include Rhinos and Surreal. However, you will find lots of drink specials advertised on signs as you walk around town too!

Queenstown is a town full of young “locals” from all over the world living in Queenstown on a working holiday or temporary work visa. Combine them with thousands of tourists and you have a big drinking culture that makes for a vibrant night out. This is why experiencing the fun nightlife and pubs is a must-do while in Queenstown! Which brings us to our next activity…

15. Join a Pub Crawl

A group of people out on a pub crawl in Queenstown
It’s a great way to meet people!

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 $30 NZD per person and you can book this pub crawl that comes with 5 shots and pizza here!

These pub crawls typically meet in town and then walk to 3-4 different pubs/clubs around Queenstown as a group led by a guide. At each location, there are often organized games or free shots. And since you’ll be hanging with the same group of people all night, you’re sure to make some friends and have a few laughs.

There is a new tour in Queenstown that 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! This lets you try a variety of breweries in the area, without having to worry about driving. You can make friends on this tour too, and don’t have to get quite as wild as the other tours above!

And if you’re a true craft beer enthusiast, there’s another behind-the-scenes beer tour! This focuses on craft breweries and includes samples in the ticket price along with a lunch with a view of the Gibbston Valley. The craft beer scene in Queenstown has really boomed in the last few years, so there are a lot of high-quality brews to try on this tour!

16. Drink at an Ice bar

Minus 5 Ice Bar in Queenstown
Minus 5 Ice Bar in Queenstown

An ice bar is exactly what the name suggests – a bar made out of ice! Expect a freezing room, ice sculptures including a physical bar carved from ice, and even drinks and shots served in ice glasses! Don’t worry about dressing for the cold either because they will provide you with warm clothing.

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!

These ice bars in Queenstown are open all year round from about 2 pm until late. These aren’t the type of bars you chill at (no pun intended) for a few hours, instead, you will typically only spend 15-30 minutes in there enjoying one or two drinks.

Non-alcoholic drinks are also available and minors are allowed in the ice bars too!

You can buy tickets for Minus 5 Ice Bar in advance (so you won’t have to wait in the queue) and two cocktails are included in the ticket price! Tickets are $40 NZD per person, they will provide all warm clothes for you and you’ll have 1 hour in there, which is plenty of time because it gets cold!

17. Bus to the Remarkables Ski Field

View of Queenstown from the Remarkables
Some of the views of Queenstown from the Remarkables!

During the winter in Queenstown, you can get a bus up and back to the Remarkables ski field for $25 NZD.

Even if you don’t want to ski or snowboard, there is an amazing view up there and it’s 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 that in the winter you may need to have snow chains. You can hire snow chains in Queenstown for the day for $20 NZD from ski and snowboard rental shops.

In the summer, you can head up to the Remarkables and do the hike to Lake Alta. This is a moderately difficult track that is 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) return. It provides quite remarkable views throughout!

Related Read: If you are interested in the other Queenstown ski fields, read about what it’s like to hit the slopes at Cardrona Ski Resort.

18. Visit local Wineries and Vineyards

Cheersing wine glasses on a wine tour in Queenstown
The Gibbston Valley near Queenstown is world-famous for Pinot Noir!

You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on a wine tour to check out some of the incredible wineries near Queenstown. Central Otago is world-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 around Queenstown offer tastings for around $20-35 NZD a person allowing you to try several different wines. Some of my personal favorite wineries are Mt Rosa, Gibbston Valley, and Mora.

Of course, visiting the wineries on your own requires you to have your own transport. If you don’t, you can book the hop-on hop-off wine tour bus which is only a fraction of the price of an actual guided wine tour! The lovely part about these types of tours is that you get the freedom of spending however much time you want at a winery, and then can simply move on to the next. Plus, transportation being provided means you can drink as much wine as you’d like!

This tour is 6 hours and the bus will come very hour, so you can choose how many wineries you hit. It can be reserved for $79 NZD per person!

You can also explore New Zealand’s largest wine cave on this $20 tour! Gibbston Valley’s Wine Cave is impressive, and you get to try a variety of wines (including its famous Pinot Noir) while learning about the vintages and production. We also love this 45-minute winery tour of Gibbston Valley which is short and sweet, and includes 4 wine tastings along the way! This tour is only $38 NZD, which is very well-priced for a wine tour with tastings.

Related Read: Here are some of the best tours to take in Queenstown to have the most authentic experiences!

19. Get out on the lake

aqua bike in queentown on lake wakatipu
Doesn’t that look like fun?! Photo credit – Queenstown Paddle

Lake Wakatipu is Queenstown’s crown jewel! During the summer, enjoying the lake’s refreshing waters is one of my favorite activities.

You can try stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), the calm waters of Lake Wakatipu make for the perfect place to test your balance on a paddleboard! You can rent paddleboards right at Queenstown Bay Beach during the summer months from a company called Paddle Queenstown. Expect to pay $35 NZD for 55 minutes. Just beware…it looks easier than it is (especially when the jet boats speed by creating a wake)!

An Aqua Bike is another fun activity, it is a 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 from Paddle Queenstown for 25 mins for $50 NZD. This is for two people, so $25 NZD each!

Though my favorite Lake Wakatipu activity is kayaking! If stand-up paddleboarding isn’t your thing then kayaking might be the better option. For the same price, $35 NZD for 55 minutes, you can take a kayak out to explore! Paddle Queenstown rents our kayaks at Queenstown Bay Beach. There is also another company that rents out kayaks from the One Mile parking lot along the road to Fernhill.

This is a great little adventure and a budget option when compared to going on a guided kayaking tour.

You can only do these water activities during the summer months in Queenstown (October to May typically) and need to bring the kayaks back well before sunset.

20. Check out Fear Factory

You don’t have to wait until Halloween to get spooked in Queenstown, Fear Factory is open year-round and is a creepy, yet fun, cheap thing to do!

This is New Zealand’s scariest haunted house, and I’ll admit, I was a bit wigged out! There are actors and characters that will jump out at you and maybe even chase you through the old Lockhart Hotel. Simply follow the trail of red lights through the hallway and try not to yell “I chicken out!” to be relieved to the exit. They have a “chicken list” of over 30,000 people who could not finish the maze- I’m not kidding when I say it’s scary!

If you’re feeling up for the challenge, you can embark on this 30-minute spook-fest for $40 NZD per person. It is marketed towards adults, but brave kids also enjoy it. This is also a private group, so it makes it even more fun to do it with your small group of friends! Book your spot at the Fear Factory in advance here!

FREE Things to do in Queenstown, New Zealand

Let’s finish with the best FREE things to do in Queenstown! All of the below activities can be done without spending a single dollar.

21. Hike Queenstown Hill

Sunset from the top of Queenstown Hill looking at Lake Wakatipu
Sunset from the top of Queenstown Hill looking at Lake Wakatipu

Queenstown Hill is easily one of the best hikes in Queenstown with the most rewarding views. The trail starts from pretty much right in the town center (the location is on Google Maps), so if you don’t have a car then hiking Queenstown Hill is still 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. Otherwise, the sunset is also really amazing.

Queenstown Hill is also one of the few hikes in the area that is accessible all year round. This means that even in the middle of winter it is safe to hike! Just watch out for some ice on the trails and wear good footwear and you’ll be just fine!

22. Self-Driven Lord of the Rings Tour

Daniel dressed up as Gandalf on a Lord of the Rings tour in Queenstown, New Zealand
You may even run into Gandalf himself!

Did you know that many of the Lord of the Rings filming locations were very close to Queenstown? Well, you can go on a variety of Lord of the Rings organized tours to see these locations. While I do highly recommend these tours, they aren’t cheap. So, if you want to stay on budget, simply organize your own self-driven Lord of the Rings tour!

Go to the DOC website to map out your route and then create your own scavenger hunt to find the locations. You can actually get GPS coordinates right from the website as well as detailed descriptions of each location and what scenes were filmed. This website works for LOTR film locations all around New Zealand too!

You will need a car for this activity (you can rent one for cheap if needed) but it is sure to be a fun adventure and worthy of a day!

Some of the places you definitely need to make sure you visit include:

  • Lothlorien – Forest in Mount Aspiring National Park
  • Isengard – Paradise
  • Ithilien Camp – 12-Mile Delta
  • The Argonath on the Anduin River – Kawarau Suspension Bridge
  • Ford of Bruinen – Skippers Canyon
  • Dimrill Dale – Lake Alta

Related Read: Want to go on a guided tour instead? Read our blog about what it’s like to join a LOTR tour in Queenstown!

23. Hike Ben Lomond

Views from the top of Ben Lomond Summit in Queenstown, New Zealand
Views from the top of Ben Lomond Summit in Queenstown, New Zealand

Ben Lomond is a somewhat difficult 14 km or 8.6-mile hike that will take you all day or about 6-8 hours depending on your fitness level to reach the summit. It’s an incredible mountain to climb though with 360-degree panoramic views. If you are up for the challenge, go for it!

If you are looking for the best hike in Queenstown, this would be it!

For many, the summit is too daunting to attempt. That’s perfectly fine, just hike to the saddle instead. It’s much easier and will shave a few hours off your hike time. Also in the winter, it can be dangerous to reach the summit because of snow and ice, but in the summer it’s completely safe.

To make the hike even easier, ride the Queenstown gondola to Bob’s Peak and start the hike from there. This saves you from having to walk the Tikki Trail from Queenstown (which connects with the Ben Lomond Track) and makes reaching the Ben Lomond Saddle super quick!

You can read all about this hike on our Ben Lomond Track blog. Here you can read about the shortcut, what to bring, and more!

24. Enjoy a Sunset on the Shore of Lake Wakatipu

A boat cruises lake Wakatipu at sunset
Just stunning!

Lake Wakatipu is the perfect place to relax at sunset and enjoy a drink by the water. The colorful sunset reflects off the calm lake, and with the mountains as its backdrop, this is a winning view!

There are a few restaurants on the shore of Lake Wakatipu that are perfect for catching the sunset. Some of the most popular include Little Blackwoods, Public Kitchen and Bar, and Pub on the Warf. Perky’s Floating Bar only serves drinks (no food) but offers arguably the best seat in the house for a sunset view in Queenstown (and one of the most Instagrammable spots in Queenstown!)

The Queenstown Bay Beach in town is another great spot to enjoy a sunset next to Lake Wakatipu – for free! This area is actually alcohol friendly until 10 pm so you can bring your own beers or even wine if you want! On a warm summer’s day, the atmosphere here is really vibrant and fun. Expect to see families, groups of friends, and maybe even live music or street performers!

Although it sounds simple, this is truly one of the best relaxing activities in Queenstown that is completely free!

25. Wander the Saturday Markets

Queenstown Saturday Market
Queenstown Saturday Market

On Saturdays, the Queenstown Market is set up at the marina in town right in front of Earnslaw Park. They run from 9 am to 4 pm all year round on Saturdays, but sometimes have extra days during peak seasons too!

At the Queenstown Market, you can buy souvenirs and all other sorts of goodies, but if you want, you can just wander around for free and enjoy the live music put on by local artists.

You’ll find everything from artwork to handmade jewelry to soap to food here – they really have it all at the Queenstown Market!

26. Hike to Bob’s Peak (Top of the Gondola)

Views from Bob's Peak in Queenstown
Views from Bob’s Peak in Queenstown

A gondola ride to Bob’s Peak costs around $52 NZD for adults and $36 NZD for kids. 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 1-2 hours to reach the top.

The Tiki 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 pine trees!

The Tiki Trail starts right in Queenstown at the bottom of the gondola. At the end of the trail, you’ll find yourself at the Skyline building at the top of Bob’s Peak. From here, the views of Queenstown are incredible!

Once at the top, you can just enjoy the views or choose from a variety of other fun activities such as the exhilarating Luge, continuing to hike to the Ben Lomond summit, or even having a bite to eat and drink at the Stratosfare!

If you’re looking to add some excitement to your Bob’s Peak adventure, you can try out the world’s steepest zipline! You can choose between courses ranging from 2 zip lines to 6, so it can fit into any budget or adventure level! And to kick it up a notch, you can even paraglide from the top of Bob’s Peak back down to lake level. You’ll soar over Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, and get incredible views of the Remarkables- this is a gorgeous and thrilling experience!

Zipline tours start at $119 NZD and paragliding is $299 NZD per person. While these are bigger budget items, they are memorable activities for those thrill-seekers with some of the best views in all of Queenstown!

If you want to know more details about all of the fun things to do at the top of Bob’s Peak, check out our blog all about Skyline Queenstown!

27. Try Your Luck at a Quiz Night

bartender making cocktails at Miss Lucy's bar in Queenstown, New Zealand
Miss Lucy’s is one of the many bars around Queenstown that offers a free pop quiz night weekly!

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 Pig & Whistle at 7 pm or Wednesdays at Surreal at 7 pm.

But besides quizzes, lots of local budget bars offer other fun events like bingo or karaoke! These games are of course free to join, but you will likely be tempted to buy a drink (or 3!). Don’t worry though, most places have happy hour deals and you can find a beer for under $7 NZD.

For a completely 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 out what’s happening in Queenstown!), there are often lots of sweet deals advertised in there too!

28. Drive to Glenorchy

View looking towards Glenorchy from the Queenstown to Glenorchy road
View looking towards Glenorchy from the Queenstown to Glenorchy road

If you have a car, then you can take one of the most scenic drives in all of New Zealand – the drive to Glenorchy. The drive is gorgeous at every turn and only takes around 1 hour each way. To me, this is definitely one of the best things on this list of cheap things to do in Queenstown!

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 is a great idea as it is easily one of the best day trips from Queenstown.

Some of the best things you can do in Glenorchy on your day trip from Queenstown include:

If you don’t have a car then consider joining this tour. This is a fantastic way to learn about the area on the scenic drive to Glenorchy, as your local guide is a fountain of information and will point out the most notable sights along the way, as well as hidden gems! You’ll have two hours to explore Glenorchy on your own (with recommendations from your guide) and can check out some of the items listed above. This is a 4-hour tour, which is a good amount of time to enjoy Glenorchy and still leaves time for other Queenstown activities.

This is a convenient option if you don’t have your own transportation or want to learn more about the area as you explore! You can book this tour for $89 NZD per person. Alternatively, you can usually pick up a rental car for the day for cheap.

29. Watch street performers at the waterfront

Along Queenstown’s waterfront, you can find live entertainment any day of the week! There is a booming street performer community in Queenstown and they are quite impressive to watch.

You never know who you’ll see out on the waterfront, but I am usually pretty blown away! There is Happy the adorable singing sheepdog, and the famous piano player who you’ll find moving around the waterfront with his mobile piano! There will often be magicians, dancers, singers, hula hoop performers, and jugglers. Some of these buskers have been working the waterfront for over 20 years, and many are very successful traveling performers and are known all over the world.

You can simply stroll down Queenstown’s waterfront and find a variety of street performers. The great thing is that they rotate frequently, so it’s different any time you go!

30. Explore Bob’s Cove

Famous view from Picnic Point along the Bob's Cove Track, NZ
Famous view from Picnic Point along the Bob’s Cove Track, NZ

Bob’s 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.

Bob’s Cove is only accessible by car and about a 15-20 minute drive outside of Queenstown along the road to Glenorchy (the location can be found on Google Maps.) This small bay is worth the drive, so much so that Peter Jackson (the director of Lord of the Rings) has a house there!

Bob’s Cove lookout hike is one of the most popular trails around Queenstown. It is short and easy taking most people only 20-30 minutes each way. From the top, you’ll have views of the bluest part of Lake Wakatipu!

In the summer months, you could cool off from the hike with a swim in the lake!

No matter what you choose to do though, visiting Bob’s Cove is one of the best free things to do in Queenstown – and when you go for yourself, you’ll see why!

31. Visit Moke Lake

Views of Moke Lake along the Moke Lake Loop
Views of Moke Lake along the Moke Lake Loop

Moke Lake is probably one of my favorite places near Queenstown! It’s only about a 30-minute drive and is simply breathtaking! You can camp at the lake, walk one of the many trails, kayak, or just enjoy the view of Moke Lake and the surrounding mountains. I find it to be such a peaceful area.

The most popular hiking trail in the area is the Moke Lake Loop Track. This trail takes you around the perimeter of the lake. The entire loop takes about 2-3 hours to complete. While it is a beautiful hike, the picture above is not taken from there and I think that there is an even nicer hike (that most people don’t know about!).

If you want to hike to the viewpoint pictured above, you’ll have to read our blog about the Moke Lake Viewpoint trail. This trail is unmarked and only known to locals, so you will need exact instructions to be able to find it!

Although one of my favorite ways to enjoy Moke Lake is to kayak! There is an awesome kayak tour that provides transportation from Queenstown and your kayak equipment, so even if you’re just visiting you can join this fun activity. The views from the water are even more beautiful, and it’s a relaxed way to enjoy the outdoors. This tour will give you a few hours to kayak, explore Moke Lake, and learn bit about this area, all for $$169 NZD.

This is also a fantastic place to camp and is accessible to campervans, too! It is a first-come-first-serve campground and is $15 NZD per person each night. You can get beautiful starry skies over the lake at night- it’s pretty magical!

32. Explore the Queenstown Garden

The Queenstown Garden is a wonderful place to explore for an afternoon in the city. The gardens are located on the lakefront, only a 5-minute walk from downtown and they are open 24/7! The whole botanic garden area covers almost 15 hectares (about 37 acres) and there are a lot of ways to explore it, all for free!

The most popular activity at the Queenstown Garden is walking the 3.1-kilometer (about 2-mile) trail. This is considered an easy walking track and is wheelchair accessible, so everyone can get outside and enjoy the beautiful outdoors! It will only take about 30 minutes to walk this trail, but you’ll have views of Lake Wakatipu, the wildflowers, and the mountains along the way.

There is also a disc golf course at the Queenstown Garden that is a fun, cheap activity! You can rent discs for only $6 NZD and spend as long as you want playing a round.

But perhaps the most unique way to explore Queenstown is by taking a segway tour! Not only do you get to ride a segway (the real draw for me) but it also takes you all over the park, allowing you to cover more ground than just walking. A tour includes your segway and a guided tour so you can learn about the history and ecosystem of the park, which is actually pretty fascinating! Tours can be booked for $91 NZD for a 1-hour tour or $142 NZD for a 2-hour tour.

33. Day trip to Arrowtown

Arrowtown is one of my favorite small towns on the South Island. This historic city was once a haven for gold mining, at its peak there were over 7,000 residents all searching for gold (that’s about double of the population today)! Today, many historic buildings stand so it’s well-known for its charming old architecture and lets you step into the past to learn more about the South Island’s roots. 

One of the most unique free things to do in Arrowtown is to visit the Chinese Settlement along Bush Creek. During the gold rush, Chinese settlers were forced to live along the river and not in town, and many of their huts have been restored. You can wander through them and see how they lived during this era, which was likely very cold during parts of the year!

You also will want to wander through Buckingham Street, which is home to more old beautiful buildings, boutique shops, and tasty restaurants. Although small, Arrowtown is known for its amazing food scene, so coming here for dinner or cocktails is a fun thing to do. Our favorite place is The Blue Door, which is a small and cozy bar that mainly locals frequent, so it’s a hidden gem! They often have live music, which is what first brought us to this venue!

You can easily drive to Arrowtown and find free parking, take the bus, or take a tour if you don’t have transportation! This half-day tour is also a great way to learn about Arrowtown and its significant history. Many of the buildings in Arrowtown hold an important history that I wouldn’t have known about without a tour, so it’s a valuable place to take one! This tour includes transportation from Queenstown, a guided tour of the city, and time to explore on your own, so it’s the best of both worlds.

They will also take you to try locally sourced Manuka Honey and Mead for a bonus stop! You can book this tour in advance for $139 NZD per person, and I think this is a great option to explore Arrowtown!

Where to Stay in Queenstown, New Zealand

the outside of the Hilton on the lake in Queenstown
Want to stay near the lake with mountain views? Yes, please! Photo Credit: Hilton 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 (and the cheapest ones at that!) Here’s our list of recommended hotels in Queenstown:

The Flaming Kiwi Backpackers – $

This was the first place I ever stayed in Queenstown. It’s a great budget backpacker hostel with a very social vibe. The building is kind of old but it’s great value and even has onsite parking for free! A dorm bed here will cost you around $28 NZD per night!

Melbourne Lodge – $$

Another beautiful hotel that is 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!

Rydges – $$

I haven’t actually stayed at the Rydges but my brother has. He recommends it as one of the best places to stay in Queenstown for location, price, and amenities! Surprisingly, rooms start at only $150 NZD per night here.

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-around a great place to stay! Rooms start at $225 NZD.

Hilton Queenstown Spa & Resort – $$$

Bailey and I spent our anniversary at the Hilton and really loved our stay. It’s located a little out of town but they run a free shuttle every 30 minutes. The rooms are beautiful in classic Hilton-style and to me, it’s great value starting at $225 NZD per night.

If you want more information on the different areas to stay in Queenstown and more options for hotels, then check out our blog about where to stay in Queenstown!

Note: When booking hotels we always use The reason? They are almost always cheaper (we have booked over 250 hotels with them) and if you find a better price they’ll match it guaranteed – even if it’s a special on their own website!

Tips for Saving $$$ in Queenstown, New Zealand

Hiking the Mt Crichton loop track in Queenstown, New Zealand
Hiking is one of the best free things you can do in Queenstown

Knowing about the free and cheap things to do 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 (so you can save your dollars for a pricier adventure tour):

  • Book on Viator. We book as many tours as we can on Viator, not only do they have a great cancellation policy, but they also have a “lowest price guarantee”. This means if you find the same tour for cheaper online up to 48 hours after your tour, they will refund the difference! But we’ve found that they usually have reasonable prices anyways, so it’s our go-to option.
  • 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 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!

Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand

Bailey takes a selfie with a JUCY campervan
Ready to hit the road!
Bailey stands infront of a JUCY campervan in New Zealand
JUCY is another favorite!

The first step to planning your New Zealand road trip is choosing your set of wheels! Most people rent a campervan or motorhome to get around, but you can also just rent a normal car and stay in hotels (as opposed to camping.)

You can search for rental cars online here in advance to compare car models and prices.

You can also do this with motorhomes and campervans on a website called Motorhome Republic. It shows all of the available campervans and motorhomes for your specific New Zealand road trip dates. You can compare prices and company reviews here too!

JUCY is our personal favorite campervan rental company in NZ. We love JUCY because they have such a range of both cars and campervans available, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something to suit your budget and travel style.

We’ve actually secured an exclusive discount code for our readers with JUCY. Just click here to browse their availability and use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off! What a good deal!

You can check prices, availability and book with JUCY online here.

Star RV is another company we personally recommend but specifically for motorhomes! They offer larger motorhomes (as opposed to budget campervans) at really reasonable rates.

Star RV has actually given us a discount code for our readers too! Use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off your motorhome rental! Note, this code is only valid for bookings made before June 21, 2024 with travel dates before Dec 21, 2024. Click here to browse availability, prices, and book with our discount code!

Thanks for reading!

on the luge chairlift selfie in queenstown new zealand
Thanks for reading our blog and we hope you love Queenstown, New Zealand as much as we did!

I hope this blog helps you enjoy Queenstown without putting too big of a dent in your wallet. Do you know of other free or cheap things to do in Queenstown that we haven’t mentioned? Tell us in the comments!

We’ve written a ton of informative blogs about traveling in New Zealand to help other travelers plan their trips (and have as much fun as we did!) Be sure to check out all of our New Zealand blogs, Queenstown blogs, or some of our favorites below:

15 BEST Beaches in New Zealand (on the North Island)

The Absolute BEST Milford Sound Cruise + How to Choose a Cruise

7 EPIC South Island Destinations – The BEST Places to Visit on the South Island, NZ


Monday 12th of February 2024

Thank you it’s very helpful to know all this before I plan my trip

L A Frederick

Saturday 2nd of September 2023

Terrific article..made me really want to visit soon!


Saturday 14th of January 2023

Great tips - thank you!

Shontelle Thomson

Saturday 2nd of July 2022

Awesome blog, thank you. Will save us heaps on our trip.


Tuesday 26th of April 2022

The information you have provided is super helpful for planning our stay in Queenstown. Well done and Thank you