Whether you like to take your adventures at a relaxing pace, or prefer something that’ll make your adrenalin race, Alex Samuels has got the lowdown on Queenstown’s world-famous outdoor scene.
Queenstown is a name that’s stamped into almost everyone’s New Zealand travel itinerary, and for good reason! It’s without a doubt one of the most beautiful towns in New Zealand. The Remarkables mountain range looms behind the town, looking more like a green screen than an actual backdrop, while Lake Wakatipu puts off a vibrant aqua color that brushes up onto the town’s shores, assisting sailboats, kayakers, jet boats and more as they deposit tourists onto the beach after an afternoon spent on the lake.
Compared to some of the other sleepy towns on the small island, Queenstown is an extremely happening place. There are a number of heart-stopping activities in and around town, the bar nightlife is non-stop every day of the week, and the town’s beach is always buzzing with young travellers. If you stop and listen carefully for a few minutes you’ll hear multiple different languages in the air. Some folks are there on holiday, visiting for business, or spending a portion of their working holiday visa living in town.
It should be no surprise though that Queenstown is also a very “touristy” place. On a daily basis, the town will have thousands of new people visit it, excited to explore the outdoors during the day and pack back into the town at night. Not that it matters one bit! Queenstown is still one of the most beautiful places in the world and there are a number of ways to get the most out of your experience.
Best times to visit
Year-round! Queenstown is a highly trafficked place in both the summer and winter seasons. During the summertime (20-30℃), people are attracted to hiking in the mountains, kayaking on the lake, paragliding, bungee-jumping, etc. While the winter season (-6-15℃) brings in the ski and snowboard crowds. Both have their merits and it should come as no surprise to see the same people walking the streets at both times of the year.
Activities and adventures in Queenstown
Standing tall above Queenstown is Bob’s peak, a summit with some of the best views around. To reach the top you can choose to hike up what’s known as the Tiki trail or even take a gondola ride up. Not only will you get to see the town from up above, but on the peak sits the Skyline restaurant, an enterprise that offers fine dining and a number of outdoor activities such as luge rides, bungee-jumping, and stargazing.
If you’ve got the time to hike, the trail route starts at the bottom of the mountain next to the Skyline gondola service. It zigzags its way up through the trees and flowers and is clearly marked amongst the forest shrubbery. Expect to take an hour to reach the top (400m) due to the general steepness of the route. For most backpackers on a budget, this can be the better way to go since a trip up and back on the gondola costs $44.
The gondola service is still the most popular option though for those visiting the Skyline experiences. Riding up offers spectacular views and makes the trip only five short minutes, suiting those who are instead looking to have a nice meal atop the mountain. Oftentimes, you can buy a package to experience the gondola ride that also includes 2-5 rides on the luge; a weaving go-cart path that rounds around next to the restaurant. Look into deals on the CamperMate app for more details.
If you opted for the hiking option and you’re still feeling good after the initial hike up to Bob’s peak, you can continue on up past the Skyline restaurant to the Ben Lomond trail. This windy steep path takes you to Ben Lomond summit, giving hikers views of the vast mountain ranges that lie further off in distance. Note though, that it’s another two hours from Skyline, making the Ben Lomond hike a 6-8 hour round trip. So make sure to plan ahead!
Kayak, SUP, or Jet Boat on Lake Wakatipu
Lake Wakatipu is one of the key pieces to Queenstown’s identity, so make sure to find time to get out onto the water! Just take a stroll on down towards the lake and you’ll find booths offering a variety of experiences.
If you’re more keen on adding a bit of exercise, Paddle Queenstown (located on the beach) lets people rent out a SUP, kayak, or an aqua bike for an hour. Once on the water, you can venture along the shoreline or further out to get a unique view of the town. These activities are primarily offered in every season except for winter (as it would be way too cold!) and most rentals run between $25-$30 an hour.
One of the more popular water activities is jet boating. GoOrange and KJet are the primary businesses that’ll offer up rides for 25-60 minutes, taking you up rivers, further out onto the water, and along the shores. Expect to pay between $70-$150, depending on how long you’d like the experience to last.
Bungy in Queenstown
Queenstown is known as the bungy jumping capital of the country and is credited by most as being the place where bungy jumping was actually invented. Loads of tourists suddenly find themselves considering doing what they never would have thought of doing at home or anywhere else. Throw together epic scenery, great vibes, and you’ll have anyone daring to give it a go.
AJ Hackett is the only business that offers bungy experiences in the town. You can choose to jump off Kawarau Bridge (the “first” bungy ever), the Ledge Bungy over the town, and/or the Nevis Bungy, which happens to be the highest bungy in New Zealand!
There doesn’t seem to be a particular bias over which one is the best, but each has its own draw. Firstly, the jump off the Kawarau Bridge has history on its side, granting it that authentic feeling that some people search for in their travel experiences. Secondly, the Ledge jump is right next to the Skyline restaurant. Giving jumpers the feeling that they’re leaping off over Queenstown. Lastly, the Nevis Bungy boasts a 134m drop, making it the obvious choice for those on the hunt for the most extreme jump.
Prices tend to range from $60-$200, depending on how many times you may want to jump, where, and how. To find the best deals make sure to check online at BookMe.com, Campermate, or at hostels around Queenstown. Just remember that whichever one you choose is going to be an absolute blast!
There are loads of quality hostels, hotels, Airbnbs, and more in Queenstown to choose from while staying here. That being said, it can be difficult to find cheap accommodation. The prices are certainly above average for New Zealand and most places can book out even a week in advance. However, with a little planning, you can find the best bang for your buck.
YHA Queenstown Central
YHA is a hostel chain that you can find in many of the popular destinations around New Zealand. Their service is consistent throughout the country and you can expect great help from their hostel staff when it comes to questions about the area you’re in.
The hostel in Queenstown is equipped with bunk beds that come with blankets, duvets, and private bathrooms for certain room options. The lounge is located on the top floor looking out over the lake and restaurants and cafes are right outside the door. However, noise levels can get a bit high over the weekends due to its proximity to the bars close by. So be aware if you’re on the hunt for 1-2 nights of high-quality sleep. If you just ask the staff though, they provide free earplugs to help. You can expect to pay between $35-$47 for a dorm bed setup or $120-$145 for a private room.
Absoloot Hostel Queenstown
One of the top-rated hostels for Queenstown, Absoloot hostel offers a variety of accommodation options for any type of traveller. Located right on the waterfront, the kitchen looks out onto the water and also offers views of the bustling street below. The hostel is owner-operated and the staff cleans the entire place thoroughly every day, making sure sheets are good to go, the kitchen is stocked with tea and coffee, and the communal areas are ready for travellers to meet one another.
Most travellers tend to book for 3 nights or up to 2 weeks, giving people the opportunity to get to know each other. So if you’re planning on an extended stay in Queenstown, Absoloot could be the way to go! Expect to pay between $35-$45 for a dorm bed that’s outfitted with already made blankets, a private fridge (for most rooms), and a bedside light.
Campervanning and Camping
Due to a large amount of travellers the town receives on a daily basis, many restrictions have been established in terms of where someone can and cannot park overnight. Many folks will instead opt to pay for accommodation that offers parking while they’re in Queenstown. However, if you’re ultimately committed to sleeping in a van while you’re here, you’re not entirely out of luck.
The closest spot to town is Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park. The park offers campervan/camping facilities such as showers, bathrooms, laundries, wifi, and a fully equipped kitchen. A few things to note, wifi can only be used when you purchase activities through the park’s reception and staying overnight can cost between $50-$90. For more details visit the Campermate app.
About 20 minutes down the road lies the Twelve Mile Delta Campsite in Closeburn. The site is located in a river delta next to the shores of Lake Wakatipu and there are loads of hiking trails around the area. There are 100 non-powered tent sites where you can pitch your tent and/or park your campervan. Bookings are not required ahead of time as it’s on a first-come, first-served basis. Expect to pay $15 per person per night.
Another option only 5-7 minutes away from Twelve Mile is the Moke Lake Campsite. Sitting next to the picturesque Moke Lake, the site is popular for both Queenstown residents on the weekend and those driving campervans. There are multiple day hikes that’ll take you to scenic viewpoints overlooking the lake and even a route to take you up the back of the Ben Lomond Summit. Once again this campsite is on a first-come, first-served basis with 50 non-powered tent sites. Expect to pay $15 per night for access to your own camping area, cooking shelters, and toilets.