Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the world and rightly so. From being the spot where the world’s first bungy jump happened to ice climbing and alpine hikes, Queenstown is an adrenaline junkie’s heaven. When planning your New Zealand vacation, Queenstown should be at the top of your list, not just for adrenaline-pumping activities, but as an overall fabulous destination for all. There are plenty of things to do in Queenstown and even more just a day’s trip away that are worthy of adding to your Queenstown itinerary.
Top Day Trips from Queenstown
Read on for epic day trips you can take easily take from Queenstown.
Drive Time: 2-hours (then it’s only accessible by boat)
Many people recommend a Milford Sound day trip from Queenstown but the real gem is Doubtful Sound. Doubtful Sound is tucked away in the most remote part of the Fiordland National Park and to get there is an impressive journey in itself. Doubtful Sound is three times bigger than Milford Sound and you start your journey by taking a short boat ride across Lake Manapouri where a bus will be waiting.
The bus takes you through pristine rainforest, much of which has never been touched by humans, to another waiting boat. This is when the real cruise begins. For the next 3 hours, your captain will show you why Doubtful Sound is far superior to Milford Sound.
While on your trip, keep your eyes open and cameras ready for photo opportunities of dolphins, fur seals, and penguins. The dramatic landscape is usually made even more dramatic by low hanging clouds and misty skies, staggering cliffs, and dozens of waterfalls.
If the weather and timing are right, your captain will take you to a special place in Doubtful Sound where he will turn the boat off and ask everyone to be silent, for an eerily beautiful experience.
It takes about 3 hours from Queenstown and you can either rent a car or take one of the shuttles.
Drive time: 3 hours, 15 minutes
Aoraki, more commonly referred to as Mount Cook is New Zealand’s tallest mountain. This alluring mountain stands tall as the centre piece of the Southern Alps. A trip to this magnificent natural attraction can be done by driving yourself or on a guided tour.
The drive to Mt Cook is a trip in itself as you make your way through Lindis Pass, there are only 3 roads that pass through the Southern Alps, with Lindis Pass being one of them. Before getting to Mt Cook a stop at Lake Pukaki is highly recommended to see what some say is the world’s most gorgeous lake. This lake is exceptionally blue and has been the backdrop for several Lord of the Rings movie scenes.
Once you get to Mt. Cook Village and the welcome centre, you’ll be free to roam about at your own pace and explore some of the many things to experience on Mt. Cook. There are numerous adventures you can choose from. There is glacier hiking on New Zealand’s longest glacier as well as glacier kayaking where if you’re lucky enough, you might witness some chunks of ice breaking off and floating around the lake.
Hiking is a popular adventure as well. The Hooker Valley Track is one of the best hikes on the South Island. This 10k roundtrip trek takes you to an epic lookout point of Lake Tasman, Tasman Glacier, and floating icebergs with the backdrop of snow-capped mountains. The Hooker Valley Track takes about 3 hours there and back. Another impressive 3-hour hike is the Sealy Tarns Track. For a shorter hike, you can walk to Kea Point for more stunning views.
Make sure you pack appropriate clothing for what adventure you decide to take!
Drive time: 3 hours, 45 minutes (then only accessible by tour)
As one of New Zealand’s most famous natural attractions, a visit to Milford Sound shouldn’t be left off of your New Zealand bucket list. Accessed only by tour, visiting Milford Sound is extremely popular, so it’s recommended that you join a small-group tour if you wish to avoid crowds and a packed bus as much as possible.
Milford Sound is a fjord located in Fjordlands National Park known for its untouched natural beauty that was carved out of glaciers millions of years ago. Many animals including seals, dolphins, penguins, and even humpback whales call this beautiful spot home, among the waterfalls and towering cliffs. Since this natural site is so popular and home to wildlife, it’s recommended that you opt for an eco-friendly tour and visit.
Milford Sound Flight and Cruise
A Milford Sound tour from Queenstown is one of the most popular things to do, but if you’re short on time or prefer not to do the long drive, combining a cruise and a scenic flight gives you a very unique perspective of Milford Sound. After boarding a super comfy Cessna aircraft, your pilot will take you over the most prominent landscapes of the South Island. This includes the Southern Lakes, Tutoko Glacier, Milford Fiord, and the Southerland Waterfalls, as well as New Zealand’s 2 longest lakes, Lake Wakatipu and Lake Te Anau.
After viewing the area from above, you’ll cruise around Milford Sound where you’ll see some of New Zealand’s native wildlife like birds, seals, dolphins, and penguins!
All your transportation is included in this tour, making your day super easy and relaxing.
Drive time: 45 minutes
One of the most popular Queenstown day tours is an adventure to Glenorchy (aka Middle Earth) through some of the most iconic landscapes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. You’ll have a chance to dress up in costumes and venture into the Lothlorien Forest for the perfect photo op.
A tour also includes a road trip to Glenorchy along the shores of Lake Wakatipu, a must-see, as this drive has been voted one of 10 most beautiful drives in the world. Once you reach the village of Glenorchy you’ll take a short hike over the 12-mile canyon swing bridge to see wild trout and salmon swimming in the crystal clear water below.
This is one of the most popular day tours from Queenstown for Lord of the Rings movie buffs as you get to dress up and play with sword replicas as well as a picnic. All your transportation is provided for you making this day extra easy and enjoyable.
Drive time: 1 hour
Planning a Wanaka day trip from Queenstown is super easy and doable. There are various ways you can plan a trip via shuttles, the Intercity bus system, or hire a car! Wanaka is only about an hour’s drive from Queenstown, leaving you plenty of time to check out some of the top things to do in Wanaka. The drive along down Crown Range Road has gorgeous stops and sights along the way. For example, Arrowtown is a gorgeous rustic town that you can stop in before or after your day in Wanaka.
Once in Wanaka, there are endless activities to do. During the winter months, you can ski and snowboard at Treble Cone or go heliskiing in the Harris Mountains. Hiking and mountain biking are wildly popular no matter what time of the year it is and with over 750km of biking and hiking trails, you can quite literally get lost for days.
A lakeside town, Wanaka is located in the Central Otago region and Central Otago wine is bound to tantalize your taste buds. After a long day of adventuring, grabbing a bite to eat with a superb glass of local wine is ideal, or pack dinner with a bottle of wine and have a picnic on the shores of the famous Lake Wanaka.
Mount Aspiring National Park
Drive time: 1-hour, 45 minutes
Mt Aspiring National Park is one of the day trips from Queenstown that you seriously can’t miss. The whole park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a wonderland made up of rivers, lakes, mountains, valleys, cliffs, and glaciers. The park is best known for Mt. Aspiring which is one of New Zealand’s highest peaks and its famed blue pools.
Part of the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s great walks, runs through the park as well as several other walking and hiking treks, but the best way to experience the park is by taking a full-day guided canyoning trip. Before setting off on a short 30-minute bushwalk, you’ll be given all equipment needed as well as a safety and skill briefing.
For those that don’t have a car rented, guided tours are an option and is a thrilling and unique way to explore this national park.
Drive time: 30 minutes
This luxury day trip from Queenstown brings you to 4 separate off-the-beaten-track wineries for a full-day of 18+ tastings with a qualified wine guide who will accompany you along the way, providing you details of the wines and the region.
Get to participate in an introductory wine tasting lesson, see New Zealand’s largest underground wine cave and indulge in local cheeses.
If doing this day trip on your own, some of the top wineries to check-out include Chard Farm, Kinross, Gibbston Valley Winery, and Wet Jacket or MT Rosa, which are known to have the best cellar doors.
Drive time: 20 minutes
Arrowtown is an old gold mining town set on the banks of the Arrow River and has recently been voted New Zealand’s most beautiful small town. You can still pan for gold in the river, take a quad to an old ghost town, or visit the Lakes District Museum, one of New Zealand’s best small museums. If you happen to be passing through during late April, you may be able to catch the Akarua Arrowtown Autumn Festival.
Starting in Arrowtown, an old gold mining settlement, you’ll hop on your bike and follow the Arrow River out of town and over several stunning suspension bridges as well as the legendary Kawarau Suspension Bridge, where the world’s first bungee jump is located. You will follow an original gold mining trail into Gibbston Valley where you’ll end your half-day biking adventure at a lovely winery for a victory wine tasting.
From Arrowtown to the Gibbston Valley is about 15km and if at any time you are over biking, you can hop back into the van at any of the designated checkpoints.
Drive time: 45 minutes
Well-known for snow bunnies, Cardrona offers much more than just snow-covered slopes. Take a drive up here for the spectacular views (which are only possible on a clear day) during any season. The summer provides you with ample opportunities to go hiking, biking, and is a great spot for stargazing.
During the winter months, an obvious activity is skiing or snowboarding, which is accessible for all levels here, but tubing and riding the gondola are available for those who prefer not to strap on ski/board boots.
You can also visit the Cardrona Whiskey Distillery and check out the bra fence, a fence that is, you guessed it, covered in bras!
Drive time: 20 minutes
Moke Lake is a hidden gem and exploring the lake on kayak or paddleboard is one of the most tranquil and serene half-day Queenstown day trips you can experience. In complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of the world’s adventure capital, Moke Lake is an ideal place to relax and slow down while taking in the intense beauty of the South Island of New Zealand.
You can choose to kayak or paddleboard and will be provided with a lifejacket as well as a waterproof jacket. An ideal day on the lake is windless and cloudless providing the perfect conditions for a mirror image of the snow-capped mountains reflected on the lake’s surface.
Local Craft Beer Tasting
Queenstown is filled with bars and breweries and this half-day trip around the city is led by a local guide who was born and raised in Queenstown. You’ll be taken through 3 different breweries and taste up to 13 delicious, locally made beers.
Lunch and transportation are included for you so you can thoroughly enjoy the local craft beer.
There are so many trips from Queenstown that are unique and unforgettable, I have no doubt you’ll have a hard time choosing which day trips to include during your trip to New Zealand!
Continue planning your New Zealand trip!
- Where to Stay in Queentown
- Top Things to do in Christchurch
- Top Things to do in Franz Josef
- New Zealand Travel Guides
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