This itinerary covers five days spent exploring Queenstown and the closely surrounding regions. Our aim is to find the best balance of in-depth exploration, whilst fully experiencing as much of the region as possible.
Due to the short period of time spent here, we will focus on Queenstown central, Glenorchy, Arrowtown, Wanaka and Lake Hayes. That said, there is so much more to see and do in the South Island of New Zealand.
We encourage you to include this itinerary alongside a trip to Mount Cook, Milford Sound and Nugget Point Lighthouse in order to see the most beautiful sights the South Island of New Zealand has to offer.
Also, for help planning the rest of your New Zealand trip, make sure to check out our list of the best places to visit in New Zealand, as well as our comprehensive New Zealand travel guide. It covers the best things to do in New Zealand, as well as including a bunch of helpful travel tips.
Day 1 – Things to Do in Queenstown
Today you’re going to explore some of the best things to do in Queenstown. If you road-tripped it, you’re sorted for transport. Otherwise, you’re going to want to suss out a car. Get online with airportrentals.com or rentalcars.com and arrange a pick-up.
Once your car is sorted, make your way into the city. Getting a park is a nightmare in Queenstown, so it pays to ask your accommodation for the nearest parking spaces. If you are unsure, there are heaps of free parks near the Queenstown Gardens.
If you haven’t arranged accommodation, then you’ll definitely want to check out our guide to the best hotels and accommodation in Queenstown. The Rees is our top pick, it’s an absolutely incredible hotel and our favourite place to stay in New Zealand!
Grab yourself a cup of coffee, wander through the small town, and make sure to grab a bite to eat. There’s plenty to choose from (yes, this would be a great time to head to Ferg Baker, the famous Ferg Burger’s little sibling), so check out our guide to the best restaurants in Queenstown!
Bob’s Peak & Skyline
Once you’ve chilled out a bit, it’s time to move on up to the top of Bob’s Peak. This is a two-hour walk which takes you to the top of the same mountain that Skyline Queenstown is on. Unsurprisingly, this offers breathtaking views looking out over Queenstown – as a bonus, it’s not too far to hike.
If walking doesn’t work for you, you can take a scenic Gondola ride up the side of the mountain. Booking online with Get Your Guide here often works out cheaper than booking in person. If you took this route, you might also be interested in trying out the luge or any of the countless activities offered by Skyline Queenstown.
As it’s unlikely you’ll go up and not try out the luge or restaurant, you can save some money and skip some of the queues by booking either a combined Gondola & Luge or Gondola & Buffet Lunch/Dinner online before going.
Once at the top, take a look around and bask in the stunning views of Queenstown. Make sure to take some Instagram-worthy shots, then head into either the Skyline Cafe or the Stratosfare Restaurant for something to eat.
If you’re on a backpacker’s budget, you might have grabbed some snacks at Ferg Baker earlier, in which case skip the restaurants and set up a picnic with one of the best views in the world.
A quick tip – Skyline has webcams placed up Bob’s peak that you can access for free on their website. This will give you an idea of how clear the view will be at the top – if the weather’s not great, it might be best to give this one a miss.
Queenstown Gardens, Lake Wakatipu & Ferg Burger
After this, we recommend you make your way back into town for some more exploration by foot. This time, head on over to the Queenstown Gardens and take a look around.
If you aren’t into plants, you can cut straight on through to Lake Wakatipu. This is our favourite access point to the lake and is perfect for a late afternoon or evening stroll along the edge of Lake Wakatipu. Make sure you walk far enough to reach One Mile Car Park (25 minutes) for the ultimate sunset pic over Lake Wakatipu.
Once the sun has set, and you’ve taken some snaps, make your way back into town for dinner and drinks. Again, check out our list of Queenstown restaurants, but we do recommend Ferg Burger for dinner then finding a bar nearby for drinks. Happy hours are common at backpacker bars and hostels, so check these out if you’re on a strict budget.
Another quick tip – Ferg Burger gets super busy. You can skip the queues by calling them up to order, so we highly recommend that you do.
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Day 2 – Exploring Glenorchy
Glenorchy is a small town a one hour, scenic drive North of Queenstown on the edge of Lake Wakatipu. Glenorchy is popular with photographers and hikers, with countless walks and spectacular lookout points.
It is also home to many iconic Lord of the Rings film locations, including Isengard and Lothlorien.
If you’re into photography, you’ll want to start your day off early (5.30 am was perfect for us). Grab yourself a pie and coffee at Ferg Baker in Queenstown, then get in your car and start driving north.
Otherwise, make sure to check out the most popular LOTR tours around Glenorchy – this one takes you to all the spots and is not to be missed for die hard LOTR fans!
Glenorchy Waterfront Reserve
After about an hour of driving, you will arrive at the small town of Glenorchy. We made it here just before sunrise and we were the only ones. It was the most tranquil part of our trip and one of the most beautiful places around Queenstown.
Take some photos of the wharf, the creepy swamp trees and the little red shed. Watching the sunrise is one of our favourite things to do in Glenorchy.
You can watch as the sun shines over the mountains behind you silhouetting them on the mountains opposite the jetty. A jagged shard of bright orange light outlines the mountains and creates reflections on the crystal-like lake.
Here are our top two walks to do in Glenorchy, you can pick and choose as many or as few as you like:
Lake Sylvan Track (1.5 hours)
This is as an easy loop (via tramline) that takes you through red beech forests through to Lake Sylvan. Photo opportunities include portraits between the tall beech trees, the bridge at the start of the track, and views out to Mt Earnslaw.
A knee-deep paddle will allow you to climb a large rock in the lake. This provides the best, uninterrupted views – plus an awesome pic if you have someone taking a photo from the lookout.
Glenorchy Lagoon Boardwalk (1 hour)
This is an easy one-hour walk from the Glenorchy township. You’ll walk through boardwalks over wetlands, with views over Glenorchy lagoon and Mt Earnslaw.
Eating in Glenorchy
As a small town, there isn’t a lot to choose from by way of eating in Glenorchy. If you are on a budget, bring a packed lunch or some leftovers from Queenstown. Otherwise, these are our top two picks:
GYC Cafe is a cute little cottage cafe that offers standard cafe fare, including amazing sandwiches and soups. It has a beautiful outdoor area, so we recommend it for a coffee and a place to relax after a lot of walking.
Queenie’s Dumplings offer amazing dumplings, noodles and soups. We felt the prices were a bit of a rip off for dumplings that cost significantly less elsewhere, but you have to pay for the luxury of hand-made dumplings outside of a major city.
Bennetts Bluff Lookout
After about 30 minutes driving back towards Queenstown, you will arrive at Bennetts Bluff Lookout by Mount Crichton. This offers one of the best viewpoints over Lake Wakatipu (in case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot).
Bennetts Bluff Lookout works perfectly as a quick stop, but see if you can time it with the sunset for the best lighting.
LOTR Tour: Lord of the Rings Tour of Glenorchy.
Alternative Tour: Scenic Half-Day Tour of Glenorchy from Queenstown
If you’re short on time, this tour is a perfect alternative to the itinerary above. We’d recommend driving around at your own pace instead, but if you really only have a few hours, or don’t have a rental car, this will tick the boxes.
Day 3 – Visiting Arrowtown & Lake Wanaka
Today will start with a visit to the quaint and beautiful little village of Arrowtown, located 22 minutes from Queenstown.
As it’s on the way to Wanaka, you can stop by before carrying on through to Wanaka where you will experience one of the most photographed spots in New Zealand.
This is also the perfect day to move accommodation if you are after a change of scenery. Lake Hayes and Arrowtown are beautiful, less busy, and often a bit more affordable than central Queenstown. These locations, as well as Queenstown, will work well with the rest of this itinerary.
Take a picturesque 20 to 25 minute drive via either Lake Hayes or the Shotover Gorge to Arrowtown. This is a small, historic gold mining town. There isn’t a whole lot of things to do in Arrowtown, however, the personality and culture of this town are captivating.
Take a couple of hours to look around the village, stop off somewhere for breakfast/brunch (depending on how late you slept in) and check out the lake. Then, it’s time to move on.
Wanaka & Diamond Lake Track
Feel free to explore a bit, then make your way to the start of the Diamond Lake Track. This is a stunning one-hour walk to the Diamond Lake Lookout, which unsurprisingly offers amazing views of Diamond Lake with reflections of the mountains behind it.
If you’re up for it, you can choose to continue on to climb Rocky Mountain. This is three hours return, but you will be rewarded with spectacular views over the Southern Alps and Mount Aspiring.
After this, drive down to Glendhu Bay. Take a photo here, before heading back into Wanaka to grab a bite to eat for lunch. Check out our full list of things to do in Wanaka for more ideas.
Lake Hawea Lookout
Once you’ve replenished your energy, head on out to the Lake Hawea Lookout. This is a 26-minute drive along the edge of Lake Hawea to a breathtaking view over impressive mountain ranges. An added bonus is that minimal walking is required for this one.
Wanaka Lavender Farm
You’ll make your way back towards Wanaka, making sure to stop off at the Wanaka Lavender Farm. Aside from smelling magnificent, you can take some pics in the lavender fields (which are popular for wedding photographers), then sit down and enjoy a lavender tea or ice cream.
Wine Tasting at Rippon Vineyard
Rippon Vineyard has a reputation for incredible wines. Not only this, but they are situated right next to Lake Wanaka with a spectacular backdrop looking out over the lake and the Southern Alps. A perfect place to while away an afternoon – but for the sake of time, we will keep our stopover brief.
Aim to be here around late afternoon (the last tasting commences at 4.30 pm). You will enjoy an informal wine tasting of five to seven wines. There is no fee for tasting, however, it is encouraged to donate to their restoration programme.
Also, make sure you have a walk around the property as you won’t find many better views of Lake Wanaka.
That Wanaka Tree
Saving the best for last, we are going to make our way over towards ‘That Wanaka Tree’. This is possibly New Zealand’s most famous tree. Beloved by photographers, with fans all around the world, we wanted to ensure you arrive here with time to relax before sunset (the perfect time to set up and capture that epic shot).
To get here, you can throw the destination into Google Maps and it’s a short five-minute drive along the edge of Lake Wanaka. There is a carpark you can stop off at and a two-minute walk to the tree – you won’t miss it, everyone crowds around.
To finish the day off, explore Wanaka Lakefront some more, grab some dinner and enjoy a drink before heading back. If you aren’t a confident driver, consider leaving early and eating in Queenstown instead – the drive back from Wanaka is somewhat terrifying in the dark.
Day 4 – Onsen Hot Pools & Kawarau Falls
Day four will be a day of exploring the areas just outside of Queenstown. From relaxing at the Onsen Hot Pools to adventure activities near the Shotover River, today will have a bit of everything and something for everyone.
Today, we recommend picking and choosing your favourite activities, as doing all of them could be a bit too much – but by all means, feel free to try!
Skiing or Snowboarding
There are 4 incredible Queenstown ski fields that are suitable to all levels of skiers or snowboarders. Our favourite is Cardrona (especially for beginners) where you’ll get the opportunity to book a full day lift pass for $150.
They also offer one of the best first timers classes which includes a day of group classes where an experienced instructor will get you ready for your first beginner run.
Where to Book: Cardrona Alpine Resort
If you’re an adrenaline junkie, then there are few activities more suitable than this. Combining the speed and exhilaration of a jet-powered dinghy with the stunning scenery of the Shotover and Kawarau rivers, this will certainly leave you satisfied.
This wasn’t something that we did when we visited Queenstown, but we’ve heard great things from people who booked this tour on the Shotover River. As an added bonus, it’s really reasonably priced. For your safety, it certainly pays to do some due diligence to ensure you’re booking with a reputable operator.
If you don’t have a car, the taxi to Shotover River can be pricey, so make sure you book a tour that includes a transfer from Queenstown.
Where to Book: Shotover Jet Boat Ride
For those of you who want an exciting ride down the Shotover or Kawarau river, but prefer to use your own strength to push yourself along, white water rafting is perfect.
There are typically two rivers to choose from, and due to their length, there is a wide range of difficulties depending on where on the river you’re rafting.
As with jet boating, there are a lot of operators offering similar products. For first-timers, make sure you go with a tour that goes down the Kawarau River. This one includes a jet boat to the starting point, then two hours of rafting.
Experienced rafters will find booking this tour along the Shotover River absolutely incredible, but it is definitely not for first-time rafters.
AJ Hackett Bungy
As the pioneer of bungy jumping, the AJ Hackett Bungy is the perfect place for both newbie and seasoned bungy-ers.
You have two to choose from: either the original Kawarau Bridge Bungy or the Nevis Bungy. You will also need to decide how much of your body you would like dunked in the river – all of it, none or just your face, it’s up to you.
A heads up – the prices are steep. This is what you get when choosing to do tourist activities, but be prepared to fork out over $200 NZD for a bungy, plus $80 NZD for photos.
AJ Hackett Thrillogy – The cheapest way to try ALL 3 of Queenstown’s bungies!
If you’re a fan of heights and great views, you’ll love ziplining. First, you get strapped into a harness, then they throw you out on a line to sail on through beautiful landscapes. Few places have more impressive scenery than Queenstown, making it the perfect place for ziplining.
Wine Tasting / Tours
For those of you who aren’t seeking fast-paced, adrenaline pumping activities, Queenstown is also home to some of the world’s greatest vineyards.
You have two options for exploring the wineries in Queenstown – Gibbston Valley and Bannockburn. Both have their fair share of fantastic vineyards, with both regions being renowned for their Pinot Noirs.
It’s easy to get between the vineyards in both regions, however, Gibbston Valley is nearer to Queenstown and Lake Hayes. Many people rent a bike & cycle it, but some of the driveways are steep so ensure you have a bit of experience cycling. If you are wanting to avoid paying for a tour, just pop over to one vineyard for a tasting, grab a bottle and take it back home with you.
Our favourites were Amisfield with their beautiful fruit-forward wines, and Chard Farm with their spectacular architecture and incredibly knowledgeable staff. Perhaps consider skipping over Gibbston Valley Winery as many consider it to be overly touristy.
Prices vary, but many are free with a donation to a charity encouraged. Tours are pricey, but well worth it if you’re looking to drink a bit. Just remember not to drink and drive!
Onsen Hot Pools
If you look on Instagram, every second picture taken in Queenstown seems to be taken at the Onsen Hot Pools. And for good reason. In our eyes, this boutique spa is the ultimate, luxury experience in Queenstown.
If you enjoy relaxing (who doesn’t?) then treat yourself by coming here for a dip.
After a few days of hiking and exploration, you’ll be ready to immerse yourself in a tranquil pool filled with hot water sourced from the surrounding mountains, all whilst wistfully overlooking the Shotover River and a stunning mountain range.
Getting there – it’s best to drive to the Onsen Hot Pools as they provide parking, however, there is a free shuttle bus from Queenstown to the pools.
Prices aren’t too bad, and we feel it’s well worth treating yourself every once in a while. Prices are around $130 for two to share a pool during the day, or $150 during the evening.
For an extra special occasion, order a bottle of locally sourced wine and finish with a massage.
Quick tip: Book super early. At least one month in advance for most time slots, but if you want a coveted sunset time, you will want to be booking three to six months ahead. We do recommend the sunset time.
Where to Book: Onsen Hot Pools
Day 5 – Lake Moke & Departure
Get up early and head over to Queenstown for some Breakie. Grab a $1 NZD coffee from Cookie Time or some brunch from one of the countless cafes around.
Once you’ve eaten, pack some water and drive out to Lake Moke. This is a campground on the edge of a horseshoe-shaped mirror lake.
The walk here is about three hours to make your way all the way around. If you feel like a decent hike, go right ahead. We recommend walking a short 10 minutes along the track from the carpark. Here you will find the best views directly opposite the centre of the horseshoe-shaped lake.
If you’re up for it, you can get on the lake with a kayak or stand up paddle board tour. We never did this (as it’s a bit outside our budget), but there wouldn’t be many better places in the world to kayak.
Hopefully you didn’t do the three-hour walk around Lake Moke. Drive back towards Queenstown to the base of Queenstown Hill.
This was our favourite hike in the Queenstown township and we much preferred the views over those of Bob’s Peak. Unfortunately, there’s no Gondola here.
It’s a steep 1.5 hour walk to the top, with a few fantastic photo opportunities along the way. The best view is at the summit, so make sure you go all the way to the top. Then it’s an hour back down the way you came.
If you want to skip the hike, you can get on a quad bike and ride up to the summit. It might not be as rewarding as using your legs, but it’s probably a hell of a lot more fun.
Head on back to Queenstown and relax by the lake until your departure. Grab yourself some food, maybe open a bottle of wine from the wineries you visited previously and enjoy the views and buskers.