Queenstown (New Zealand)

The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown

Queenstown is a world renowned resort town in the South Island of New Zealand. The town sits on the edge of Lake Wakatipu and is surrounded by the Southern Alps.


What was once a small, remote, South Island town has transitioned since the 1980s, first to a busy ski destination, and now to a year round tourist mecca and centre for adventure tourism. It is a world famous destination attracting around 1.9 million visitors every year, undoubtedly the tourism capital of the South Island if not New Zealand, and a must-see stop for most visitors to New Zealand.

Situated on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, one of Otago and New Zealand's most scenic lakes, surrounded by mountains, it's not hard to see why its stunning scenery draws people here year round. Queenstown happily caters for all visitors with a full range of attractions, activities, accommodation and eating options for any budget, from backpackers to five star luxury. This popularity is not without its problems though - in many respects Queenstown can be a tourist trap. However, reasonable prices and a few bargains can be found for those prepared to look for them.

Queenstown is a bustling town throughout the year, peaking over summer and during the ski-season. There is a vibrant night life with the town's small central area packed with bars and restaurants. If you plan on getting a good nights sleep, then you might consider staying slightly out of town. It's common to see people on the streets up to 05:00 returning from disco or pub. If you're looking for a relaxing scenic holiday, Wanaka (just over an hours' drive away) is smaller and more tranquil with less of a manic teenage party atmosphere.

Local newspapers

The Mirror. The first of two free community newspapers to hit the streets (on Wednesday morning), The Mirror is a great source for catching up on all things that are happening in the entire Queenstown-Lakes area. In addition to the news articles, there is a weekly restaurant review and profile of a band or DJ that will be headlining at one of Queenstown's many nightspots that week.

Lakes Weekly Bulletin is an additional source of second hand items for sale, community noticeboard, employment vacancies, film/gig guide, flatmates and rentals.

Visitor information

Panoramic view from the Remarkables mountain range.

Get in

By plane

Queenstown Airport (IATA: ZQN) is the country's 4th busiest airport by passenger numbers. It is served by Air New Zealand, Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin Australia. There are direct flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Gold Coast in Australia, and from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch in New Zealand. The frequency of flights varies seasonally, with the biggest number during the winter ski season. Typically, flying to Queenstown is more expensive than to other South Island destinations from Australia.

Queenstown Airport is known for its spectacular approach, the snow-covered mountains of the Southern Alps surround it on four sides and there is a complicated path to the runway. Low cloud and cold weather can close the runway, especially in winter, resulting in cancelled flights; however new precision approach equipment has considerably reduced this.

Queenstown Airport also provides for private jets and other aircraft, and there is a huge number of helicopter take-offs and landings each day. Scenic flights and heli-skiing are a popular attraction for the region.

From the airport, the cheapest way into town is on the Connectabus service 11/12, which runs every 20 minutes (check that it's going straight into town and not via Arrowtown) and this costs $8 one way - pay the driver when boarding (Jan 2014). Taxis into town cost about $30-40 while shared shuttle vans work out almost as cheap as the bus if you can get a big enough group together and these will take you straight to your accommodation.

By bus

Daily services from Christchurch, Dunedin, Invercargill, Te Anau, Wanaka and the West Coast (Fox Glacier, Franz Josef and Greymouth) .

National bus operator InterCity Coachlines and Newmans Coach Lines provide daily services in and out of Queenstown with connections throughout the South Island. Fares start from just $1 and can be purchased on-line or via numerous local ticketing agents including the i-SITE information network. Services arrive and depart from the Athol Street car park located in the main retail shopping area.

National sightseeing tour operator GreatSights New Zealand has daily tour options to Queenstown from Christchurch via Mt Cook and operates daily services to the West Coast including (Fox Glacier Franz Josef and Greymouth).

There are also a number of smaller shuttle operators who connect to and from Queenstown including 'Atomic Shuttles' and 'nakedbus.com'. Connectabus, the local Queenstown transport provider, also has 2 return trips to Wanaka a day.

Many international tour companies carry holidaymakers into Queenstown by coach.

By car

Queenstown is 6 hours non-stop from Christchurch via the Mackenzie Country and the Lindis Pass, so allow a full day driving. The drive is spectacular, through the diverse countryside of New Zealand's South Island, with vast plains, rolling hills, multicoloured lakes and mountain passes. The Lindis Pass does occasionally closes in winter due to snow; a slightly less scenic detour via Oamaru and Alexandra will add 2–4 hours to your journey.

Major international and all national rental car and camper van companies have offices in Queenstown.

By train

The Taieri Gorge Railway scenic tourist train seasonally operates to Pukerangi and Middlemarch, with a coach connection for the remaining distance to Queenstown.

Get around

The Queenstown town centre itself is small enough to walk around. Parking is at a premium and can be hard to find during the day. For further distances a bus or car is necessary.

There are a number of tour operators to be found in the CBD of Queenstown. Transport from Queenstown's CBD to adventure activities is often part of the tour package. Some operators may pick up from your tourist accommodation.

By boat

A number of boat tours depart from the Queenstown Wharf at the bottom of the Mall - including the historic steamship TSS Earnslaw, affectionately known as the "Lady of the Lake".

There is also a water taxi service.

By bus

Queenstown has a small local bus service operated by Connectabus . There are three routes - the most useful for tourists being services 10/11 which run every 30 minutes to the airport and the Remarkables Park shopping centre and alternate services continue to Arrowtown. Fares are expensive eg, $6 single/$10 return from the airport to Queenstown, or $13 for a network day pass. All buses stop on Camp Street outside the O'Connell shopping mall.

A door to door Night Bus now operates in the weekends from in front of O'Connell shopping mall to Frankton, Arrowtown and Kelvin Heights. The service runs every hour on the hour 24:00-05:00 and provides an economical alternative to taxis.

By car

Renting or buying a vehicle is convenient for getting around town, and to nearby areas. Many budget and premium car rentals provide services in Queenstown.


Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown Bay

The spectacular mountain scenery and Lake Wakatipu dominate the view from most parts of town. Most attractions in Queenstown make the most of the view and it's enough reason to spend time in Queenstown even if you choose not to do anything else.

After that though, there are not a lot of things to 'See'. Its in the 'Do' category below where Queenstown really excels. Nevertheless, there are a few sights around the town to check out:


View from the top

Getting out there and 'doing' is really what Queenstown is all about. Skiing was the first drawcard, but now it shares the limelight with a multitude of ways to test your bravery. If you can think of a way to get adrenaline pumping, Queenstown's budding entrepreneurs have probably tried at some stage to make a tourist attraction out of it. Queenstown also has a full range of more gentle attractions, including relaxing tours, and luxury spas.


Skiing & snowboarding - There are four large commercial ski fields, and two specialist fields easily accessible from Queenstown. There are also a number of heli-skiing providers.

Adventure tourism

There are dozens of attractions and providers. The information centre in town acts as a booking centre and is a great place to start inquiries. Otherwise most businesses will have a store in the CBD where they can arrange things for you. Hostels and hotels also generally have a stack of pamphlets showing what is on offer, and staff are generally happy to help with recommendations and bookings. All providers generally provide transfers if needed.

The shotover jet boat
  •   Shotover Jet, Gorge Road, Arthurs Point,  +64 3 442 8570, toll-free: 0800 74 68 68. The original Shotover Jet is billed as "The World's Most Exciting Jetboat Ride". Adult $129, child (5-15) $69. Minimum height 120cm (3ft 11in).
  • Kawerau Jet launches into Lake Wakatipu from the centre of town.


Street mall with outdoor cafés
  • Off the Rails. operate guided cycle tours on the world famous Otago Rail Trail from Sept to May. Departing from Queenstown. Includes bike hire, accommodation, breakfasts and transport.
  • Queenstown Garden Tours. Operate small group garden tours to 3 private residential gardens in and around Queenstown during spring & summer.
  • HeliWorks, Queenstown Airport,  +64 3 441-4011. Exciting scenic flights in & around Queenstown & Milford Sound, Lord of the Rings flights with the pilots who filmed the trilogy.
  • Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters, 35 Lucas Place, Queenstown Airport, toll-free: 0800 801 616, fax: +64 3 442-3019, e-mail: . Offers a selection of daily scenic flights over the iconic landscapes of the Wakatipu and Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Parks. Alpine or snow landings are part of all their flights or you can discover the uniqueness of a glacier landing, included in all their Milford Sound experiences.
  • Appellation Central Wine Tours. Appellation Central's team of specialists guides will host you on a memorable day out in Central Otago wine country. Small group tours depart daily from Queenstown.
  • Queenstown Wine Trail. operate daily departing guided wine tours to renowned Queenstown & Bannockburn wineries


The town centre contains many tourist and souvenir stores but bargains can be hard to come by.

Top quality knitwear, Sheepskin and Possum Fur products, Greenstone (Jade) and bone carvings, and fine New Zealand wine is available for a price.

Outdoor suppliers are plentiful, with equipment for trampers (hikers), mountain bikers, skiers and snowboarders, and many others who use Queenstown as the launching-pad for expeditions into the nearby National Parks.

There are a handful of convenience food stores in the town centre, most open until midnight and beyond. Two large supermarkets are on the outskirts of town.

Most of the stores in Queenstown are open daily until 20:00 or 21:00.


There are a huge variety of numerous eating establishments to be found in Queenstown, from all-hours takeaways to fine dining. Reservations for dinner are important at the best places most times of the year, and most nights of the week.

Due to the large number of restaurants, Queenstown is a culinary hub for New Zealand, and you will find regional produce such as pinot noir wine and Canterbury lamb on display in many of the restaurants. Fine restaurants also serve world-class seafood (local mussels, oysters and deep sea fish such as blue cod), game and red meat (farmed venison and beef).

There are also a number of wineries in the Gibbston Valley (20 minutes drive) with restaurants attached, most of which are open for lunch.


Budget food is a little harder to come by in Queenstown. There are a few small fish and chip shops, kebab joints, and the usual KFC and McDonald's. Your best bet if your looking to save a few dollars is to hit the supermarket. The other option is to wander around and check out daily specials on the sandwich boards of restaurants.




Nightlife in Queenstown is largely about drinking and there are over a hundred licensed premises, with most in the downtown area. It's hard to walk down one of the central streets without tripping over a bar or three. Most bars stay open till around 04:00 and it is lively most nights.

There are cheap bars popular with backpackers and young locals, and sophisticated and expensive wine, cocktail and imported beer bars. Many bars and pubs have sunny outdoor courtyards in the summer months, and roaring open fires in the winter. Major sports events are normally to be found on screen somewhere in Queenstown.

There are two small casinos for adult entertainment.

A selection of some of the most well known places follows:


This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget Under $100
Mid-range $100-299
Splurge Over $299

Queenstown has a full range of accommodation choices, including backpackers, campsites, bed and breakfasts, apartments, motels and hotels. For the truly decadent there are also a number of 5 star boutique luxury lodges around the area, some of which often feature in 'best places to stay in the world' lists, and come with prices to match.




Stay safe

Queenstown is a relatively safe town. The most common offence committed against tourists in the Queenstown area are car break-ins.

Although limited in number, the police in the Queenstown area are intolerant of disorderly behaviour and are prepared to arrest for quite minor offences. As with anywhere in New Zealand, they have no tolerance for possession of drugs.

Other emergency services in the area operate on a volunteer basis. Occasionally you may hear what sounds like a World War II air raid siren go off in Queenstown. This is not signalling that someone is trying to attack New Zealand with nuclear weapons, but signalling volunteer fire-fighters to get down to the station because there's a house fire/car accident/kitten stuck up a tree.

Rental car companies have restrictions in their rental agreements to prevent their vehicles being operated on some high country roads. New Zealand's ski-field roads also take many visitors by surprise, but driving to suit the conditions will considerably reduce any risk.


There are several internet cafes to be found in Queenstown with cheap rates. Some hotels charge plenty for internet, others offer it free. Most of the town is covered by Wi-Fi. Pick up a prepaid card at reasonable rates.



Go next

Queenstown can be used as a base to see the surrounding country, including Arrowtown, Glenorchy, Kingston, the Kawarau Gorge, Cromwell and Wanaka.

The drive to Glenorchy, 50 minutes to the northwest and alongside Lake Wakatipu for much of the journey, is rated as one of the top scenic drives in the world.

The Gibbston Valley wine area is 20 min drive, just before the ancient Kawarau Gorge.

More distant tourist destinations such as Te Anau and Milford Sound are a day trip away, with many tour operators providing bus tours and flights.

Fox Glacier, the bigger and less crowded west coast glacier, is 4.5 hours drive north.

Routes through Queenstown

Wanaka Cromwell  N  S  Kingston → Junction Invercargill

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, December 24, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.