Hiking

The Essential Queenstown, New Zealand Travel Guide

If you are an outdoor adventure enthusiast, there may be no location on Earth that is better suited to fulfill your dreams than the city of Queenstown on New Zealand’s South Island.  Widely regarded to be the “Adventure Capital of the World”, every year Queenstown attracts millions of tourists from throughout the world who flock to the city to test their mettle bungy jumping, skydiving, jetboat riding, canyon swinging, downhill mountain bike riding, and a myriad of other amazing outdoor adventures.  Around every corner in the city it seems is the headquarters of another adventure activity.

Not only is Queenstown known for its amazing adventure activities, but it is also known for its incredible beauty.  In fact, the area around Queenstown is so beautiful that Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson decided to use the area for a number of shots in his epic movies.  For those interested in soaking up as much of the beautiful landscape as you can, there are several hikes around the city that give you some truly spectacular views of the city, the lake, and the surrounding mountains.  Believe me, it is the kind of beauty that you never want to leave.

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In this guide, I am going to give you all of the information you need to plan a successful trip to Queenstown, New Zealand.  I cover the best times to visit and the best ways to get there so that you can maximize what you are able to see and do on your trip.  In addition, I outline the top things to see and do while you are there and where the best places to stay and eat are.  With this information in hand, you can be confident that your trip to Queenstown will be one that you remember for the rest of your life.

At A Glance
Top Things to See
How to Get There
Best Time to Visit
Where to Stay
Where to Eat
Recommended Tours and Excursions
Photo Gallery

At a Glance

Before you start making any travel plans, you will want to make sure you have all of the passport, VISA, and immunization tasks for your trip are taken care of.  In addition, you will want to make sure you have a clear understanding of what language they speak in New Zealand and what currency they use so that you can plan any translation needs you might have for your trip and exchange currency before your trip if necessary.  I have included some of this key information below for you to review as you start to make your travel plans.

Passport requirements exist. See below for details.
Immunization recommendations are listed below.
The official languages in New Zealand are English and Māori.
The official currency in New Zealand is the New Zealand Dollar.

Passport Requirements

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In order to assist you in navigating the legal requirements for visiting New Zealand, I have included a link to my New Zealand Passport, VISA, Customs, and Immunization Requirements for Visitors Guide below for you to review.  This guide will give you all of the information that you will need to meet the VISA, passport, customs, and immunizations requirements and recommendations for visiting New Zealand.

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Travel-Pic
New Zealand Passport, VISA, Customs, and Immunization Requirements for Visitors

Travel Immunizations

Before you leave for your trip to New Zealand, you need to make sure you have all of the proper vaccinations.  Not only to protect yourself but to protect others.  If you have questions on what immunizations you will need and what to look out for when you go to get them, below are some general guidelines I can pass on to you from experience.

  • Most specialized travel clinics will not accept insurance so you will have to pay for your travel consultation and immunizations and then request reimbursement from your insurance company later.
  • Some immunizations aren’t accepted by every insurance company, so check with your insurance provider before getting your immunizations.
  • Check with your regular doctor first, as often they can do a travel consultation for you and write you the necessary prescriptions for your immunizations, even if they aren’t able to give them to you.  This way you can ensure that at least your travel consultant will be covered by your insurance up-front.
  • Check with Walgreens or other drug stores that give flu shots to see if they have any of the immunization shots that you require before going to a specialized clinic that doesn’t accept insurance to get them.  Walgreens can give you many of the immunizations necessary for international travel, and they accept insurance up-front.
  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website can be a great resource for answering any travel immunization questions that you have.

In case you are unsure of what travel vaccinations you might need, I have compiled a list below of some of what you might expect your physician to recommend.

  • Hepatitis A & B (if you haven’t had them).
  • Tetanus (if you aren’t current).
  • Transderm SCōP Patch (for motion sickness) or at minimum Dramamine pills if you get motion sickness easily and you plan on getting out on the water or doing adventure activities.
  • Flu Shot

Packing Tips

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Outside of taking care of the passport, visa, and immunization requirements so that you can get into New Zealand and don’t get sick, there is no more important pre-travel planning task than making sure you pack the right clothing and gear for your trip.  To help make sure you are properly packed and prepared, I have included links to some of my packing resources below for you to review.

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The Ultimate Travel Packing Check List
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The Essential Carry-On Checklist

Top Things to See and Do

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If there is one thing that Queenstown and the surrounding area is not short on it is outdoor activities.  In fact, there are so many amazing things to see and do in the area that you will likely have trouble deciding what you want to do and see and which adventures will need to wait for another trip.  If you are starting to plan your trip to Queenstown and need some help finding things to see and do to fill out your itinerary, I have included a list of my favorite things to experience in the city below for you to review.

Top Things to See and Do in Queenstown Map

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Shotover Jet Queenstown
Ben Lomond Track Trailhead
Queenstown Hill Track Trailhead
Skyline Luge Queenstown
Stratosfare Restaurant
Fergburger Restaurant
nZone Skydive Queenstown
Road to Glenorchy (Bennetts Bluff Lookout)
Queenstown Gardens
AJ Hackett Bungy Ledge

Take a Shotover Canyon Jetboat Ride

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For the adventure seekers who might be afraid of heights, but still want to get their adrenaline flowing, taking a jetboat ride up the Shotover Canyon is an excellent option.  These boats are specially designed to navigate shallow waters, so you will be amazed at how fast the boat takes you over the rapids as it makes its way up the canyon.  The gorgeous glacial fed water of the Shotover River and the breathtaking mountains it circumvents make the ride as beautiful as it is thrilling.

Hike the Ben Lomond Track

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If you are a hiking enthusiast who is visiting New Zealand’s South Island to check off some of the island’s most epic hikes, then you definitely won’t want to miss the Ben Lomond Track in Queenstown.  Not only is the Ben Lomond Track one of the South Island’s most challenging hikes, it is also one of the most beautiful.  The trailhead is located near the One-Mile Carpark on the edge of the city and the hike ascends over 4,000 feet (over 1,300 meters) to the Ben Lomond Lookout.  The views of the city, the mountains, and Lake Wakatipu from the top are absolutely spectacular!

If you aren’t quite up to hiking the whole track, a shortcut that you can take is to start from the trailhead near the Skyline Gondola.  By taking the gondola up about a mile, you bypass roughly 1,000 feet (or roughly 300 meters) of elevation.  While this doesn’t substantially shorten the hike, it can be a big difference for someone who wants to tackle the track, but is concerned about the amount of time it would require to do it at their pace.

Ben Lomond Track Hiking Map

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Ride the Skyline Luge

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One activity that everyone needs to try before they leave Queenstown is a ride on the Skyline luge track.  With two thrilling concrete tracks that you navigate on wheeled sleds, the luge is a great activity for grown adventurerers and families with kids.  There is a beginner track and a challenging track, so you can go your own speed with the novices or race for gold with the other thrill seekers.  You will need to take the Skyline Gondola up to the starting spot for the luge.  After you are finished riding, you can enjoy a nice meal and enjoy the stunning views at the Stratosphere Restaurant.  Tickets for the gondola and luge can be bought in packages and can even include your meal at the restaurant, depending on the package you choose.

Climb Queenstown Hill

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For those who are interested in doing some hiking and checking out the beautiful sights while in Queenstown, but may not be up for a hike as challenging as the Ben Lomond Track, the Queenstown Hill Walk might be more your speed.  While no walk in the park itself, the Queenstown Hill Walk is far less strenuous than the Ben Lomond Track.  But don’t worry, you aren’t sacrificing all of the views as the Queenstown Hill still offers some absolutely breathtaking views of the city, lake, and mountains.

The trailhead for the track is located on the northern edge of the city and the path splits into two paths about a third of the way into the hike.  This is great because you can take one path up and the other one down so that you don’t have to see the same scenery twice.  If you go your own pace, most hikers will be able to complete this hike without too much of an issue.

Queenstown Hill Walkway Hiking Map

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Take a Skydiving Adventure

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One of the most amazing experiences that I had while touring New Zealand’s South Island was the skydiving adventure that I went on.  Actually, saying the experience was amazing is a complete and total understatement.  Not only was skydiving incredible, but I cannot imagine doing it in a more breathtaking landscape.  The stunning Southern Alps and glacially fed rivers that criss-cross the lush green fields in between the mountains are beautiful to look at from above.  There are many places that you can skydive on the Southern Island and a few of the best are in the Queenstown area.  If you would like to learn more about how and where to skydive while in New Zealand, I have included a link to my guide on Everything You Need to Know About Skydiving in New Zealand for you to review below.

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New Zealand Skydive
Everything You Need to Know About Skydiving in New Zealand

Drive the Road to Glenorchy

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While it is easy to get caught up in all of the thrilling adventure activities in the Queenstown area, you should make sure to take some time to stop and smell the roses as well.  I cannot think of many places in this world that are as beautiful as Queenstown and the surrounding area.  Surrounded by some of the largest of the Southern Alps, Lake Wakatipu is so beautiful that you will swear it isn’t real.  One of the best ways to appreciate the beauty of the lake and the mountains is to take a drive from Queenstown up to the city of Glenorchy.  The road between the cities follows the shore of the lake and offers some of the most breathtaking views you will find in the area.  One of my favorite stops along the way is at the infamous Bennetts Bluff Lookout (pictured above).  With views like this, you will need to pinch yourself to make sure you aren’t dreaming.

Drive From Queenstown to Glenorchy Map

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Take a Walk Through Queenstown Gardens

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After a long day exploring the Queenstown area and testing your limits with extreme sports, you might be in the mood to take a casual stroll after dinner.  One of the best places to take a relaxing walk in Queenstown is at the Queenstown Gardens.  Located on the shore of Lake Wakatipu near downtown, the Queenstown Gardens is a beautiful collection of trees, plants, flowers, and ponds with fountains that you can walk thru and enjoy.  There is no fee to walk thru the park, so it is also a low cost way to enjoy yourself in between the more costly adventures you have planned.

Go Downhill Mountain Biking

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For many travelers visiting Queenstown, there is a specific outdoor adventure activity that is the driving force behind their visit.  With the Remarkables ski resort nearby, downhill skiing is definitely one of this activities.  The other activity that draws a lot of travelers to Queenstown each year is mountain biking.  With some of the most challenging and scenic mountain bike trails in New Zealand, Queenstown is a hot spot for mountain biking enthusiasts from around the world.  If you would like to try your hand at downhill mountain biking, there are a number of shops around Queenstown that will rent you a bike.  The Skyline Gondola cars are especially equipped to carry bikes to the top, so catch a ride up on the gondola and then enjoy a thrilling ride down on a bike.

Go Bungee Jumping at the AJ Hackett Bungy Ledge

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Those of you who are adrenaline junkies are going to really love this adventure opportunity.  If getting your heart pumping and your senses heightened to the extreme is your thing, then bungy jumping at AJ Hackett’s Bungy Ledge is something you are definitely going to want to do.  Perched roughly 150 feet (47 meters) above Queenstown, the AJ Hackett Bundgy Ledge is accessible by taking the Skyline Gondola.  Once up, it’s a thrilling freestyle bungy jump into the air above the city that you will never soon forget.  If you love these types of adventures, there are some other bungy jumping adventures around Queenstown that you might want to check out as well.  I have included a short list below to get you started.

Take a Relaxing Wine Tour

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The final item on my list of the top things to see and do in the Queenstown area is to take a nice and relaxing wine tour in the nearby Central Otago Wine Valley.  New Zealand is one of the fastest growing wine regions in the world and the wine that is being produced in the Central Otago Wine Valleys (there is more than one valley in the region) is simply spectacular.  If you are looking to take a day to slow things down and enjoy the company of your travel companions and some excellent wine, then I would strongly suggest you look into a wine tour in the Central Otago Wine Region.  For some tips on where to go and what tours to take, I have included my Guide to Wine Tours in New Zealand’s Central Otago Valley for you to review below.

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New Zealand Central Otago Wine
Guide to Wine Tours in New Zealand’s Central Otago Valley

How to Get There

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If you are visiting Queenstown from outside of New Zealand, the quickest way to get there is to fly directly into the International Airport (ZQN) right outside of the city.  From there, it is a short 15-minute car ride into Queenstown.  For those of you who are planning on visiting from the North Island, you can either fly from Wellington (WLG) to Queenstown, or take the ferry from Wellington to Picton and then drive down to Queenstown if you are taking a driving tour of the country.   If you decide to take a ferry, there are two companies that offer ferry services from Wellington to Picton to choose from.  If you are just planning on touring the South Island, you have the option of flying into Christchurch (CHC) as well.  You can start at either Christchurch or Queenstown and loop around the island and back to the airport you flew into for your return flight.  Another alternative if you are short on time is to fly into either Christchur or Queenstown and then fly home from the other.  This will allow you to shorten your trip without having to cut out as many stops.

Getting to Queenstown, New Zealand Map

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Best Time to Visit

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The best time for you to visit Queenstown is going to largely depend on what you would like to do while you are there.  For instance, if you are planning to going downhill skiing, then visiting during the middle of summer would probably not be the best idea.  In order to assist you in deciding when you plan your trip, I have included some helpful weather and activity related information on Queenstown for you to review below.

  • Skiing – The winter months of June thru August are the best times to catch fresh powder, but there will still be snow and you will find less crowds on the slopes during the month of September.
  • Extreme Sports – If you are looking to enjoy some extreme outdoor sports like bungy jumping and skydiving while in Queenstown, you will find they are in operation year-round.  However, you will want to avoid the autumn months of March thru May as this is when Queenstown has the most unpredictable weather.
  • Wineries – While the wineries in the Central Otago wine valleys are open year round, the peak season for wine tastings on New Zealand’s South Island is during the summer months of December thru February. However, these can also be the busiest times of year at the wineries, so visiting during the spring season may be your best bet.
  • Hiking – If you want to avoid large crowds on the Ben Lomond and Queenstown Hill trails, then I would avoid visiting during the busy summer months of December thru February.  Instead, visit during the spring months of September thru November.  Not only will there be less crowds, but you will be able to avoid the summer heat.
  • Sightseeing – If your goal is to see as much as you can without breaking the bank, then the spring months of September to November is your best bet.  Not only will you be greeted by the beautiful blooming trees and flower, but you will also avoid the spendy peak prices of the summer months.
  • Water Sports – If you plan on doing some rafting or getting in the water to swim or go kayaking, I would aim to visit during the warm summer months of December thru February.

Average Temperature (°F)

Queenstown is located in an alpine region, so the temperature can get chilly during the winter months.  If you are visiting to go skiing, the cold temperatures are a good thing.  However, if you are visiting Queenstown to do some hiking, skydiving, bungy jumping, or another outdoor adventure activity, you probably don’t want to do so in cold weather.  That’s why the summer months of December thru February are so popular with toursits who visit Queenstown for the outdoor adventure activities.

Average Precipitation (Inches)

If you are planning on visiting Queenstown to take part in outdoor adventure activities like skydiving, bungy jumping, canyon swinging, or jet boat riding, then you are going to want to plan your visit when the weather is the nicest.  Some of these activities will only operate when the weather is nice and isn’t a safety hazard.  In Queenstown, the months of the year where there is typically the lowest amount of precipitation is during the late summer and early autumn months of February thru April.  You will want to avoid the spring and early summer months of September thru December as the weather can be unpredictable during this time.

Average Number of Tourists (by Month)

Another factor that you will want to consider before planning your trip to Queenstown is how busy the city is with other tourists throughout the year.  If you are planning to visit to go skiing or try some of the areas famous outdoor adventure activities, you may be competing with other tourists for room on the slopes or openings in availability.  July is by far the busiest month of the year in Queenstown, as this is the height of the downhill skiing season in New Zealand and the slopes at the Remarkables are typically packed.  After July, the number of tourists in the city tends to decline until October.  This is when the outdoor adventure crowds start to arrive in Queenstown and the number of tourists start to pick up again.  The number of tourists in the city will grow again until December, before falling off thru the remainder of the summer and autumn.  The city typically sees the lowest tourism numbers in the late fall before the ski season starts up again, with the month of May consistently having the lowest numbers of tourists visiting.

Where to Stay

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One of the most important decisions you are going to have to make when planning your trip to Queenstown is where you will stay.  The city of Queenstown depends on tourism, so there are quite a few hotels to choose from in town.  There are also a number of really nice hotels on the other side of the lake that you can choose from as well.  If you decide to stay on the other side of the lake, there is a water taxi that runs about once an hour that can take you to downtown Queenstown.  If you are starting to plan your trip to Queenstown and want some hotel and hostel suggestions, I have included some great options at different pricepoints below for you to review.

Queenstown, New Zealand Hotels and Hostels Map

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Nomads Queenstown Hostel ($)
YHA Queenstown Lakefront Backpackers ($)
Sherwood Queenstown ($$)
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Queenstown ($$)
Crowne Plaza Queenstown ($$$)
Millennium Hotel Queenstown ($$$)
Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa ($$$$)
Peppers Beacon Queenstown ($$$$)
Queenstown Park Boutique Hotel ($$$$$)
The Spire Hotel Queenstown ($$$$$)

Where to Eat

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While Queenstown is most well-known for being the outdoor adventure capital of the world, the city’s wonderful food scene seems to fly more under-the-radar.  If you are looking for some great restaurants to try while visiting Queenstown, I have included some of the most recommended options for you to review below.  The most notable options on this list are the Ferberger and Stratosfare restaurants, which I highlighted on my list of the top things to see and do in Queenstown as they are amazing experiences in addition to great restaurants.  The Ferberger restaurant is world-renown for its amazing hamburgers of all varieties, while the Stratosfare Restaurant offers great buffet-style food and views of Queenstown to die for.

Queenstown Restaurant Recommendations
Restaurant Cuisine Price
Fergburger Quick Bites, American, Fast Food $$-$$$
Stratosfare Restaurant & Bar Quick Bites, European, New Zealand $$-$$$
Blue Kanu Asian, New Zealand, Polynesian $$-$$$
The Taj Indian Kitchen Veggie, Vegan, Gluten-Free $$-$$$
Tatsumi Japanese, Seafood, Sushi $$$$
Botswana Butchery Seafood, European, Contemporary $$$$

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There is an abundance of amazing things to see and do in the Queenstown area and one of the best ways to experience those things is on a tour.  If you are looking for fun tours and excursions to fill out your trip, I have included some category links to recommended tours and excursions you can review below.

Air, Helicopter & Balloon Tours
Cruises, Sailing & Water Tours
Cultural & Theme Tours
Food, Wine & Nightlife
Multi-day & Extended Tours
Outdoor Activities
Walking & Biking Tours
Water Sports

Queenstown is one of the most beautiful and amazing cities that I have visited in my many travels.  Visiting as a travel photographer was an unbelievable experience.  I was able to capture so many beautiful photographs, some of which I have included in a gallery for you to see below.

Queenstown, New Zealand

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4 replies »

  1. As usual, I am astonished by how comprehensive this is and a great read for a bit of escapism right now! Such beautiful landscape and the outdoor activities look awesome,

  2. Wonderful post! The hiking looks amazing and I think it would be fun to do the luge, too. Oddly, while I can imagine (and have experienced) leaving home in the winter to visit warm, sunny locations, it seems very weird to me to leave home in summer to go somewhere to ski!!

    • Thank you so much for the kind words!! I totally agree, the Northern Hemisphere versus Southern Hemisphere and weather thing still throws me off sometimes too!

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