Queenstown is best known as the adventure capital of the world, and for good reason. Situated on the pristine shores of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by soaring mountains like The Remarkables, Cecil Peak, Walter Peak, and Ben Lomond, this resort town offers plenty for thrill-seekers to do. Popular activities include snowboarding, skiing, bungee jumping, paragliding, skydiving, whitewater rafting, and mountain biking. But you don’t need to be physically active to enjoy yourself—there are just as many ways for more laidback travelers to appreciate Queenstown’s natural beauty. Even something as simple as people-watching at the picturesque wharf can be a memorable experience in itself.
Here's how to get the most out of a Queenstown weekend:
3:00 p.m. Start from the Top
Take the Skyline Gondola—also known as the steepest cable car lift in the Southern Hemisphere—all the way up to Bob’s Peak, 450 meters above Queenstown. From there, Skyline Queenstown offers all sorts of activities, like hiking, stargazing, and mountain biking. But if you’re pressed for time and looking for something less strenuous, go for the luge—a thrilling, gravity-driven ride down the mountain. Instructors will have you start with the scenic beginners’ track to make sure you get the hang of controlling your luge. Afterwards, you can opt to take the steeper advanced track for more of an adrenaline rush. We recommend getting a package that includes the gondola and three luge rides for 52 NZD.
The luge track at Skyline Queenstown
4:00 p.m. Take in the View
Hang out at the Skyline deck, where you’ll get a breathtaking panoramic view of Queenstown, and the surrounding area. After taking your fill of pictures, you can check out the gift shop and the Jelly Belly store, or grab a snack at the Market Kitchen Café.
5:00 p.m. Lakeside Stroll
Set against the backdrop of the snow-capped Remarkables, the crystal blue waters of Lake Wakatipu are a sight to behold. Head down to Steamer Wharf, which is teeming with lakeside restaurants and perfect for people-watching.
View of the Remarkables from Steamer Wharf
6:30 p.m. Ivy and Lola’s
Make reservations for an early dinner at Ivy and Lola’s Kitchen and Bar. This cozy restaurant is well-known among tourists and locals alike for its retro Art Deco-inspired interiors and hearty seasonal meals. The New Zealand green-shelled mussels steamed in coconut chilli jam broth are a must-try, as well as the seared scallops with crispy pork belly and the succulent Sticky Portuguese chicken.
7:30 p.m. Patagonia Chocolates
Ward off the chill with a steaming cup of Patagonia’s signature hot chocolate. No need to fret if it’s out of stock by the time you get there—there’s another branch on Rees Street just down the promenade. But if the cold doesn’t bother you, don’t miss your chance to try their artisanal ice cream, which consistently wins gold and silver awards from the New Zealand Ice Cream Manufacturers Association.
6:55 a.m. Road Trip to Milford Sound
When in Queenstown, you absolutely must see Milford Sound, one of the most popular day trips from the area. It’s a wonderful way to experience nature without actually having to do any hiking or camping. If you aren’t keen on driving on the left side of the road, book a coach and cruise tour with Real Journeys for 199 NZD. The bus departs at 7:15 a.m. from the Real Journeys Visitor Centre at Steamer Wharf, though they ask guests to be there 20 minutes before. Alternatively, arrange to be picked up from your hotel when you book your cruise. Make sure to take the picnic lunch option too—apart from a brief stop at a Te Anau visitor center, there aren’t a lot of places to buy food, so it’s well worth the additional 19 NZD.
7:30 a.m. Running Commentary
Take in New Zealand’s famously bucolic scenery—if you travel in spring, you’ll see a lot of lambs frolicking in the hills amidst all that greenery. Real Journey bus drivers double as very knowledgeable tour guides, and if you’re lucky you’ll get Barry, a man with dry humor who keeps up a running commentary on the history, flora and fauna, and even politics of each area you pass through. If you’d rather catch up on some z’s, the cadence and volume of his voice can just as easily lull you to sleep. Make sure to bring a power cord and plug your phone into the USB socket next to your seat—you’ll be taking lots of pictures later.
11:30 a.m. Parks and Recreation
In a few hours, you’ll reach Fiordland National Park—designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site—and travel down Milford Road, which is an experience in itself. Your driver will stop at several scenic spots to let you stretch your legs and take photos. The first of them is Eglinton Valley, a beautiful plain carved by glaciers and surrounded by steep forest-covered slopes. After that you’ll see the surreal Mirror Lakes, so named because they perfectly reflect the Earl Mountains on a still day.
A kea at Monkey Creek
12:30 p.m. Monkey Business
At Monkey Creek, there’s a good chance you’ll see kea wandering around the car park. Endemic to New Zealand’s South Island, this cheeky creature is the world’s only alpine parrot, and is also known as one of the most intelligent birds in the world. Given that they’re as smart as monkeys, they can be just as destructive too. Don’t be surprised if an inquisitive kea tries to hop on your bus.
1:30 p.m. Sail Away
Take a scenic cruise around breathtaking Milford Sound. On a rainy day, you’ll see stunning temporary waterfalls cascading down the granite mountainsides all around the fiord (yes, Milford Sound is actually a fiord). Pick up your lunch and finish it towards the start of the ride, so that you’ll be free to enjoy the rest of the cruise on the upper viewing deck. The skipper will explain some of the notable natural features and even take the boat right up some of the permanent waterfalls, so be sure to bring a raincoat. If you don’t relish the idea of getting wet, you can always head inside for shelter. You’re bound to spot some fur seals sunning themselves on a rock, or even a Fiordland crested penguin or a group of dolphins.
9:30 p.m. Botswana Butchery
You’ll likely be ravenous at the end of the day. There’s no better way to sate your appetite than by tucking into some slow-roasted lamb shoulder in front of a warm log fire at the Botswana Butchery. Make sure to book ahead of time, as Botswana is one of the most popular restaurants in Queenstown.
10:00 a.m. Late Breakfast
Sleep in then head to Vudu Café & Larder, which serves the best breakfast and coffee in Queenstown. They make a mean eggs benedict but if you’re in the mood for something healthier, go for the organic quinoa & oat porridge.
11:30 a.m. Candy Crush
Visit the Remarkable Sweet Shop on nearby Beach Street. As its name suggests, this iconic store has an overwhelming variety of sweets. Be sure to try their Remarkable Fudge, which comes in all kinds of flavors like chocolate mousse, crème brulee, kiwifruit, and even farts (which tastes a lot better than it sounds). Afterwards, digest everything you’ve eaten by doing some souvenir shopping at Queenstown Mall.
A jet boat ride
1:00 p.m. Make a Splash
Take one last thrill ride on a jet boat, which will zoom across Lake Wakatipu, do 360-degree spins on Kawarau river, and race up Shotover river at 85 kilometers per hour. Afterwards, you can buy photos and videos of your experience at the Queenstown Underwater Observatory. Adult tickets cost 129 NZD.
2:00 p.m. Late Lunch
No trip to Queenstown is complete without a meal at Fergburger, the stuff of legends. This joint is so good that people line up all day everyday. The original Fergburger—made with Prime New Zealand beef and perfectly baked buns—is a must-try, and well worth the 20-minute wait.