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Last Updated on 29/12/2020
If you love adventure, breathtaking scenery, great wine and delicious food, it’s hard to think of anywhere more perfect than Queenstown. Surrounded by a crown of mountains, this buzzing little resort town on New Zealand’s South Island has made a name for itself for being the adventure capital of the world.
Adrenaline junkies flock here to test their mettle at the bungees, swings and skydives. Snowsports enthusiasts love the winter slopes and wine connoisseurs enjoy the abundance of vineyards in the surrounding Central Otago region.
If you want to spend 3 or 4 days here, planning your Queenstown itinerary can seem a little daunting when there’s just no end of things to do. I’m here to help. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Queenstown (I couldn’t get enough of the place!) so I’ve picked out some of my favourite attractions to add to your bucket list. Ready? Here’s how to spend 4 days in Queenstown:
Quick facts about Queenstown
The beautiful mountains at sunset
- Queenstown is a resort town located in the Southwest of New Zealand’s South Island on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.
- The Maori name for Queenstown is Tahuna which means ‘shallow bay’.
- Queenstown is the birthplace of bungee jumping. AJ Hackett turned this hair-raising sport into a commercial venture from Kawarau Bridge.
- The Shotover River was one of the richest gold-bearing rivers in the world before the 19th century Gold Rush.
- Queenstown Gardens are home to the world’s first Frisbee Golf Course.
- The Skyline Queenstown Gondola is the steepest cable car lift in the world and it opened in 1968 together with the luge.
- Queenstown has a long ski season which lasts from early to mid-June through to early October.
- The town is in the Otago Wine Region and over 900 hectares of the surrounding land is dedicated to wine production.
How to get there
The view halfway up Queenstown Hill
The easiest way to get to Queenstown is by car or bus. The town does have an international and domestic airport so it’s also possible to fly – although it’s not the most budget-friendly option!
If you’re not a big fan of driving, there is a good range of bus options available. You can make use of popular backpacker tour buses such as Stray and Kiwi Experience. These buses are great if you’re keen to take the more scenic route to Queenstown. Their passes are flexible and suit a range of budgets and timeframes (you can find out all about Kiwi Experience and how it works here).
Another bus you can take is InterCity. It’s a relatively affordable service but if you want to keep costs down then make sure you book your tickets in advance.
Best time to visit
Another view from Queenstown Hill…
The best time to visit Queenstown really depends on what you’re interested in but in my opinion, there’s really no wrong or right time. The town is packed with adventures all year round.
If you love snow sports then make sure you time your visit with the ski season. Unsurprisingly, temperatures can get pretty chilly this time of year and not all outdoor activities will be running. That being said, there’s still plenty to do whether you want to hit the slopes or not.
I visited Queenstown in winter and loved it. Yes, the town was busy but most people left for the mountains during the day. In summer, it tends to fill up with tourists and hotels are usually more expensive. Still, it comes down to preference. Whatever time of year you go, I can guarantee that the atmosphere will be electric.
Where to stay in Queenstown
Queenstown is popular with backpackers so accommodation is fairly pricey wherever you stay. Hostels were more in my budget at the time but there is a range of options to suit any preference, including hotels and Airbnbs. Here are a few of my recommendations below:
Nomads is a typical backpacker hostel in the centre of Queenstown. Part of the Nomads franchise, it’s a fairly cheap and cheerful hostel with a buzzing social life and various-sized dorms. The hostel boasts a sauna, fully equipped kitchen and cinema on-site. You can also make use of the travel desk if you want to arrange ski passes, activities and onward travels both in New Zealand and internationally.
If you do want to book travel activities I recommend Peterpans in Queenstown. They give honest and sound advice without trying to fleece you into expensive packages!
Black Sheep Backpackers
Black Sheep Backpackers is my favourite budget-friendly hostel in Queenstown – and possibly even New Zealand! It has dorms, a good kitchen and a large lounge with bean bags and sofas for film nights. Best of all, the dorm bunk beds look like large self-contained units pushed up against the wall. Each bed has its own pod with a light, charging cable and curtain to pull across for some privacy.
Jucy Snooze is a slightly more upmarket version of Black Sheep Backpackers. It’s a brand new hostel with kitchen facilities and a bar and restaurant on the top floor. What sets it apart from any other hostel is that the bunk beds are actually pod capsules. Each pod is spacious and comfortable with a locker underneath for your bag. You have your own light, USB charging cable and a blind you can pull down for privacy. This type of hostel is the first of its kind with a sister Jucy Snooze in Christchurch too.
The Crowne Plaza Hotel
For those who want to forgo the hostel lifestyle for a bit of luxury, the Crowne Plaza Hotel is a perfect choice. Located on the banks of Lake Wakatipu, the hotel is renowned for its focus on environmental sustainability. The hotel is a committed member of the IHG Green Engage System which helps hotels track and evaluate their impact on the environment.
Sustainable hotels are not unusual in New Zealand. The country has invested a huge amount of time and dedication to sustainable tourism and it’s actually one of the top ecotourism destinations in the world! You can read more about green tourism in this guide.
How to spend 4 days in Queenstown
Queenstown Hill… but you can see why there are so many photos
Now that we’ve sorted out the logistics, it’s time to move on to the fun part – your 4-day Queenstown itinerary!
Put on your walking boots and hike the most famous trail in Queenstown.
The Skyline and Ben Lomond
Queenstown from the Skyline
Queenstown is cradled by mountains so it goes without saying that there are some truly spectacular views. Its most popular local walking trail is up Ben Lomond. If you don’t want to commit to a solid 7-hour hike then you can walk or take the gondola up Bob’s Peak to the Skyline.
Here, you can find a breathtaking lookout point, cafes, souvenir shops and the formidable AJ Hackett Ledge Bungy, the highest jump in New Zealand. It’s not for the faint-hearted. If you’re not quite ready to take it on then you can also do the luge (my preferred choice).
To get to the summit of Ben Lomond, follow the same route up Bob’s Peak and carry on going past the Skyline. The trail is pretty steep but you can cheat and take the gondola up some of the way.
One thing to note. In winter, the final leg will most likely be under a blanket of snow and ice. You don’t need a guide but it’s a good idea to have the right equipment (boots, thick clothing and walking poles etc) and bring a friend along just in case.
Read More: How to Hike the Tongariro Crossing in Winter
The best day trip from Queenstown is hands down Milford Sound. Located in Fiordland National Park in the southwest of New Zealand’s South Island, Milford Sound is known for its breathtaking rainforests; mountains that rise up out of the inky water; tumbling waterfalls and wildlife, including fur seals, penguins and dolphins.
With an average rainfall of 182 days in the year, Milford Sound is one of the wettest inhabited places in the country – and even the world. It’s an extraordinary experience and deserves a place on any New Zealand itinerary. Here’s how to see it:
Milford Sound Day Trip
Milford Sound on an unusually sunny day
The easiest way to see Milford Sound is by cruise. Alternatively, you can take a scenic flight or hike some of the popular Milford Sound trails. To get there, drive or take the coach (which is a lot less hassle). The most cost-effective way to enjoy Milford Sound is if you book a day tour which includes all your travel and a cruise.
There is a range of tour companies to choose from, including InterCity and Kiwi Experience. They depart every morning from Queenstown and arrive in Milford Sound at lunchtime. Return journeys depart in the afternoon and arrive in Queenstown in the early evening.
The tour takes you on a scenic drive through the mountains before embarking on a cruise across the fjord (‘Sound’ is actually a misnomer) before looping back around. The whole cruise takes about 1 hour 45 minutes. Highlights include Lady Bowen Falls, Mitre Peak and Seal Rock.
You can buy food on the cruise but I would still bring some snacks and a packed lunch.
Queenstown is in the middle of the Central Otago wine region and there are some truly amazing local vineyards producing some of the most prestigious wines in the world.
Queenstown Wine Trail Tour
Enjoying the Central Otago region
If you want to get a true taste of the local area, do the Queenstown Wine Trail Tour. It takes you to four cellar doors and you have the opportunity to taste up to 20 of the best Central Otago wines, including its famous Pinot Noirs.
The tour is a flexible 5-6 hours and you get to stop for lunch (at your own cost) at a gorgeous vineyard. The tours are small-group only and you get to learn a lot about the local area and why it’s so surprisingly perfect for producing top-quality wine.
Make sure you bring plenty of snacks. I learnt this the hard way…
Do some local activities.
Queenstown Hill hike
Summit of Queenstown Hill
Queenstown Hill is another local trail with breathtaking panoramic views from the summit. At just 500-metres, it’s a short ascent but it still has its fair share of steep sections.
Start the trail from the small car park just off Belfast Terrace, a few minutes from the town centre. Wind your way through pine forests to the summit of Te Tapu-nui (mountain of intense sacredness) and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views from all directions as far as the eye can see.
There are many adrenaline-fuelled activities in Queenstown. It is, after all, the adventure capital of the world. One of my absolute favourites is the Shotover Jet Boat. Located on the Shotover River, this thrilling experience treats you to the beauty of the canyons at top speed.
Adult tickets are about 149 NZD and you get kitted out in a thick waterproof jacket, a lifejacket and gloves because it gets pretty cold on the river.
The Shotover Jet
Here are a few extra activities if you feel like swapping them in or have some more time:
New Zealand is no stranger to epic skydives and where better to do it than over Queenstown? A test for the ultimate thrill-seekers, Nzone Skydive offers tandem dives at 9,000, 12,000 and 15,000 ft. Prices start at 299 NZD but you can upgrade to get photos and videos of your best hair-raising moments.
If you’re heading to Queenstown in winter, you might want to make use of its epic ski season. Check out this website to find packages and equipment rentals for both skiing and snowboarding.
There is a wealth of wild activities to do in Queenstown. Just some of them include Kawarau Zipride, Nevis Catapult, Nevis Bungy, Ledge Swing and Ledge Bungy. Check out the full list here.
Frisbee golf is perhaps the most unlikely activity on the list. This unusual sport takes place in Queenstown Gardens and you can get involved in games and tournaments on Sundays. The rules are similar to golf and this particular course has eighteen holes.
Best places to eat and drink in Queenstown
Chilling in Below Zero
Here are a few of my favourite places:
If you know about Queenstown then you might have already heard of Fergburger. It’s a bit of a legend in these parts, if not the Southern Hemisphere! Fergburger is famous for its deliciously enormous burgers. People queue around the block every day without fail to get their hands on one and then hang about outside devouring the lot.
The joint is open twenty-one hours in the day and they have a mouthwatering menu of traditional and slightly more adventurous burgers. They also cater for vegetarians and gluten intolerance. Personally, you can’t go wrong with a Holier Than Thou stuffed with tempura tofu, spicy satay and coconut & coriander sauce. Divine.
Fat Badger is a pizzeria and bar – the best kind of place, right? They serve a delicious selection of New York-style pizzas and you can choose from a twelve-inch or a twenty-inch. These pizzas are best shared but if you don’t fancy eating the same one you can swap out half for a different combination of toppings. Fat Badger has a great range of vegetarian and vegan options too.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth and enjoy novelty, head to Cookie Time. It’s a shop dedicated to all things cookie and you can expect to see a menu bursting with hot cookies, shakes, ice cream, hot chocolate, s’mores and cookie dough.
Just like many resort towns with a ski season, Queenstown has a legendary nightlife and there are bars on every corner. Some favourites include Winnie’s, Cowboys and World Bar.
Below Zero Ice Bar
There are two ice bars in Queenstown: Below Zero and Minus 5. You have to book a timeslot before you arrive as the bars are quite small (they’re made from ice after all!). You get a cocktail or soft drink served in a glass made of ice, warm coats, boots and gloves included in the price. Everything is made out of ice, including the bar and seating area so it goes without saying that it’s pretty chilly!
Final Thoughts: Queenstown Itinerary
Queenstown is an amazing town with a buzzing atmosphere and no end of things to do. I hope you found this 4-day Queenstown itinerary useful for planning your trip. The town is also a fantastic base for if you want to venture further down towards Dunedin and Invercargill.
If you have any questions about Queenstown or indeed New Zealand, don’t hesitate to drop me a message in the comments.
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