There are so many things to do in Queenstown right in the heart of the village and close by. But, once you’ve worked your way through your list of places to visit in Queenstown jump in the car for some of these incredible day trips from Queenstown. Each promises something unique, from striking natural landscapes to unique artisanal boutiques and mouth-watering local meals.
6 Awesome Day Trips from Queenstown
We highly recommend hiring a car for your Queenstown vacation. Car rentals book out here, so as soon as you know you are visiting, jump on and book one.
There’s nothing better than a road trip to explore in the comfort of a car. These are just a few of the day trips from Queenstown that have appeal for the whole family.
Queenstown to Glenorchy
One of our must-do Queenstown experiences, if you have access to a car, is to take a day trip from Queenstown to Glenorchy.
The drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy is about a 40-minute drive but can take up to an hour if, like me, you are constantly struck by the scenery and pulling over as you happen upon secluded beaches and empty viewing points, perfect for putting your photography skills to the test.
You might recognise Glenorchy as the backdrop for the epic Lord of the Rings movies (click here to book a Lord of the Rings Locations Tour).
If you aren’t mad for Middle Earth, the now very Insta-famous Glenorchy red shed might look familiar.
Either way, this tiny town of Glenorchy is well worth the drive from Queenstown, if not for the jaw-dropping journey alone.
Leave early in the morning, and head south, keeping Lake Wakatipu on your left. You’ll often find yourselves alone to contemplate the beauty of this magical drive with the passengers able to witness the Remarkables painted in pastels across the water.
If, like us, you take a day trip from Queenstown to Glenorchy during winter make sure you dress warmly. It was a beautiful clear day, but the wind was biting coming off the river.
Things to Do in Glenorchy
Visit the Glenorchy red shed located on the waterfront reserve. A former NZ Railways Department building where goods were dropped off and picked up by steamers before there was road access into town.
We were among the first visitors to arrive at the iconic Glenorchy red shed first thing in the morning.
After you’ve walked the waterfront foreshore and taken your photos of the red shed and the river from the wharf, make your way back to Mrs. Woolly’s General Store to get warm. Sit in for a coffee and one of their highly-praised pies or a sweet treat from the cabinet. And, don’t forget to shop the local artisan-made goods in store.
If you are visiting Glenorchy in summer, pack your swimmers and enjoy a swim in the lake.
Thrill seekers or those visiting Queenstown without a car could book a jet boat ride and ‘funyak’ experience with Dart River Adventures.
Their half-day tour packages include a shuttle service down to Glenorchy. Plus, it’s an exhilarating way to see Glenorchy and a world heritage site from the glacier-fed aquamarine waters of the Dart River.
For those who want to enjoy the serenity of this stunning South Island spot or to take on the multi-day Routeburn track, click here to search for Glenorchy accommodation options.
Read Next | An Epic Guide to Things to do in Queenstown
Queenstown to Arrowtown
Only a 25-minutes away, a visit to Arrowtown was our favourite Queenstown day trip during our recent visit.
Wondering what to do in Arrowtown once you arrive in this quaint former gold mining town?
There are actually so many great things to do in Arrowtown, even if you’re only stopping in on the way to Wanaka.
Things to do in Arrowtown
For an introduction to the gold mining history of Arrowtown, start at the Lakes District Museum. The museum is also the tourist information centre for the town so you can grab maps and event information there too.
For a unique Arrowtown activity, you could also try panning for gold by hiring tools from the tourist office in the museum.
Then, walk up to see the 19th Century miners’ huts (mostly from the 1870s) that have been lovingly restored. Stop in at the family-friendly Arrowtow pub, The Fork and Tap for a drink or snack afterward.
Then, continue along the main street to peruse the boutiques. We loved Smith and Western, Bunnies and Goals.
We stopped in for coffee at the cute Arrowtown cafe, The Post Masters Kirchen and Bar after we’d checked out the shops. Patagonia Chocolates is also a good Arrowtown cafe for a casual coffee or hot chocolate.
For those visiting Arrowtown with kids, take them for a run around Buckingham Green (next to Bendix Stables) or around the block to Rose Douglas Park Playground. Kids also won’t miss the very charming and busy, The Remarkable Sweet Shop.
During our recent day trip from Queenstown, we booked a long lunch at nearby Akarua Winery.
Akarua is a family-friendly restaurant with outdoor seating, delicious farm-to-table food, and a great kids’ play area (bookings essential).
Should you want to stay in Arrowtown longer, click here to view Arrowtown hotels and take the chance to book a fancy dinner at the highly recommended, Aosta.
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Queenstown to Wanaka
One of the most popular day trips from Queenstown has to be to Wanaka.
The Queenstown to Wanaka drive takes about an hour.
Wanaka town is perched on the southern end of the stunning Lake Wanaka, with the Southern Alps’ Mount Aspiring National Park at the doorstep.
Wanaka town has a really different feel to Queenstown. An adventure-lovers paradise, there are so many things to do in Wanaka for the outdoor enthusiast.
Things to do in Wanaka
A Wanaka must-do while you’re in town is to see That Wanaka Tree.
The lonely willow, standing solemnly offshore was made famous by an award-winning photo. Now, it seems everyone wants a photo of their own.
Park in the Wanaka Watersports Carpack and follow the crowds down the beach to snap your photo.
For a truly unique activity in Wanaka, enjoy a lake-to-plate experience fishing in Wanaka at Hook Fishing.
One of the best things to do in Wanaka with kids, you will catch your own Chinook salmon from the lake and the team cook it up for you while you’re enjoying the other games on offer, from mini-putt putt golf to lawn games.
If you are visiting Wanaka with kids they will also love the Dinosaur Playground and a walk along the lakefront at Roy’s Bay. Older kids (and adults) may also enjoy Puzzling World.
You can’t take a day trip to Wanaka without stopping in at one of the many Wanaka cafes – the food scene is buzzing in this cute town.
We had lunch at the family-friendly Amigos restaurant and stopped in at Scroggin Coffee and Eatery (which felt like I was back in Finland or Norway), for a delicious coffee and afternoon snack for our car ride back to Queenstown.
If you make it to Wanaka in good weather consider going on a Wanaka hike. Here are a few of the Wanaka hikes in Aspiring National Park to tackle during your day trip. Always check the weather and the track conditions before you head out on the trail.
Visiting Queenstown in Winter? Intermediate and advanced skiers shouldn’t miss the chance to ski at the largest ski resort in New Zealand’s South Island, Treble Cone. Treble Cone is just a 40 minutes drive from Wanaka.
Save some time to stop in at the historic Cardrona Hotel on your way back to Queenstown. This Wanaka pub gets busy on apres days during the winter season so try to snag a spot early afternoon.
Want to stay over in Wanaka? Click here to view Wanaka accommodation.
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Queenstown to Bannockburn
A drive out to Bannockburn is one of the shorter day trips from Queenstown.
About a 50-minute drive from Queenstown, Bannockburn has a little something for everyone – from history to cellar doors and dare-devil adventure.
Another small former mining town, Bannockburn has historic appeal. The old stone buildings still stand in town and are home to the local shops.
Things to do in Bannockburn
Those interested in the mining history of the town can visit the Bannockburn Sluicing Historic Reserve.
If you are visiting Bannockburn with kids in Summer, take them cherry-picking at Cheeki Cherries in Cromwell. Pick your own cherries and stone fruit and have a play or a picnic on the orchard grounds afterward.
Wine enthusiasts are spoilt for choice in this Central Otago basin.
Carrick Winery and Mt Difficulty both offer tastings and different dining options. For a fancy lunch book into the restaurants at either Mt Difficulty or Carrick Winery.
For a family-friendly option, picnic on the lawn at Carrick Winery and enjoy their wines paired with freshly made pizza or a platter proudly crafted from freshly grown produce and locally sourced products.
Adrenaline junkies will be excited to hear that the Aj Hackett Kawarau Bridge Bungee jump is in the Gibbston Valley too. If you choose the self-drive option, you’ll have plenty of time to spend the rest of your day exploring the local area.
Outdoor enthusiasts can take advantage of the local hiking and mountain biking trails around Bannockburn that you could cover during a day trip like the 45th Parallel Track and the Bannockburn Sluicings track.
Queenstown to Milford Sound
Milford Sound sits in the heart of the Fiordland National Park.
As the name suggests, the waters are dark and deep, dramatically surrounded by steep cliffs and waterfalls. It’s no surprise a Milford Sound day trip from Queenstown is high on anyone’s list who has enough time in Queenstown to squeeze it in.
With scenery reminiscent of breathtaking Iceland, it’s easy to see why this is one of the Lord of the Rings filming locations (featured in Lord of the Rings (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring).
A Milford Sound day trip from Queenstown could mean a full day of travel up and back. The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound takes about 4 hours (but could take longer in winter). Check the road and weather in Milford Sound before you set out on the drive.
A flat rate fee applies for Milford Sound parking and you need to arrive at least 20 minutes before your cruise departs.
The drive from Queenstown to Te Anau takes about 2 hours which is a good mid-point place to stop on the road to Milford Sound. You can also stop your drive here and jump on a boat from Te Anau.
Things to Do in Milford Sound
Ensure you allow plenty of time once you get there for a Milford Sound cruise. The cruise will take about 2-3 hours, depending on which company you choose.
If you feeling adventurous, choose a kayak and cruise combination with a guide to show you the sights from the water.
Keen hikers may also be able to squeeze in one of these Milford Sound walks during their day trip, depending on the weather (this is the wettest place in New Zealand).
There are, of course, tours from Queenstown to Milford Sound for those without a car, that also make the trip stress-free and seamless. Click here for Milford Sound tours.
Day trips from Queenstown to Milford Sound by helicopter are another more luxurious option or a good choice for those short on time. There are also combination plane and boat full-day trips to Milford Sound.
The only Milford Sound hotel is the Milford Sound Lodge should you fall in love and want to spend the night. Click here for prices and to book.
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Queenstown to Mt Cook
A day trip from Queenstown to Mt Cook offers a complete change of scenery and a fully immersive alpine experience for the adventurous.
Aoraki Mt Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand.
The drive from Queenstown to Mt Cook village takes about 3.5 to 4 hours each way, depending on weather conditions. So, you’ll need to get an early start if you are doing the drive as a day trip. The Crown Range Road is a super scenic drive.
Things to Do in Mt Cook National Park
While mountaineers have long journeyed to Mt Cook in the footsteps of Sir Edmund Hillary, there are plenty of things to do in Mt Cook for the everyday visitor too.
From climbing to skiing and hiking to a Tasman glacier experience, Mt Cook National Park has a range of activities on offer for those with a good level of fitness.
Plan ahead and book a soak at the Hot Tubs Omarama well in advance so you can relax before you come off the mountain (leaving plenty of time to get down the mountain before dark) and begin the drive back to Queenstown.
There are also Queenstown tours to Mt Cook from Queenstown via bus or helicopter so you can just sit back and enjoy the trip.
More New Zealand Travel Tips
Things to do in Queenstown in Winter
Where to Eat in Queenstown New Zealand
Skye is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fit Traveller.
She is a journalist, writer, photographer, intrepid traveller and a former personal trainer with a passion for helping others reach optimal health.
As a TV journalist and producer, Skye has worked for household names such as 60 Minutes, Sunrise, TODAY and Nine News. She has also written for Women’s Health, Fodor’s Travel and Yahoo7 Travel, among many others.
Equally comfortable in a 5-star resort or hiking a far-off mountain, Skye loves the unexpected and enriching life experiences that each trip brings and can often be found in a backstreet chatting to locals with her camera in hand.
Skye is based in Sydney, working to master the balance between motherhood and her appetite for adventure.
Read more about Skye’s story here.