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Last Updated on 04/09/2021
Looking for the best day trips from Queenstown? If it’s your first time visiting New Zealand, you may have heard that Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world and rightly so. There’s so much to do and see here from breathtaking mountain views to hair-raising bungee jumps and skydives.
Although there’s plenty to keep you occupied in this small town, exploring the local area is a must. From the wineries and historic towns of Central Otago to the jaw-dropping scenery around Wanaka and Fiordland National Park, there are some seriously incredible day trips that are absolutely worth your time. Most of them are easy to do in winter too.
I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a good few weeks exploring Queenstown’s surroundings on my New Zealand trip, but for this article, I’ve invited other travellers to share their favourite day trips.
So without further ado, here are the top Queenstown day trips as told by travel bloggers and local experts.
If you’re looking for things to do in Queenstown, I have a whole guide on it here.
Day trips from Queenstown at a glance
Milford Sound is one of the best day trips from Queenstown you can do!
- Milford Sound (3 hrs 39 mins)
- Lake Dunstan Cycle Trail (50 mins)
- Glenorchy (45 mins)
- Isthmus Peak Hike (1 hr 30 mins)
- The Blue Pools (2 hrs)
- Wanaka (1 hrs)
- Arrowtown (20 mins)
- Central Otago (45 mins)
- The Catlins (2-3 hrs)
- Doubtful Sound (2 hrs)
- Mt Aspiring National Park (2 hrs)
Should you hire a car?
All the day trips from Queenstown recommended below require a drive to be accessible. If you have the flexibility, renting a car will give you more freedom to explore – plus the road trips are spectacular. Arguably, some of the best in the world.
Roads can be challenging in some parts though, with hairpin bends and icy conditions in winter. If you don’t drive or don’t feel confident, there are day tours from Queenstown and InterCity bus passes available. You just won’t have the same freedom to go where and when you want. I’ve also included some recommended tours and most are accessible from Queenstown for this reason.
Looking for a bus tour? Read my review of Kiwi Experience here.
The best Queenstown day trips
Here are the best day trips from Queenstown to get inspired by:
Francesca from Little Lost Travel
Located in Fiordland National Park on the southeast coast on New Zealand’s South Island, Milford Sound is an absolute must-visit during your trip. Said to be one of the great natural wonders of the world, the scenery is quite breathtaking here.
Mountain peaks push upwards out of dark inky waters, waterfalls cascade over high cliff tops and lush rainforest extend as far as the eye can see. Wildlife is in abundance in Milford Sound with resident dolphins, penguins, seals and the world’s only alpine parrot – kea.
Unsurprisingly, Milford Sound’s untouched scenery has earned it a UNESCO World Heritage title.
Despite being nearly a 4-hour drive from Queenstown, don’t be put off. It’s a very accessible day trip as Milford Sound tours from Queenstown run most days (daily in the summer months) so you can see the best of it in good time. Plus, the scenery on the way there is spectacular.
You can, of course, drive it if you’re up early enough, but if you’re making the journey in winter, be careful of the weather conditions.
To make the most of your experience at Milford Sound, a cruise over the water is highly recommended (you can book a combined bus and cruise tour). You get to be right in the middle of the majesty of the landscape. Just remember to bring a waterproof jacket as it rains about 182 days of the year!
Recommended tour: From Queenstown: Milford Sound Full-Day Trip by Bus & Boat
Lake Dunstan Cycle Trail
By Erin from Never Ending Voyage
New Zealand’s newest bike trail is an easy day trip from Queenstown.
The Lake Dunstan Cycle Trail is a spectacular track from Cromwell to Clyde in Central Otago. On the 42km route, you’ll enjoy views of aqua lakes, terraced vineyards, and rugged mountains.
The most impressive section is through the Cromwell Gorge where wooden boardwalks have been bolted onto sheer rock faces. It’s a unique experience to cycle beneath overhanging boulders and you get so close to the cliffs.
The trail is fairly easy and is rated Grade 1 to 2, but there are a couple of big hills, and some sections are very narrow with tight turns and unfenced drop-offs. Unless you are a confident cyclist, it’s best to hire an e-bike, which makes the trip much easier.
Most riders take 3 to 4.5 hours to complete the Cromwell to Clyde section.
Make sure you take plenty of food and water as there’s only one place to stop for refreshments—a coffee boat that floats in the lake alongside the trail just before the first big hill.
The best place to start is Cromwell Heritage Precinct, a 50-minute drive from Queenstown. It’s easiest to get there with your own vehicle but there are infrequent InterCity buses. Bike rental companies can arrange transport between Cromwell, Clyde and Queenstown so you only need to cycle it one way.
See this Lake Dunstan Cycle Trail guide for more details.
By Bailey from My Queenstown Diary
Located only a short 45-minute drive from Queenstown is the small town of Glenorchy. What this town lacks in population it makes up for in stunning scenery. Glenorchy sits on the edge of Lake Wakatipu and is famous for its stunning mountain views.
There are actually plenty of fun things to do in Glenorchy. Walk to Mirror Lakes, check out the historic red shed on the waterfront, go jet boating, visit the Glenorchy Animal Farm, and even head out to Paradise (yes there is a place just outside of Glenorchy that is so beautiful it’s actually called ‘Paradise.’)
Part of the fun of a Glenorchy day trip from Queenstown is the actual drive to Glenorchy. Although a short drive without stops, along this scenic stretch of road there are plenty of attractions and viewpoints to check out along the way. This is also considered one of the most beautiful road trips from Queenstown and even the whole of New Zealand by many.
To get to Glenorchy you have two options, either drive yourself or join a guided tour. Many scenes from the Lord of the Rings movies were actually filmed in Glenorchy so the most popular tours are Glenorchy Lord of the Rings tours that depart from Queenstown.
These tours provide info on the filming locations but also on Glenorchy in general, and you’ll visit some of the best attractions both in Glenorchy and on the way there.
If you want to drive yourself you can easily rent a car in Queenstown to use for the day. Just be warned, the road is windy and can be slippery in the winter months. Take it easy and use caution when pulling on and off the road.
Recommended tour: Glenorchy & Paradise Scenic Half-Day Tour from Queenstown
Isthmus Peak Hike
By Katie Diederichs from Two Wandering Soles
If you’re looking for a hike with epic views, Isthmus Peak should be on your radar. Located an hour and a half northeast of Queenstown, the culmination of this hike offers sweeping panoramic views of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, making it one of the best hikes in New Zealand.
Not quite as well-known as its more famous neighbor, Roys Peak, you’ll find fewer crowds at Isthmus Peak. Clocking in at just under 10 miles out and back and with a nearly 3,400 feet in elevation gain, this hike isn’t for the faint of heart.
Your efforts will be rewarded as you hike past grazing sheep and up a picturesque mountain. At the top, you’ll be able to see Lake Wanaka to one side and Lake Hawea to the other.
Given this unique vantage point between the two lakes, it’ll seem as though you’re perched on an island in the sky overlooking water on all sides.
When preparing for this hike, be sure to wear layers and sun protection and pack plenty of snacks and water. You’ll also want to allocate a good portion of the day getting to the trailhead, making the hike, and driving back to Queenstown.
If you have time, there are plenty of other things to do in the area, making this a perfect way to spend a full day exploring the Central Otago region.
Recommended tour: Self Guided Bike Tour from Lake Hawea to Lake Wanaka
The Blue Pools
By Chris Fry from The Aquarius Traveller
This is one Day trip from Queenstown that you don’t want to miss. Imagine being so close to hiking through Mount Aspiring National Park, only to visit the stunning crystal clear waters at The Blue Pools!
Grab yourself a car for the day and drive 2 hours north from the tourist hub of Queenstown. The Blue Pools are located along the New Zealand State highway 6 between Wanaka and Haast. If the main car park is full, you do have the option to park down the road at Cameron’s Flat Campground and walk an extra 30 minutes.
The scenic trek into the Blue Pools is only three kilometres return and will take roughly one hour. This is an easy walk through the ancient forest, with a slight elevation. In the end, you will come to the second swing bridge, which gives you the best views of the pools.
On arrival, you will witness these surreal, blue-tinted pools and admire Mother Nature’s creation. Listen to the sounds of the forest and the running water, or be hypnotised by your surroundings.
Making your way down to the water can be a challenge, but worth it for a stroll along the rocky water’s edge. Alternatively, there is an option to swim if you can brave the cool water.
If not to swim, then put your feet in!
Recommended tour: Full-Day Small-Group Routeburn Valley Walk
By Raksha Prasad from Solo Passport
Wanaka is a resort town in the Otago region of the South Island. Famous for its hiking and biking trails and skiing during the winter season, Wanaka is a gateway to the Southern Alps’ Mount Aspiring National Park.
The town is about 75 kilometres and takes only 60 minutes from Queenstown so it’s an ideal one-day trip getaway.
There are many things one can do in Wanaka but the number one thing to do is to see the most photographed tree in New Zealand. The willow tree provides an illusion of a floating tree on Lake Wanaka and is adorably known as the Wanaka tree. It is also a great place to see the stars at night.
The town has views of the snow-capped mountains and there are many trails that are worth hiking.
One of the known hikes in the town is the Mount Iron track. It’s popular among the locals as the hiking trail is easy and takes less than an hour to reach the summit. Once you get there, you’re welcomed by panoramic views of Lake Wanaka and the town.
Puzzling World is the most touristy thing to do in Wanaka. It is an amusement complex with a 3D maze and plenty of illusions. The illusions and the puzzles are an awesome way to stimulate and test one’s intelligence and problem-solving skills. One needs to spend at least an hour to experience everything that the complex has.
It is also home to the Leaning tower, which the locals call the Leaning Tower of Wanaka.
Recommended tour: From Queenstown: Arrowtown and Wanaka Small-Group Tour
By Kenny Chow from Knycx Journeying
Queenstown’s dramatic natural sceneries are the main draw of millions of tourists every year. The city, including its surrounding areas, has numerous places to explore.
If you have a rental car and want to get in touch with the historic side of the area, take a short 20-minute drive to the north and visit Arrowtown, which is only 20 kilometers away from Queenstown’s city center.
The settlement was established during the Otago Gold Rush in the 19th century. Foreign miners flooded this town because of the gold strike after the other previous gold rush in San Francisco and Melbourne came to an end.
While the scale of Arrowtown is smaller than the former two, the township reached its peak with a population of over 7,000 miners.
Today, Arrowtown has well-preserved buildings used by European and Chinese immigrants during the gold rush, such as the Old English Letter Box, Post Office, Miner Cottages, and Athenaeum Hall.
Strolling down Buckingham Street is like traveling back in time to the 19th century. There are a number of souvenir stores, restaurants, and a small cinema for tourists to spend a relaxing afternoon.
To learn more about the history of Arrowtown, check out the Lakes District Museum and the Chinese Village. If you decide to stay there for a long time, Arrowtown also has a few luxurious resorts and clubhouses with a spa center and golf courses.
Recommended tour: Self Guided Bike Experience – Arrowtown to Queenstown
By Jon from See the South Island
There’s more than enough to keep you busy for weeks in Central Otago, but it’s also a great day trip destination from Queenstown.
There are several small towns with interesting historic sights to explore, including Cromwell, Clyde and St Bathans. These were once bustling towns serving the gold mining trade, but it’s far quieter these days.
These towns are fun to explore, and Clyde and Cromwell in particular are packed with the kind of boutique shops, galleries and eateries you’d expect from a cute tourist town.
Outside of these towns, you’ll find plenty of hikes, bike tracks and viewpoints which take advantage of the great views on offer. Central Otago views tend to be of glistening bodies of water surrounded by barren, rocky earth.
You’ll also find dozens of wineries, a few highly rated restaurants (Olivers is the most famous) and some cute country pubs.
You won’t be able to see everything in a day, but if you want to see the highlights you should visit Clyde, Cromwell, St Bathans (the walk around Blue Lake is highly recommended) and maybe one of the dams (Poolburn Dam is stunning and was featured in the Lord of the Rings movies).
From Queenstown, it’s best to drive to Cromwell and then explore from there (it takes around 45 minutes to drive there from Queenstown).
Recommended tour: Gourmet Food and Wine Tour with Lunch and Wine Tastings
By Victoria Heinz from Guide Your Travel
The Catlins are located in the southeast of the New Zealand South Island. This is where you’ll find the Southern Scenic Route so the area is quite picturesque.
However, not a lot of tourists venture this far so if you’re lucky you might be able to see the beautiful Catlins without a lot of other people around.
It takes between 2 and 3 hours to get there and you definitely need a car to visit. Make sure to pack weatherproof clothing as it rains quite a lot here and the weather can change quickly.
Put places like Waipapa Point, Curio Bay, Slope Point and the Cathedral Caves on the top of your list of must-see places.
Just keep in mind that many of the beaches or oceanfront locations are only accessible during low tide so you need to look up the tides before you go. However, the area is still incredibly beautiful even if you can’t go onto the beaches themselves so it’s still worth the trip during high tide.
There is an entrance fee for the Cathedral Caves (10$) but most other spots in and around the Catlins are free to visit. Nugget Point Lighthouse is another incredibly beautiful spot and a great place for a picnic.
Recommended tour: The Catlins: Sea Kayak Tour to Nugget Point Lighthouse
By Jennifer Parkes from Backyard Travel Family: Active Family Travel Specialists in New Zealand
Doubtful Sound is an incredible day trip from Queenstown. Just two hours drive from Queenstown is the stunning Lake Manapouri, and from here you can take a day trip to Doubtful Sound, or an overnight cruise if you want the full experience.
There is often a debate: Milford Sound vs Doubtful Sound, but Doubtful Sound is a much more unique experience. It requires a 1-hour boat cruise across Lake Manapouri and a 1-hour bus drive across the Wilmot Pass, a road only accessed by boat and the most expensive road to be built in New Zealand. Then you finally reach the beautiful Doubtful Sound.
It’s a real experience to get there, and knowing that not too many people have experienced it, makes it all the more special. Day trips take a 3-hour cruise in the sound, where your boat cruise will take you right out the ocean. Doubtful Sound tours from Queenstown are available.
If you’re lucky, you will get to see incredible waterfalls and wildlife such as dolphins or penguins. The surrounding mountains are dramatic and wild. This is a landscape that is really only accessible by boat. You get a sense of the ruggedness here.
If you want an amazing experience in a completely remote location to see pure and natural New Zealand, then I’d definitely add Doubtful Sound to your bucket list.
Recommended tour: From Queenstown: Premium Doubtful Sound Wilderness Day Trip
Mt Aspiring National Park
Francesca from Little Lost Travel
For more breathtaking hiking experiences, head to Mt Aspiring National Park. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park is a rugged landscape of mountains, alpine lakes, glaciers and river valleys.
The park is named after Mt Aspiring, one of the highest peaks in New Zealand. About two hours drive from Queenstown, it makes for an unforgettable day out among the alpine wilderness.
Some of the top things to do here include short walks accessible from Wanaka such as the Aspiring Hut walk (1 ½ hours) and the Rob Roy track (1 ½ hours). There’s the 3 day Routeburn Track too if you’re feeling adventurous (only do this in the summer).
You can also reach the beautiful Blue Pools, go jet boating on the rivers Dart, the Wilkin, and the Matukituki and even go canyoning and mountaineering.
Recommended tour: Dart River Jet Boat Ride and Wilderness Tour from Queenstown
Queenstown day trip highlights
Here’s a quick snapshot of what to expect around Queenstown:
Planning a trip to New Zealand? These posts can help:
- Your Complete New Zealand Travel Guide
- Bay of Islands Itinerary: Spend Three Awesome Days in the Bay of Islands
- The Best Place to See Whales in New Zealand
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