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As Queenstown is one of our favourite places on earth, we can understand why you might question the logic of writing about day trips from Queenstown. We adore nothing more than walks around Lake Wakatipu, making the short hike up to Queenstown Hill then rewarding ourselves with a much needed glass of Otago pinot noir in one of the lakefront restaurants.
However, there are several equally beautiful areas and townships within close proximity that are worthy to include in your Queenstown itinerary. Based on short distances and a glut of competitively priced car hire companies, the Central Otago region in New Zealand’s south island is very accessible. Here are our top picks for days trips from Queenstown:
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Day trips from Queenstown
Glenorchy (45 minute drive from Queenstown)
Just 45 minutes from Queenstown is the small town of Glenorchy, one of the most popular day trips from Queenstown. The drive to Glenorchy is absolutely stunning and has been voted as one of the most beautiful drives in the world, with incredible views of lakes and mountains. Catch the lakes on a tranquil day and they look like mirrors with crystal clear reflections.
Located at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu, Glenorchy is a small settlement surrounded by mountains, lakes, rivers and ancient beech forests. It’s stunning landscapes were used as key filming locations for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogy – we’ve read tales of the cast getting drunk in the local bars, and Viggo Mortensen fly fishing on the lake! Check out this Glenorchy Lord of The Rings Tour >
One of the most popular photography spots is the iconic red hut by the lake with the ‘Glenorchy sign’ which is very popular with Instagrammers! Fun outdoor activities for visitors include jet boating or kayaking on the Dart river, zip lining, sky diving and horse trekking. Short scenic walks can be found along the Glenorchy Walkway or Lake Sylvan Track, or if you want somrthing more challenging, Glenorchy is also thegateway to the famous Routeburn track – one of New Zealand’s best walks.
Glenorchy has a few accommodation options located here if you want to stay longer than a day trip and there are also a handful of restaurants and cafes.
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Gibbston Valley(30 minute drive from Queenstown)
The Gibbston Valley (also known affectionately as the ‘Valley of the Vines’) is one of the south island’s one most scenic wine growing areas. It is a short day trip from Queenstown – just a 30 minute drive from from town, or you can also bike there using the Queenstown Trail / Twin Rivers Ride.
The growing conditions here are quite unique, so the high altitude creates freezing cold winters, and very hot dry summers, which combined with the special soil type here create some of the best wines in the world (particularly pinot noir, which accounts for 70% of the production).
Renowned wineries based in Gibbston Valley you can visit include Amisfield, Mt Rosa and Peregrine Wineries. We spent a day at the eponymous Gibbston Valley Winery, to see their famous wine cave for ourselves, taste their wines amongst the vines plus gorge on an epic cheese-board. Check out our blog about Gibbston Valley winery >
If you do not have access to a car or want to avoid drinking and driving, then you can visit many of these wineries using the hop-on, hop-off winery bus tour that loops around the region. They drop you off at many of the above wineries, and also do scheduled stops at the start of the Shotover Jet and the AJ Hackett bungy.
Arrowtown (17 minute drive from Queenstown)
The neighbouring town to Gibbston Valley, Arrowtown is an absolute delight, especially in the Autumn months of April and May when the valley becomes an explosion of reds and orange leaves.
Arrowtown is rich in heritage and is a historic gold-mining town which dates back to 1862 when gold was first found in the Arrow River. Interesting things to see here include the Chinese miners’ settlement and the Lake District Museum, one of New Zealand’s best small museums.
We love Arrowtown as it genuinely feels like stepping back in time and has a charming and well preserved historic main street. Plus it has in our opinion, the best New Zealand pies we’ve tasted in the south island – make sure you stop by Arrowtown Bakery. If pies aren’t your thing then there are many other lovely restaurants and cafes to check out.
If you do not have a car then you can easily reach Arrowtown from Queenstown on the hourly blue Orbus bus service from Queenstown for $5.
Cromwell (45 minute drive from Queenstown)
Like Arrowtown, Cromwell was established by gold miners. Located on the shores of pretty Lake Dunstan, you can best get a feel for the town’s history from the well preserved Old Cromwell Town historic precinct (free to visit) . Akin to an outdoor museum, you can wander through the cobbled street and enter several historic buildings with models and explanatory panels inside (there is also a nice bar at the end with lakefront views).
Cromwell is also very proud of its fruit production and you’ll be instantly aware of this when you first drive there, as the ’Welcome to Cromwell’ sign is right next to the biggest fruit bowl you’ll ever see.
The historic aspect of Cromwell is delightful but the main area when you first arrive is quite meh (a concrete plaza dotted with supermarkets and food chains that makes it feel like a motorway service station). So go and take some snaps with the big fruit then head straight to the old town heritage precinct.
Wanaka (1 hour drive from Queenstown)
We can think of few better ways to spend the day than sitting on the shores of Lake Wanaka, watching the world (and ducks!) go by.
An hour’s drive away from Queenstown, there is plenty to do in Wanaka. There are lots of waterfront bars and restaurants, several lakeside walks plus the infamous Wanaka Lake tree (more impressive on photos than it is in reality). If you are looking to tackle the awesome Roy’s Peak walk, you would probably need to do an overnight stay.
Adrenaline junkies can also skydive over Lake Wanaka, or if you are after something more sedate, Puzzling World is a rather unusual attraction with optical illusions and other ‘a-maze-ing’ attractions.
Milford Sound (3 hours, 45 minutes drive from Queenstown)
The legendary Milford Sound is possibly New Zealand’s most spectacular natural attraction! Milford Sound is located within Fiordland National Park and can be done as a full day trip from Queenstown. The return journey is very long so you may want to do a small group day tour by coach instead of driving yourself (plus the roads can be a bit hazardous in the winter months).
The drive to Milford Sound is stunning, but the highlight is the scenic boat ride which takes you through stunning fjords and up close to impressive waterfalls and amazing wildlife.
There are multiple tour operators running coach trips for all budgets – cheap experiences can be booked with companies such as JUCY or Go Orange, whilst slightly more luxurious ones can be booked with Altitude Tours or Real Journeys (who also offer overnight trips). All tours usually include lunch and the boat trip in the package price.
Check out our other New Zealand blog posts:
- Things to do in Queenstown, New Zealand
- Christchurch to Queenstown 7 day south island itinerary
- Travel guide – Franz Josef, New Zealand
- Queenstown itinerary – the perfect 5 day itinerary
- The ultimate guide to Waiheke Island, Auckland
- A Milford Sound day tour, New Zealand
- Is Fergburger in Queenstown the best burger in New Zealand?
- Top attractions in Hanmer Springs, New Zealand
- How to spend a day in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
- Top attractions in Kaikoura, New Zealand
- New Zealand food and drinks items you need to try
- Visiting the Monteith’s brewery in Greymouth
Watch our New Zealand South Island video
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Blog post and photography by Caroline Keyzor and Neil Hassall and is copyrighted. Please do not use without permission.