There’s no denying Queenstown is one incredible destination. But after you’ve tackled the hiking tracks, jumped out of a plane and lined up for a feed at Fergburger, you might want to venture out and explore the region a little bit further.
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of day trips from Queenstown, New Zealand. Whether it’s Arrowtown for the history, Milford Sound for the scenery or Central Otago for the wine, there’s an excursion to suit all your needs and interests.
A quick word of advice: if you’re hoping to tick as many of these off your holiday bucket list as possible, extend your stay. Trust us, you do not want to run out of time to see any of these remarkable places.
Just 20 minutes’ drive from Queenstown, Arrowtown is a must-do day trip thanks to its fascinating gold mining heritage. You’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time when you arrive at this charming village, which is situated at the base of the gold-bearing Arrow River. A stroll down the main drag reveals historic buildings and character-packed boutiques, while the preserved Chinese settlement is also a cool spot to explore. Other attractions include the Lakes District Museum (considered one of the best small museums in the country), three first-rate golf courses and a winding network of cycling and walking trails. And if you happen to plan your trip for autumn, be prepared for a fiery display of foliage along the Avenue of Trees.
The magic of Wanaka weaves its spell on you long before you even arrive on its pure shores, with the drive into this lakeside township an unforgettable experience in itself. Located around an hour-long drive from Queenstown, the 66-kilometre journey to this postcard-perfect town takes place along Crown Range Road (the highest public road in all of New Zealand) and winds past snowy mountains and crystal clear lakes. A visit to the famous Wanaka Tree should definitely be on your itinerary, and there’s an assortment of outdoor activities to enjoy, including kayaking, fishing, stand-up paddleboarding, mountain biking and rock climbing.
Day trips from Queenstown don’t get much more delightful than an outing to Central Otago. This is wine country, and no visit to the world’s most southerly grape-growing region is complete without a cheeky pit stop at a couple of local vineyards. After all, there are more than 80 to choose from, and you don’t want to miss out on an opportunity to gorge on fresh, seasonal produce and sample the award-winning pinot noir – Central Otago’s claim to fame. If sipping vintages is not for you though, don’t despair. You can go for a scenic cruise down the Clutha River or hit the Central Otago Rail Trail, a cycling track that follows the former railway route between Middlemarch and Clyde.
Mount Aspiring National Park
Hiking enthusiasts will find it impossible to resist the lure of Mount Aspiring National Park. Set among the Southern Alps, New Zealand’s third-largest national park is an alpine wonderland comprising lush valleys, glaciers, jaw-dropping mountain passes and shallow rivers. It’s about a two-hour drive from Queenstown, so you’ll need to hit the road early if you want ample time on the trails, but we promise any tiredness from the pre-dawn wake-up call will disappear as soon as you lay eyes on the rugged countryside. The most popular treks would have to be the spectacular Rob Roy Glacier Track and the cruisy Blue Pools Walk (ideal if you have kids in tow), and for a real challenge the steep Mount Brewster Track will have your quads burning.
As far as Queenstown day trips go, Milford Sound is the big one. And not just in terms of how epic an experience it is, but also how huge the journey is to undertake in one day. But when it comes to a destination as sublime as Milford Sound, it is completely worth it. The bus from Queenstown takes roughly three to four hours, which has the potential to be tedious except you’ll be utterly entranced by the glorious landscape unravelling around you. And when you do finally arrive and take to the ink-black waters on a boat tour, you’ll only continue to be blown away by the vast scope of the Sound and its towering waterfalls and sheer cliffs.
Boasting streets lined with Art Deco heritage buildings and a perfectly manicured public park, New Zealand’s southernmost city is a surprise gem. Situated 2.5 hours from Queenstown, Invercargill is a friendly, laid-back hub also known as the ‘City of Light and Water’ due to its super long summer days and prime location beside the Waihopai River. Make the most of those extra daylight hours by exploring the rugged stretch of Oreti Beach, checking out the impressive vintage truck collection at Bill Richardson Transport World or popping down to nearby Bluff to scoff freshly shucked oysters. If you’re lucky you might even get to see Aurora Australis – the Southern Hemisphere’s version of the Northern Lights.
Considering how close it is to Queenstown, it would be rude not to pay the lovely Moke Lake a visit. Framed by the rugged peaks of Ben More, Ben Lomond and Mount Hanley, you’ll find this tranquil body of water just 15 minutes from the centre of town. A natural playground for cyclists and trampers, there’s a popular loop trail through the grassland that encircles the lake and takes around two hours to complete. Boaties and keen anglers are also welcome (the lake is stocked with trout), and on a warm day you may even feel like a dip. Don’t forget your camera either, because the mirror-like reflections on the water’s surface deserve to be shared on Instagram.
Welcome to Middle Earth – sorry, Glenorchy. If you think this place looks familiar, that’s because its snow-capped mountains, ancient beech forests and blue-green lakes have been used as backdrops in both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies, as well as The Chronicles of Narnia and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. So take it from Hollywood that this little patch of heaven 45-minutes from Queenstown is out-of-this-world beautiful. As the gateway to some of the country’s greatest walks – including the iconic Routeburn Track – there’s a plethora of trails to enjoy, while horse trekking and jet boating on Lake Wakatipu offer more unique ways to immerse yourself in the natural splendour of this pristine area.
So it’s the middle of winter and you’ve found yourself in Queenstown with nothing to do. While we find that last part a little hard to believe (seriously, there’s always something to do in the adventure capital of the country), we do have a solution: hit the slopes of Cardrona. This world-class, family-friendly ski field is just an hour from Queenstown, and caters for snow bunnies of all skill levels. Alternatively, you can go for a ride on McDougall’s Express Chondola (a gondola combined with a chair lift) for insane alpine views or hit up the historic Cardrona Hotel for a drink or two. Best of all, Cardrona is accessible year-round, so in summer the mountain is fully open for biking and hiking.
See what other parts of the South Island you can explore when you book cheap flights to Queenstown with Webjet. To make planning your New Zealand trip even simpler, you can also book your hotel and accommodation, car hire or motorhome rental. Plus, find a range of things to do in Queenstown and around New Zealand, perfect for any itinerary.