Crowned as “The Adventure Capital of the World”, Queenstown is mecca for those who love being outdoors and adrenaline pumping activities. Of course, undoubtedly, most activities come with a hefty price tag (almost all tours start from NZ$150) which make it hard for the budget backpackers.
The fortunate truth is, many of the best things to do in Queenstown are almost free!
Try Disc-golfing in Queenstown Garden
There is an 18-basket course for disc-golfing situated throughout the park. You can bring your own Frisbee (the free option) or hire one from the nearby cafes. The game is pretty simple: try to throw the Frisbee into the goals and tally up how many attempts it takes. The winner is the person with the lowest score.
Be Entertained by Buskers’ Performances
Right in the middle of town, you can expect amazing live performances by buskers coming from all over the world. Sit by the waterfront, with an ice cream on hand while enjoying the buskers performing is a great way to past an evening.
Enjoy a drink at Lake Wakatipu
Flanked by The Remarkables, Lake Wakatipu is the 3rd largest and the longest lake in New Zealand. There’s no better place to enjoy a bottle or two purchased from the supermarket. Not chilly enough? Just dip your bottle into the icy cold lake for a couple of minutes!
Wander at Markets on Saturdays
There are two markets: Queenstown Market and Remarkables Market. At these markets, you can buy souvenirs and all other sorts of locally made/ produced goodies. If not, just wander around for free and enjoy the live music put on by local artists.
Hit the Trails
One of the easiest hike for a gorgeous view. The Queenstown Hill is a 500-meters ascend through pine forest to the summit of Te Tapunui (Mountain of Intense Sacredness). At the top, you will get to enjoy spectacular views looking out over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. This trail will take about 3-hours return.
Tiki Trail/ Bob’s Peak
Instead of taking the Skyline Gondola which costs NZD44, try hiking up to take in the iconic aerial view (header’s image) of the city for free! Although rather steep, this trail is well marked and easy to find. The hike will take about 1-2 hours to reach the top depending on your stamina.
Don’t Miss: New Zealand – How We Spent 5-days in Queenstown
Taste locally-made Fudge
The Remarkables Sweet Shop is a popular chain of sweet shops in Queenstown. You can find one at the airport, in town centre or in Arrowtown. Honestly, it doesn’t take much effort to spend a bomb in this tiny shop. For those on a budget (and with a lot of self-restraint), you can pop in just to do some free-tasting of the fudge. All are made locally and taste amazing.
Cheer for the Bungy Jumpers
Bungy jumping at AJ Hackett Bungy Centre is one of the highlights for most people – with a price tag from NZ$200 for 5-seconds of thrill. A free alternative is to stand along Kawarau Suspension Bridge and be entertained by the Bungy Jumpers. Not to mention, the view of the river is insane.
Visit local Wineries and Vineyards
Most wineries in Central Otago don’t charge a fee for wine tasting – usually only a small donation into the honesty box. Others offer tastings for around $10-15 per person allowing you to try several different wines. I’ve tried two of the more well-known wineries: Gibbston Valley (NZ$15 for 4 glasses) and Mt Rosa (NZ$15 for 7 glasses).
Take in the Scenic Drive
The road to Glenorchy curves above the banks of Lake Wakatipu is one of the most scenic route in New Zealand. Supposedly to be only 45-minutes drive, it can easily be doubled due to the multiple viewpoints along the way. Glenorchy is just as picturesque as the drive itself and a great getaway from bustling Queenstown.
Located about 20-kilometers North-East out of Queenstown is the charming Arrowtown. The town is historically a gold mining village where people came here to seek their fortune. Today, you can still pan for gold along Arrow River – though your odds of getting rich are very slim.
There are two main routes to Arrowtown: 1) Along Malaghans Road via Arthurs Point which takes you past the Shotover Jet base and the access road to Coronet Peak Ski-field. 2) Via State Highway 6 which will give you stunning views of Lake Hayes. You should definitely try driving both routes like a loop.
If you have spare time after Arrowtown, I would suggest you continue your drive towards Cromwell before making the loop back to Queenstown. This 40-minutes drive you through endless rows of vineyards alongside with Kawarau Gorge.
A fruit lover? Cromwell is certainly the place for you! Known as the “Fruit Bowl of the South”, you can’t get fruits any fresher than right here. During the right season, you can even pick the fruits straight from the orchard and pay accordingly.
Along South of State Highway 6 is a stunning 45-minutes winding drive which follows the shore of Lake Wakatipu, skirting the foot of The Remarkables and the Hector Mountains. One of the popular photo spots is at the top of Devil’s Staircase.
Chill by the Lakes
Moke Lake is relatively a hidden gem outside of Queenstown even though it only takes less than 15-minutes to drive along the road towards Glenorchy. You can do a 2-hours loop trek around the lake or simply just chill at a spot. So far this place is more popular with locals and hasn’t made it to the tourist must-do list (yet!)
Lake Hayes is another tranquil, stunning lake near Queenstown. The lake is about a 15-minute drive out of town and can actually be reached by public bus as well. On a clear sky day, the reflective lake offers a panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
Plan you own LOTR Route
Did you know that many of the Lord of the Rings filming locations were very close to Queenstown? You can go on many of these Lord of the Rings organized tours (if you have the money to spend) or, if you are on budget, simply plan your own by using DOC website to map out your route. It is sure to be a fun adventure and worthy of a day!
Some tips on saving a little bit of money while in Queenstown:
- Consider visiting in the shoulder seasons. Queenstown is busiest from June to September (Ski season) and then again from December to March (Summer). I would say Spring (September – November) is probably your best bet. You’ll have a chance of seeing snow on the mountains and yet warm enough to do outdoor activities.
- Check out the websites Book Me and Grab One. Both websites offer discounted excursions, tours, activities, and restaurants up to 50% off!
- Or you can get discounted coupons from free magazines display in Tourists Centers and Holiday Parks.
- ASK for a discount! You’d be surprised how many tours or bars will give you a discount if you just ask. Often, places in Queenstown have a “locals” discount but they are really able to give it to anybody, if that means making the sale.
- Cook you own meals when staying in a hostel kitchen. A meal in Queenstown can easily cost NZD15-NZD30. With the same amount of money, you can cook at least 3 meals of your own.
- Buy your grocery from big supermarkets (I love “PaknSave”!) rather than the smaller stores which actually cost slightly more.
- Make restaurant reservations using the website First Table. This website saves you 50% off all the food you order! The catch is that you need to book in advance (highly recommended several days in advance).
- If you’re driving, Gaspy is a must-have app in your phone. It shows where the cheapest fuel is in your area. Also, always collect receipts from “PaknSave” and “New World” as it comes with a discounted barcode on fuel at designated petrol stations.
Hope this guide helps you to enjoy Queenstown as much without having the heartache of overspending. Feel free to comment below if you have more suggestions!
Lastly, if you want to keep a track of all my photos and travels, remember to follow @wanderrsaurus on Instagram!