Queenstown, New Zealand has something for everyone – adventure, exercise, vineyards, cafes, fine dining and stunning scenery around every corner showcasing the best of the great outdoors. I’d always wanted to visit New Zealand and Queenstown was the perfect first glimpse of Aotearoa, the Maori name for the country meaning ‘land of the long white cloud’. It’s hard not to fall under the spell of the New Zealand’s South Island in particular and Queenstown is no exception.
Queenstown is the gateway to Te Wahipounamu (the greenstone waters) – South West New Zealand’s World Heritage Area, an internationally-recognised UNESCO World Heritage site and regarded as one the great natural areas of the world. Whether you visit Queenstown in winter for the ski season or summer to enjoy the fresh air – this is somewhere you can return again and again (if you are lucky). The best feature of Queenstown is that it is set on the banks of scenic Lake Wakatipu, the third largest lake in New Zealand with crystal clear blue water.
From Queenstown airport, there are a few ways to get into town. The Orbus service leaves every 15 minutes and takes around 25 minutes at $10 one way. You can purchase a ‘GoCard’ from the airport (or on the bus with cash) which will allow you to travel around Queenstown for $2pp. There is a taxi rank just outside the terminal to take you straight into town – the main companies are Blue Bubble (Queenstown Taxi’s) or Green Cabs which both use a metre. We eventually hired a car and if you are there for a few days I would definitely recommend this to make the most of your stay.
- Kamana lake house – I cannot recommend this enough, one of the newer hotels in Queenstown with stunning views over the lake and a wonderful on site restaurant. We stayed here on our last night and didn’t want to leave.
- Sherwood Hotel – we stayed here for 2 nights, an eco friendly hotel on the airport side of the town and a great on site restaurant and bar. A little basic but has everything you need.
- There are a lot of airbnb options if you are a bigger group
- Ferg Burger – had to be at the top of the list. Most people you speak to about Queenstown will recommend this institution and its worth it – I don’t think you’ll find a better burger! Grab a seat inside if you can or take your burger to enjoy along the waters edge.
- Rata – we didn’t make it here but apparently a must.
- Jervois steak house
- Public kitchen and bar
- Farelli’s Trattoria – casual Italian dining.
- Mrs Ferg Gelatoria – next to Ferg Burger for delicious ice cream and baked goods
- Sherwood restaurant – for fresh, seasonal, soul-food harvested from their own kitchen gardens, orchards and surrounding farms.
- Nest kitchen and bar – at Kamana Lake House.
- Botswana Butchery
- Stratosphere – at the top of the skyline gondola, perfect for a sundowner with a view.
- Perky’s floating bar – permanently moored.
- Little Brickwood – a cute and intimate wine and cocktail bar.
- Atlas beer cafe – for craft beer.
- Ride the Skyline Gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak or do this by foot via the Queenstown Hill Time Walk
- Take on one of the many Queenstown hikes – we did the short Bob’s Cove Trail as I was 6 months pregnant and feeling less active – this easy trail sticks to the edge of Lake Wakatipu and we ended with a swim from the pier on the far side of the cove. Some more recommendations here.
- Enjoy a walk around the town and waterfront area.
- Take a thrill ride on the Shotover Jet, a 14-passenger jet boat traversing the Shotover river through narrow canyons.
- Escape the crowds and enjoy a cedar hot tub at Onsen hot tubs. Nine tubs overlook the Shotover River from private rooms with retractable windows and delicious snacks. Advance booking is required and a pickup from town is available. This was definitely one of my highlights.
- Visit one of the many wineries. Queenstown is the gateway to the Central Otago wine region where you’ll find 200 vineyards within a 40 minute drive of the town centre. We visited Peregrine and Chard Farm winery. Make a day of it and organise a tour to shuttle you around.
There are so many things to do in Queenstown (also known as the adventure capital of New Zealand) – from luge rides and bungee jumping to boutique shopping and leisurely cruises along the lake.
Day trips from Queenstown
- Arrowtown – a definite recommendation about 15 minutes from Queenstown were gold was originally found in the Arrow River. A charming little town with beautiful vintage architecture, shops, cafes and galleries.
- Road trip to Lake Wanaka for more breathtaking views and scenery. A recommended hike in the area is Roy’s Peak track and a must stop if you are in the area is Rippon vineyard – the most beautiful setting for a wine farm – bookings recommended for their tasting.
- Time permitting, visit the famous Blue Pools. We didn’t make it this far but it’s on my bucket list and could be tied in with an overnight stay on Lake Wanaka.
- Visit Milford Sound fiord, also nicknamed the 8th wonder of the world. You can get to Milford via car/bus but as we were pressed for time we splurged on a scenic flight with Air Milford and this was a once in a lifetime experience! The trip included an hour cruise to enjoy the sheer cliffs, natural rainforests and waterfalls.
Queenstown is a wonderful base to explore but it is important not to underestimate the distance between places. We squeezed a lot into a few nights and overnighting at one or two other places would be a good idea. It’s not surprising that camper vans are so popular in New Zealand as a great way to cover more distance and make the most of your time in this unique and awe-inspiring destination.
We flew out of Christchurch so for our last night did a little something different and spent the night at Valley Views Glamping. Even though we were reluctant to leave Queenstown – this unique stay with stunning views of the Waitaki Valley was a travel highlight for me personally (particularly the outdoor baths) and waking up surrounded by nature was the perfect end to our New Zealand trip.
For more inspiration visit
- New York Times 36 hours in Queenstown
- Conde Nast Traveller South Island guide
- Lonely Planet Queenstown
I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want to own – Andy Warhol