Queenstown, New Zealand – The Ultimate Travelers' Guide

queestown new zealand ultimate travelers guide

Visiting a new city or town can be daunting, especially one as touristic as Queenstown, New Zealand. It took me more 6 months to work out where the best places to eat are, how to get the best deals, and the best things to do.

The problem is, you’re most likely not going to have 6 months to work it all out. In fact, many visitors only stay for a few days to a week at most in Queenstown.

This means that it’s almost impossible to know how to make the most of your time in Queenstown including things you absolutely cannot miss and where you can save money.

Luckily, I too faced this same problem and I decided to write the best guide to Queenstown I could! But why? Because I love Queenstown! And honestly want you to as well!

For that reason, I’m going to lay out all the ins and outs of visiting Queenstown on a holiday and show you ways to not only save money but have the best experience possible!

But what’s even better is that this advice is coming from me… Daniel and none of the advice I am writing here today has been paid for like almost all the other sites you have probably visited if you Googled Queenstown.

Here is my complete guide to Queenstown – one of the most beautiful places on earth!

Best things to do in Queenstown
Some of the views of Queenstown from the Remarkables mountain range!

About Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown is located on the South Island of New Zealand in the Otago region.

In Otago, Queenstown is part of the Lakes District which is an area that includes other popular tourist destinations such as Wanaka, Glenorchy, Cromwell, and Arrowtown.

Queenstown sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand’s third largest lake. It is surrounded by picturesque mountains and deep gorges. Queenstown’s elevation is 310 meters above sea level.

The area was first settled by gold miners in what ended up being the largest gold rush in New Zealand. After that, farming and adventure sports became the reason people came to Queenstown and the town has grown ever since.

Nowadays, 28,000 people permanently call Queenstown home with that number estimated to double in the next 10 years. However, tourist numbers dwarf that at around 3.2 million visitors annually!

The town was originally called “Camptown” by local gold miners however has adopted the name “Queenstown” because it is said to be “fit for a queen”.


climbing the via ferrata route in Queenstown
Queenstown is all about adventure sports and beautiful views – both of which we got climbing the Via Ferrata climbing route!

The best time to visit Queenstown

There really is no best time to visit Queenstown, New Zealand. Instead, each season has its own unique atmosphere and I love every season for its own reason.

Summer – December to February

Summer is for the hikers and road trippers after rays of sunshine and warm days relaxing on the edge of the lake. It’s Queenstown’s hottest and dryest season and the perfect time to explore waterfalls, swim in lakes, and hike the Great Walks of New Zealand.

Summer is also the busiest time in Queenstown. Expect all holiday parks and most hotels to be booked! Planning is really necessary for this season (keep reading for more info on planning a trip to Queenstown!)

Winter – June to August

Winter is an alpine climber or hiker’s dream. Stunning mountain peaks filled with snow make for the ultimate playground. I personally love winter hiking around Queenstown!

Oh and I almost forgot…

Queenstown is also one of the best places in the southern hemisphere to go skiing or snowboarding. There are 3 ski resorts all within an hours drive of Queenstown.  This time of year is busy especially over school holidays (keeping reading for those weeks). Bookings should be made in advance.

If you would like more information check out our guide to winter in Queenstown.

fresh snow on the remarkables ski field in Queenstown, New Zealand
Laying in some fresh powder!

Spring – September to November

Spring is a beautiful time in Queenstown and also the famous Lupin flowering season. This season begins in November and can run until mid-January.

In Spring most summer activities and tours begin to open and more hikes start to become accessible by mid-October.

In Spring, temperatures begin to warm up and people are excited about Summer. Its also considered a shoulder season so prices are generally cheaper. Just be prepared for a little rain in spring!

Autumn – March to May

Autumn in Queenstown is such an amazing time. Temperatures have cooled down and as the leaves begin to fall they turn the most beautiful colors! One of the most famous places for an Autumn adventure is nearby in Arrowtown – this town literally turns yellow!

Late Autumn is Queenstown’s quietest season and during this time you can get really good deals on tours and accommidation.

Autumn in Queenstown
Queenstown in Autumn is so beautiful! This photo was taken in May so it was a little late in the season. April is the best time!

Queenstown Weather Info

Summer

In Summer, expects high temperatures of around 20°C to 27°C with lows around 8C – 12C degrees. You can expect some rain but mainly in the early months of summer. The sun is very harsh in New Zealand and especially in Queenstown so it always feels much hotter than it is!

Autumn

In Autumn, temperatures begin to drop rapidly. Between March and May, the average high temperature drops from 20°C to 12°C and lows from 9°C to 3°C.

In May you can usually expect the first snowfall of the year in Queenstown, however, it has been known to happen earlier (like this year 2019 in February). May is also one of the wettest months.

Winter

In Winter, temperatures cool down and then stabilize. You can expect average highs of 8°C and lows at 0°C, however, Queenstown temperatures can drop to as low as -6°C. If you’re going skiing expect mountain temperatures of -10°C to 0°C.

Spring

Spring temperatures gradually warm up. Average highs are around 16°C and lows of 6°C.

Spring seems to see lots of light showers and varied weather as the season changes. The wettest month on average is October. You can still get snow until the end of spring!

For more information, click here to read more in-depth information on Queenstown’s weather.

Queenstown i the most popular place to stop on a queenstown road trip
Sunsets in Queenstown

Queenstown School Holidays

During the New Zealand and Australian school holidays, Queenstown gets very busy , especially over summer and winter.

If you plan on traveling in during any of the dates below be sure to book far in advance (at least 4 months in any season but longer over Christmas and New Years).

New Zealand School Holidays 2019

13th April – 28th April

6th July – 22nd July

28th September to 13th October

13th/ 20th December to 28th January/7th February

For up to date New Zealand School holiday dates check the New Zealand government site.

Australia School Holidays 2019

These dates vary state by state however these are the most common dates with the highest populations. Other schools in different states start there holidays a week earlier.

13th April – 28th April

6th July – 22nd July

28th September to 13th October

19th December to 28th January

For up to date Australian School holiday dates click here.


Getting in and out of Queenstown

Flying

Flying into Queenstown is the most convenient way to start your trip. Did you know that Queenstown airport is the third busiest airport in the country? Over 100 flights fly in everyday during the busy months.

Another great thing is that Queenstown airport is actually an international airport. This means there are plenty of direct flights from larger airports like Sydney (a common layover for people flying from the US).

The best place to look for flights to Queenstown is on Skyscanner. However, if you’re not into those large third-party sites another really good company is Kiwi.com.

flying into Queenstown over the mountains
Flying out of Queenstown at sunset! Make sure you book a window seat if your flying in!

Driving

If your flight landed in another city around New Zealand then it’s most likely you’re going to be driving into Queenstown. Road trips are one of the most popular things to do in New Zealand so this is a great way to get here!

There are only 3 roads that lead to Queenstown so you don’t have much choice. However, if you are traveling south via Wanaka or the West Coast, I highly suggest taking the Crown Range road. The Crown Range is New Zealand’s highest highway and offers stunning views.

If you are traveling in winter and it has been snowing it might be best to take the detour to Cromwell. This route passes through the Gibston Valley wine region – another great place to visit on a wine or craft beer tour!

The third way into Queenstown comes from the south or Fiordland National Park area near Milford Sound and the southern city of Invercargill. Be sure to stop off in Milford Sound if your soming this way!


one of the best places to take a photo is on the road to mount cook
This is Mount Cook! If your driving into Queenstown be sure to stop here!

Want to know how to take the photo above? Check out our post on exactly where it is and how to take the famous Mount Cook photo.


Queenstown Airport to Queenstown


Taxi or Uber

These cost around $35 from the airport to Queenstown city center (a pretty hefty price for the 6km journey). You can get a taxi or Uber outside of the main terminal. Uber isn’t much cheaper than taxis in Queenstown unfortunately.


Take the Bus

From the airport, you can actually get the public bus to town for $2! To do this you will need to buy a Go Card from the bus driver for $5 and load $10 on it (that’s the minimum.) This card can be used for as many people as you want and any single or one transfer bus ride is $2.

If you don’t want to get the card a single ride is $5 per person.

There are a few different buses that head to different areas however there is only one bus that picks up and drops off at the airport – this is bus number 1.

This bus will then go straight to Queenstown. If you’re not staying in Queenstown then don’t stress, this bus also stops at a bus terminal where you can change buses.

You can use this trip planner to help you find your route or just ask the driver (they are very friendly in Queenstown and used to tourists!)


Shuttle

If the bus sounds too hard then consider a shuttle. Super Shuttle are the cheapest option in Queenstown at $12 for a single person. This is for one seat on a shared bus.

If you’re in a large group then these guys are also great. You can pay as little as $70 for up to 11 people. They have a trailer to carry luggage too.

You must book the Super Shuttle in advance to secure a spot.


Rental Car

If you plan on renting a campervan or car then it’s going to be pretty easy. You will just need to meet with your rental company at their office (most are right by the airport). Most organize free transfers to the car yard from Queenstown airport. But please ask them before arriving.

Check out our guide to renting a campervan in New Zealand for more information on the dos and dont’s of campervan rental.

For 5% off campervan rental with Mad Campers use the discount code DEST5

Campervan rental in New Zealand takes you to some amazing spots
Taking our rental vehicle for a road trip in winter!

Getting Around Queenstown


Bus

The Cheapest way to get around Queenstown is on the bus. As mentioned above if you have a Go card you can ride the bus almost anywhere for $2 a ride.

Without the opal card its $5 per ride. There are a few different routes and with the bus you can get just about anywhere around town.


Hitchhiking

Hitchhiking is very popular in Queenstown and also very safe. It’s also completely free and you’re likely to meet some great people while doing it. I have never had to wait more than 10 minutes while trying to get a ride.


Uber or Taxi

Like I said above, Ubers and taxi’s are really expensive in Queenstown. However, they are regularly available and super convenient.

You can catch a cab from almost any street in town or you can call 0800 46 47336.


Rent a Bike

Bike rental is a great way to get around Queenstown! There’s plenty to explore and on a bike and you can ride out to some very beautiful places around the lake.

Station to station bike ride is the best tour in Queenstown near Queenstown.
Riding through some of the most beautiful areas around Queenstown with no tourists in sight!

Queenstown Accommidation

Accommodation in Queenstown isn’t cheap especially during busy times. Prices vary however accommodation comes in four different budgets:


Low Budget ($30 to $40 per person)

For visitors on a low budget, dorm rooms and budget doubles are the best options. At most hostels, you can find a dorm bed in a large shared room for around $30 and at these same places, doubles go for around $70.

A great place to consider for cheap accommodation in Queenstown is:


yha lakefront budget places to stay in queenstown

YHA Lakefront

This hostel offers comfortable dorm beds and good facilities for a great price! Is located only a 5-minute walk from town center and is right on the lake with fantastic views!


Medium Budget ($50 to $70 per person)

This range is for the slightly more luxurious traveler. In this price range you can get a more luxurious double room or for families a 1 bedroom apartment that can sleep four people

A great option for medium budget accommodation in Queenstown is:


The Melbourne lodge Queenstown

Melbourne Lodge

The Melbourne lodge offers comfortable private rooms in a great location only 5 minutes from town center. There rooms also include breakfast which is rare in Queenstown!


Med/high Budget ($80 to $120 per person)

In this price range, you’re looking a really nice double room or two bedroom apartment for families. Some apartments in this price range can hold up to six people for less than $400 a night.

A great option in this higher price range is:


St James apartments

St James Apartments

The St James apartments offers luxurious double rooms and 1 to 3 bedroom apartments in an awesome location right in town.


High Budget ($125 to $200 per person)

If you’re lucky enough to be looking in this range then you are sure to find something very luxurious. For this price, you could get a lake view room at the Ridges or Hilton in the busy season or a nice two or three bedroom apartment for families or large groups.

A great luxurious option in Queenstown is:


The Rees Hotel and luxury apartments

The Rees Hotel

The Rees Hotel and Apartments has very comfortable and luxurious private rooms and 1 to 3 bedroom apartments right on the lakefront. There location is a little out of town.


For more information on accommodation in Queenstown check out our blog post “Where to stay in Queenstown”.

This post breaks down the different areas in and around Queenstown and includes both the pros and cons of each area.


Things to do in Queenstown – Queenstown Activities

There are literally hundreds of things to do in Queenstown and to be honest, it’s quite overwhelming. However, there are a few Queenstown activities that stand out from the rest that I think are well worth considering!

If you’re after more ideas than the ones mentioned below the be sure to read our huge post on 101 things to do in Queenstown – which includes just about everything you could possibly think of!


Hiking in Queenstown

Hiking is one of the most popular activities to do in Queenstown, New Zealand. Within a few short minutes, you can venture out onto many different hiking trails.

Some of the most popular hiking trails near Queenstown and my personal favorites are:

  • Queenstown Hill – A 3-hour hike that leads to a stunning viewpoint looking over Queenstown.
  • Ben Lomond – This 7-hour hike leads to the Ben Lomond summit. The views are incredible (just be sure to have breakfast before this beast!)
  • Fernhill Loop – A short hike that starts in Fernhill. This trail offers very similar views to Queenstown Hill but is much less popular and busy.

For more hiking ideas check out our “must do hikes in Queenstown” blog!

The view from Queenstown hill while hiking in Queenstown, New Zealand
The morning glow hiking on Queenstown Hill!

Things to do Around Queenstown, New Zealand

Of course, you don’t always have to venture out of Queenstown to find some awesome things to do.

Here are some awesome things you can do right in Queenstown town center:

  • Relax at the beach – In summer, the beach packs out with people keen for a swim and a drink! There is also a few water sports available like jet skiing and paddle boarding.
  • Try Ferg Burger – It’s honestly the best burger in New Zealand! A few people think Devil Burger is better but in our Ferg Burger vs Devil Burger blog post, we squash that theory!
  • Join a Pub crawl – Queenstown is known for its party scene and a pub crawl is a great way to meet people. They run every Saturday night.
  • I-fly Indoor Skydiving – This place just opened in Queenstown, and in fact, I actually had a part in building it! Its super fun and really unique activity. You can book your i-fly experience here!
Ferg burger is a best things to do in Queenstown
Bailey and I eating at Ferg Burger for the first time! Since then we have been back maybe 15 times!

Day Trips from Queenstown

Queenstown, New Zealand is the perfect place to venture out on a day trip! Its surrounding landscapes are just too stunning not to explore.

Some of the best places to head to on a day trip from Queenstown are:

  • Glenorchy – Glenorchy is a small town about an hours drive from Queenstown. However, a visit to Glenorchy isn’t all about the destination and instead the drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy is one of the most beautiful in New Zealand! You could visit Glenorchy in half a day and still see all of the amazing sites along the way.
  • Wanaka – Wanaka is often compared to Queenstown but both are uniquely beautiful in their own way. I love Wanaka’s relaxed vibe and love the view of the lake and surrounding mountains. One of the best things to do in Wanaka is to hike Roy’s Peak.
  • Arrowtown – Located only 30 minutes from Queenstown, Arrowtown is a beautiful gold rush town that has kept its old architecture. In Arrowtown, you can learn about the gold rush and do some souvenir shopping!
  • Milford Sound – You can’t miss a trip to Milford Sound! You can either drive yourself from Queenstown or join a Milford Sound scenic cruise bus trip. And if a day trip is not enough, consider spending the night!

You can book your Milford Sound adventure here!

milford sound boat cruise day trip
Milford Sound is so beautiful at sunset ,so if you have the time consider staying the night!

If you would like more information on staying in Milford Sound check out our post on “Where to stay in Milford Sound“.


Adventure Activities in Queenstown

Queenstown is New Zealand’s adventure capital so there’s plenty of activities to get your adrenaline pumping.

Some of my favorite adventure activities in Queenstown are:

  • Bungy Jumping – The world’s first commercial bungy was opened in Queenstown. There are several locations to jump, just pick one and take the plunge!
  • Skydiving – As a skydiver, I can’t recommend skydiving in Queenstown enough! It’s literally the most beautiful place in the world to do it!
  • Canyoning – A mix of swimming, jumping, abseiling, and climbing! Canyoning in Queenstown is still the coolest tour I have done in Queenstown! Give it a go – trust me! You can book your canyoning adventure here!
  • Skiing or snowboarding – There are 3 ski fields within 45 minutes of Queenstown, so you’re spoiled for choice. The Queenstown ski season is such a fun time to be in town (just make sure you’re there in winter!)
Canyoning is actually the best thing to do in Queenstown
Canyoning was super fun and we both highly recommend it!

Tours in Queenstown

I have done countless tours in Queenstown and these three are the ones that stand out the most:

  • Lake Wakatipu cruise – Queenstown scenic cruises head down Lake Wakatipu towards Glenorchy. Here, the views are breathtaking. This is a really relaxing way to spend a morning and a cheap one too! Cruises start at as little as $39! You can also upgrade your tour to include a farm animal experience!
  • Queenstown wine tour – I fell in love with Pinot Noir in Queenstown for one reason – a wine tour to the Gibston Valley wine region! If you too love wine then this is a must! You can book your wine tour here!
  • Lord of the Rings tour – If you’re a LOTR fan then this tour will be a real treat! I’m not actually a huge fan but really enjoyed the tour as it’s also very scenic too!
dressing up as lord of the rings charaters
Bailey and I…or should I say an Elf and Gandalf!!!

Where to Eat in Queenstown

I love eating out in Queenstown for the simple fact there are so many amazing places to eat! However, there are a few that really stand out and that I highly recommend!

  • Blue Kanu – If you go to one restaurant in Queenstown make it Blue Kanu. It’s a Pacific Islander style restaurant and their food is literally so amazing it hurts to think about it!
  • Farelli’s – These guys do amazing Italian food. I recommend getting pasta here as it’s all homemade and super fresh!
  • The Cow – The Cow is another Italian restaurant. It’s also very unique as its the oldest restraint in Queenstown. It’s located in an old barn and the pizza here is next level!

For more great places to eat check out our “best restaurant in Queenstown” blog here!

blue kanu is one of the best restaurants in queenstown
The duck nachos at Blue Kanu are incredible! You need to try them!

Where to Drink in Queenstown

Queenstown is filled with awesome bars and depending on what kind of atmosphere you like you, can always find something. A few great places to try out are:

  • World Bar – This place is super trendy and they make amazing cocktails!
  • 1876 – Cheap $5 beers and wine all day, and from 4 pm until 6 pm they lower that to $4!
  • Smiths – These guys have about 30 craft beers on tap – most of which are from New Zealand. Oh, and they have awesome poutine too!
  • Attiqa Attiqa is a fancy wine bar that’s always got amazing live music. They also serve small plates and tapas!
Best bars in Queenstown!
World Bar!

For more great bars check out our blog post about the “best bars in Queenstown


How to Save Money in Queenstown

I have never paid full price for a tour in Queenstown and rarely eat out without getting some kind of deal. 

There are two websites, in particular, that I use to save money in Queenstown. They are:


First Table

First Table is awesome! How it works is for a $10 booking fee you get 50% off your food at a restaurant for up to 4 people. But what’s the catch?

Well, most places only give out one table per night and it’s usually around 6pm – hence the name First Table. But there’s one more thing…

The most popular restaurants need to be booked as soon as they open up on First Table. This is 7 days before the booking date at around 12:05 am New Zealand time (It’s supposed to be 12 am but they always open a little late).

For example, if you wanted to book Blue Kanu for Wednesday the 14th you would need to be looking at midnight on Wednesday the 7th. Keep refreshing the page until you can book.

But it’s not all bad news.

Most restaurants don’t book up that fast and there are plenty you can get on the day!

short hikes from Queenstown
Bailey and I watching the sun rise over the city we love!

Book Me

Book Me is another great website for finding deals on tours. Here you can get discounts on most tours around Queenstown. This includes helicopter flights, bungee jumping, kayaking, and more!

Book Me deals vary day to day and are mainly used to fill extra spots in tours. However, you can book a few weeks in advance and on many activities you can find 4 to 5 spots, so it’s great for families too!

Some days if I’m bored I’ll search Book Me for a great deal and just go for it!

You can also find deals on restaurants on Book Me. These deal usually come at a 50% discount however much less is available than on First Table.

If tours are still out of your price range, then check out our post on the free and cheap things to do in Queenstown!


relaxing up at skyline queenstown with wine
Wine with a view!

Wow, what a post! I hope this article has cleared a few things up for your upcoming visit to Queenstown, New Zealand. Please, if you have any questions just leave them below and we WILL get back to you!


Keep Reading…

We have lots of other great articles about Queenstown and New Zealand. Some you might like are:


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