“Whenever I get stressed, I just want to hop on a plane to Queenstown.” ~ John Travolta.
Having previously visited this amazing town during the summer months, when I first began planning my week-long trip to Queenstown in winter I wasn’t sure if there was going to be much to do besides skiing.
After all, isn’t that the reason many tourists make the journey to New Zealand’s adrenalin capital during the winter months? To take advantage of the fine powder that blankets the region’s snowfields?
While this may be true, what many people don’t realise (including myself at the time) is that there are many more outdoor activities to experience around Queenstown in winter – there’s no need for a ski pass at all. Seriously.
Are you intrigued why winter may be the best time to visit Queenstown, especially if you’re a non-skier? If you also want to learn about the exciting day trips from Queenstown to make the most of your trip, read on for more!
Why visit Queenstown in winter?
Now you know I’ve been fortunate enough to visit this incredible town in both summer and winter. Let me tell you, it’s hard to choose the season I preferred more because I loved every minute of both my trips! Queenstown will take your breath away with her sheer natural beauty at any time of year, but winter is incredibly special.
With the eclectic town hugging the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is quite compact and very easy to get around, even without a rental car. The Remarkables mountain range towers above the bustling streets below and although you’re in a town you can’t help but feel at one with the nature surrounding you. Nightlife is pumping, food is amazing, service is excellent. Both locals and tourists alike just want to have a great time.
So if you’re thinking of visiting Queenstown in winter, please allow me to convince you why it’s a trip you won’t regret!
This guide to visiting Queenstown in winter will cover:
Where to stay in Queenstown
I’ve stayed in Queenstown twice and can highly recommend both my accommodation choices. My favourite was the Novotel Queenstown Lakeside and I would definitely stay there again. In such a convenient location on the lake’s edge with countless restaurants and Queenstown Mall just footsteps away, it really can’t be beaten and was such a memorable stay.
I was so lucky to get a corner room with this incredible view of The Remarkables below!
TIP: In saying that, the hotel is very popular so if you’re planning to visit Queenstown in winter be sure to book this one several months in advance to avoid disappointment.
I believe there are only one or two rooms in the entire hotel complex with a kitchenette, so if you prefer this option be sure to book well in advance!
Another quality hotel I recommend is Swiss-Belsuites Pounamu Apartments. A little more friendly to your budget, these spacious condo apartments overlook Lake Wakatipu and many rooms have an unrivalled view of The Remarkables. These are serviced apartments so rooms are equipped with a kitchenette, which can come in handy if you’re travelling with small children.
The only downside is the walk from the apartments to Queenstown Mall is about 10-15 minutes and includes a steep hill, which may not be ideal for everyone.
TIP: Make sure to request a lake-facing view. These do cost extra, but as you can see from my photo below, waking up each day to this view is worth it! To be honest, if you don’t request a lake-facing view, you may receive a room with a view of a brick wall.
Rooms on the ground floor like mine pictured here do have a little noise from the street below, but it’s not enough to be a concern.
Need more information on Queenstown hotels and accommodation?
For more hotels in Queenstown’s town centre click here.
10 Inspiring Reasons to Visit Queenstown in Winter (For Non-Skiers)
Things to do in Queenstown in winter
Here’s my 10 inspiring reasons why I believe a visit to Queenstown in winter is absolutely worth including on your South Island itinerary. Even if you don’t ski, this winter wonderland absolutely has something for everyone:
1. Don’t miss the Skyline Gondola Lookout
This would have to be one of the top things to do in Queenstown during winter.
It’s so much more than a scenic gondola ride up to Bob’s Peak for a bird’s eye view over the town below. Not only will you enjoy sweeping 360-degree views spanning Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables, you can also make the most of your visit by partaking in some of these activities, too:
- Have a go at the Luge! It’s so much fun 960 metres above Queenstown below, one ride isn’t enough. Luge is like a toboggan but on a road, and your first lap will spent getting used to the toboggan thing. I recommend 3-5 laps for the most fun! Just don’t go too fast around the corners, haha. Unless you hike up to the Skyline Gondola (which I wouldn’t really recommend), you need to buy Skyline Gondola tickets. For Skyline Gondola + Luge Combo tickets, click here.
- Dine at Stratosfere Retaurant & Bar for a buffet lunch or dinner. Alternatively, grab a snack and coffee at Market Kitchen Café.
- Watch brave people paraglide away into the mountain ranges.
- Bring home some New Zealand souvenirs from the gift shop such as pounamu (special jade stone found only on the South Island), Paua shells, New Zealand merino wool items and much more.
- The Skyline Gondola is equipped to carry your dirt bike! The lift will take you and your dirt bike to Queenstown Mountain Bike Park up here.
- This is kind of random but there’s a sizeable Jelly Belly jelly beans store to satisfy your sweet tooth.
- Stargazing is possible at night with an included dinner. Sometimes, very rarely, the Southern Lights can be viewed from here! A stargazing tour guide on a clear night allows you to look through telescopes into the beauty of the night sky. For Skyline Gondola + Stargazing Combo tickets, click here.
2. Cruise Lake Wakatipu on the TSS Earnslaw
A relaxing way to appreciate the scenery surrounding Queenstown is to embark on a cruise. There’s something pretty special about admiring the snow-capped mountains from Lake Wakatipu, not to mention the crisp winter air blowing in your face (never fear, if you prefer the warmth of indoors as you cruise that’s an option, too).
Did you know the TSS Earnslaw is the last operating steamboat in the Southern Hemisphere? That makes her an impressive attraction in her own right. She was built in 1912, making her look pretty good for over a century old, I must say! You can watch men shovel coal into the engines the old-fashioned way and even request a song from the pianist on board.
Visiting Walter Peak Country Farm
I loved my day trip to Walter Peak Country Farm from Queenstown on the The TSS Earnslaw. Here, you can feed the farm animals (great for kids) learn a little more about them and life on the farm. The red deer here are much larger than the kind you see in Japan!
You’ll also be able to witness a sheepdog herding a flock and learn what happens to a sheep when its hooves are raised off the ground during a shearing demonstration. To top off a great day before you head back to Queenstown, enjoy the delicious afternoon tea provided in the cosy homestead. I highly recommend it!
3. Queenstown in winter is an adrenalin junkie’s paradise
If you’re quite the daredevil, Queenstown in winter will ensure you’re not at a loss for ways to get your heart pumping! Why not indulge yourself in one of the below outdoor activities? Bungy jumping, Shotover jet boat rides and skydiving are the most popular:
I personally can’t bring myself to bungy jump (I like being on solid ground), but if it’s your thing there’s 3 kinds of bungy jumping activities in Queenstown to book in advance:
- The Ledge Bungy, towering 400 metres above Queenstown where you can backflip or free-style-jump off due to the harness design
- The Nevis Bungy, situated 134 metres above the Nevis River
- The AJ Hackett Bungy Combo allows you to do 3 types of jumps in one package to save money!
- Find out what to expect at each location in this guide to a Queenstown bungy experience.
Shotover Jetboat ride
The ride is definitely exhilarating, I loved every minute my shotover jetboat ride, being jolted back and forth as we sped along the waterways. I even managed to take in the scenery whilst we were zooming along, it’s such a beautiful area!
NOTE: Obviously in winter this ride will get quite cold and wet so it’s advised you wear gloves to keep warm. You may wish to skip this in winter if you’re not a fan of the cold.
Sky dive over Lake Wakapitu
If jumping out of a perfectly good plane sounds like your idea of fun, you’ll love a tandem skydive over Lake Wakatipu. There are different altitude options to choose from and an added bonus is the views from the flight up.
More adrenalin-junkie activities around Queenstown
- Quad Biking: Quad Bike Adventure at Queenstown Hill or Quad Bike Trails around the Kawarau River
- 4WD Tour: Gold Heritage Skippers Canyon Tour
- Canyon Swings: Nevis Swing or Nevis Bungy & Swing Combo
- Hot Air Balloon Ride: Sunrise Hot Air Balloon over Queenstown, Lake Wakapitu, Southern Alps and The Remarkables. Psst, read my full review about my hot air balloon flight in Sydney for tips and what to expect!
TIP: If you prefer activities that aren’t going to get your pulse racing, you’ll be pleased to know there’s ice skating at the Queenstown Ice Arena. But, perhaps the best way to relax and unwind is by enjoying one of the onsen hot pools Queenstown has to offer!
4. Get the chance to see New Zealand’s national icon, the Kiwi
If seeing an adorable kiwi is on your list of things to do in Queenstown, you’re in luck! The Kiwi Birdlife Park is not far from the entrance to the Skyline Gondola. I personally haven’t been here to see kiwi as I’ve seen them at the National Kiwi Centre in Hokitika and at the National Aquarium in Napier (random place to see kiwi, but they are there nonetheless!)
From what I’ve seen, the Kiwi Birdlife Park looks well worth a visit whilst you’re in Queenstown. These special birds normally prefer dark, quiet surroundings and are easily spooked by noise so the park’s regular feeding times are a great way to be able to see them. At the conservation show, some of the other native birds will fly over your head, giving you the opportunity to see them up close!
The park spans five acres and is home to over twenty species of native birds to New Zealand, such as kea, various parakeets, falcons, ducks and the second-largest pigeons in the world.
TIP: When I saw my first kiwi in person, it was much larger than I initially imagined.
Tuatara, native to New Zealand, can also be found at the park. These lizard-like creatures have been walking the Earth almost unchanged since the age of the dinosaurs over 200 millions years ago. That’s crazy to think about! Fun fact: These special little guys evolved a hidden third eye on their heads, too.
5. Cardrona peaks will make you feel on the edge of the world
Do you fancy a journey to what feels like the edge of the world? If you hire a car in Queenstown for the day you’ll be able to experience this for yourself! It’s quite rare for snow to fall in Queenstown at sea level so if you’d like to check seeing the white stuff off your bucket list without having to ski, here’s one way to do it.
Luckily my travel buddy and I were upgraded to a 4WD from the sedan we had initially booked for driving around Queenstown for the day, because little did we realise the winding roads to Cardrona’s snowfields aren’t for the faint-hearted. I would only recommend the drive if Queenstown weather is fine because I think it would be quite sketchy if there was low visibility, so do so at your own risk! In saying that, the view over the valley below is remarkable.
On your day trip to Cardrona, you can’t miss the town’s hotel. It does overlook a strange attraction, though – the Bra Fence. As the name suggests, it’s quite literally a fence with hundreds of ladies’ undergarments hanging from it. Seriously. For a reason no one is quite sure of, passers-by have been attaching their bras to this fence since the late 1990’s. Only in New Zealand, eh!
6. Take part in the Queenstown Winter Festival
Although my Queenstown winter visit unfortunately did not coincide with this festival, I’d love to go back to experience it someday. This free event has occurred annually since 1975 and lasts for one week in June. The town comes alive with music, live entertainment, fireworks, treasure hunts, a festival village and much more. Mark the Queenstown Winter Festival on your calendar!
7. Hit up Queenstown Mall for a spot of shopping (and to stay cosy in pubs)
If the crisp mountain air on your face starts to get a bit much, rugging up next to a cosy fireplace in one of Queenstown’s numerous pubs is the way to go. Many like Pog Mahone’s have live music and the pub grub will easily satisfy your hunger after you’ve been out exploring Queenstown in winter.
8. Witness jaw-dropping scenery on local walks and hikes
Who’s after some free things to do in Queenstown in winter? There are a number of scenic walks and hikes you can do around this beautiful region. They vary in difficulty from easy strolls to moderate hiking up slopes. The signs at the beginning of each trail will let you know what to expect and how long the journey should take. Don’t forget to take a bottle of water with you. More info on the below walks here.
9. Enjoy creating evening panoramas
Obviously, Queenstown in winter is quite photogenic with incredible natural scenery in every direction your eye can wander. What may not be as obvious is that it’s still a photographer’s dream at sundown and into the night!
Take a stroll along Lake Wakapitu’s shoreline to capture stunning panoramas during the evening before heading to dinner and embracing the nightlife.
10. Ridiculously good nightlife will have you dancing all night
One of my favourite nights out in all my travels has been in Queenstown! The nightlife here is so good. For starters, award-winning restaurants allow you to indulge in some of the region’s best cuisine combined with sampling local New Zealand wines… What’s not to love?
To kick things up a notch, there are dozens of pubs and clubs dotted throughout the town with live music or DJ’s to get the night off to a fun start. Bar hopping along Searle Lane and Church Lane was my personal favourite, but it really doesn’t matter where you go because the city is abuzz any night of the week!
BONUS Day trips from Queenstown
As the sights in Queenstown can be covered in a day or so due to its small size, day trips are a fun way to explore more of the surrounding region and New Zealand’s South Island. If you enjoy scenic drives and finding hidden gems, I recommend hiring a car to experience driving around Queenstown and beyond. Click here for prices and to book.
This quick guide is a summary from my massive guide to day trips from Queenstown, so take a look there for more details and tips for driving in New Zealand.
Moke Lake (20 mins)
Witness Mother Nature’s incredible mirror come to life at this stunning hidden gem. Once you’re there, try the loop track hike surrounding the lake for beautiful vistas over the pristine lake. Read more about my experience at Moke Lake here.
Enjoy strolling around this former gold-mining town with its mid 19th-century buildings in immaculate condition. You’ll also be spoilt for choice for places to eat a delicious brunch. Alternatively, a full-day local wine tour will visit 4 vineyards and include a mouth-watering lunch with matching wines.
Just the drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy itself will take your breath away. The colour of Lake Wakapitu along this stretch of road is the stuff of dreams! Glenorchy is also a popular spot for outdoor activities such as a Shotover jet and horse riding to name a few. There’s also a Lord of the Rings tour if you’re a fan!
How to get to Queenstown
Both domestic and international flights arrive in Queenstown’s Frankton Airport. Direct flights operate from Sydney and Melbourne, Australia and take about 3 hours.
If you’re already in New Zealand, you can fly into Queenstown from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch on a direct domestic flight. Once there, the Queenstown town centre is an easy 15 minutes’ drive on the State Highway 6A.
NOTE: Flights to Queenstown are generally more expensive than flights to Christchurch in the north-east of the South Island. This is fine if you’re planning on doing a road trip around the South Island from Christchurch.
However, if you only plan to visit Queenstown and nearby cities, a direct flight to Queenstown is more convenient (and probably works out cheaper than a flight and car hire from Christchurch).
For arriving from other New Zealand destinations, use the approximate drive times in my Day Trip guide above if you’re disembarking from a city listed there.
Concluding my reasons to visit Queenstown in winter
This concludes my 10 reasons to visit New Zealand’s adrenalin capital during the winter months! After reading all that, let me ask you this question: Have I convinced you to visit Queenstown in winter? Did you know there were this many things to see and do without having to buy a ski pass?
If you were thinking about spending one day in Queenstown, I hope I have inspired you to take your time and extend your visit a few days to experience everything this neat little town has to offer. With the amazing outdoor activities available, breathtaking walks and even a handful of day trips to keep you busy, I hope your visit to Queenstown in winter break is unforgettable and everything you want it to be.
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Until next time,
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