You might expect most of the main tourist destinations in New Zealand to wind down for winter after a busy season. But Queenstown on the South Island is a real exception. Nestled between the impressive peaks of the Southern Alps, this town has no trouble maintaining a lively and magnetic atmosphere all year round. In fact, there’s a whole host of activities to keep you busy both on and off the mountains! So whether you’re visiting Queenstown for a few days or a few months, or maybe you’re even a local, here are 13 amazing things to do in Queenstown in winter.
This article is written by Faraway Lucy writer, Catherine Taylor.
1. Ski or snowboard the Southern Alps
It’s no secret that Queenstown is known as the ‘adventure capital of the world’. And one of the best ways to get your adrenaline pumping in the winter months is to click yourself into a pair of skis or a snowboard and tear your way through the fresh Kiwi powder. There are four world-class ski fields on the doorstep of Queenstown: Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, Cardrona Alpine Resort and Treble Cone.
At just 20 minutes away, Coronet Peak is the closest to Queenstown with wide-open roller-coaster slopes that are home to night skiing. This is one of the best things to do in Queenstown in winter! 45 minutes from Queenstown lies The Remarkables, sister mountains to Coronet Peak. They have sunny north-facing bowls and an impressive range of slopes that are suitable for complete beginners right up to seasoned professionals. Finally, a little over an hours’ drive away you’ll find Cardrona Alpine Resort in the Cardrona Valley, and also the Treble Cone ski area near Wanaka.
No matter which resort you choose, you’re guaranteed an unforgettable day (or night) on the slopes. Just be sure to check ahead of time for weather conditions and if you need to hire particular equipment!
2. Glide up the Skyline Gondola (and go Luging while you’re up there!)
Address: 53 Brecon Street, Queenstown
Everybody loves a good lookout point and there’s no better way to experience a bird’s eye view over Queenstown than by taking the Skyline Gondola up to the top of Bob’s Peak. The journey up is a treat in itself as you get to watch Queenstown shrink smaller and smaller beneath you. And from the top, you’re rewarded with even more impressive 360-degree views over Lake Wakatipu and the towering Remarkables.
This is also a popular spot for adventure activities like mountain biking and paragliding. However, perhaps the most unique (and slightly less dangerous) activity at the top of Bob’s Peak is the Luge. Jump into one of the little toboggan buggies and speed your way down the twisting racetrack road. It’s honestly like playing a real-life game of Mario Kart!
The vehicles are quite tricky to manoeuvre at first but you get the hang of it after a lap or two. If you’re with a group of friends or your family, this is a hysterical activity that gets everyone competitive. It seems to be the highlight of a lot of traveller’s times in Queenstown, purely because of how silly and fun it is.
3. Take a spin on the Shotover Jet
Address: 3 Arthurs Point Road, Arthurs Point, Queenstown 9371
Phone number: +64 3-442 8570
One of the most iconic activities in all of Queenstown is the Shotover Jet boat ride, which takes you speeding and spinning through the spectacular Shotover Canyons. The jet boats are quick vessels that can spin a full 360 degrees and the drivers are absolutely fantastic. You’ll be holding your breath as they skim your jet boat over rapid waters and between the rocky ridges of the cliffs around you.
You’re supplied with a life jacket (just in case) and each jet boat has cameras fixed at the front to record all the fun. This makes for a pretty hilarious souvenir video of you and your group getting flung around the water! An exhilarating activity amongst the beautiful blue and green scenery of the canyons, this is an experience you won’t find anywhere else in the area. Just remember to hold on tight…
4. Relax at the Onsen Hot Pools
Address: 162 Arthurs Point Road, Arthurs Point, Queenstown 9371
Phone number: +64 3-442 5707
Winter in Queenstown can hit some pretty chilly temperatures. So, if you’re looking to warm yourself up for a few hours, look no further than the Onsen Hot Pools. Queenstown’s only hot pool complex, the Onsen Hot Pools, is located at Arthur’s Point, right at the bottom of Coronet Peak. So you could always sneak in a visit after a day on the slopes!
But even if you’re not skiing, these spring-fed hot pools are well worth a visit in their own right. Enjoy your very own private cedar-enclosed hot pool room located on the cliffside. Remotely controlled walls roll away to reveal incredible panoramic views of the Shotover Canyons and nature below.
Onsen also has a day spa too. Here you can book a range of face and body treatments delivered by high-quality beauty therapists. Go on – you deserve a moment of bliss in amongst all the excitement of Queenstown!
5. Visit Milford Sound
It just so happens that Queenstown sits in the perfect position to take a day trip to what’s often referred to as the ‘8th wonder of the world’. Now I will admit it’s quite a trek to Milford Sound as it’s a five-hour drive from Queenstown, but this excursion is very popular and easily doable once you figure out how you want to get there.
Coach and cruise tours are arguably the most popular way to see Milford Sound. The coach departs from Queenstown with views along the Milford road (and time to stop off and stretch your legs/take in the scenery) before arriving at the port. Here you’ll hop on a modern and partially-open guided cruise around Milford Sound.
That’s where the real magic happens. Milford Sound is one of those places that looks so incredibly beautiful in photos but somehow even better with your own eyes. Stunning Fiords, breath-taking waterfalls, snow-capped mountains and local wildlife. It’s not uncommon to catch sight of seals and dolphins chasing alongside your boat!
Of course, you also have the option to drive yourself to the Fiordland National Park and take a private boat or cruise tour. Or if you really fancy treating yourself, you can even book a return scenic flight from Queenstown. However you choose to experience Milford Sound it will be truly unforgettable, I can promise you that.
6. Get your adrenaline rushing at AJ Hackett
If you’ve already got an extensive adrenaline junkie bucket list, chances are you already know that AJ Hackett was the first person to bring bungee jumping to the world. And it all started right here in Queenstown.
Today, there are a few bungee locations around the area – the Kawarau Suspension Bridge aka the first commercial bungee site in the world and still a firm favourite, though only 43m high; The Ledge, found at the top of the Skyline Gondola and 47m high; and Nevis, the largest bungee jump in the Southern Hemisphere at 134m! As the home of the bungee jump, this has got to be one of the best things to do in Queenstown in winter. Just hold your breath and jump!
7. Wander the Queenstown Gardens
Address: Queenstown 9300
Amongst all the expensive and exhilarating activities on offer in Queenstown, you can also take a step back and find a little haven of peace in the delightful Queenstown Gardens.
It’s a quiet, spacious area with lovely walking paths that lead you through lines of trees, alongside the edge of a lake and over a quaint stone bridge. Of course in winter you might not find quite the same bloom of flowers and wildlife as you would in spring or summer. But even when the trees are bare and the grass is frosty, it’s a beautiful place to spend a couple of hours.
Quite bizarrely, Queenstown Gardens is also home to Queenstown’s very own 18 ‘hole’ disc (frisbee) golf course. Played in the gardens since the early 1980s, this is the first permanently marked out course in New Zealand. The course is free to use, but if you need to hire some gear you’ve got the option to do so. All that’s left is to ‘tee-off’ and have some fun!
8. Take a boat cruise on Lake Wakatipu
You’ve already seen Queenstown from the ground and most likely from up high on the Skyline Gondola. So now it’s time to see it from the water of Lake Wakatipu. Queenstown is built right on the water’s edge of this beautiful lake and you get some pretty special views of the surrounding mountains and the town itself while you’re out on the water.
The pick of the bunch is the iconic TSS Earnslaw. This 100-year-old fired steamship lets you combine history (you can explore the vessel, engine room and other onboard displays) with the spectacular scenery of the 90-minute voyage. There are multiple timeslots to head out on the water throughout the day. But, if you can, try to time your winter cruise for late afternoon. This way you can watch the sunset paint the sky with colours and see the lights of the town twinkle on.
9. Spot kiwi birds at the Kiwi Birdlife Park
Address: Upper, Brecon Street, Queenstown 9300, New Zealand
Phone number: +64 3-442 8059
If you haven’t managed to catch a sight of the adorable kiwi bird before your visit to Queenstown, now is the perfect time to tick that one off the New Zealand bucket list. This wildlife sanctuary in the heart of Queenstown spans fives acres and holds over twenty species of native New Zealand wildlife. Set in landscaped gardens and also offering a café and gift shop on-site, this is a great spot for a winter’s day where the weather might not be the best for a walk or an adventure activity.
The Kiwi birds are housed in a special nocturnal habitat, as they tend to prefer dark and undisturbed surroundings. But don’t worry, you’ll still be able to see their cute little fluffy feathers and pointy beaks in the dim lighting. With plenty of other New Zealand wildlife to observe while you’re there, this is one of the best things to do in Queenstown in winter for animal lovers!
10. Explore Queenstown’s wineries and cellar doors
It really is far too easy to spend an entire day floating from cellar door to cellar door and sampling glasses of Central Otago’s finest wine selection. So, if you’re not an avid wine lover, it’s maybe best to sit this one out. From central Queenstown, you can easily reach the Arrowtown, Queenstown and Gibbston wineries by car. Although of course, you’ll need a designated driver! Or you can book one of many guided tours that take you from location to location by car, bus or even helicopter, all with the added bonus of a friendly and knowledgeable guide.
Central Otago is home to some of the world’s very best pinot noir. However, there are countless other styles of wine that you’ll be able to sample throughout the day. Tours usually include a stop for lunch at one of the wineries restaurants or café’s to get a taste of fresh, local food. (And also line the stomach!)
P.s. If you’ve never been on a wine tour before, do not underestimate the amount of wine you’re drinking. It might look like tiny little measurements, but I can guarantee you’ll feel a little lightheaded by the time you leave the first cellar door…
11. Shop, eat and drink at the Queenstown Mall
Address: Queenstown 9300
The cosmopolitan streets of Queenstown are packed full of shops ranging from international designer brands to high street fashion, from tourist shops to sports equipment specialists. Interspersed between retail stores you’ll also find art galleries, book shops, speciality food stores and wine sellers.
The fully-pedestrianised streets are easily walkable and you’ll find little benches and outdoor seating areas dotted around. So if you’re not in the mood to shop ‘til you drop the Mall is still a great place to grab a hot chocolate from Patagonia or a cup of coffee from Joe’s Garage. Just grab a seat and admire the surrounding lake and mountain views.
The Queenstown Mall is also a fantastic place to grab a bite to eat in the evening. And if there’s one spot you simply have to visit, it’s the award-winning trio Fergburger, Fergbaker and Mrs Ferg Gelateria. Located side-by-side on Shotover Street, these sister establishments have some of the tastiest produce in all of Queenstown. In fact, you might have already heard of them. They’re so popular with tourists and locals alike that they even sell their own merchandise! So grab a juicy burger for dinner, a tower of ice cream for dessert, and a couple of pastries to take away for the next morning. I promise you, it lives up to the hype!
12. Enjoy the buzzing nightlife
Queenstown in winter has a real après ski atmosphere when it comes to bars and nightlife. And, with the highest number of late-night venues, it’s even known as the party capital of New Zealand! There’s a handy mix of themed bars like Cowboys, local’s favourite pubs like the Pig & Whistle, backpacker drinking destinations like Harry’s Pool Bar and late-night clubs like The World Bar. If you’ve got the time, why not take a pub crawl around them all?
Queenstown is also home to not one, but two ice bars! Furniture and sculptures beautifully carved out of ice, delicious cocktails served in an ice glass, and funky music played through the night makes for a very entertaining place to visit. (If you haven’t already had enough of the winter chill, that is!)
13. Take part in Real Journey’s Queenstown Winter Festival
Phone number: 027 570 0449
The Queenstown Winter Festival might be a tricky one to line up your trip with, but if you happen to be in the area for this week-long festival in June then you’re in luck. This free event first started in the year 1975 when a bunch of locals fancied throwing a celebration for the winter. They organized mountain races, a couple of concerts and a fancy ball for the town to attend. And Queenstown has never looked back.
Every winter, the festival brings Queenstown alive with live music and entertainment, street parties, fireworks, a festival village and much, much more. It attracts over 45,000 visitors each year, so you can bet this one is going to be a party to remember!
So there you have it: 13 amazing things to do in Queenstown in winter! It’s safe to say that regardless of whether you spend your time relaxing in a hot tub or bungee jumping, you’re going to have a great time. So which of these things to do in Queenstown in winter has most caught your eye? Please let me know in the comments below!
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