Queenstown is revered for its stunning scenery, snowcapped mountains, and thrilling adventures that draw visitors from around the world. The town a must on any New Zealand itinerary — and for good reason. It’s extremely safe, easy to navigate, and there are great accommodation options at various price points.
It’s also the nation’s most popular ski destination and a gateway to pristine terrain, including Cardrona, Coronet Peak, and The Remarkables — each open seasonally from June through October. But Queenstown is equally magnificent during the summer months, when it’s warm enough to swim in Lake Wakatipu and wander around the beautiful Queenstown Gardens.
As Destination Queenstown’s chief executive Mat Woods points out, “Spring and summer are the perfect time to explore it all.” He adds, “[Visitors can] choose from multiday hikes or short walks, explore over 130 kilometers of Queenstown trails on two wheels, play at one of eight spectacular golf courses, or wine and dine around Queenstown’s award-winning wineries and breweries.”
That’s another major highlight: the flourishing (and scenic) local wine industry, with vineyards nestled into dramatic landscapes like an alpine version of Tuscany. Six subregions account for wine production in the Central Otago region, but most people gravitate toward Amisfield in Lake Hayes for leisurely alfresco lunches and its signature pinot noir. And if you’re into the après-ski scene or seeking a lively restaurant, the dining in central Queenstown is world-class.
There’s something for everyone in this supremely beautiful playground, and ahead, we’ve outlined the best ways to experience it.
Top 5 Can’t Miss
- Queenstown is New Zealand’s adventure capital, where bungee jumping was born and a variety of thrill-seeking activities can be found.
- Some of the country’s most impressive luxury hotels are located in Queenstown, including The Carlin, which offers airport transfers via Bentley, Porsche, or Maserati.
- Oenophiles can explore a range of rustic yet sophisticated wineries that boast award-winning pinot noirs.
- Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy skiing, hiking, cycling trails, and boating amid spectacularly scenic landscapes.
- The food scene is excellent, from Michelin-star dining to delicious casual spots serving burgers and pies.
Best Hotels and Resorts
Matakauri is one of New Zealand’s most spectacular luxury lodges, so it’s no surprise it was recently added to Rosewood’s star-studded portfolio. The intimate, 13-room lakeside retreat is located 10 minutes from the main city center, allowing guests to immerse themselves in unparalleled peace and quiet and enjoy otherworldly views of The Remarkables.
Eichardt’s Private Hotel
Eichardt’s has long been the grande dame of Queenstown, located in a prime position in the city center, right on Lake Wakatipu. The building itself is a historic masterpiece that could be mistaken for a former castle, but interiors exemplify modern opulence, with cozy fireplaces, plush furnishings, and sprawling marble bathrooms with heated flooring — lovely in the snowy winter months.
QT made its New Zealand debut with this Queenstown location, blending its playful brand of luxury with panoramic views of Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables. Rooms include millennial-friendly amenities such as Dyson Airwraps, cocktail-making stations, Chromecast, Kevin Murphy bath products, and contemporary decor with neon accents — photogenic backdrops for the inevitable big nights that follow.
The Carlin has redefined luxury hospitality in the South Pacific. Owner Kevin Carlin set out to create a “beyond five-star hotel experience of luxury, fine dining, health, and wellness,” and that next-level vision is evident before guests even arrive, with access to a private jet and airport transfers via Bentley, Porsche, or Maserati. Inside, the ultra-luxe theme continues, and on weekends, Carlin, who is an esteemed concert pianist, plays at the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, Oro.
Although it’s a 40-minute drive from central Queenstown, Blanket Bay is one of the country’s most impressive luxury lodges and a destination in and of itself where people can truly disconnect. The rustic retreat is situated in Glenorchy, on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, with knockout views of the Humboldt Mountains and an excellent restaurant. Rooms are available in the main lodge, along with stand-alone chalets and sprawling villas for those seeking more privacy (ideal for multigenerational groups).
Best Things to Do
Book a helicopter tour.
“Taking a helicopter ride to the west coast and into the Fiordland, with panoramic views of the glaciers and rain forest, is absolutely magical,” explains Hoss Vetry, vice president of operations for APAC at Rosewood. And Over The Top is hands-down the best local provider, hosting tours from a state-of-the-art Eurocopter, which features a glass front that allows for maximum views. Passengers will experience postcard-worthy locations that are usually inaccessible: sky-high peaks in the Southern Alps, rustic beaches, and the main highlight, flying over the Milford Sound — one of New Zealand’s most famous natural wonders.
Get an adrenaline rush on the Shotover Jet.
Carving through the Shotover River in a speedboat has long been one of Queenstown’s most popular adventure activities. It’s an adrenaline rush from the moment you step on and strap in, zipping through narrow gorges and canyons at 50 mph, making 360-degree spins along the way. While this is one of the more famous things to do in Queenstown, there are many similar adventures worth trying.
Embark on one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.
If you’re into hiking, three of New Zealand’s Great Walks are accessible from Queenstown — Routeburn Track, Kepler Track, and Milford Track. Not only are these multiday expeditions excellent exercise, they’re also a great way to see the country’s natural beauty up close. Bookings are required and can be made via the Department of Conservation.
Hit the ski fields.
Queenstown is the most popular ski destination in the country (along with Wanaka, located a 50-minute drive away), and in the winter season, which runs from June through October, skiers and snowboarders flood in to hit the slopes. Whether you consider yourself a beginner or advanced, there are several locations that are suitable for varying levels of ability; check out Cardrona, Treble Cone, Coronet Peak, or The Remarkables. Or, if you prefer heli-skiing, Southern Lakes Heliski is a great local provider with access to 800 runs across seven mountain ranges.
Go wine tasting.
Whether you like group tours or prefer to explore at your own pace, it’s worth allocating a day to exploring Queenstown’s world-class wineries. One of the best providers is Queenstown Wine Trail (which offers group and private tours), but if you’re doing it on your own, the ones to prioritize are Amisfield, Kinross, Gibbston Valley, and Rippon in Wanaka (the site of many destination weddings).
Queenstown’s retail scene has been elevated with the redevelopment of O’Connells in the city center, which contains a two-level DFS department store with internationally renowned brands such as Kenzo, Tom Ford, Stella McCartney, La Mer, Chloe, and Gucci Beauty, along with an array of local designers. It also has an excellent food court on the lower level called Eatspace, featuring street food-style vendors and a variety of international cuisines.
This multibrand boutique has a well-curated collection of women’s designer fashion, shoes, and accessories. Here, you’ll find everything from Frame denim to Ulla Johnson dresses to Veja walking shoes. It also has a selection from some of New Zealand’s most famous designers, including footwear darling, Kathryn Wilson, plus Karen Walker, Kate Sylvester, Karen Walker, and Zambesi.
Remarkable Sweet Shop
A treat for children and adults alike, the Remarkable Sweet Shop is a haven for candy and some of the best homemade fudge you’ll ever try. It’s particularly famous for its crème brulée fudge, as well as its distinctly Kiwi flavors, like rocky road and white chocolate raspberry ripple — the perfect gift to bring back home.
Louis Vuitton’s Queenstown boutique is a prime example of design that complements the environment, appearing like an alpine gallery with a floating fireplace and its signature handbags displayed like art. It has a destination-appropriate collection of bags, accessories, and leather goods, should you feel like a splurge, and is conveniently located right below Eichardt’s ultra-luxe penthouse on Marine Parade.
Seletti Concept Store
Seletti is a chic concept store with a selection of contemporary European fashion brands, including Isabel Marant, Anine Bing, and Ganni, plus some of the most stylish furniture and entertaining goods around. There are locations in both Queenstown and Arrowtown.
Bardeaux has been the place for cocktails since I was a student studying nearby in the early 2000s. It’s a cozy, elegant bar with a huge fireplace, comfortable seating, and everything from local wines to expertly mixed cocktails and whiskeys. The music is always great, as is the crowd.
Barmuda has a similar vibe to Bardeaux and is located conveniently nearby on Searle Lane, just a one-minute walk away. Here, you’ll find everything from local wine and beer to cocktails that can be enjoyed indoor or in the courtyard, should the weather permit. And if you’re visiting later in the evening, DJs usually play well into the night.
In addition to offering world-class cocktails, Eichardt’s Bar has an excellent tapas menu, which, in my opinion, is some of the best food in Queenstown. The setting is cozy and intimate, with plush seating and a crackling fireplace. Order the Treacle Cherry Smoke for a bit of drama.
With a warm ambience and decadent menu, Botswana Butchery is a popular restaurant that’s worth booking in advance. It’s located just across from Eichardt’s on Marine Parade, and it’s a great place to experience traditional New Zealand cuisine. Here, you’ll find a variety of seafood and meat dishes, including delicious clam chowder, oysters, lamb, and crispy duck.
If you’re looking for fine dining, Rata is an excellent option, launched by one of New Zealand’s most famous Michelin-star chefs, Josh Emett. A la carte options are available, but the tasting menu — which includes locally sourced specialties like crayfish croustade, wagyu sirloin, and blue cod — is recommended.
For something casual you can take away, opt for Fergburger. It has been an institution for more than 20 years, serving some of the most delicious burgers with fresh, local ingredients. The menu is extensive and includes classic beef burgers alongside chicken, vegetarian, pork, fish, and even venison options. It’s so popular, you’ll need to time your visit to avoid getting stuck in an hour-long line.
Jervois Steak House
This renowned Auckland restaurant recently opened within the confines of the glossy Sofitel Queenstown, serving its signature steaks along with a variety of seafood options and a six-course degustation menu. The wine and cocktails are also top-notch.
Madam Woo is a lively restaurant with delicious Malaysian-meets-Asian-fusion cuisine and aromatic cocktails. Some of the best dishes include the beef rendang, prawn dumplings, and the nasi lemak (a Malaysian specialty). It’s centrally located and always has a vibrant atmosphere.
Best Times to Visit
“Queenstown is a year-round destination, so there’s always something exciting happening,” explains Vetry. “November to March tends to be the busiest for international travelers, while April to May is a great time to visit for calm weather, fewer crowds, and the famous fall Arrowtown leaves. Our springtime — September to October — is another beautiful time of year, when the air is crisp and there’s still snow on the mountains. For ski lovers, July through September offer the best conditions. We tend to have mild winters, so you can ski in the morning and play a round of golf or enjoy a winery lunch in the afternoon.”
In June, the area celebrates Matariki, the Maori new year and the newest public holiday. Vetry adds, “Travelers visiting during this time can join the Winter Lights Festival and see the Matariki constellation rise over the mountains near dawn for a genuinely uplifting cultural experience. Additionally, in June, the light festival Luma will thrill travelers of all ages.”
How to Get There
The best way to get there is to fly into Queenstown Airport, and Air New Zealand has multiple flights from various domestic cities each day (there are also direct routes from Sydney across the ditch in Australia, on Qantas, Virgin Australia, and Jetstar). Most travelers take a flight from Auckland, which takes just under two hours. Once you reach the airport, there are taxis and car rental companies, or if you’re staying at one of the hotels listed, transfers are available. But if you’re embarking on a bigger South Island road trip, it’s easily accessible by car and has some gorgeous views, whether you’re coming from Dunedin or further afield.
Areas to Visit
This historic gold mining town is something out of a storybook, with a strip lined with quaint boutiques, eateries, and art galleries. It’s only a 20-minute drive from central Queenstown, making for a lovely day trip. “Travelers who like to hike should explore the walking trails from Arrowtown Village up into the beautiful hills,” advises Vetry. “Upon completing the hike, you can grab a cocktail, craft beer, or local wine at The Blue Door in Arrowtown, a location that’s the dictionary definition of a hidden gem.”
“Glenorchy is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Walkers, photographers, and adventurers have all found themselves captivated by this amazing wilderness and a quieter way of life,” explains Gabriella Diaz, Imperium Collection’s operations manager. Another lovely way to explore it is by TSS Earnslaw, a historic boat that does multiple tours a day. “It’s a fantastic afternoon at any age,” Diaz adds. “Their barbecue dinner at Walter Peak, alongside a visit to their farm, takes you back to the historical farming lifestyle and offers an appreciation of the hardworking team who helped New Zealand farming become a thriving industry.”
“For those who like biking, a cycle ride through Gibbston Valley wine region is the perfect way to [taste] the area’s world-class wines,” says Vetry. In addition to wineries, it’s also home to the historic Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, the site of the world’s first commercial bungee jump. If you’re looking for an exhilarating activity, book a bungee or swing, or for something slightly less daunting, a zip-lining ride is an equally fun option.
How to Get Around
“The beauty of Queenstown is that once you’ve arrived, you don’t need independent transport as most of the activity operators provide transfers as part of their experiences,” advises Woods. Diaz agrees, adding, “You don’t need a car to stay within Queenstown itself — everything is within walking distance, and there are transport options are plenty.” Those options include the following:
Rental Cars: There are several car rental companies conveniently located at Queenstown Airport, so you can rent a vehicle on arrival. Sixt is our go-to, with the best customer service and car options, but there are other companies, too, including Avis, Europcar, and Hertz.
Bus: Buses are clean and reliable and offer connections near and far. They are a popular option for commuters coming into Queenstown each day. The timetables are viewable here.
Ferries: Ferries are available, but they’re more geared toward locals in the broader region who are commuting in to work in central Queenstown — more residential areas rather than attractions. The timetables can be viewed here.
Taxis: Queenstown Taxis offers an easy way to get around. The company is available 24/7 and has the largest fleet of cars in Queenstown, but it can be quite expensive.