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How Many Days In Queenstown Do You Need?

Queenstown is one of the most popular destinations in New Zealand, and for good reason. It’s a town I’ve been to on several occasions, and the place where I discovered my inner adrenaline junkie. I’m not sure anywhere else would have convinced me to go skydiving or paragliding!

So the question remains, how many days in Queenstown do you need? To save you some time if you need a quick answer to this question, I recommend a minimum of 3 full days. 

You could easily fill up a week or more with trips to the surrounding areas, but anything less than 3 days means you won’t be able to make the most of Queenstown.

To get all the information to plan your Queenstown experience, keep reading for the best way to use your days before you start booking your adventure.

I’ve listed these in order of priority, so the must-dos are in the first few days with additional highlights further down the order. This should give you all the information you need to plan your Queenstown itinerary, however many days you have. 

People walking along a pathway by a lake shore. There are mountains in the background, bushes and trees to the left and a few clouds in the sky. How many days in Queenstown do you need - explore the town on Day 2.

Why Queenstown?

New Zealand is full of beautiful and exciting places to see, but there is something special about Queenstown. Perhaps it is that it encapsulates many of the next things about the country in one town, so make sure you include it in your South Island itinerary.  

Adventure, great food, incredible scenery, fantastic wine and friendly people can all be found in this one place. Although Wellington, Christchurch, Rotorua and Auckland are also great places to visit, there is nowhere quite like Queenstown. 

The town sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, surrounded by the mountains of the Southern Alps. Several shallow rivers lead to and from the lake which makes it a perfect location for jetboating. 

The mountains and lake make for stunning scenery if you go skydiving or parachuting. The local region of Otago is one of the best parts of New Zealand for wine tasting. And let’s not forget Queenstown’s proximity to places like Milford Sound, Wanaka and Glenorchy.

Short Stay: 1-3 Days

For the vast majority of places to visit, I would always spend the first day wandering around and getting a sense of place. In Queenstown, you should approach it differently.

Adrenaline-fueled adventures are one of the most popular activities in Queenstown, but most of them are weather-dependent. You can’t jump out of a plane on a very cloudy or windy day, and even if you could then the views would be totally spoiled. 

Most operators will let you re-book your adventure if the weather on the day isn’t suitable (or offer a refund), but if you plan to go skydiving on your final day and it is then cancelled you won’t get another chance. Trust me, I’ve made that mistake and it meant that I didn’t get to do the second skydive I had planned for. 

Queenstown with mountains in the background and a person paragliding with a yellow parachute

Day 1: Adventure Activities

Pick your adventure activity of choice, and enjoy it. The fear factor varies significantly across the different options so there really is something for everyone.

If heights aren’t your thing, then try jetboating. It’s lots of fun, and not too scary, although you will probably get soaked when they do the 360° spins. 

Book your jetboat tour here!

Paragliding is a good introduction to air-based adventures. Rather than jumping from a plane, you essentially take a short run off a slope of something high up, and the parachute is already inflated by the time you lift off so it doesn’t feel so much like falling. If a skydive interests you but seems a bit too much, this may be the activity for you. 

A bridge over a bright blue river with a person doing a bungy jump. There are trees and shrubs along the river banks and in the background. How many days in Queenstown should you plan? Day 1 should be an adventure activity day.

Bungy jumping was first set up as a commercial operation in New Zealand. The original site is still used at Kawarau Bridge, but there are also other variations of the jump in Queenstown, including the canyon swing. I’ll admit that this is one activity that I haven’t done, but it is very popular in Queenstown.

Skydiving is an incredible experience and I felt very safe doing it in New Zealand. You may well second-guess yourself, but if you can overcome that fear then it is a totally unique feeling. Because of the wind resistance, it doesn’t actually feel like you are falling.

You can jump from different heights and once the initial freefall is over, it’s a beautiful glide down around the mountains and over Lake Wakatipu. I knew people at home wouldn’t believe that I had done it so I paid extra for a second person to jump with the tandem and take photos and videos on the way down.

And here is my proof!

If you want to do more than one activity, I would recommend a jetboat ride in the morning and perhaps a step up to some form of jump in the afternoon. The adrenaline from the more extreme activities can mean you won’t want to do anything after the landing, so take the jet boat first, making sure you leave enough time to get back in between. 

Queenstown on the edge of Lake Wakatipu with the Remarkable Mountains behind

Day 2: Exploration

This is the day to wander around, relax and recover from your extreme activities. Queenstown is relatively small, but there are still lots of things to do in the town. After you’ve taken a walk along the lake and through the Queenstown gardens, preferably with ice cream from Patagonia Chocolates in hand, meander around the town centre shops to pick up gifts and souvenirs. 

Book on to a scenic tour around Lake Wakatipu on board TSS Earnslaw. The tours are 1 12 hours and leave at different times of day depending on the day of the week. Cruises on this historic steamship are very popular, so you should book in advance to make sure there is a spot available. 

Later in the afternoon head over to the Skyline Gondola. The Gondola takes you up to a viewing point, which also has a cafe at the top and a luge track. The luge rides are one of the highlights of Skyline. They are individual karts that operate on a downward track. 

They are very simple to use, with a handle that you use to change direction and brake or speed up by releasing or pulling the handle back. There are two tracks available, an easy one and a more advanced track (but neither is very intense). 

All riders must use the easier track at least once before they are allowed to use the harder luge track. You can see the mountain ranges and lake as you ride the luge which makes it both a scenic and fun experience. 

Once you’ve had your fill of Skyline, head back down in a gondola and visit the Kiwi Park, next to the Skyline gondola entrance. As you may know, the Kiwi bird is a national symbol of New Zealand, but as they are nocturnal it can be very difficult to see them in the wild. The Kiwi Park is a great place to see them (along with other native species).

Day 3: Milford Sound

Ok, I have to admit that this isn’t actually in Queenstown, but it’s an essential part of any South Island itinerary. Unless your New Zealand Itinerary already includes a separate section for Milford Sound, you’ll want to include this on your third day. 

The distance between Queenstown and Milford Sound is about 287 kilometres, so you’re looking at roughly a 4-hour drive each way if you choose to make your own way there. While you can make it a self-drive day trip, it’s a lot of driving, and the driver won’t be able to enjoy the views along the way. My advice? Join a group day tour.

There are day tours from Queenstown (they are pretty long days, around 12 hours) which will include the coach trip to Milford Sound and a boat cruise. You’ll stop at several places on the way to see mirror lakes and waterfalls, but the scenic cruise in Milford Sound is the main event. 

It’s one of the most recognisable places in New Zealand, and there are endless photos of the famous Mitre Peak surrounded by water and mountains. The cruise will take you up close to the cliffs around the sound and you’ll get plenty of opportunities to take the perfect pictures.  

If the weather isn’t great, don’t worry. On sunny days you’ll get clear views of the cliffs and be able to spot more wildlife. On rainy days the waterfalls are stronger and the Sound becomes more misty and atmospheric, just make sure you have a raincoat!

Milford Sound is a classic New Zealand destination, and Queenstown is the perfect place to base yourself to visit it on a day tour.

✅ Book your Milford Sound tour here!

As an alternative, if you want more time in Milford Sound then perhaps stay a night in Te Anau which cuts down the drive to Milford Sound to just a few hours. That’ll allow you to enjoy some of the hiking trails or kayaking that’s available in the area. 

Medium Length Stay: 4-6 Days

Couple toasting glasses at sunset wine tasting New Zealand

Day 4: Wine Tasting

Queenstown also has a quieter, more refined side that’s worth exploring — especially if you’re a wine enthusiast. Given its relatively mild climate and fertile soils, the Otago region, where Queenstown is located, is a premier New Zealand wine-growing area. The region is particularly well-known for its Pinot Noir, although you’ll find a variety of other wines including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling.

When it comes to wine-tasting tours, Queenstown has got you covered. You’ve got a couple of solid options to consider: half-day and full-day tours. A half-day tour usually takes about 4 to 5 hours and covers three to four wineries. These are great if you’ve got other activities planned but still want a sip of what Otago wines have to offer.

A full-day tour, on the other hand, is a more comprehensive experience, lasting around 7 to 8 hours, and often includes a gourmet lunch. A classic stop-off is Gibbston Valley winery, probably the most famous winery in the area. 

✅ Book your full-day wine-tasting tour here!

For those of you who like to get behind the scenes, many tours offer more than just wine tasting. You’ll get a guided walkthrough of the vineyards and even see the wine-making process up close. This is a fantastic way to gain a deeper appreciation of the craftsmanship involved.

Accessibility is generally not an issue. Most wine-tasting tours in Queenstown include transport to and from your accommodation, and the guides are usually well-informed, offering insights that enrich the experience. This also means you don’t have to worry about having a designated driver as someone else will be doing all the work.

If a group tour isn’t your thing, then there is also a hop-on hop-off bus route that goes past several wineries for you to set your own pace and pick your own stops.

Finally, if you want a little taste without venturing too far, visit The Winery in the town centre. The venue’s machines stock a variety of wines at different price points, and dispense full glass, half glass or tasting portions so you can try out small amounts of more expensive wines that you wouldn’t buy a full bottle of. 

Ben Lomond Track near Queenstown. Green hills in the foreground with a path leading from the bottom right corner up to a peak. A lake and town can be seen behind the hills with mountains in the background

Day 5: Hiking

Queenstown has an array of trails that showcase New Zealand’s awe-inspiring landscapes. From serene lakeside paths to challenging alpine routes, there’s a trail for every level of hiker around Queenstown.

The Twelve Mile Delta to Bob’s Cove Track offers a leisurely option that’s perfect for families or those looking for a less strenuous day out. This 2-3 hour return walk takes you along the shores of Lake Wakatipu and offers ample opportunities for birdwatching and photography.

As it returns along the same path, it’s also a good option for those who might need to turn back early with kids if the full walk is too far for little ones.

Another short walk is the Queenstown Hill Time Walk. This 2-3 hour return hike is excellent for a half-day excursion. The trail takes you up Queenstown Hill, offering panoramic views of Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables mountain range.

It’s a well-marked path, making it a solid option for solo hikers or those not keen on hiring a guide, but it is somewhat steep in places so won’t be suitable for everyone. 

If you are an experienced hiker and you’re looking for something more strenuous, the Ben Lomond Track should be on your radar. The trailhead starts near the Skyline Gondola, and it’s about a 6-8 hour return journey to the summit.

The path gets steep as you go along, but your efforts are rewarded with 360-degree views of the surrounding landscapes. Remember to pack plenty of water and snacks, as there are no facilities along the way. This is a challenging track so don’t attempt it unless you are fairly experienced.

Finally, the Routeburn Track is an iconic multi-day hike that you can access from Queenstown. Although the entire track takes about 2-4 days to complete, you can do day hikes to specific landmarks like Routeburn Flats or the Routeburn Falls.

The trail takes you through a variety of landscapes, from lush forests to alpine meadows. It’s a well-maintained path, but because of its length and occasional challenging terrain, it’s advisable to prepare adequately. Always check the weather forecast before setting out.

Logistics are fairly straightforward for most trails. While some tracks are reachable by public transport, others may require a short drive. Guided options are available for those who prefer a more structured experience, but many trails are self-explanatory and well-marked, making them suitable for independent hikers.

The mountains of Central Otago with clouds in the sky.

Day 6: Day Trips

There are lots of great places to visit from Queenstown on a day trip aside from Milford Sound. The best options are probably Glenorchy, Arrowtown and Wanaka.

You could easily visit both Glenorchy and Arrowtown in one day from Queenstown. They are in opposite directions from the town but all three places are close enough that you would probably spend less than 2 ½ hours in the car. 

The road from Queenstown to Glenorchy is beautiful. The road runs along the shore of Lake Wakatipu, and the mountains on the other side of the lake make it a wonderfully scenic route. Once you arrive in the town there are a few things to do. You can simply relax by the lake or if you want another adventure you can visit the zipline course. 

From Glenorchy head back through Queenstown to Arrowtown. Arrowtown is the centre of New Zealand’s gold rush, and there are several buildings that have been either restored or rebuilt to mimic the original gold rush buildings.

There is also a re-created Chinese settlement to showcase the history of Chinese immigrants who arrived in New Zealand, and their experiences of living near but separated from the European arrivals.

You can try panning for gold yourself by renting a gold pan, or just explore the independent shops that now make up the main street in Arrowtown. 

The lonely Wanaka willow tree growing out from the lake waters by the shore of Lake Wanaka

If you want to venture further afield, head off to Wanaka. This is especially a great option if you are travelling with kids, in which case pay a visit to Puzzling World. This attraction demonstrates optical illusions and puzzles for a great family day out.

Like Queenstown, Wanaka sits on the shores of a lake, in this case, Lake Wanaka. A famous sight is a willow tree that stands alone in the lake, and there are also plenty of mountains on the other side of the lake to produce more of those stunning New Zealand landscapes. 

If you do drive to Wanaka be aware of the weather. The main route there is the Crown Range Road, a portion of which is a steep road with switchbacks (or hairpin turns depending on your lingo), which you will need to be very careful with in wet or icy conditions.

It’s the kind of road that I generally love, but would prefer not to attempt in the dark or if the road might be slippery. 

Extended Stay: 7 Days or More

  • If you are in Queenstown for a week or more, there is still plenty to do. Take a longer day trip to Mount Cook National Park to see the country’s tallest mountain, and pass by the bluest lake I’ve ever seen – Lake Pukaki. 
  • If you are a fan of Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit you could join a sightseeing tour to explore some of the filming locations in the area around Queenstown. It’s also a great way to get to parts of the area that you wouldn’t otherwise see.
  • Book a tour of Milford Sound’s quieter sibling – Doubtful Sound. Milford Sound is much easier to access and so is much more popular. If you want to experience an equally beautiful part of Fjordland without the crowds, book a tour of Doubtful Sound. 
Turquoise blue lake with snow capped mountain, Aoraki Mount Cook, behind the lake on an overcast day
Mount Cook behind Lake Pukaki

Costs Involved

Queenstown can be an expensive place to visit, particularly in the height of summer when tourists outnumber the locals.

To make the most of your budget, focus your funds on activities rather than accommodation. There are a few budget motels, hostels and campsites in the area. You could even rent a camper van so your accommodation and transport is all in one.

Staying in a hostel gives you access to a kitchen to save on food costs. Book your accommodation in advance to avoid paying peak prices.

Activities such as skydiving can be very expensive, but there are still ways to save. Jetboat rides on Lake Wakatipu are cheaper than ones further afield. Driving yourself to Milford Sound is cheaper than joining a tour.

Where To Eat In Queenstown

Fergburger is a Queenstown icon, serving a wide variety of burgers, beyond the typical beef with cheese and bacon option.

Patagonia Chocolates is next to the lake and sells really fantastic ice cream.

The Bunker is a great upscale restaurant for a fancier dinner or date night.

Where To Stay In Queenstown

For a detailed range of options, I have a dedicated post about Queenstown accommodation, but my quick recommendations are below. These are all centrally located, close to tour and activity pick-up points.

Budget – Absoloot Hostel

Mid-range – Chalet Queenstown

Luxury – QT Queenstown

Queenstown at sunrise, with Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkable Mountains in the background

Conclusion: How Many Days In Queenstown Do You Need?

So, how many days in Queenstown do you actually need to experience it in all its glory? My unhelpful answer would be ‘as many as you can get’! 

My more useful recommendation would be for at least 3 full days, but 4 or 5 if you are able to stay that long. Like most things in life, it really depends on what you are hoping to get out of your trip, but I don’t think you’ll really get the best of Queenstown if you are only there for a day or two. 

If you’re an adventure-seeker eager to try skydiving, jet boating, and bungee jumping, you’ll easily fill up three to four days with adrenaline-pumping activities alone. Add in the trip to Milford Sound and another day or two if you’re planning to explore the hiking trails, then your itinerary starts to fill up quite easily. 

However long you stay, Queenstown has a knack for leaving an impression that lasts far longer than your stay. And I’ll definitely be going back to try and get that second skydive. This time I’ll take my own advice and book it for my first full day!

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