Queenstown, New Zealand – The Ultimate Guide to Queenstown
Visiting Queenstown can be daunting, especially considering Queenstown is one of the most touristic towns in New Zealand. In fact, it took me more than 6 months to work out where the best places to eat were, 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 in Queenstown to work it all out. Many visitors to Queenstown only stay for a few days to a week at most.
This means that it’s almost impossible to know how to make the most of your time in Queenstown.
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!
Here is my complete guide to Queenstown – one of the most beautiful places to visit in New Zealand!
About Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown is located on the South Island of New Zealand in Otago.
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 at an elevation of 310 meters above sea level. It is surrounded by picturesque mountains and deep gorges.
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”.
The best time to visit Queenstown, New Zealand
There really is no best time to visit Queenstown. Instead, each season has its own unique atmosphere and I personally 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 in Queenstown to be booked! Planning is really necessary for this season (keep reading for m
Winter (June to August)
In winter, Queenstown is one of the best places in the southern hemisphere to go skiing or snowboarding. There are 3 ski resorts all within an hour’s drive of Queenstown.
As for scenery, I much prefer the beautiful snow-covered peaks in winter as opposed to summer.
Wintertime in Queenstown is a busy time of year especially over school holidays (keeping reading for those weeks). This is because of the winter sports around the area. You should book your accommodation in Queenstown during this period well in advance.
If you would like more information check out our guide to winter in Queenstown.
Spring (September to November)
Spring is a beautiful time in Queenstown and also the famous lupin flowering season. The lupin 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.
Temperatures begin to warm up and people are excited about summer. It’s 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 accommodation.
Queenstown Weather Information
In Summer, expect high temperatures of around 20°C to 27°C (68 to 80°F) with lows around 8C to 12C (46 to 53°F) 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
In Autumn, temperatures begin to drop rapidly. Between March and May, the average high-temperature drops from 20°C to 12°C (68 to 53°F) and lows from 9°C to 3°C (48 to 37°F).
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.
In winter, temperatures cool down and then stabilize. You can expect average highs of 8°C (46°F)and lows at 0°C (32°F), however, Queenstown temperatures can drop to as low as -6°C (21°F). If you’re going skiing expect mountain temperatures of -10°C to 0°C (14 to 32°F).
In spring temperatures gradually warm up. Average highs are around 16°C (60°F) and
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 though, and even in early summer!
For more information, click here to read more in-depth information on Queenstown’s weather.
Visiting Queenstown during School Holidays
During the New Zealand and Australian school holidays, Queenstown gets very busy, especially over summer and winter.
If you plan on traveling during any of the dates below be sure to book far in advance (at least 6 months in any season but longer over Christmas and New Year break).
New Zealand School Holidays 2020
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 2020
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, New Zealand
Flying into Queenstown is the most convenient way to start your trip. Did you know that Queenstown airport is the third busiest airport in New Zealand? Over 100 flights fly in and out every day 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 USA).
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.
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.
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 Gibbston 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 you’re coming this way!
Getting from Queenstown Airport to Queenstown
1. Taxi or Uber
A taxi or Uber from Queenstown airport to Queenstown costs around $35 to the 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 and you’ll need wifi if you don’t have a sim card.
2. 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 Go Card, a single ride paid with cash 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!)
3. Queenstown Shuttle
If the bus sounds too hard then consider a shuttle. Super Shuttle is 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.
4. Rental Car or Campervan
If you plan on renting a campervan or car in Queenstown 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.
If you’re not sure where to rent your car or campervan from I know two great sites where you can browse every company in one quick search. For cars the best one is Rentalcars.com and for campervans or motorhomes, I love using Motorhome Republic.
Alternatively, we also have these special discounts for our readers:
Check out our guide to renting a campervan in New Zealand for more information on the dos and
of campervan rental. dont’s
Getting Around Queenstown, New Zealand
1. Public 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 Go Card. the bus costs $5 per ride. There are a few different routes and with the
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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
Queenstown, New Zealand Accommodation
Accommodation in Queenstown isn’t cheap especially during busy times. Prices vary however accommodation comes in four different budgets:
Low Budget ($30 to $40 NZD 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 few great places to consider for cheap accommodation in Queenstown are:
Medium Budget ($50 to $90 NZD per person)
This range is for the slightly more luxurious traveler. In this price range, you can get a more comfortable double room or for families, a 1 bedroom apartment that can sleep up to four people.
A few great options for medium budget accommodation in Queenstown are:
Med/high Budget ($100 to $130 NZD per person)
In this price range, you’re looking for 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 few great options in this higher price range are:
High Budget ($140 to $300 NZD per person)
If you’re lucky enough to be looking in this range then you’re sure to find something very luxurious. For this price, you could get a lake view room at the Rydges or Hilton in the busy season, or a nice two or three-bedroom apartment for families or large groups.
A few great luxurious options in Queenstown are:
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
If you’re after more ideas than the ones mentioned below, then be sure to read our huge post on 33 free and cheap things to do in Queenstown – which includes all our favorite budget activities in Queenstown, New Zealand.
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
- 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 “8 must do hikes in Queenstown” blog!
Things to do in Queenstown town center
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 are also a few water sports available like jet skiing and paddleboarding.
- 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! It’s super fun and really unique activity. You can book your i-fly experience here!
Day Trips from Queenstown, New Zealand
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 hour’s 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 or check out the famous Wanaka Tree.
- 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!
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!)
Scenic tours in Queenstown
I have done countless scenic 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
GibbstonValley 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! You can book your LOTR tour online!
Where to Eat in Queenstown, New Zealand
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 restaurant in Queenstown. It’s located in an old barn and the pizza here is next level!
Where to Drink in Queenstown, New Zealand
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!
For more great bars check out our blog post about the best bars in Queenstown!
How to Save Money in Queenstown
I rarely pay full price for meals out in Queenstown!
The one website I love in particular, that I use to save money in Queenstown is 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 6 pm – 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!
Before you go…
Wow, what a post! I hope this article has cleared a few things up for your upcoming visit to Queenstown, New Zealand. I really hope you enjoy yourself and make lifelong memories here in New Zealand!
If you have any questions or comments please leave them below and we WILL get back to you!
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May 17, 2020