Queenstown, New Zealand is an adventure-packed capital of the world with many activities spread throughout the city. But the main action and so much more is waiting for you beyond the city limits.
Whether you are planning your Queenstown itinerary or you’ve exhausted your list of things to do in Queenstown, we’ve put together these recommendations of the best short day trips from Queenstown that can be reached in under two hours to help you navigate.
From unforgettable activities and stunning views to mouthwatering bites, mix and match these day trips around Queenstown that can be done on a tour or by car, even on a rainy day. So, without further ado, here are our favorite places located a short drive from Queenstown, New Zealand.
If you are looking to venture out further or embark on a road trip from Queenstown, check out our South Island road trip guide!
10 Best Half-Day Trips from Queenstown + Bonus
If you know us, you’ll know how much we love golf. When we discovered that only 15 kilometers drive from Queenstown, there was a golf course framed by the Remarkables peaks and Lake Wakatipu, we had to visit. Right on the edge of the lake, Jack’s Point is one of the world’s most spectacular 18-hole championship golf courses. But you don’t need to be a golfing fan to enjoy this short day trip from Queenstown.
The territory is abundant with superb lake and mountain views and hiking and biking tracks, completed by a unique restaurant. Jack’s Point Restaurant offers local seasonal produce cooked over charcoal that can be accompanied by the best wines from the Central Otago region. Not to mention, the epic views from the contemporary-style dining rooms are exceptional. After all the adrenaline-pumping activities around Queenstown, this is the best day trip to unwind without traveling far.
A day trip to Arrowtown is a must during your stay in Queenstown. It is one of the cutest towns in New Zealand – decorated with charming architecture, steeped in gold mining history, and surrounded by beautiful scenery and trails. Hugged by the Arrow River and with mountain peaks all around it, it’s hard not to fall in love with Arrowtown, especially if you are visiting from March to May when everything is covered in fiery foliage.
Take the short scenic drive and explore the legacy of the 1860s Otago gold rush by wandering through Buckingham Street, the heart of Arrowtown’s heritage, picturesque cottages, and the best eateries. Then visit the Chinese settlement on the edge of town, where Chinese miners lived in small huts. And finish your day trip to Arrowtown by panning for gold in Arrow River! Arrowtown was placed on the map by the gold rush that was started when the first gold was found in Arrow River in 1862. You can rent a gold pan from the Lakes District Museum and Gallery and head to Arrow River to try your luck. There is no better way to dive into the history of Arrowtown than to participate in this unique activity.
Gibbston Valley Winery
Central Otago district, which includes Queenstown, is known not only for its gold mining history and picturesque scenery but also for the production of award-winning pinot noir wines. And the best place to immerse yourself in the viticulture of New Zealand’s best wine is Gibbston Valley, the region’s oldest vineyard, also known as the Valley of the Vines.
The best way to combine the epic scenery and wine tasting is by embarking on a Gibbston River Wine Trail, where you can see the vineyard and its surroundings from the comfort of your bike seat. For biking aficionados, there is an entire Queenstown Trail to conquer, which stretches from Queenstown all the way to Kawarau Bridge and passes through Arrowtown and Gibbston wineries, of course. Start and stop anywhere you like, but finish up with a glass of pinot noir or two.
The epic mountain landscape of the Remarkables is located only 24 kilometers from Queenstown. If you love winter sports, you must visit the Remarkables Ski Area in winter, which falls between June to August. It’s easy to get to and offers some of the best ski terrains in New Zealand. But if you are visiting off-season, you can still drive up the road for spectacular views.
Just make sure to stop at Remarkables Market on the way up, which is only a 15-minute drive from Queenstown. The market is open every Saturday from October to April. Music-filled, full of local and regional delights, artisanal crafts, and delicious bites featuring local produce, wrapped by 360-degree mountain views, it’s easy to see why it’s a popular favorite with kiwis and tourists alike. Sample all the fresh foods and grab something for takeaway. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
Mesmerized by the beauty of Kawarau Gorge, it’s impossible to tell that such a tranquil place is less than 45 minutes from central Queenstown. This impressive gorge is created by the Kawarau River flowing through the heart of New Zealand’s historic gold mining region.
Most visitors flock there to jump off the infamous Kawarau suspension bridge, which is the birthplace of bungee jumping. The bridge also serves as a river crossing for hikers and bikers doing the Queenstown Trail. The Kawarau river is where all the jet boat, rafting, and river boarding action happens. Day tours from Queenstown to Kawarau Gorge are sure to satisfy the adrenaline craving of even the boldest daredevil.
And for a bit of history of the region, a stop at Goldfield Mining Center is a must. It gives an insight into the life and working conditions of Otago’s early gold miners with the preserved huts, mine shafts, and tunnels.
Skippers Canyon is Kawarau Gorge’s rival for impeccable scenery and thrilling adventure. Most rental car companies will not permit you to drive the precipitous Skippers Road, so you may need to take a 4-wheel drive tour if you want to get up close and personal with Skippers Canyon and see the impressive drop into Shotover River. A huge bonus of taking the tour is that your driver will fill you in on the interesting history of this former gold mining area, show you Lord of the Rings filming locations, and you can choose to complement the scenic drive with a jet boat ride along the raging Shotover River.
Walter Peak Country Farm
45-minute scenic cruise
We’ve given you plenty of driving day trips from Queenstown to choose from. Here is something different. Take a cruise across Lake Wakatipu on board TSS Earnslaw, the last historic steamboat that saw the gold rush days and has been taking visitors to Walter Peak since 1912. Enjoy the views of Queenstown from the lake alongside what claims to be the best lunch in Queenstown!
The base of Walter Peak mountain is home to Walter Peak High Country Farm. It’s a homestead where you can tour the farmland, stroll through the lakeside gardens, help feed the animals and watch the sheep dogs show off their skills. Before you know it, it’s time to indulge in a BBQ meal fresh off the farm.
Glenorchy is a small town at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu, known as the paradise for outdoor lovers and Lord of the Rings fans. Backed by beech forest and towering mountain ranges and facing the Dart River flow into Lake Wakatipu, Glenorchy’s magic scenery has attracted many filmmakers and tourists alike.
Glenorchy day trip from Queenstown is all about experiencing the warm Glenorchy hospitality and the tranquility of the small town as you refuel in one of its cozy restaurants. If the weather holds up, then hiking the breathtaking trails such as the Routeburn Track, Greenstone and Caples tracks, and Rees and Dart Track is a must. Alternatively, take in the scenery from the water by exploring the Dart River’s tributaries in a kayak.
1 hour drive
A quick Google search for Wanaka spits a bunch of photos of a willow tree in the middle of a lake. Unfortunately, vandals destroyed it, but to our surprise, Wanaka has much more going for it than that!
Your Wanaka day trip from Queenstown will start with the most stunning drive along the iconic Crown Range Road. Passing through Cardrona, you will indefinitely come across the Bra Fence. The motives behind the origins of this controversial fence are unknown, but today it contributes to breast cancer awareness and research. Cardrona itself is a ski resort town where the historic Cardrona Hotel makes for a great pit stop.
Tiny picture-perfect Wanaka, wrapped by the Southern Alps, is surrounded by adventurous activities that complement the laid-back atmosphere in town. From epic hikes, horse trekking, and frolicking among a sea of purple at Wanaka Lavender Farm, to sipping pinot noir at lakefront restaurants, Wanaka is enchanting.
Mount Aspiring National Park
1-hour, 48-minute drive
For those wanting to rid of the hiking bug on a sunny day, Mount Aspiring National Park will do the trick. It is the exploration ground of the Southern Alps and home to one of New Zealand’s highest peaks. The park is full of mountains, glaciers, river valleys, and alpine lakes. You can embark on a multiday hike or enjoy many short walks, but they will be some of the best hikes you will experience on the South Island. A day trip to Mount Aspiring National Park is easily combined with a visit to Wanaka or Glenorchy.
Bonus: Milford Sound by Helicopter
Milford Sound is often the highlight for many visitors to the South Island, and we were no exception. The glacier-carved fiord valley is a breathtaking sight. But visiting Milford Sound from Queenstown by car means you’d spend a minimum of 7 hours driving in one day. Here is how you avoid that.
Taking a helicopter ride over Milford Sound is by far the most exciting way to see it and gets you there in 45 minutes. So, if taking a scenic flight over Fiordland National Park is within your budget, don’t sleep on this top-rated thing to do in New Zealand. There is no better way to admire the lakes, mountains, valleys, and glacial waterfalls than from a bird’s eye view.
There are many scenic flights to choose from varying in duration, group or private, and whether you want to land on a glacier or combine your flight with a short cruise that lets you get up close to glacial waterfalls. Whatever you choose, seeing Milford South by helicopter is a bucket list-worthy experience, and here are our handpicked tour recommendations: