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11 Best Day Trips From Queenstown (2024 Guide)

If you are wondering what else you can see from Queenstown, look no further. These are my favourite day trips from Queenstown.

In the heart of the South Island, Queenstown is a gateway to breathtaking landscapes, adrenaline-pumping activities, and unparalleled natural beauty.

But did you know that there are also many incredible day trips from Queenstown that you can use to explore more of the region’s highlights?

Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a thrill-seeker, or simply looking to explore the South Island’s hidden gems, there are many incredible day trips that start in Queenstown. If you are visiting New Zealand, then you absolutely cannot skip Queenstown.

These day trips are listed in order of their distance from Queenstown, with one significant exception… Milford Sound.

11 Best Day Trips From Queenstown

Sightseeing boat on the water in Milford Sound with a waterfall down a cliff edge behind.

Milford Sound

If you are going to do just one day trip from Queenstown, then this is the one. Although it is possible to drive yourself to Milford Sound, if you are doing this trip in one day I strongly recommend joining a Milford Sound day trip tour from Queenstown.

Milford Sound, located in Fiordland National Park, is a breathtaking natural wonder that captivates visitors. Carved by glaciers over thousands of years, this fiord (typically spelled fjord in other countries but fiord in New Zealand), boasts towering snow-capped mountains and cascading waterfalls.

Mitre Peak is one of the most famous sights in New Zealand, and on a misty day, it truly is a stunning place.

Milford Sound is also home to a diverse range of wildlife, including dolphins, seals, and penguins.

Joining a Milford Sound cruise allows for an up-close encounter with its majestic surroundings. It is one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations.

A Milford Sound day trip from Queenstown is a must-do for anyone exploring New Zealand’s South Island

Activities

  • Cruise around Milford Sound
  • Pause at scenic viewing points on the journey to the sound
  • Visit the underwater observatory
  • Take a scenic flight over the sound

Distance From Queenstown – 3hrs 45, 178 miles

✅ Book your tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound here.

Skippers Canyon Jetboat Tour

Be warned, this one is not for those with a fear of heights and can only be done as a tour.

Rental companies do not allow their vehicles to be taken on Skippers Canyon road, and you really would only want to travel this road with an expert. It is generally considered to be New Zealand’s most dangerous road.

Skippers Canyon is a breathtaking gorge carved by the Shooter River. It was a key location in New Zealand’s gold rush and a few buildings from that time can still be visited.

The road through Skippers Canyon is very narrow, with unguarded drops down sheer cliff faces. This provides some stunning views, but is not suitable for anyone with a fear of heights. 

Once you have reached the river through the canyon, the jet boat ride begins. Jet boats allow for travel in very shallow water, and their manoeuvrability gives the operators the capability to make 360° turns within inches of the canyon cliff faces. 

If you want some excitement combined with gorgeous scenery then try this half-day tour, including the jet boat ride, from Queenstown. 

Distance From Queenstown – tour starts in the town centre.

Arrowtown

Arrowtown is a charming historic town a short drive from Queenstown. Another location full of gold rush history, this small town includes many preserved miner’s cottages dating back to the 1870s.

Several of those cottages have been converted to shops where you can buy jewellery and other items produced by independent craftspeople. There are also a number of cafes and restaurants in the town as well as a branch of the Remarkable Sweet Shop, delightfully named after the Remarkable Mountains near Queenstown. 

Shops in Arrowtown on a cloudy day

There is a preserved Chinese settlement slightly apart from the main town, showing the history of Chinese gold miners who came to the region to earn money to send to the families back in China. 

The small huts and separation of the settlement from the main streets of Arrowtown where European settlers lived show something of the hardships and isolation they endured during the height of New Zealand’s gold mining era.  

Arrowtown is also a great location for hiking and biking to make the most of the local scenery. 

And finally, you can rent gold pans from a local museum to try your own luck in the once-rich Arrow River. 

Activities

  • Gold Panning
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Lakes District Museum and Gallery
  • Visit the historic Chinese settlement

Distance From Queenstown – 25 minutes, 12 miles.

Gibbston Valley

Gibbston Valley is primarily associated with Central Otago’s winemaking industry, one of New Zealand’s many wine regions

A day trip from Queenstown to Gibbston Valley must include a visit to Gibbston Valley Winery. In addition to their fantastic wines they also have an excellent restaurant at the winery, and tours of their cellar cave to explain more about the wine-making process. 

There are several wineries in Gibbston Valley, which makes it a key location for wine-tasting tours from Queenstown. If you want to try several of the wines from this area without worrying about driving then a guided wine tour is a great idea. 

Alternatively, if you are a cycling aficionado then there are several bike tours or bike hiring companies that you can use to explore the Gibbston River trail, past beautiful rivers and with spectacular mountain views. 

On your way back to Queenstown pause by the Kawarau Gorge suspension bridge to observe a couple of bunjy jumps, or perhaps even jump yourself if you are feeling brave!

✅ For the best wine-tasting day trip from Queenstown, book here.

Activities

  • Wine tasting
  • Bike tours

Distance From Queenstown – 25 minutes, 17 miles.

A pier at Glenorchy with mountains in the background.

Glenorchy

The road from Queenstown to Glenorchy is one of New Zealand’s most scenic drives. As you leave Queenstown you’ll drive alongside the shores of Lake Wakatipu, enjoying the beautiful lake with towering mountains in the backdrop.

The road winds its way alongside the lake, offering panoramic views at every turn. Mountains, lush forests, and cascading waterfalls create a picture-perfect setting, a demonstration of New Zealand’s incredible natural beauty.

The drive is a photographer’s dream, and it’s worth planning for the best stops on the road to Glenorchy to ensure you capture those incredible views.

Once you reach Glenorchy head down to the scenic walkway, or perhaps visit the llamas, alpacas, guinea pigs and more at Glenorchy Animal Experience.

If you want a more adventurous day, check out the zip line tour that takes you on a nature walk through the forest. You will then begin an 8-part zip line course through the aptly named Paradise area with mountain views and a crossing of an alpine stream. 

Distance From Queenstown – 45 minutes, 29 miles

Wanaka

A day trip from Queenstown to Wanaka is a very popular choice. The Queenstown to Wanaka drive winds up through the landscapes of the Southern Alps.

The drive includes the Crown Range Road, with several switchbacks leading to a viewing point of farmlands below surrounded by mountains.  

Wanaka itself is a lovely town sitting on the shore of the stunning Lake Wanaka. Visit one of the many excellent restaurants and take a walk along the lakeshore. 

To delight both adults and kids alike check out Puzzling World a tourist attraction filled with optical illusions. 

For the best of Wanaka’s scenery visit the Wanaka tree, a lone tree growing out of the lake itself. Alternatively, in summer you can visit Wanaka Lavender Farm, wandering through 20 acres of lavender fields. 

A lone tree growing out of Lake Wanaka with snow capped mountains behind the lake.

Activities

  • Walking
  • Golfing
  • Skydiving
  • Wanaka Lavender Farm
  • Puzzling World

Distance From Queenstown – 1 hour, 42 miles

Mount Aspiring National Park 

Mount Aspiring National Park, located in the stunning Southern Alps of New Zealand, captivates visitors with its breathtaking beauty and diverse landscapes. Covering over 3,500 square kilometres, this national park includes the spectacularly named Mounts Awful, Dispute and Dreadful!

Mount Aspiring itself stands at 3033m is the heart of the park that is perhaps most famous for the Routeburn Track 3-day walk. 

For those with only a day for the park, there are a few shorter trails such as the Blue Pools walk and the Rob Roy Glacier Track. 

These trails may be closed at various points of the year, so use the Mt Aspiring National Park website to plan your day. 

Distance from Queenstown – this will depend on which trail you choose, but likely at least 2 hours.

Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound is Milford Sound’s bigger but less accessible sibling. A day trip from Queenstown to Doubtful Sound is best done on a day tour which involves a coach trip to Manapouri, followed by a ferry and then the catamaran cruise around the sound.

This fiord is much less crowded than Milford Sound but boasts similarly awe-inspiring natural beauty. 

Look out for dolphins, seals and penguins as your cruise explores the water surrounded by waterfalls and forest. 

Doubtful Sound is something of a hidden gem, and if you want to experience Fiordland in a less commercial setting then this may be the better option for you. 

✅ Book your tickets for a tour of Doubtful Sound from Queenstown here.

A mirror image of mountains in the waters of Doubtful Sound.

Invercargill

Invercargill is New Zealand’s southernmost city and far less frequently visited than other parts of the country. It has several unusual attractions, such as Dig This – an ideal place for big kids who can finally realise their childhood dreams of operating various construction machines.

Invercargill is also a haven for motorsport enthusiasts, with the world-famous Classic Motorcycle Mecca and Bill Richardson Transport World showcasing an impressive collection of vintage vehicles.

If you were to make this an overnight stop, you might be lucky enough to see the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) in winter.

Activities

  • Dig This
  • Transport World
  • Splash Palace

Distance From Queenstown 2hrs 20 minutes, 117 miles

Bluff

Further south from Invercargill, you will find Bluff. Bluff is known for its oysters which are served throughout New Zealand. The annual Bluff Oyster and Food Festival celebrates the local delights, and especially the local oysters.

For a very different experience, you can even experience a shark cave which may include viewings of Great White sharks.

Distance From Queenstown 2hrs 40 minutes, 132 miles

Aoraki Mount Cook

Aoraki/Mount Cook is now officially known by both the Maori and European names for New Zealand’s highest peak.

A day trip from Queenstown to Mount Cook Village is quite an undertaking but passes through some of the South Island’s most beautiful landscapes.

You will pass through some of the areas mentioned in the shorter day trips, including Gibbston Valley and Kawarau Gorge, eventually reaching the turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki.

The lake received glacial deposits which produce waters which are an unusually vibrant shade of blue. As you drive along the shoreline you will see Aoraki Mount Cook ahead of you, creating yet another one of New Zealand’s stunning vistas.

Distance From Queenstown – 3hrs 10 minutes, 163 miles.

Snow topped Aoraki Mount Cook behind the bright blue waters of Lake Pukaki

Hiring A Car in Queenstown

There are many car hire companies operating out of Queenstown Airport, but do book in advance.

To hire a car you will need to be at least 21 years old with a full unrestricted licence, and the cost of renting a car will be lower if you are 26 or older.

In New Zealand cars are on the left side of the road and speed limits are in km/h rather than in miles.

Seat belts are compulsory, and the drink driving laws are strict so be very careful about driving if you are planning to do any wine tasting. If in doubt, join a wine tour so you don’t have to think about it.

Tip: Although most cars for hire will have an automatic transmission, there are still some manual rental cars around. Be careful not to choose a manual car if you don’t have experience with a clutch – given the number of uphill roads you will find driving a manual car more difficult than it would be in other locations.

Where To Stay

Queenstown has several options for a range of budgets, however, it is a small city relative to the number of visitors it receives and so it is important to book accommodation in advance.

The ratio of tourists to accommodation options also means it is one of the more expensive places to stay in New Zealand, but there is still a range of options across various price points.

🛏️Queenstown Park Boutique Hotel is a luxury option close to the skyline gondola.

🛏️Novotel Lakeside is a great location just a few minutes walk from the centre of Queenstown.

🛏️YHA Queenstown Lakeside is a great hostel option for those on a budget.

For more options, check out my accommodation recommendations.

Where To Eat

Fergburger is a very popular place to eat, with a wide range of burger options. The Bunker Restaurant is ideal for a fancier dinner, hidden behind a wooden door in an alley.

Patagonia Chocolates is a great choice for sweet treats and ice cream by the lake. For the all-important New Zealand flat white coffee, try Life’s A Grind and The Coffee Hatch.

People walking down a path through gardens at sunset next to a lake with mountains behind.

FAQs

Do I Need A Visa To Enter New Zealand

If you are from a Visa Waiver country you will need to apply for a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA) which takes around 72 hours to be processed and costs NZD17. From other countries, you will need to apply for a Visitor Visa which typically takes around 36 days and costs NZD211. Both of these options are for visitors only and do not allow you to work in New Zealand. You should only apply via the official government website.

Is New Zealand Safe For Solo Travellers

Yes! New Zealand is a very safe country, and is a great choice for solo travellers, especially women travelling alone.

Final Thoughts

Queenstown is always a real highlight of any visit to New Zealand and a great base for some day trips. It’s also a perfect place for some unique New Zealand experiences.

For more information on how to fit Queenstown into a trip around New Zealand you might want to look at this 14 Day Itinerary for both the North and South Islands, or this South Island Picton to Queenstown itinerary.

Best Queenstown Activities

Is New Zealand Worth Visiting

14 Day New Zealand Itinerary

Best Places To Stay in Queenstown

New Zealand Wine Regions

Is New Zealand in Australia?

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