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New Zealand’s Queenstown is quite the place and deserves at least five days of your time when planning a South Island itinerary. Based around Lake Wakatipu with sweeping mountain views in every direction, the scenery is spectacular and the list of activities to do is infinite – from tasting wine to a mountain climb, Queenstown has it all.
We’ve been regular visitors to Queenstown over the last 10 years and return every time we’re back in New Zealand, always finding new things to do. Here is our guide to the perfect 5 day itinerary for Queenstown:
Queenstown itinerary – best time to visit
Queenstown is a great place to visit all year round with plenty of activities on offer every season.
Summer (December to February) is the best time of year to visit Queenstown with long and warm sunny days. However as it is peak season the town will be crowded with tourists and accommodation will be a bit more expensive.
The shoulder seasons of Autumn (March to May) and Spring (September to November) have smaller crowds and are a much cheaper time of year to visit Queenstown. The temperatures are mild but warm enough to do most of the outdoor activities.
Winter (June to August) is very cold, but the town is almost as busy as summer as Queenstown is very popular in winter for skiing/snowboarding and après ski, and also for the awesome annual Queenstown Winter Festival.
How to get around Queenstown
Most of downtown Queenstown is walkable, and quite a few attractions that are out of town offer complimentary shuttle services, so you could do 5 days in Queenstown quite easily without your own transport.
If you do want to explore a lot of places outside town then car hire is by far the best option as many spots are not served by public transport (and there aren’t many taxi services available). You can hire a car as soon as you arrive at Queenstown International Airport, or if you just want it for a day or two, you can pick one up from some rental places in town.
There is a public bus service available and if you want to use it you can access places such as Frankton, Arthurs Point and Arrowtown.
5 day Queenstown itinerary
Start the morning of your 5 day Queenstown itinerary with a gentle scenic lake cruise on Lake Wakitpu. There are many lake cruises available in Queenstown to choose from, these are the most popular 3:
Million Dollar Cruise
This small and affordable scenic cruise is run by a local couple Wayne and Betty, who provide witty commentary during this 90 minute journey. There is also a cash bar on board. Book a Million Dollar Cruise >
Spirit of Queenstown
This 90 minute scenic cruise is slightly bigger than the Million Dollar cruise, and comes with the option of booking a wine and a cheese board to enjoy onboard! Book a Spirit of Queenstown Lake Wakatipu scenic cruise >
This iconic century-old coal fired steamship runs 90 minute cruises regularly throughout the day. Onboard you can visit the engine room to see giant steam engines at work, view historical photos in the mini-museum or enjoy a wine or beer and food from the Promenade Café and Bar.
After disembarking from your cruise, take a stroll around Queenstown Gardens before heading to the famous Fergburger restaurant – but be prepared to queue for a bit as it is so popular! Often declared as New Zealands ‘best burger’, we think Fergburger is slightly overhyped but tend to be in the minority in this debate – see what you think and let us know in the comments!
After lunch, take a gondola ride up to the Skyline at the top of Bob’s Peak. The views of Queenstown and Lake Wakitipu are stunning, and there are lots of activities for you to enjoy such as luge rides (small three-wheel carts), bungy jumping or paragliding. Book a Skyline Queenstown Gondola ticket >
Finish the day with an awesome buffet dinner at Skyline’s Stratosfare restaurant at sunset – advance booking is definitely required.
TIP – Check out the discount deal website bookme.co.nz for huge discounts on attractions and dining in Queenstown and the rest of New Zealand/Australia. Note: they’ve been offering the Shotover Jet for $1 for years but it’s a lie – we’ve never seen it actually available!
Start the second day of your Queenstown itinerary with some extreme sports! Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand and there are loads of fun activities to do in the area. Taking a ride in a jet boat is a must do and is one of our favourite things to do in Queenstown.
The experience is totally unique – you skim along the river at great speed on just a few inches of water with multiple thrilling 360-degree spins! The Shotover Jet is the most iconic operator and their jets take you through narrow canyons, however if you are on a budget then KJet offer a cheaper alternative which is just as fun.
Another iconic thing to do in New Zealand is the bungy jump! If you book with AJ Hackett you can free fall off the edge of the Kawarau Bridge which is New Zealand’s original bungy jumping location. If bungy jumping is not for you you can still watch others jump from the public viewing platform. The bridge is located a bit out of town but they provide a free return bus to get there when you book.
TIP: Head to one of the i-Sites in town (tourist information centres) where you can book ‘combo’ deals on jet boating and bungy jumps, plus a variety of other activities such as whitewater rafting, helicopter rides, skydives and canyon swings. Read more about this at combos.co.nz.
After a morning of adventure head over to Gibbston Valley Winery for a spot of lunch in their restaurant followed by wine tasting and a tour of their wine cave.
They are located a 20 minute drive out of Queenstown so you’ll need to jump in a taxi or take one of their shuttle buses that run to and from Queenstown town centre. You can book some of their tours that include the shuttle in the price, but if you are not doing a tour then it will cost $35 return per person which is a little bit expensive. Read more about our visit in our afternoon at Gibbston Valley blog post >
We have only ever visited Gibbston Valley Winery but there are many other wineries in easy reach from Queenstown centre – check out Chard Farm, Akarua, Armisfield and Kinross.
If you want to explore a few wineries (and breweries) in one day then the hop-on, hop-off winery bus tour loops around the region dropping you off at most of the above wineries, plus stops at the Shotover Jet and AJ Hackett bungy.
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Today we recommend you take a day trip to the legendary Milford Sound – possibly New Zealand’s most spectacular natural attraction! The scenic boat rides takes you through stunning fjords and up close to impressive waterfalls and amazing wildlife.
Milford Sound is located within Fiordland National Park and can be done as a full day trip from Queenstown. The return journey is almost 14 hours long but you will see some incredible scenery on the way and there are multiple photo stops at pretty places such as Mirror Lakes. Most of the scheduled stops are done on the journey to Milford Sound, so if you have the cash to splash you can take a helicopter ride back rather than sitting on a coach back to Queenstown for 4 hours (weather dependent).
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.
If you don’t want to go on a group tour you can hire a car and drive there yourself, but it is a very long trip and only something we would recommend doing during the summer months, as the roads can be dangerous in the winter.
There are lots of lovely places to visit that are a short drive out of Queenstown. We suggest you hire a car for the day and check out these 3 spots: Glenorchy, Arrowtown and Wanaka.
We personally recommend JUCY rentals or Apex rentals for excellent service and decent rates, or head to rentalcars.com to compare different prices from all the Queenstown rental car companies. From our own experience we would not recommend Omega Rental Cars – we had a filthy car with a dodgy door, their customer service was absolutely shocking, and then they took unauthorised payments out of our account 9 months after our trip, please avoid these guys!
Start the mini road trip by taking a short 45 minute drive to Glenorchy – a small lakeside town which was famously used as a backdrop for many movies including The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Check out these Lord of the Rings themed tours on Get Your Guide.
This drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy is considered one of the most scenic road trips in New Zealand and the views are breathtaking. There are several points of interest along the way – great photo spots include Wilson Bay and Bennett’s Bluff Lookout.
Glenorchy village itself is quite small but has a few lovely photo spots (such as the Glenorchy boat shed), plus a few cafes where you can grab a coffee and some breakfast. There are plenty of sporting activities that can be enjoyed here – take a ride on a jet boat or kayak along the Dart River, or enjoy a gentle horse ride through the stunning Dart Valley. For more details check out dartriver.co.nz.
If you are unable to drive you can book a Glenorchy half day tour >
Next take a 1 hour drive over to Arrowtown for a wander and to grab a spot of lunch. This historic gold-mining town dates back to 1862 when gold was first found in the Arrow River and has many cute gift shops, cafes and restaurants. If you don’t want a sit down lunch then we recommend Arrowtown Bakery – the pies here are delicious and there are loads of different fillings available (we like the classic mince and cheese).
Make sure you also visit the Arrowtown Chinese settlement – a heritage listed restored village near the river that is free to visit. It shows what the conditions used to be used and the types of dwelling miners would inhabit.
If you happen to be visit Queenstown during the Autumn season (April and May) then Arrowtown is a fantastic place to visit as the trees are full of bright autumnal colours. If you are unable to reach here by car, you can get a direct bus from Queenstown centre.
The final stop of the mini road trip is the lakeside town of Wanaka. The picturesque 45 minutes drive from Arrowtown via the Crown Range Road has spectacular views with mountains and lakes in the distance. Make a quick stop at the Cardrona Hotel, New Zealand’s oldest and most well known pub, which has a beer garden and cosy fire inside.
If you are visiting in winter, we suggest you drive to Wanaka via Cromwell as the Crown Range route has dangerous driving conditions in icy weather.
Once you reach Wanaka, make a quick stop at the Wanaka Tree – bizarrely one of the most photographed spots in New Zealand! Then make your way over into town and head to the lake for a swim or kayak, then have dinner in one of the many lakefront bars and restaurants at sunset, before driving back to Queenstown. You might want to drive back via Cromwell as the route is a little easier to drive in the dark.
Other Wanaka activities you might like:
Skydive in Wanaka from 9,000, 12,000 or 15,000-feet over the rugged Southern Alps.
Take a high-speed jet boat ride over Lake Wanaka.
Enjoy a 2-Hour Cruise and Nature Walk on Stevensons Island
Visit Puzzling World! An iconic attraction open since 1973.
Start your final day of your Queenstown itinerary with a scenic hike up to the top of Queenstown Hill, one of the most popular short hikes in Queenstown.
The walk starts in town at Belfast Terrace taking around 2 hours to complete a return journey. A 500-metre climb through pine forest takes you to the summit where you are rewarded with some beautiful lake views. Don’t miss the ‘Basket of Dreams’ artwork, which is a popular photo spot.
After all that hiking spend the afternoon relaxing with a soak at Onsen Hot Pools Queenstown. You can book a 1 hour private session in a hot tub that has amazing views of the Shotover River (and the Shotover jet whizzing by!).
Make sure you book your hot tub session as soon as possible – they can be fully booked weeks, even months in advance. As well as hot tubs, they also offer face and body spa package treatments, plus refreshments such as wine, beer and snacks are available to purchase. Click here for more details and to book your onsen experience >
The Onsen Hot Pools are located 10km from Queenstown centre, so you will need to take a taxi to get there, or use their free shuttle bus service. You can request the free transportation when booking your tickets online (spaces are limited).
After the Onsen Hot Pools shuttle bus or taxi drops you back into town, spend the rest of the afternoon strolling around the lake and shopping for souvenirs, before enjoying some dinner and drinks in town.
Queenstown itinerary accommodation
Accommodation choices in Queenstown are plentiful, but make sure you book in advance if visiting in peak season (summer months of December to March) to avoid disappointment.
YHA Queenstown Lakefront
Highly rated lakeside hostel and one of our favourite budget places to stay in Queenstown. Check out prices and availability for YHA Lakefront.
Spacious backpacker Lodge with dorms and private rooms located in the heart of Queenstown. Check out prices and availability for Haka Lodge.
Adventure Q2 Hostel
Shared room accommodation with in-house activities most nights a week. Check out prices and availability for Adventure Q2 Hostel.
Mid range Queenstown hotels
If you are looking for something mid range then these hotels have great reviews:
Modern, self-contained accommodation with views of the Remarkables Mountains and Coronet Peak. Check out prices and availability for Ramada Suites.
Heartland Hotel Queenstown
Hotel with traditional alpine architecture located a short walk from town with panoramic views over Lake Wakatipu. Check out prices and availability for Heartland Hotel Queenstown.
Alternatively if you are looking for something more special then treat yourself to a stay at one of these beautiful hotels in Queenstown:
Eichardt’s Private Hotel
Luxury hotel Just 5 minutes’ walk from the waters of Lake Wakatipu. Check out prices and availability for Eichardt’s Private Hotel.
Queenstown Park Boutique Hotel
Luxury boutique hotel with panoramic alpine views, surrounded by parkland – rooms are well-furnished and have kitchenettes. Check out prices and availability for Queenstown Park Boutique Hotel.
The Rees Hotel & Luxury Apartments
Lakefront accommodation with private balconies, with some featuring floor-to-ceiling windows and views of Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains. Check out prices and availability for The Rees Hotel & Luxury Apartments.
Where to go next after spending 5 days in Queenstown
After spending 5 wonderful days exploring Queenstown you could head up the west coast visiting epic spots such as Franz Josef Glacier, and finishing your trip in Abel Tasman / Nelson.
More New Zealand itineraries:
- Auckland to Wellington road trip – 7 day itinerary
- Wellington to Christchurch road trip – 7 day itinerary
- Christchurch to Queenstown road trip – 7 day itinerary
- Auckland to Rotorua 5 day return road trip
- Christchurch to Nelson drive – 8 day round trip itinerary
- Auckland itinerary – perfect 1, 2 or 3 days in Auckland
Check out our other New Zealand blog posts:
- How to spend a day in Hanmer Springs, New Zealand
- Things to do on Waiheke Island: the ultimate guide
- The 10 best day trips from Auckland, New Zealand
- Things to do in Kaikoura, New Zealand
- The best day trips from Queenstown, New Zealand
- 20 New Zealand food and drinks items you need to try
- Delivering post on the Picton Mail Boat Cruise
- Visiting the Monteith’s brewery in Greymouth
Watch our New Zealand South Island video
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