A first-timers guide to Queenstown

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For the first-time visitor to New Zealand, Queenstown is a true big kid’s playground. Blessed with stunning scenery, more extreme sports than you can wave a stick at and an exciting food scene, there’s something for everyone in this alpine town.

To help you get the most out of your stay here, we’re breaking down some of the best Queenstown has to offer first-time visitors.

Getting around

Flying into Queenstown, you’ll arrive at the local airport just under 8 km from town. The first thing you’ll need to decide is whether or not you hire a car for your stay. If you intend on spending the majority of your time in central Queenstown, it is perfectly possible to get by on public transport.

The Ritchies Connectabus service runs from the airport to a number of major hotels and motels, while other routes can take you to sights such as Arrowtown and Wanaka. If you do decide to go with public transport, be sure to check out the Go Card for a 10 per cent discount on cash fares, or the 7 day pass for unlimited travel.

However, if you’d like more flexibility during your holiday, as well as the chance to visit destinations not covered by bus routes, hiring a car is a good idea – you have plenty of options to choose from at the airport, but it’s always wise to book ahead of time.

Photo credit Getty/AtomicZen

Accommodation options

Like any good tourist spot, Queenstown offers a range of accommodation, whether you’re backpacking, looking for a basic motel or wanting to go all out at a luxury lodge. Backpackers hostels start from as little as $21 a night, while motels generally start from just under $100 per night.

If you don’t mind cooking for yourself, Queenstown also has a number of serviced apartments you can rent for about the same cost as a motel. Hotels vary from the basic to the lavish, with The Spire Hotel and Eichardt’s Private Hotel two of the creme de la creme in terms of accommodation.

Popular activities in and around town

There’s plenty to do in town, whether you’re sampling coffee with a view of The Remarkables mountain range, or picking up a few souvenirs. If you fancy something a little more high octane, there’s no shortage of action sports down here, from skydiving and bungy to a hair-raising zipline. Kiwis are also passionate about their water sports, so if you don’t mind getting a little (or, quite a bit) wet, then jet boating, whitewater rafting and river surfing await – perfect for cooling down in the summer!

If your visit lines up with winter in Queenstown, be prepared for a snowy wonderland, especially on the slopes of Wanaka’s ski fields. The famous Queenstown Winter Festival is also a highlight of the year, so be sure to book your tickets early.

For the best value, be sure to check out combo action sports packs which squeeze a number of these activities into one package, saving you money. Be sure to check out which activities are covered by your travel insurance before you go.

Once you’ve got your breath back, chill out at the ONSEN hot pools. Perched in the mountains at Arthurs Point with a spectacular view over the Shotover Canyon, you can enjoy a luxury spa experience in one of New Zealand’s most stunning spots.

Must visit places

Head out of Queenstown for a day trip to Arrowtown, a historic mining town that embodies the pioneering spirit of the Otago region with its quaint storefronts and tree-lined streets. Across the northern shore of Lake Wakatipu you’ll find Glenorchy, yet another wonderful destination just over 45 minutes from Queenstown.

For any Lord of the Rings fans, Queenstown is where much of the filming magic happened, and you can see some of the backdrops to your favourite moments in real life on a scenic 4-wheel-drive LOTR tour departing from Glenorchy.

The breathtaking Milford Sound is also not to be missed, with the glass-like waters framed by mighty sloping mountains. You can either explore it by boat or take to the skies on a scenic plane or helicopter flight, stopping off for a snow landing in the alps!

Recommended places to eat

While you can flock to Fergburger with the trendy crowd, or sample some fine New Zealand cuisine at Matakauri Lodge, a truly iconic dining experience has to be at the Walter Peak Farm. You’ll set out from Queenstown on the vintage steamship, TSS Earnslaw, sailing across Lake Wakatipu to reach the beautiful Walter Peak High Country Farm.


Planning to visit Queenstown? Don’t forget to check out the local i-SITE for more tourist information and inspiration for your trip. Make sure you stay connected with our handy guide to using SIM cards in NZ.


TID is an Australian online travel insurance company.

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