7 Great Ways to Enjoy Queenstown
Make memories in the Adventure Capital of the world!
The incredible city of Queenstown sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, overlooked by stunning snowclad mountains. Beautiful to look at and also packed with activity, this is the ultimate adventure destination.
In fact, it’s often called the Adventure Capital of the World. A lofty title, but well-deserved.
From the annual Queenstown Winter Festival to the multiple adrenaline activities on offer, the city has a lot to offer any visitor. It was the site of the very first commercial bungy jumping operation, and the range of options for thrillseekers is enviably broad. There’s also plenty of possibility for the tourist who enjoys a slower pace: multiple wineries, hot pools, mountain bikes, scenic lakeside strolls, great dining venues, and sedate lake cruises on an iconic restored paddle steamer.
The delights extend beyond the city itself into the surrounding region. The Queenstown Lakes District and Central Otago are prime for scenic road trips. It’s well worth visiting in both summer and winter. And the best way to enjoy all of what this spectacular area has to offer? A campervan hire from Queenstown.
Renting a motorhome gives you transport and accommodation rolled into one. It offers the freedom to come and go as you please, take the side roads to explore, take advantage of the many types of campsites NZ offers, and pull over to make a cup of tea and enjoy the views.
If you’re planning an unforgettable road trip, we’ve got the goods. Here are seven great ways you can enjoy the sights, sounds, scents, and even tastes of Queenstown.
1. Jump on a jet boat
Combining scenic touring with adrenaline-inducing adventure, a jet boat tour is a fantastic way to explore and enjoy Queenstown. Be warned—these boats MOVE, so this is far from a leisurely lake cruise.
There are a few jet boating providers in and around Queenstown; Shotover Jet and K Jet are the most popular of these. They operate on the Shotover and Kawarau rivers, twisting and turning inland from the lake and back again. Riders should be prepared to get wet from the spray and get their heart rate up as the boats reach speeds above 90 kilometres per hour.
If you want something a little different but still of the rapid watercraft variety, why not give the Hydro Attack a go? The “semi-submersible shark ride” plies the lake regularly, alternating between skimming along the top of the water and diving underneath it. It can even jump like a dolphin—as you can imagine, this is almost as exciting for those watching from the shore as it is for those inside.
2. Jump off something high
You can’t pass up the opportunity to bungy jump in the birthplace of bungy! There are several locations where you can take the plunge—sometimes literally, if you choose to get dunked in the river or lake below.
If you’re someone who appreciates a bit of heritage, you might like to jump at the Kawarau Bridge site. That’s the original! The Ledge offers excellent views over the city and requires a ride up the hill in the gondola to start, making it a fun outing for the whole family.
The Nevis is best suited to extreme thrill seekers. At 134 metres high, it’s the highest in Australasia and will have you free falling for 8.5 seconds. Doesn’t sound very long? Try counting that out in your head and imagine falling headfirst into a canyon the entire time.
Bungy jumps aren’t the only option. If you would like something with a little more nuance to it, try the Ledge swing or Nevis swing. These will send you soaring out and over the spectacular landscapes, with a bit more time to appreciate the view—but the same adrenaline-inducing leap of faith at the start!
3. Attend the Queenstown Winter Festival
This celebration of all things winter is a fantastic way to enjoy Queenstown. Snowy season brings a new level of magic to the city and its surroundings, so don’t discount a winter fun time visit!
Taking place in new and creative ways during COVID disruptions, Queenstown’s winter festival is finding its feet again. It includes an array of free and ticketed events in venues like Queenstown Memorial Centre and others around the city, markets, fireworks, snowboarding and ski displays, and all kinds of fun.
The Winter Fest is perfect for families, offering an array of things to see and do to suit all ages and preferences. Although it’s centered in downtown, the spirit of festivities usually extends to the entire city, ski fields, and everything else that’s nearby, making this a great time to visit and enjoy. Prepare to wrap up warmly, participate in some of the fun activities, and sample some delicious bites from various food vendors.
Dates for the Queenstown Winter Festival each year can be found on the event’s official website. For example, usually happening in early July, the Welcome to Winter event is an action-packed four day festival celebrating all there is to love about the snowy season in Queenstown with live music, comedy night, and fireworks. Also, the famous Monteith's Dog Derby where barking and cheering occur while dogs and their owners race headlong down the nowy slopes of the city.
“ Central Otago is known for growing grapes to make fantastic pinot noir, pinot gris, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, mulled wine, and riesling wines. ”
4. Visit some wineries
Although primarily for the adults, this one can be fun for families too—many of the wineries around the Queenstown district have stunning scenery and wonderful cellar door restaurants with outdoor spaces where little ones can run and play.
Central Otago is known for growing grapes to make fantastic pinot noir, pinot gris, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, mulled wine, and riesling wines. The wineries range from small and family-owned operations to big international names, but some popular favourites include:
- Gibbston Valley—for size, scenery, and great tastings.
- Kinross—for its charming restaurant.
- Amisfield—for excellent organic wines.
- Chard Farm—for the scenic drive in.
- Peregrine Wines—for impressive modern architecture.
- Rippon—for lake vistas and great pinot noir.
- Akarua—for fantastic lunches in the garden restaurant.
Of course, always make sure that you have a sober driver if needed. You can sign on for chauffeured winery tours.
5. Hit the slopes
Visiting Queenstown in winter? You’re in for some serious snowy fun. In addition to attending the Queenstown Winter Festival, you should definitely plan on some time at the ski fields near the city.
There are four of them:
Cardrona Alpine Resort
An hour from Queenstown via the scenic Crown Range Road, this big and family-friendly resort has some of the most reliable snow conditions. It’s perfect for kids, beginners, and intermediates, with a variety of lifts and tows and plenty of wide, open trails across three basins.
Coronet Peak Ski Area
This winter playground has terrain for all abilities. It’s just 20 minutes’ drive from central Queenstown, making it the most accessible of all four fields. Coronet Peak is known for its Night Ski events—imagine speeding down well-lit slopes after dark!
The Remarkables Ski Area
Just 40 minutes from the city is this big, comprehensive ski field that suits anyone from beginners to experts. It has some of New Zealand’s best freeride terrain.
Treble Cone Ski Area
This is the largest ski area in the South Island. At 1 hour and 40 minutes’ drive from Queenstown, it’s not as close as the others, but worth the trip for anyone who wants a wide range of trail options.
6. Get walking
Queenstown and the area around it are so scenic. One of the best family-friendly ways to properly enjoy the incredible outdoors is to hit the hiking trails. It’s an affordable activity, too, and one that’s probably better for your health than a winery tour.
There’s a plethora of walking trails around Queenstown to suit all ages and abilities. Here are a few options close to town:
Skirting the shores of the Kelvin Heights Peninsula just 20 minutes from downtown Queenstown, this easy trail takes 2 hours one way but can be enjoyed in small sections. It’s accessible all year and there’s a great lunch available at Jack’s Point Clubhouse at one end of the walk.
Maximum views for minimum effort! Although this trail is a bit of an uphill slog, it’s only two kilometres long, winding from Belfast Street in central Queenstown up to the “Basket of Dreams” sculpture. You’ll be rewarded with incredible views over Lake Wakatipu.
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Lake Hayes Loop
For something flat and peaceful, try this loop! It takes around two hours to circle the tranquil lake, and it’s especially beautiful on a still, sunny day.
Ben Lomond Track
A little more challenging than the previous three, this is around 5 kilometres long and will take up a whole day of your itinerary. The 360-degree vistas from the top are breathtaking.
Frankton Arm Walkway
This one’s suitable for prams and even wheelchairs, another lovely lakeside walk that you can do small sections of. Ten kilometres long, it starts at the Queenstown Gardens and finishes in Frankton. small sections of kilo the previous long another and finishes event.
Sunshine Bay Tracklake
Looking for a nice walk that ends up by the lake? This could be it! Rated “Easy”, it’s just 2 kilometres each way and includes sections of native bush as well as lakeside views—there’s even a waterfall along the way. Perfect for summer strolls—you could jump in the lake to cool off at the end!
Those are just some of the possibilities. If you’re willing to venture an hour or two from Queenstown in search of your hiking adventure, you’ll have a huge array of tracks to choose from.
7. Eat your heart out
Queenstown is no slouch in the dining department. There are some great restaurants around town, offering a very wide array of cuisines. All of New Zealand’s main centres are major melting pots when it comes to food, and the Adventure Capital is no exception.
The experiences are many and varied. You could enjoy a blissful patio lunch or lakeside picnic in the summer, and eat by a roaring pub fire or cruise the Winter Festival food trucks in winter. There are cafes galore for coffee lovers, and a strong bar scene for evening drinks. As mentioned earlier, the wineries can offer fantastic dining experiences.
If food is something that’s firmly on your (and your family’s) agenda, you might like to line up your visit with one of Queenstown’s eating and drinking-related events, like the Pie, Pint, and Pinot event which is part of Arrowtown’s Autumn Festival in April. There’s also the Remarkables Market taking place every Saturday from October to April. The market includes local food growers and producers, selling everything from vegetables to pastries to cheese and beyond.
Check the schedules of local wineries before your visit to see what’s happening at cellar doors before you arrive. And if you’d like to experience an iconic Queenstown meal, make sure to get a hearty burger at Fergburger—just be prepared to wait in line!
There’s so much to see and do in Queenstown that we can only scratch the surface here. It’s known as the Adventure Capital of the World and certainly lives up to the name. But adrenaline activities are far from all that’s on offer. Queenstown has something for all ages, stages, and personalities!