Queenstown is a town that seems to wrap you up in a big familiar woollen coat from the moment you first catch sight of those perfectly iced peaks. There’s a familiarity in the New Zealand accent, an ease of moving around the village, and a casual appeal that makes it a very popular destination for Australians, in particular. It’s easy to plan a Queenstown winter holiday because there are simply so many things to do in Queenstown in Winter. Here is our detailed guide to this bewitching New Zealand town.
We circled the snow-capped mountains as the plane made small anticipatory hops to match those of our four-year-old clawing at the chilled cabin window.
As I watched her draw careful outlines of the mountainscape below with her little pointer, nostalgia hit. We’d been to Queenstown before. But, coming to Queenstown with kids offered something completely new.
It was a chance to see this incredible place and all it has to offer with fresh eyes. So, let’s start there, at the beginning.
Things to do in Queenstown in Winter
Where is Queenstown?
Queenstown is a resort town on the North-West coast of New Zealand’s South Island.
Central Queenstown wraps around the shores of Lake Wakatipu and it is the ideal place to base yourself, particularly on your first visit.
In town, there are ample cafes fine dining restaurants, fun Queenstown activities for kids, and plenty of rowdy and upmarket bars for those keen to stay out late.
Planning Your Queenstown Winter Trip
One of the reasons Queenstown is such a popular destination with Australian travelers is that it is such an easy place to reach from Australia.
It only takes 3 hours to fly from Sydney to Queenstown which is particularly great news for those travelling with babies or toddlers.
Click here to search for airfares to Queenstown.
I highly recommend booking your rental car and/or your airport transfers as soon as you decide to visit. Especially in peak season cars will book out and taxi numbers are limited.
Don’t forget to book a big enough car for all of that extra snow gear, and get full insurance as you’ll be driving on slippery roads, and parking in some pretty precarious spots on the mountain. Also, don’t forget snow chains.
Make sure you get travel insurance, including the cover you need for snow sports. Click here for ski and snowboard insurance prices.
It’s just a 20-minute drive from Queenstown airport into town.
It is also important to pre-book your restaurants if you are traveling to Queenstown in winter peak times (like the school holidays).
The village is buzzing with people. Make a reservation or you’ll quite literally be left out in the cold (even if you try to get a table early).
How cold does it get in New Zealand in winter? The weather in Queenstown winter isn’t as chilly as in Canada or Japan (it gets down to about 5C during the day and at night that will drop to -1C or -2C).
Accommodation in Queenstown
If you don’t have a car you will want to book accommodation in Queenstown city centre.
There are buses to Frankton and the ski resorts from town and being in a central location will make it much easier at the end of the day when you’re tired and the temperature drops and you need to go get groceries or venture out for dinner.
We stayed at a 5-star hotel in Queenstown by Accor, Hotel St Moritz which was a short 5-minute walk to the village.
We booked an Alpine Suite (1 bedroom Lake View with a balcony). The room had a small kitchenette area with a sink and fridge and coffee and tea.
If a 2-bedroom had been available it would have been a better option for us. I would also have preferred a kitchen with a cooktop.
Otherwise, we had gorgeous views of the lake over to The Remarkables and really enjoyed watching the sunset each night. The staff was friendly and the breakfast was excellent.
The Eichardt Private Hotel is a boutique 5-star property on the lakefront that would be my pick for a splurge stay if I were travelling as a couple. We went to the cocktail bar in this stunning boutique hotel numerous times and it quickly became our favourite Queenstown bar.
We spent one night at the Crown Plaza. The location of this hotel is amazing, right across from Steamer Wharf, the room was clean and the breakfast was good with a clear view straight across to the lake from the dining room.
While there are a few hotels with family rooms, the best Queenstown family accommodation would probably be a rental house or apartment within walking distance of town.
What to Pack for Winter in Queenstown
You will need to dress appropriately as many Queenstown activities in winter are enjoyed outdoors under the clear-blue winter skies.
These are a few of the basics you should pack for Queenstown;
Thick warm socks, a scarf, a beanie, and gloves, especially when skiing or walking around in the early hours and once the sun drops.
We also got snow boots for our kids. They wore them on and off the mountain.
Thermals are essential when packing for Queenstown (we prefer Merino to synthetic fibers as they breathe).
Thankfully, New Zealand has some high-quality Merino brands if you forget to pack them.
There are also charming boutiques if you are shopping in Arrowtown or Wanaka where you can buy wool and alpaca knitwear and other clothing made by local makers and artisans.
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Things to do in Queenstown in Winter
Most of these Queenstown winter activities can actually be done year-round. That’s the beauty of Queenstown – it’s a destination that draws visitors for the whole year, similar to Whistler in Canada.
It’s easy to see why some people go on a Queenstown vacation and never leave.
Skiing and Snowboarding in Queenstown
It should come as no surprise that leading the list of Queenstown winter activities are the winter sports it is famed for. There are four snowsports mountains within reach of the town.
Choosing which ski resort to visit, may come down to how close each is to your accommodation, the commute, the apres scene, night ski sessions, or which runs they have open at the time of your visit.
Now, more than ever it’s important to buy your lift passes early if you can. The mountains are trying to manage overcrowding by controlling capacity. That means they are tightening up on ticket sales and making you specify which mountain you want to ride on.
Buying your Queenstown lift passes early generally means you get a better deal with early bird lift pass packages too.
Ski, board, and gear hire is available on all the mountains and in the snow shops in town. This can also be pre-booked and may save you time waiting when you arrive.
Queenstown to Coronet Peak only takes about 20 minutes by car.
There is also the ski bus that leaves from the Man St Carpark (follow the crowds of kitted-up skiers with coffee in hand).
Coronet Peak has 3 chairlifts, 1 t-bar, and a few surface lifts.
For apres, join those in the know at Heidi’s Hut for a fireside drink or pizza, located near the Rocky Gully T-Bar.
Keen skiers will also be enticed by Coronet Peak’s famous Night Ski sessions when the mountain is lit up and the apres game is on full tilt.
We loved Coronet Peak ski fields as they cater to first-time skiers well and importantly they have a daycare and ski school for kids, Skiwiland. Book in early for Skiwiland as they cater to limited numbers.
We booked our son into the early childhood offering at Skiwiland. He did both indoor activities and outdoor winter activities like snow play and absolutely loved it.
Our daughter was part of the older program for 3 to 5-year-olds that includes beginner ski lessons at Coronet Peak. She had such a positive experience. Our kids were at Skiwiland for 3 days and that was enough time on the snow for them.
The beauty of Coronet Peak for non-skiers in Queenstown is that your family can ski for a half-day from the first tracks at 8 am and you can easily collect them with time to make lunch in town afterward. This is something we did a couple of times.
Read more about Coronet Peak here.
‘Remarks’ as the locals like to call it is a little further from town. Queenstown to the Remarkables is a 45-minute drive.
This is another good Queenstown ski resort for beginners, with an easily accessible, wide, protected learning area. I have done a snowboarding lesson at Remarkables and loved the conveyors and ample area for learning those first turns.
There are 4 conveyor lifts in total and 4 chairlifts.
Non-skiers can try their hand at tobogganing or riding a Yooner (a cross between a ski and a sled), snowshoeing or even catching a chair to hike Shadow Basin to enjoy the view. The mountain has cheap lift passes known as sightseeing passes with limited access and hours if you aren’t skiing.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a childcare service at the Remarkables. However, they do offer lessons for 4 years and up. They also have a Parent Pass option where each parent can take turns to ski, while the other spends time with the kids.
Read more about The Remarkables ski fields here.
Queenstown to Cardona is about a 50-minute drive (depending on the condition of the road).
Cardrona is another fantastic choice for those visiting Queenstown with kids as it also has a daycare and a ski school for little kids, Ski Kindy.
As with Coronet Peak, you should book places early for the nursery (3 months – 3 years) and Ski Kindy (for 2-5 year-olds) as places are limited.
Cardrona is set up well for beginner skiers with wide runs and the McDougall’s Chondolas (chair-style gondolas) in the main basin, so they don’t have to contend with the dreaded T-bar while learning.
The Cardona terrain offers 25% beginner, 25% Intermediate, 30% Advanced and 20% Expert ranked runs.
Allow enough time to stop at the iconic Cardrona Hotel on the way over or for a post-skiing snack on the way home.
Read more about Cardona here.
If you’re staying outside of Queenstown or you’re up for a drive, Treble Cone might be enticing.
The drive from Queenstown to Treble Cone takes about 2 hours. Treble Cone is a 40-minute drive from Wanaka.
Treble Cone is the largest ski resort in Queenstown. But, only about 10% of the terrain is suited to beginners. They also don’t offer beginner lessons at the resort.
The uncrowded, steep runs are suited to intermediate and advanced skiers with challenging off-piste offerings.
Read more about Treble Cone here.
Things to do in Queenstown for Non-Skiers
Luckily, this is not just a skiing town. So, if you are a non-skier you won’t be at a loss for what to do in Queenstown in winter. There is so much more on offer than just heading up the mountain.
Go Jet boating
One of the many things to do around Queenstown for thrill-seekers, jet boating on the Shotover River is a Queenstown must-do.
Shotover Jet is located just past the turn-off to Coronet Peak and over the Edith Cavell Bridge.
Passes range from individual to family or combination passes for those wanting to do the Canyon Swing as well.
The child-friendly Canyon Brewing is just next door, perfectly located for spectators or a post-ride lunch.
Dart River Safaris offers jetboating adventures on the glacier-fed Dart River for those daredevils going on a day trip to Glenorchy (an hour’s drive from Queenstown).
The 2-hour tour takes guests through the stunning UNESCO World Heritage Mount Aspiring National Park. We were spectators during our visit to Glenorchy and it looked incredibly picturesque, albeit very chilly on the water.
If you don’t have a car, both companies offer a shuttle service.
Ride the Queenstown Gondola
The Skyline or Queenstown Gondola is one of the best things to do in Queenstown with kids.
There is parking on the corner of Man and Brecon Streets if you aren’t staying within walking distance.
Grab breakfast at the very cute Bespoke Kitchen around the corner on Isle Street and wander up to the gondola on opening to grab one of the first cars up the mountain.
You can pre-purchase tickets online to save time waiting in line.
Famous as the steepest cable car in the southern hemisphere, the kids will love the descent up to the mountain with a view back down over the village in the valley below.
Once up the top of Bob’s Peak, enjoy the panoramic view and take some snapshots, have a snack at the restaurant, or ride the luge back down.
If you go up the gondola in the afternoon book in for an early dinner or roll straight into apres, back in the village afterward.
The gondola is closed between late April and July 1. Tickets range from single to family passes (children under 5 rides free) and combinations for luge riders.
If you have a foldable pram (we took on our Nano) it will fit in the gondola. Make sure you dress warmly as the wind gets icy up the top.
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Dine at One of the Incredible Queenstown Restaurants
Pack your comfortable pants for your trip because this is a food destination to rival the best winter resorts around the world.
Dining out at one of the many restaurants is one of the top things to do in Queenstown.
From casual cafes, takeaway goodies for the ride up the mountain, or fireside fine dining, there is something for everyone.
Read our full guide on where to eat in Queenstown here.
Spend a Romantic Afternoon at the Onsen
One of the most special activities in Queenstown in winter has to be a visit to an Onsen.
Onsen Hot Pools in Arthurs Point Queenstown offers the ideal date afternoon or a fun place to hang out with friends.
Onsen Hot Pools books out months in advance, so as soon as you book your Queenstown trip, book an afternoon spot here.
We missed an afternoon booking but managed to book a post-dinner soak.
On arrival, guests wait in the swanky lounge area and choose their refreshment package. They are then ushered to the private onsen room where drinks, towels, and the tub await.
You are left for an hour, music playing in the background. A subtle bell chime is a warning to prepare to exit the tub and get dressed.
While it wasn’t as magical as it would have been catching the sunset from the tub, we still had a relaxing time with a glass of wine looking off into the darkness and enjoying the fresh air.
I would definitely consider this a Queenstown must-do.
Cruise on the Steamship TSS Earnslaw
A cruise on the steamship TSS Earnslaw is one of the most popular activities in Queenstown for families combining scenery, mini-adventure, delicious food, and the outdoors.
Launched the same year as the Titanic, the 1912 vessel was originally commissioned to help connect farming families living along the lake to town.
Now, the iconic more than 100-year-old steamboat carries guests across Lake Whakatipu from Queenstown, passing The Remarkables and on to Walter Peak High Country Farm.
During the trip, guests can relax on the deck with a drink or snack or visit the mini-museum or see the steam room in action.
There are several ticket options for activities once at Walter Peak. From a horse-riding tour (7 years+) to cycling, a long lunch to a farm tour.
If you are in Queenstown with kids, book the afternoon crossing. Children will love the farm tour and a leisurely afternoon tea. Then, you will be returning to the bay in time for an early dinner. Pre-book at one of these awesome Queenstown restaurants.
The Steamship TSS Earnslaw is undergoing maintenance between mid-May and the end of June.
Get Your Adrenaline Pumping
A famed hub for adrenaline junkies, there are so many fun things to do in Queenstown to get your heart pumping.
AJ Hackett has several adventures in Queenstown for daredevils. There are a few Bungy jump spots, choose to get catapulted across the Nevis Valley, do an extreme swing ride, or do the (slightly) more family-friendly Kawarau zip ride (8 years+).
Just don’t jump dehydrated or after a large apres session the night before or you might blow a blood vessel in your eye as The Hubby did.
Relax at a Queenstown Day Spa
A visit to a day spa is an indulgent Queenstown winter activity for non-skiers or those fresh off the mountain. Unsurprisingly, many agree so try to book your spa visit even before you land so you don’t miss out.
I booked a treatment at So Spa at the Sofitel, buoyed by the hype that this is one of the best spas in Queenstown, and in desperate need of some attention for a back injury.
Thankfully, they could squeeze me in for a massage at the last minute. While it wasn’t up there with the best spa treatments in the world, my therapist was lovely and I would definitely book in again if I were staying at the hotel.
Toward the end of our week in Queenstown, I also booked a spa package at Body Sanctum.
I really loved the whole treatment and felt so comfortable with my therapist (which is important when you’re spending hours with them). I will absolutely be returning on my next visit.
Take a Lake Wakatipu Walk
One of our favourite activities and one of the most beautiful things to do in Queenstown for free is a Lake Wakatipu walk.
If you’re up early as we were, make sure you dress warmly in layers (with a beanie, scarf, and gloves) and say good morning to the ducks as you start in Queenstown Bay.
These are three Queenstown walks – each a little longer than the last;
Stroll or power walk your way towards Glenorchy along the lakefront where you can grab a cheeky morning coffee, (Vudu Cafe and Larder opens early and has yummy coffee).
Then walk past the Steamer Wharf restaurants onto Beach Street which will lead you to a little rocky beach and Saint Omer Park.
This is an ideal spot for some early morning photographs with The Remarkables in the background.
Then wind your way back to the Bathhouse Restaurant again. This is only a cute, easy walk (about 2km / 1.2 mi), suitable if you are travelling with toddlers.
The Queenstown Garden Trail is a little bit longer (3 km / 1.8 mi). You will head towards the north end of the bay beach and follow the signs which will lead along the pathway and lead you around the botanical gardens loop.
If you are in Queenstown with kids, they will love to finish with a play at the Bathhouse playground afterward on either of these walks.
Book a table for breakfast or grab a morning coffee at the historic Bathhouse Restaurant.
This is also the perfect thing to do in the afternoon and then you can finish with an early dinner overlooking the lake as the sun goes down.
If you have a little more energy, book one of our favourite Queenstown cafes, The Boat Shed (it opens at about 8 am) and walk your way along the Frankton Trail to breakfast and back.
The views from the track are breathtaking and the cafe has delicious food in a cozy setting (the building dates back to the 1800s).
You’ll find it hard to resist taking one of their delicious counter goodies back to your hotel for afternoon tea.
Taste Some New Zealand Wines
Queenstown wines are well known around the world, especially the incredible and very-drinkable Pinot Noir.
The beauty of Queenstown wineries (or those close by) too, is that many are family-friendly. So, you can book in at a restaurant, do a wine tasting and there are activities for kids to keep them entertained.
Booking is highly recommended for all wineries, even for simple tastings.
The easiest way to experience a number of wineries is to book a Queenstown wine tour (like this half-day tour with lunch) that will do all of the bookings for you and shuttle you around.
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Go Shopping in Frankton
A visit to Queenstown Central Shopping Centre is a fun option if you are looking for things to do in Queenstown in winter, especially when the weather isn’t great.
This cluster of Queenstown outdoor shops is a one-stop destination with ample parking.
If you need more ski gear there are shops like Mountain Warehouse and Macpac.
There is a big supermarket, a pharmacy, and other essential shops.
The gorgeous little health food store, Soul Food Organics where you can try some delicious local products (they also deliver). I picked up some amazing kombucha, organic fruit, and snacks for the kids here.
If you need activities for kids or odds and ends, Kmart is there too. You’ll also find some casual Queenstown cafes here too for an easy lunch.
Visit the Lakefront Markets
If you are in town on a Saturday, visiting the markets is a must-do in Queenstown.
A low-key afternoon activity, you can watch the local buskers and buy some artisanal goods to take home as gifts.
Stop in at Patagonia Chocolates for one of their legendary ice creams to eat while you wander.
Grab a Drink at an Ice Bar
If you are looking for unique things to do in Queenstown at night, have a drink in the igloo-like Ice Bar.
You’ll find Minus 5º ICE BAR down on Steamer Wharf. With packages for entry and a drink (with mocktails for kids or non-drinkers).
The team will kit you up in some warm gear and boots so you experience the space created from 18 tonnes of ice and snap lots of photos.
Positioned as more of a fancy, elevated experience, the Queenstown Ice Bar on Brecon Street (up near the Skyline), promises carefully built cocktails from premium pours (mocktails available). Their lounge is made from a huge 25 tonnes of ice.
Take a Road Trip out of Queenstown
Jump in the car and take in the incredible natural scenery on a few day trips from Queenstown.
While there are so many things to see in Queenstown itself, there are other wonderful towns not far away.
Pick from picturesque towns like Glenorchy, Wanaka, and Arrowtown, among others.
This is such a fun way to spend a day, see the sights, explore the shops, learn about the local history, and try some delicious food along the way.
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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.