Your must-dos and top spots in the adventure capital of New Zealand.
John Travolta once said, ‘Whenever I get stressed I just want to hop on a plane to Queenstown”.
We know how you feel John, we know how you feel.
Queenstown is both relaxation and adrenaline rolled up into one. Like some kind of paradoxical bubble in the middle of the mountains, Queenstown delivers untouched wilderness alongside bustling nightlife. You can take a sophisticated sightseeing tour or indulge in ridiculous thrills. Whatever you choose to do, (or if you choose to do it all), a holiday in Queenstown will blow off the cobwebs and render your stress a distant memory. Listen to John.
We recommend a minimum of 2 days in Queenstown to get a taste of what this charming town has to offer. However, if you've got plenty of time up your sleeve, you could comfortably spend 5 days in Queenstown to get a feel for the region. Feel free to stay longer (some never leave), but if 5 days is your max, here are our top tips for must-dos in Queenstown.
The town in the middle of the mountains
Situated 6 hours’ drive south of Christchurch, Queenstown sits majestically on the shores of Lake Wakatipu in the shadow of the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps. Queenstown is somewhat remote, and weary travellers are often surprised to discover a bustling township appear after a long drive.
Your ultimate 5-day Queenstown itinerary
Day 1 Adventure and Adrenaline
Okay, let’s not mess around. This is what so many people come to Queenstown for. Chances are, the adrenaline will be pumping before you even step foot in Queenstown. If you arrive by plane, the breathtaking mountainous (and sometimes bumpy) approach will have your heart racing. If you arrive by car (check out our New Zealand rental car quotes), expect some thrills as you travel through the aptly named ‘Devil’s Staircase’, the Kawarau Gorge or Crown Terrace (also known as the ‘Zig Zag’ can you guess why).
As you would expect, things are never dull in Queenstown. On the water, you’ll find activities like jet boating, river boarding, rafting, parasailing and scenic cruises aboard the historic TSS Earnslaw steamship. Thrills in the air include skydiving, paragliding and scenic helicopter flights. And there are lots of falling-off-a-perfectly-good-bridge-type-things like bungy jumping and canyon swinging. If you’re having trouble deciding what to do, take a stroll into the centre of Queenstown and watch it all unfolding before you. Over the lake, up in the sky, and on the roads as a steady stream of vans transport wide-eyed tourists to adventure land.
Queenstown may be known as the adventure capital of New Zealand, but it is the striking scenery that is the real thrill. Set against the backdrop of The Remarkables and the sparkling water of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown will take your breath away before you get near a bungy jump, skydive, canyon swing or jet boat.
Day 2 Wine Tasting and Touring
After a day of action, time to take it down a notch. Not only is wine tasting an excellent way to spend a half-day or full day, but it is also one of the best ways to take in the stunning scenery of Queenstown’s surrounding areas like Gibbston Valley, Cromwell and Bannockburn.
Just a short drive from central Queenstown, you will find the ‘valley of the vines’. And if you’re in search of Central Otago’s world-famous Pinot Noir, you’re in the right place.
This is Gibbston Valley and the home of world-class wines, spectacular restaurants and impressive cellar doors. Thanks to Central Otago’s hot summers, cold winters and long, dry autumns a kind of ‘perfect storm’ creates the ideal climate for grape growing.
Jump on a wine tour and take in the best the region has to offer like Amisfield or Chard Farm near Arrowtown. A little further down the road, you’ll find a host of wineries through Gibbston Valley as well as many further afield in Bannockburn and Cromwell.
Day 3 Milford Sound
Time for a bucket list day. No visit to the South Island of New Zealand is complete without a visit to Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound. Because who doesn’t want to include the ridiculously breathtaking beauty of Mother Nature as part of their New Zealand holiday itinerary.
Look, Milford Sound is busier than Grand Central Station some days, and for much of the year it buckets down with rain. But. It. Doesn’t. Matter. Milford Sound is like one of those supermodels who looks good wearing a potato sack. Milford Sound is always stunning and always worth doing.
It is no wonder that visitors travel from around the world to witness the majestic beauty of Milford Sound. You may find it sparkling and vivid on a sunny day or moody and monochrome on a rainy day. Milford Sound is one of the most spectacular fiords in the southern hemisphere, a deep, dark body of water carved by ancient glaciers.
From breathtaking scenery, to breathtaking history. Spend the day soaking in the sights and stories of Queenstown’s remarkable gold mining past in and around Arrowtown, just a 20-minute drive from Queenstown.
When gold was first discovered in the Arrow River in 1862, it triggered a gold rush that brought miners from the Australian and Californian gold fields seeking their fortune. In the harsh Central Otago climate, the miners forged a harsh life in the hope of riches. The town has retained its heritage by maintaining the original main street, as well as many other remnants around the area.
Take a visit to the museum, the Chinese Village and the Arrow River for a taste of what life would have been like in the days of the gold. After the history lesson, visit Buckingham Street where you’ll find unique art galleries and gift shops as well as boutique clothing stores and cafés. Stay for a meal and take your pick from ice-cream at Patagonia, tapas at La Rumbla or a-la-carte at some of the district’s best restaurants like The Postmaster’s Residence, The Chop Shop and Saffron.
Day 5 Walking and Hiking and Biking
Your last day in Queenstown and a great excuse to see the sights at a slower pace. On foot or by bike, Queenstown offers a huge range of tracks to suit all levels of ability and timeframes. You can choose a gentle cruise or an absolute gut-buster. So, there are no excuses!
For a gentle walk, take one of the lake tracks starting from Queenstown Gardens, Frankton Beach or Kelvin Heights. For something a little more strenuous, head up the Queenstown Hill Time Walk or the Skyline Gondola track. And if you’re really feeling sprightly, why not tackle Ben Lomond? This full day hike to the summit of Ben Lomond is certainly challenging, but you're rewarded with impressive 360-degree views.
If you prefer pedal power, there’s an excellent network of cycle trails on the Queenstown Trail for gentle bike rides.
Want to increase the adrenaline factor? You've come to the right place. Queenstown offers some of the best downhill mountain biking in New Zealand. Why not start with the Skyline mountain bike park? Take the easy way up and attach your bike to the gondola before indulging in 25 world-class downhill trails through the pine forest.
And that wraps up 5 fabulous days in Queenstown. Have you had enough….or do you want some more?