The Top 15 Things to Do in Queenstown, New Zealand

town scene with red autumn leaves in foreground and snowy mountains in background

Matthew Micah Wright / Getty Images

Set on Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by the Remarkables range of the Southern Alps mountains, Queenstown is as pretty as it is unusual. The tourist hub has a permanent population of just 16,000, which is small even by New Zealand standards. But it gets a steady stream of visitors, attracted to the nearby ski resorts in winter and outdoor adventures like hiking and bungee jumping the rest of the year. Though it's relatively isolated, Queenstown is far from a typical Kiwi town—it's easier to shop for international designer brands than it is for gumboots and farming gear (as you'd find in other New Zealand towns of Queenstown's size). So whether you're looking for adrenaline-fueled adventure or to relax with a view, you'll find plenty of things to keep you busy. Here's how to spend your time in Queenstown.

01 of 15

Ride the Skyline Gondola Above the Town

cable car above city and lake with mountains in background

Steve Stringer Photography / Getty Images

53 Brecon Street, Queenstown 9300, New Zealand
Phone +64 3 441 0101

If you're short on time in Queenstown or aren't able to do any other adventurous outdoor activities, make sure to ride the Skyline gondola up to Bob's Peak at 1,476 feet. There are outdoor and indoor viewing areas (including a café), and the panorama of the town, Lake Wakatipu, and mountains are excellent in every season. As it's higher than the town, take some warm clothes—it's usually colder than down below.

02 of 15

Zoom Down a Hill on a Luge

luge track winding down a hill with lake, mountains and blue sky in background

Bishwamber Nath / Getty Images

Queenstown 9300, New Zealand

After taking the Skyline gondola up to Bob's Peak, one of the activities you can enjoy from there is the luge. Drive your luge cart down almost a mile of tracks, with twists, tunnels, and dippers keeping the ride exciting. When you've finished, you can take the chair lift back up for another ride, or take the cable car back down the hill (the luge track doesn't get you all the way to town). Kids must be at least 6 years old, or 3.6 feet tall (110 centimeters), to ride their own luge cart.

03 of 15

Learn About Gold Rush History in Arrowtown

row of shops on a street through a town with mountains in background

Nigel Killeen / Getty Images

Arrowtown, New Zealand

Just 12 miles away, Arrowtown is a popular day trip destination from Queenstown—but because of its proximity to skiing, hiking, biking, fishing, and winery tours, it can be a good place to base yourself if you'd rather stay somewhere a little quieter.

Founded in 1862, Arrowtown is a gold rush-era town on the Arrow River. It has more than 60 heritage buildings, giving the town an old vibe that's rare in New Zealand. The buildings demonstrate both the European and Chinese heritage of the area, as a large number of Chinese gold prospectors came over here in the 19th century.

04 of 15

Hike in the Mountains

man on grassy ledge high on a hill overlooking a town, lake and mountains

Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

Some of New Zealand's most famous and popular long-distance hikes aren't too far from Queenstown (including the Milford Track in Fiordland National Park), but you can also enjoy shorter hikes while staying in Queenstown itself. Whether you'd rather walk flat trails along a lake or get above the town for panoramic mountain views, there are many options, including:

  • The Ben Lomond Track: Starting from the base of the gondola in Queenstown, this advanced trail is around 7 miles long.
  • The Gibbston River Trail: An easy 5.5-mile hike that takes you to wineries.
  • Lake Rere Track: A moderate 9-mile loop that includes views of the Greenstone River, Lake Rere, and Lake Wakatipu's Elfin Bay.
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05 of 15

Kayak on Lake Wakatipu

red kayak on stony beach beside calm blue lake with trees, clouds and mountains in background

alex_tok/ Getty Images

Lake Wakatipu, Otago, New Zealand

Lake Wakatipu is a finger lake surrounded by mountains and lined with pebbled beaches. While the area around downtown Queenstown is quite busy with water traffic, you don't have to go very far to find a more peaceful corner, which is ideal for kayaking. Rental companies are dotted around the lake and can suggest routes for a gentle paddle.

06 of 15

Hit the Mountain Biking Trails

hands gripping bike handlebars riding along grassy hill with mountains in background

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In addition to gentle cycling around Lake Wakatipu, you'll find ample rugged mountain biking opportunities in the hills and mountains around Queenstown. There are numerous places to rent bikes in the center of town. The Skyline gondola allows cyclists to transport their bikes uphill to dedicated mountain bike parks, from where you can ride downhill. Outside of the ski season, the Coronet Peak ski resort is another place to ride, and is just a 20-minute drive from Queenstown; they have bikes and gear are available to rent.

07 of 15

Check Out the Local Art at Queenstown's Galleries

Good local art can be found in many places throughout New Zealand, but there's a large concentration of it in Queenstown. As you stroll through the center of town, you'll come across many galleries displaying local art, much of it depicting the surrounding mountains and lakes. You don't have to be on the lookout to buy any art to appreciate it, but if you are, you'll have a lot of choices, including Ivan Clarke Gallery and the Queenstown Arts Centre.

08 of 15

Bungee Jump With a View

blonde woman jumping off platform with bungee cord attached and blue lake below

Matthew Micah Wright / Getty Images

Gibbston Valley, Queenstown 9384, New Zealand
Phone +64 3 450 1300

Although New Zealander A.J. Hackett can't exactly be credited with "inventing" bungee jumping, he did open the world's first permanent commercial bungee jumping site in 1988. That was at the Kawerau Bridge, 15 miles from Queenstown, where bungee jumping still takes place every day. If you're going to fling yourself off a platform with an elasticated cord attached to your ankles, Queenstown is a good place to do so. The turquoise waters of the Kawerau Gorge are inviting.

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09 of 15

Sample Central Otago Wines

glass of wine and plates of food on an outdoor table with trees and lake in background

Terraxplorer / Getty Images

After Marlborough at the top of the South Island, Central Otago is the second-largest wine-producing area in New Zealand. Pinot noir in particular is produced at more than 100 wineries around Queenstown, Wanaka, and Cromwell. Visit a winery with an onsite restaurant for an indulgent lunch or dinner, take a winery tour so you don't have to drive, or pick up a local bottle at any restaurant or supermarket in Queenstown.

10 of 15

Drive Out to Glenorchy

blue lake with road running alongside and snow-capped mountains behind

Cavan Images / Getty Images

Glenorchy 9372, New Zealand

Although there are many contenders for New Zealand's most scenic road trip, the drive between Queenstown and Glenorchy is definitely up there. The small settlement of Glenorchy is located on the northeastern edge of Lake Wakatipu, 28 miles from Queenstown. It takes about 45 minutes to drive directly, but there are many places to stop for photos along the way. The road skirts the eastern shore of the lake and offers gorgeous mountain views. Glenorchy and nearby Paradise (yes, that's a real place) were filming locations for the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

11 of 15

Whitewater Raft Down Picturesque Rivers

aerial shot of two rafts on a blue river in a canyon

Jasper Madsen / EyeEm / Getty Images

Whitewater rafting adventures can be had all over New Zealand, but Queenstown is one of the best places to experience one. Gentler, family-friendly trips can be taken on the Kawerau River, while the Shotover River provides more thrills on grade 3-5 rapids. Rafting trips on the Shotover start at Skippers Canyon; the road from Queenstown is hair raising, so the journey over is an exciting experience in and of itself.

12 of 15

Get an Adrenaline Rush on a Jet Boat Ride

jet boat on a river in a canyon surrounded by trees and mountains

InSydeMedia / Getty Images

3 Arthurs Point Road, Arthurs Point, Queenstown 9371, New Zealand
Phone +64 3 442 8570

If you want all the thrills of zooming along a beautiful river landscape with none of the hard work of paddling, then jet boating might be for you. Queenstown's Shotover Jet speeds through narrow canyons and over shallow waters at up to 56 miles per hour. You're likely to get splashed, but not completely drenched. Kids as young as 3 can ride, but they must be at least 3.25 feet tall (1 meter). Transfers from Queenstown can be arranged.

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13 of 15

Ski or Snowboard in the Southern Alps

snowboarder on snow covered slope in snowy mountains

Kyle Sparks / Getty Images

Between late June and October, Queenstown is a popular skiing and snowboarding destination. The Remarkables ski resort is just a half-hour drive from Queenstown and offers excellent day facilities at the lodge. Coronet Peak is an ideal ski resort for intermediate skiers as it has lots of groomed trails of varying pitch. It's a short drive from Queenstown and Arrowtown, and is one of the most popular ski resorts in New Zealand. The Cardrona ski resort is about an hour's drive from Queenstown; it's especially suited to families and beginners, although there is plenty to keep more experienced skiers interested, too.

14 of 15

Soak in Hot Springs With a View at Onsen

162 Arthurs Point Road, Arthurs Point, Queenstown 9371, New Zealand
Phone +64 3 442 5707

A soak in a tub is an ideal way to relax after more strenuous outdoor activities like skiing or hiking. At Onsen spa—which takes its name from Japanese hot spring baths—private cedarwood tubs sit on a cliff above Queenstown and the Shotover Canyon, offering impressive views of the river and mountains. Reservations are essential as each tub is heated and prepared especially for booked customers. Transportation is available from central Queenstown; kids under 5 aren't allowed.

15 of 15

Cruise on Lake Wakatipu in a Steamship

purple sunset sky with steamship on a lake in front of a town and snow-capped mountains

Rob Hall / EyeEm / Getty Images

Steamer Wharf, Beach Street, Queenstown 9300, New Zealand
Phone +64 800 656 501

Another of Queenstown's more low-key activities is taking a Lake Wakatipu cruise on the TSS Earnslaw, a steamship built in 1912. There's an onboard café and pianist, and passengers can visit the engine room. Cruises to Walter Peak High Country Farm on the opposite side of Lake Wakatipu take 90 minutes round trip, and depart several times per day (although not in June or July).

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The Top 15 Things to Do in Queenstown, New Zealand