The ultimate guide to Queenstown, New Zealand

jet boat in queenstown

Zoe Macfarlane

Posted April 11, 2022

Queenstown is one of New Zealand’s star attractions, with scenery so stand-out that every street you pass, every hilltop you climb, every attraction you visit, an awe-inspiring view accompanies it.

Mother Nature conspired to bring beauty to Queenstown through her lakes, mountains, forests, and rivers. Humans conspired to bring attractions that wow. Together it combines into an idyllic vacation you won’t forget. 

Best activities to do in Queenstown, New Zealand

Experience Queenstown's gorgeous landscapes

To see the best of Queenstown’s breathtaking vistas, head high up above the houses. The Skyline Gondola offers the most effortless way to see far across the Southern Alps, getting you 450m above the town on the Southern Hemisphere’s steepest gondola. To dine with Lake Wakatipu shimmering below, opt for the Skyline Gondola dinner package - RACV Members save on this attraction.  

If you’re into hiking (or tramping, as the Kiwis say), then the Ben Lomond trail offers outstanding panoramic lake and mountain views that leave a lasting impression (and make the last part of the climb worthwhile). Plan for 3-4 hours to reach the saddle; 6-8 hours for a return summit hike. 

For more thrilling ways to capture the best of Queenstown’s scenery, choose to paraglide from Bob’s Peak, take a scenic helicopter ride, or skydive if you’re a true daredevil!


helicopter flying  over snowy mountains

A scenic helicopter flight is one of the best ways to take in the landscape around Queenstown. Image: Over The Top Helicopters

Seek Queenstown's boldest thrills

Queenstown did not get its ‘Adventure Capital of the World’ moniker for its love of a quiet day indoors. Queenstown is where visitors come to face their fears and conquer a challenge. We can’t think of any other place where you can try your hand at so many thrilling activities in one trip.  

Queenstown has invented a ton of ways to leap off a cliff, over a ravine, or off a ledge, with the most notorious being the bungy jump. Head to Nevis Valley for the most scenic – and highest – bungy jump in NZ, with the stakes doubled if you add a catapult swing across Nevis Valley. Are you game? 

You can get your thrills without leaping off a platform, of course. Take a jet boat ride or whitewater raft the Shotover Canyon, whizz down the world’s steepest zipline, and abseil the gorgeous Black Spur Canyon.

In winter, Queenstown draws global visitors to whizz down the town’s three impressive ski fields: Cardona, Coronet Peak, and The Remarkables. Queenstown’s fabulous après ski scene woos snow lovers, too.


bungee jumpers over the shotover canyon

Bungee jumping is one of New Zealand's many thrills. Image: Shotover Canyon Swing

Day trip Otago's historic mining towns

Charming historic gold mine towns surround Queenstown, providing interesting regional insights. The Central Otago Gold Rush started in 1861, drawing thousands of miners to the area in the hoping for riches. 

Arrowtown is perhaps the most famous gold mine town in the region, set against a stunning alpine backdrop. Bedford Street takes you back in time (and offers a souvenir or two), and the Lakes District Museum reveals Arrowtown’s rich history. While you’re here, you can also rent a gold pan and head to the Arrow River to emulate those pioneering miners. The golden leaves of autumn showcase Arrowtown at its best. 

Stop by Cardrona for a pub lunch in New Zealand’s oldest hotel. Be sure to stop for a selfie at Cardona’s Bra Fence. 

Cromwell is New Zealand’s farthest inland town, nestled in the scenic Otago Ranges. Check out the Cromwell Heritage Project and snap a photo at the town’s giant fruit statue. Speed lovers, visit Highlands Motorsports Park to ride a supercar or take a spin around the go-kart track. Cromwell has a range of wineries and cellar doors close by, including Mt Difficulty and Brannock Brae Wineries.


cyclists riding under trees in arrowtown

Arrowtown is arguably the most famous gold mine town in Otago. Image: Miles Holden

Visit the 8th Wonder of the World: Milford Sound

Rudyard Kipling declared Milford Sound the “8th wonder of the world” he was so taken by the captivating beauty. Although four hours by car from Queenstown, it’s a worthwhile day trip due to its unrivalled scenery. Deep in Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound is best experienced on a cruise. Perhaps more appealing for the adventurous traveller, book a cruise-kayak option where you’ll have the opportunity to paddle into one of Milford Sound’s gushing falls. It’s exhilarating!

The drive to Milford is a scenic and windy one, so many visitors prefer to leave a skilled bus driver to tackle the twists and bends of the mountain switchbacks. Book a return bus trip or opt for your day to include land, water, and sky on a coach-fly tour.


waterfall in milford sound

Milford Sound is the perfect day trip from Queenstown. Image: Graeme Murray

Splurge like royalty

Holiday rules apply in this holiday town - which means you have ample excuses to splurge! 

Indulging in food in Queenstown is a must. No visit is complete without a stop (or two) by the town’s iconic burger joint, Ferg Burger. Leave some space for a sweet treat from Balls and Bangles, and the handmade chocolates at Patagonia make great gifts to take home (if they make it that far). Blue Kanu is a popular restaurant for locals and visitors alike. 

Queenstown does hot tubs as well as it does adventure activities. The gorgeous Onsen Hot Pools are the most popular, thanks to their epic views. There’s also The Spa at Nugget Point and the private Hot Tub on a Hillside. All offer a soothing soak against the most spectacular scenery.

The sheer volume of wineries around Queenstown makes it a no-brainer to include a splurge-worthy vineyard or two in your itinerary. For ease, a winery tour gets you access to five of Otago’s best; it’s the perfect introduction.

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