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Is Queenstown Or Auckland Better To Visit? A Comprehensive Guide (2024)

Are you torn between the adrenaline-pumping landscapes of Queenstown and the urban allure of Auckland? Trust me, you’re not alone. 

I lived in Auckland for a year so I have a soft spot for the city, but Queenstown is where I first discovered my inner adrenaline junkie and I’ve visited several times. 

Is Queenstown or Auckland better? Ultimately it comes down to what you want out of a vacation. They are very different places. If culture and city exploration is your thing, Auckland is the way to go. For adventure and scenery, it’s Queenstown all the way. 

For a more detailed guide about the pros and cons of each place to help you decide, keep reading! 

Sunrise over Queenstown with Lake Wakatipu and mountains behind the town

The Overview: Is Queenstown or Auckland Better?

Queenstown

Queenstown is undoubtedly the adventure capital of the world! It’s a town rather than a city, but don’t let that fool you into thinking there’s not much to do. If you’re someone who lives for the thrill, this is your playground. 

The atmosphere here is super laid-back, the surrounding landscapes are stunning, and there are lots of amazing places to visit in the nearby area.  This South Island gem is geared towards tourists, making sure you have the time of your life.

Auckland

On the flip side, Auckland gives you that city feel with a side of Kiwi charm. The ‘City of Sails’ is a melting pot of cultures, offering a blend of business and leisure. While Queenstown is in the centre of the South Island, Auckland is on the east coast of the North Island

From waterfront dining to marine animal spotting and island excursions, Auckland’s popular activities are very different from Queenstown. As the biggest city in New Zealand (although not the capital city), Auckland’s visitors can benefit from the more extensive dining options, more flight connections to other cities and a bigger choice of shops. 

Adventure

Queenstown

I can tell you firsthand that Queenstown is an incredible location for extreme sports and outdoor activities. I’ve done skydiving, paragliding and jetboating there, and it’s not only the activities that make it special but also the scenery. 

Diving through the sky with Lake Wakatipu beneath you and the mountains around you is pretty spectacular. 

This town is home to the world’s first commercial bungy jumping site run by A J Hackett at ​​Kawarau Bridge. The company has since expanded to include other jump sites around the country, including a canyon swing in Queenstown.

The jet boat was invented in New Zealand, and the area around Queenstown has several shallow rivers which are perfect for enjoying with one of the many jet boat operators in the town. 

From skydiving to jet boating and even paragliding, Queenstown is an adrenaline junkie’s dream come true. There are also 4 ski fields near Queenstown – Coronet Peak, Treble Cone, Cardrona and Remarkables. Plenty of options if you visit in Winter. 

Not into extreme sports? No worries! There are plenty of hiking trails for you to enjoy the scenery without jumping from heights!

Auckland

Auckland definitely falls behind on the extreme sports side but there are still some options around. 

 offers a different kind of buzz. Think shopping, fine dining, and cultural experiences. Plus, you’re never too far from a beach or a quick ferry ride to a stunning nearby island.

Auckland has its own extreme sports community. In addition to the original Queenstown site, A J Hackett also operates the SkyJump from Auckland’s SkyTower and a bungy jump from Auckland Harbour Bridge. You can also skydive near Auckland. 

Nature and Wildlife

Queenstown

Queenstown is set against a backdrop of jaw-dropping landscapes. For starters, you can explore Lake Wakatipu by kayak or paddleboard, soaking in the alpine scenery. 

If you’re keen on hiking, the Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. The full hike can take several days, but you can drive over to Glenorchy from Queenstown to walk a short stretch of the track as a one-day excursion. 

Visit Kiwi Birdlife Park in Queenstown to see the iconic flightless Kiwi and other native bird species. 

Auckland

Auckland’s waterside location gives it access to one of the best wildlife encounter experiences available – whale and dolphin watching. There are resident dolphins in the area, and the Auckland Maritime Museum operates a whale and dolphin ‘safari’ to observe them in their natural habitat.

Book your Whale and Dolphin Eco-safari here!

Another option for seeing the local wildlife in Auckland is to take a ferry to Tiritiri Matangi island. The island is a nature reserve that has been re-populated with native flora and fauna, protected from the pests on the mainland that can threaten these animals.

Check their website before you visit for information on how to keep the island’s resident animals safe when you arrive.

Culture and Arts

Queenstown

Queenstown does have an arts scene, but it is largely a town focused on outdoor pursuits. There is some street art to be found, but it isn’t as common as in cities such as Wellington or Christchurch. 

The town is home to several art galleries showcasing both local and international talent, however, these are focused primarily on the sale of the artwork rather than just public viewing. 

Unfortunately, the annual Queenstown Winter Festival was cancelled for 2023 and will not be taking place in future. While there is art and live music to be found, ultimately Queenstown is a destination for adventure, scenery, food and wine, but not so much for the arts. 

Auckland

Auckland wins in this category, with access to museums and galleries that you are less likely to find in smaller towns. Auckland Museum, officially known as the Auckland War Memorial Museum, is a cultural centre that offers a deep dive into New Zealand’s history, natural sciences, and Maori heritage. 

There are Maori cultural performances, as well as activities for kids. Located in the Auckland Domain, the museum also serves as a war memorial, honouring the country’s military history. 

Auckland Art Gallery is another option, with more than 17,000 works in its collection.The art varies from European paintings to modern Maori artwork. There are frequently changing special exhibitions as well, so visit their website to check out what exhibitions are on display when you visit. 

Grey cloudy day, with peaks rising from calm waters and mist floating across in front of the mountains.

Day Trips

Queenstown

Queenstown is in the Central Otago region of New Zealand, and there are some incredible locations for day trips nearby. The most famous is most certainly Milford Sound, one of the most beautiful locations in New Zealand. 

Milford Sound is absolutely worth visiting if you have the chance, and there are several companies who operate tours from Queenstown so you can enjoy the views all the way there.

Other Queenstown day trip options include Arrowtown, Glenorchy, Doubtful Sound, Lake Tekapo and more. 

Book your Milford Sound day trip here!

Auckland

The best place to spend a day near Auckland is probably Waiheke Island. It’s an easy ferry ride from Auckland city centre with plenty to do. There are several wineries on Waiheke Island, as well as hiking, ziplining and beaches.

If you are up for a full-day tour, options include the Waitomo Glow Worm caves and the Hobbiton film set. I particularly recommend the Waitomo Caves – exploring the caves under a constellation of glow worms is a New Zealand experience not to be missed. 

Piha Beach is another popular day trip from Auckland, with its black sand beach. You can also visit the Coromandel Peninsula from Auckland. 

Woman in a red top standing in front of rows of vines on Waiheke Island. Boats on bright blue water are visible below.

Transport

Queenstown

Queenstown has a smaller airport and limited public transport, so you might need to rent a car to explore the surrounding areas fully. 

The town itself is very walkable, and many tourist activities including extreme sports operators have meeting points in the town centre.

If you are planning to stay in the town and join tours and activities without leaving the area, you won’t need a car. Just as well, as parking in Queenstown can be expensive and difficult to find. 

Auckland

Auckland, has New Zealand’s primary international airport and a pretty solid public transport system, making it easier to get around.

The most useful option is probably the InnerLink Bus. It operates frequently and on a loop and includes stops at Britomart near the harbour in the city centre, the suburbs of Parnell and Ponsonby which are both interesting to visit and also Auckland Museum.

There’s an OuterLink bus route that shares some bus stops with the Inner version if you want to get to some of the other suburbs, but the Inner loop is definitely more useful for visitors.

Trains between cities are less common so if you are venturing further afield, a car will be useful outside of the city. 

Accommodation

Queenstown

Whether you’re a backpacker or prefer a bit of luxury, Queenstown has got you covered. Most accommodations are conveniently located near the action.

Budget – Absoloot is excellent value for money given its central location. The kitchen area has views out over Lake Wakatipu. The only downside is the lack of female-only dorm rooms.

Mid-Range – Chalet is one of the only accommodation options that I feel some loyalty to (check out why in my Queenstown accommodation roundup). It’s a short walk from the town centre and very cosy.

Luxury – QT Queenstown has some of the biggest rooms I’ve stayed in when visiting Queenstown. It’s very central, quirky and has excellent rooms.

For more recommendations and additional details on these three options, I have a full guide to the best places to stay in Queenstown. 

Auckland

Auckland offers a wider range of options, from budget hostels to five-star hotels. Plus, each neighbourhood has its own unique charm, so choose wisely!

Budget – LyLo Auckland is an excellent hostel with private and dorm rooms. You have access to a kitchen to save money on dining out, and there are also female-only dorm rooms available.

Mid-Range – Ohtel is a great mid-range choice, close to the waterfront and city centre. The decor is also a bit cooler than a typical chain hotel.

Luxury – The Grand is part of the SkyCity complex, right in the middle of the city centre.

Food and Drink

Queenstown

Despite being a smaller town, the food scene in Queenstown is pretty good. Many restaurants focus on classic Kiwi dishes and seafood.

The Bunker is hidden down an alley way, with moody interiors and a fantastic menu.

Don’t forget to stop at Patagonia Chocolates. They make amazing ice cream, which is best enjoyed sitting by the lake soaking in the scenery.  

Queenstown is also in the middle of an impressive wine region – Central Otago. You can join wine-tasting tours, make use of a hop-on hop-off winery bus route, or stay in the town centre and explore the offerings of The Winery. The area is particularly well known for its Pinot Noirs. 

Book your Queenstown wine-tasting tour here!

Auckland

Being a city, Auckland has more food options. From trendy cafes to international cuisines, your taste buds are in for a treat.

For views of the city, book a table at Orbit which makes a complete 360° rotation every hour. It’s a little gimmicky but still fun to do. For seafood visit Sails near the waterfront. If you head to Waiheke Island, try Mudbrick Winery’s restaurant. There are a lot of options.

Auckland also has a few wineries around. There are quite a few on Waiheke Island, but you can also join a wine-tasting tour of some of the mainland options.

Book your Auckland wine-tasting tour here!

Budget

Queenstown

Be prepared to shell out a bit more in Queenstown, especially if you’re planning on doing multiple activities. Jet boats and skydives are incredible, but not cheap. Accommodation can also be on the pricier side, especially in the peak of summer when tourist numbers swell significantly.

Auckland

Auckland offers a range of budget-friendly options, especially when it comes to food and accommodation. You can definitely make it work without breaking the bank. Auckland has more hostel choices, and it obviously costs a lot less to go to a museum than it does to jump out of a plane!

Best Time to Visit

Queenstown

The best time to visit Queenstown really depends on what you’re into. Skiing? Come in winter. Hiking? Summer’s your season. For most visitors summer is the better option as many adventure activities are weather-dependent.

Auckland

Auckland is a year-round destination with a fairly mild climate, so you can plan your trip whenever it suits you best.

The Verdict

So, is Queenstown or Auckland better? Honestly, it depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re all about that adrenaline rush, Queenstown is your winner. But if you want a mix of urban and natural attractions, Auckland might just steal your heart.

Ultimately, if you need a definite decision in the Auckland Queenstown battle, I would recommend Queenstown. It has the stunning landscapes that New Zealand is famous for, all the adventure you could ask for and a great food and wine scene. It has something more of the Kiwi spirit than Auckland. 

Queenstown luge - A winding downhill track with people riding carts. Behind the track are trees, a lake and mountains.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which City Is More Family-friendly?

Both cities have their perks for families. Queenstown offers a range of outdoor activities that are fun for kids and adults alike. Auckland, on the other hand, has various museums, zoos, and parks that are great for a family day out.

Is Queenstown Only For Adventure Seekers?

No! While Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the world, it’s not just for adrenaline junkies. The town offers a range of other activities like scenic boat rides, vineyard tours, and relaxing spas.

Is Auckland a good base for exploring other parts of New Zealand?

Absolutely, Auckland’s well-connected airport and its location in the North Island make it a great starting point for trips to places like Rotorua, Taupo, and the Bay of Islands.

Which is better for solo travellers?

Both are friendly for solo travellers, like pretty much everywhere in New Zealand. Queenstown offers a communal, adventure-focused vibe, while Auckland provides a more urban experience with plenty of opportunities to meet new people.

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