If you’re looking for the best things to do in Queenstown, Heather from New Zealand Wanderer is here to share her favourite experiences in the thrilling city. From exhilarating adrenalin rushes to the best place to wind down and relax, Heather shares the must-dos you don’t want to miss out on during your upcoming Queenstown holiday. You can also find Heather on Instagram @beanwandering!
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Queenstown is one of New Zealand’s most exciting destinations, and for a good reason. Known as the world’s adventure capital, there is no shortage of activities to get the adrenaline pumping.
Located in an idyllic location nestled in the mountains and perched on the edge of a beautiful lake, there is something for everyone in Queenstown, whether you are here for the action, to immerse yourself in nature or to relax and unwind.
Here I’m going to share my top 5 Queenstown experiences you won’t want to miss. Most of these activities are located right in the heart of Queenstown, or you can get a complimentary shuttle to the location, so you don’t even need a car. Although, I highly recommend hiring a car, even if it is just for a few days so that you can explore this stunning region further. There is just so much to see and do. It was tough narrowing it down to just 5 things. They are all easily accessible and can be achieved even if you visit for just a few days. So let’s get right to it!
5 Best Queenstown Experiences You Won’t Want to Miss!
If you are here for the adventure, then zipping through the narrow canyons of the Shotover River at high speed is a must-do Queenstown experience! The Shotover River is a 74km (47-mile) river that carves its way through narrow canyons and has numerous rapids. The scenery down in the canyons is absolutely stunning, complemented by the glacial blue water cutting through it.
Several operators offer jet boat rides, each occupying different sections of the Shotover River. The boats are designed to glide over shallow water at top speeds and spin 360 degrees for an exhilarating experience.
We opted to go with the Shotover Jet in Queenstown. They offer a shuttle service which will pick you up at a designated location in the center of Queenstown and take you to their picturesque facilities at the river base, then drop you back off at the same location once you are finished.
The boats were comfortable with tiered seating, so everyone had a view. They have lockers to store your belongings while you ride, and they film the whole ride using their Jet Cam. You have the option to purchase photos and videos after the ride. They also have a souvenir shop on the premises.
We had the best time jet boating in Queenstown. The ride was thrilling, and the scenery left us in awe.
If you’re a thrill-seeking adventurer, you might also enjoy the following:
- Zipping through a forest at 70km while dropping an equivalent of thirty stories. Yikes! Check out ZipTrek Encounters for this crazy zipline
- Take the plunge with NZone skydiving!
- Take the Shotover Canyon Swing to freefall 60 meters over the Shotover River.
- Take the AJ Hackett Nevis Catapult if you can handle being catapulted through the air at 100km.
- Freefall from New Zealand’s highest Bungy jump – it’s 134m tall!
- Go on an 4wd off-road adventure or head to a downhill bike park
- Go skiing or snowboarding – it’s one of the best things to do in Winter!
2. The Queenstown Skyline Gondola
The Skyline Gondola is an iconic Queenstown experience and is not to be missed. At 450 meters high, it is the steepest cable car in the Southern Hemisphere. Once at the top, a viewing platform offers views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountain ranges.
The base of the Skyline Gondola is conveniently located on Brecon Street, a short 5-minute walk from the center of Queenstown. Tickets can be purchased from the Skyline Gondola website in advance to avoid ticket queues on the day. Their operating hours vary depending on the day and season, so check their website for current opening times when planning your visit.
There are a host of other activities on offer from the main Skyline complex, such as luge rides, hiking trails, a mountain bike park, and stargazing and dining options showcasing panoramic views of Queenstown. They offer a range of package deals that combine the Skyline Gondola ride with their various activities.
If you’re after the best views in Queenstown, you might also enjoy:
- The view from Coronet Peak, Bob’s peak, or check out the lookouts from my favourite Queenstown hikes at the bottom of this post!
- The Devil’s Staircase lookouts while driving along Lake Whakatipu from Kingston
- Take the Queenstown to Glenorchy road for spectacular scenery before stopping at Glenorchy Wharf. Drive further to Paradise for awe-inspiring mountain drives and spectacular scenery seen in The Lord of the Rings movies.
- Lovely lakeside lookouts at Lake Hayes and Lake Moke
3. Onsen Hot Pools
Onsen Hot Pools is one of the best hot tub experiences I’ve ever had, and I highly recommend fitting this into your next visit to Queenstown. Located just outside the center of Queenstown amongst the cliffs of a beautiful mountain landscape, each pool offers a view over the Shotover River.
The cedar-lined tubs are housed in private rooms with a retractable roof that you can open or close for an indoor or outdoor option at the push of a button. You can choose the original onsen, which is a 60-minute soak in your own private hot pool or their hot tub and spa treatment combination, which gives you a 45-minute soak in the hot pools followed by a face or body treatment of your choice. Absolute bliss! If you book for the evening, Japanese lanterns softly light the room for a truly magical experience.
Onsen Hot Pools is a 10-minute drive from Queenstown and offers a shuttle service that will pick you up from an arranged central Queenstown location and take you to the Onsen Hot Pools facility. Once you are finished, you will be dropped back to the same place.
It’s a unique Queenstown experience that you won’t soon forget.
If you need some ultimate me-time and relaxation, you might also enjoy:
- A wine tour through the region’s best wineries in Gibbston Valley or try the local craft beer
- Heading to Arrowtown to check out the old mining town, with its quaint shops, boutiques, and cafes
- Take a cruise on the TSS Earnslaw (see below!)
- Enjoying a bite at one of Queenstown’s many eateries
- Taking a stroll through the Queenstown Arts and Crafts Market (every Saturday!)
4. TSS Earnslaw
All Aboard one of New Zealand’s oldest Steamships! The TSS Earnslaw is an Edwardian steamer ship from 1912 and one of the oldest attractions in the region. It is said to be the only remaining coal-fired steamship in the Southern Hemisphere that carries passengers.
Take a trip along Lake Wakatipu on this iconic steamship to experience another perspective of Queenstown’s stunning scenery. You can explore the decks and engine room. There is also a cafe onboard offering food and drinks.
The return trip from central Queenstown to Walters Peak Farm takes about 90 minutes. There is also an option for a half-day tour which includes a BBQ and farm tour once you arrive at Walters Peak.
If you’re looking for unique ways to enjoy the great outdoors, you might also enjoy:
- Go paddleboarding or kayaking on Lake Wakatipu
- Horseriding along the Dart River
- Visiting the Kiwi Birdlife Park to see native birds and animals
5. Hiking in Queenstown
Queenstown is a hikers’ paradise! Immerse yourself in nature on one of Queenstown’s many hiking trails ranging from friendly lakeside walks to conquering high mountain peaks. I’m sharing 3 of my favourite hiking options in order of difficulty, from easy to advanced trails.
Queenstown Gardens is a lovely easy, and well-maintained walking trail with views of Lake Wakatipu, Frankton Arm, surrounding mountains, and Queenstown itself. The gardens contain a variety of exotic and native trees and plants.
There are also facilities such as a playground, tennis, lawn bowls and skating. It’s a 3km loop and should take about 1.5 hours to complete. Access to Queenstown Gardens is just a few minutes walk from the center of Queenstown and is suitable all year round.
An easily accessible out and back hike that is a bit of work for a big reward at the top. It’s a 5km (3mile) return trail that starts from Belfast Terrace right in the center of Queenstown. It’s rated as a moderate hike and should take about 2-3 hours to complete. The track is well maintained, with a steady incline to the top.
Once at the top, there is a loop that will take you all around the top of Queenstown Hill, where you’ll have panoramic views of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, the Remarkables, Cecil’s Peak and Bob’s Peak and many great photo opportunities.
Ben Lomond is an 11km (7mile) advanced hike that will take a full day (6-8 hrs) to complete a return trip to the summit or a 3-4 hour return to the saddle from the start of the trail. This option is for experienced hikers and is best to go between Spring and Autumn, which runs from October to April/May in New Zealand. You’ll need to plan ahead and ensure you are prepared.
It’s an uphill slog the whole way with an elevation gain of about 1,438m (4,718ft), but once you hit the ridgeline, the views will take your breath away. The reward is absolutely worth the effort, even if you only go as far as the saddle. It’s one of my favourite hikes in New Zealand, and if you’re lucky, you might even get to meet a Kea at the top.
Thank you, Heather, for sharing your favourite Queenstown experiences! These all sound too good to miss… now I just have to choose which one to do first!