One Perfect Week in Queenstown, New Zealand
In 2015, I came to Queenstown for a two-day trip, and almost a decade later, I still haven’t left. It’s just that special. Queenstown is deemed the “Adventure Capitol of the World,” with skydiving, bungee jumping, jet boating and so much more. But Queenstown is not just for thrill-seeking adventurers, as it’s also home to some world-class luxury resorts, spas, wineries and gourmet restaurants. Basing yourself in Queenstown for a week will allow you to see fjords and glaciers, do some epic hikes and activities, and see tons and tons of sheep. With jaw-dropping views in every direction and endless opportunities to explore, experience and create lasting memories, Queenstown is sure to win your heart over.
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Where to stay
Eichardt's Private Hotel
Absolutely stunning premium lakefront hotel in the heart of Queenstown — perfect for a wedding.
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$100 hotel / resort credit.
Sofitel Queenstown - Hotel & Spa
Sophisticated alpine hotel with a French hospitality proposal, onsite spa and adventure-forward experiences.
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Stylish community hotel with a sustainable restaurant.
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Day 1: Arrive in Queenstown
Plan to arrive in Queenstown midmorning (most flights do). And, pro tip: try to get a window seat for this flight, even if you usually prefer the aisle. The descent into Queenstown is an activity of its own and is the perfect introduction to the beautiful place you’re about to call home for the next week.
For this itinerary, I recommend renting a car. While you can absolutely spend an entire week staying put in Queenstown and relying on your tours to escort you out of town, there are a lot of places to check out that are best accessed with your own vehicle. You can rent a car at the Queenstown airport and drive a short distance either to your hotel or straight to town for breakfast.
Spend today getting your bearings and exploring what Queenstown has to offer. The town itself consists of only about four main walking streets with little alleyways in between. Check out the shops, grab an ice cream or a coffee and best of all, get your first view of Lake Wakatipu. Follow the paved trail along the lakefront through the Queenstown Gardens for a short and easy walk that offers the breathtaking views that Queenstown is known for.
After settling into your hotel for the afternoon, head back into town for dinner.
Day 2: Day trip to Glenorchy
Today, your rental car will be put to use as you drive the Queenstown-Glenorchy Highway, considered “one of the most beautiful drives in the world” by Lonely Planet. This 29-mile (46km) stretch of road is set alongside a cliff-edge and follows Lake Wakatipu, giving you perspective on just how huge this gorgeous lake really is.
You can make this journey as short or as long as you’d like. Without stopping, this drive usually takes about 45 minutes, but there are numerous pullouts where you’ll want to stop for some pictures. I recommend taking your time, as the trip to Glenorchy is arguably more about the journey than the destination. My favorite detour along this drive is to Moke Lake. The road to Moke Lake (aptly named Moke Lake Road) is unpaved but suitable for any car and will take you about 20 minutes each way. Within half a mile of this detour, you won’t believe you were just on a main road, close to a bustling town. You enter an idyllic, mountainous landscape with hundreds of cows standing in the road, and you’ll feel like you’re on a postcard. At the end of the windy road you’ll arrive at Moke Lake, which, on a perfect day, is still enough to perfectly mirror it’s surrounding mountains. There is a walking track that loops around the whole lake, but for today, I recommend soaking in the view and jumping back in the car. (Note: There are amazing horseback riding tours that take place from Moke Lake, if this is an activity that interests you for another day).
Further along the highway, another awesome detour is Bob’s Cove, which has a carpark just off the road. From the carpark, take an easy 20-minute stroll through the woods to a beautiful section of Lake Wakatipu. From the water, I recommend continuing another 15 or so minutes uphill, where you’ll get an absolutely incredible view of the peninsula that separates the cove from the rest of the lake. This is one of my favorite views and requires very little effort to access it.
After all your detours, you’ll likely arrive in Glenorchy for lunchtime. Grab lunch and decide how you’d like to spend your afternoon. You can head to the water, which offers a flat, easy trail made of boardwalks that cuts through the Dart River Valley. You can drive a bit further into Paradise (yes, this town is actually called Paradise), where you can visit the Glenorchy Animal Experience, which allows you to frolic with sheep and alpacas with the stunning mountain range as your backdrop.
Alternatively, for a more adventurous option, you can opt to take a jet boat ride on the Dart River or even go “funyaking” for a truly unique experience. For Lord of the Rings fans, there are a few different tour options that take you through Glenorchy to various film locations. If you opt for any of these activities, they will pick you up from Queenstown and you won’t require a car. Most of these tours also stop at lookouts along the Queenstown-Glenorchy Highway for photo opts, but won’t detour to Moke Lake or Bob’s Cove.
Head back to Queenstown for dinner in town.
Day 3: Milford Sound
Today you’ll have a very early start, as you’ll be taking a tour of one of New Zealand’s most iconic landmarks: Milford Sound, which is often referred to as the 8th wonder of the world. For your tour, you have options:
Option 1: Coach and Cruise
The most popular tour option consists of a coach picking you up in town and driving you to Milford Sound where you’ll embark on a cruise through the fjords, and then escorting you back to Queenstown in time for dinner. There are small-group tours available if you’d like a more intimate experience, but however you choose to do it, these tours will take about 11 hours. This is a long day, but seeing Milford Sound is an absolute must-do on a trip to New Zealand and the beauty you’ll see from start to finish will make it worth every minute.
Option 2: Coach and Kayak
Lonely Planet believes this option is the best way to see Milford Sound. This tour is similar to the first, but instead of the scenic cruise, you’ll go on a guided kayak excursion and paddle through the fjord yourself. This allows you to get up close to the flora and fauna, often including dolphins, seals and penguins.
Option 3: Flight and Cruise
For something extra special, or if spending 11 hours on a tour just isn’t for you, you can take a scenic flight from Queenstown straight to Milford Sound. This option gives you a bird’s-eye view of Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains, drops you off for the cruise through the fjord, and then flies you back home in 4.5 hours. For those who choose to do it, this activity is often a trip highlight.
Whichever tour you choose, you’ll return to Queenstown in time for dinner in town.
Day 4: The TSS Earnslaw and Arrowtown
Today, either enjoy a slow morning sleeping in or opt for an early hike in town after breakfast. For hiking, I recommend two options:
Option 1: Queenstown Hill
A steep, 3-mile roundtrip hike that offers some of my favorite views of the lake and mountains.
Option 2: The Tiki Trail
A steep, 2.5 mile roundtrip hike that takes you to the top of Queenstown’s gondola for an amazing bird’s eye view of Queenstown and the Remarkables. Alternatively, if hiking isn’t for you, then you can ride the gondola straight up to the top. You can even have breakfast at the Skyline restaurant at the summit.
Midday, you’ll ride the TSS Earnslaw, Queenstown’s iconic coal-fired steamship that has been running since 1912 (the same year as the Titanic). The cruise will take you across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak High Country Farm, where you’ll be treated to a gourmet lunch and farm tour before heading back to Queenstown. Tours depart at noon for lunch and return you back to Queenstown at 3:30pm.
For dinner tonight, I recommend jumping in your car and driving 20 minutes to Arrowtown, a charming and historic gold mining town that feels like a movie set. Have a stroll around the tiny, picturesque town and down to the banks of the Arrow River. For dinner, I recommend either La Rumbla or Aosta for incredible food, and a pre- or post-dinner drink at Blue Door (which has live music everything Wednesday evening). You’ll fall in love with Arrowtown and may want to return for breakfast one morning.
Day 5: Wine Tour
Today you’ll get a taste of the Gibbston Valley wine region, home to some world-renowned vineyards. This is one of the most popular activities to do while in Queenstown, and as a result, there are various tour options to choose from.
Option 1: Full-Day Tour
Full-day tours will take you through Gibbston Valley, as well as to Bannockburn, another excellent wine region located a bit further away. This option includes four winery tours, a gourmet lunch and also makes stops in both Arrowtown and Cromwell. This would be a great option for those who opted not to rent a car for the trip, as it covers quite a lot of ground and allows you to explore towns outside Queenstown.
Option 2: Half-Day Tour
The most popular choice is a half-day tour that stays within Gibbston Valley. Here, you can opt for smaller guided tours that take you to three wineries with extended time spent in each.
Option 3: Hope-On-Hop-Off Tour
A fun option is a hop-on-hop-off tour. These busses make stops at almost twenty wineries in the Gibbston Valley area and allow you to pick and choose where you’d like to spend your time, doing as many or as few as you’d like.
Option 4: E-Bike Tour
Another fun and more unique option is an electric bike tour, which can be either guided or self-guided depending on your preference. You’ll cycle along the Arrow River and Gibbston River, through stunning vineyards and have the freedom to decide which wineries you’d like to stop at.
Whichever you choose, you will be picked up and dropped off in Queenstown in time for dinner.
Day 6: Hiking in Wanaka
After breakfast today, jump in the car and drive to Wanaka, another town about an hour’s drive from Queenstown. Wanaka is another bustling lakeside town with plenty of shopping, dining and drinking options, not unlike Queenstown. While there are many activities to choose from in Wanaka, I suggest going on a hike. Wanaka has endless hiking trails, but I have three suggestions depending on your preferred distance and difficulty.
Option 1: Roy’s Peak
My first suggestion is Roy’s Peak, which you’ve likely seen photos of on postcards in souvenir shops or on Instagram. The view from the top is one of the most iconic in New Zealand, making it extremely popular. However, getting to the view is not an easy feat; Roy’s Peak is a 10-mile (16km) roundtrip hike that is an uphill climb from start to finish, taking most people 5-7 hours to complete. This is a strenuous day out, but your effort will be rewarded with an unbeatable view.
Option 2: Rocky Mountain Summit Track
The Rocky Mountain Summit Track is rated moderate-hard, but at 4.5 miles (7km), it’s less than half the distance of Roy’s Peak and takes most people around 3 hours to complete. The views are absolutely stunning and being less-known than Roy’s Peak, you’ll have a lot more space to yourself on the trail. I’ve taken many visitors who aren’t huge hiking fans on this hike and they’ve all absolutely loved it.
Option 3: Rob Roy Glacier Track
Rob Roy Glacier Track is the easiest of the three but is also off-the-beaten-path and therefor requires more driving time. The trailhead is located an hour outside Wanaka, making your drive from Queenstown about two hours one-way. That said, the drive is unbelievably stunning. You’ll drive through Mount Aspiring National Park, alongside lakes, past mountains and through farmland filled with cows and sheep that will likely walk casually in front of your car. The hike itself is 6 miles (10km), but is mostly flat and rated easy. It will take you through forests, past waterfalls and ultimately bring you up against a jaw-dropping glacier. Between the drive and the hike, you’ll get a taste of almost everything New Zealand has to offer, making it one of my all-time favorite day trips.
After hiking, you can head back to Queenstown for dinner or try a restaurant in Wanaka. In Wanaka, I recommend Kika, an upscale tapas-style restaurant. Alternatively, you can stop halfway between the two towns and enjoy dinner at the historic Cardrona Hotel for elevated pub-food in a picturesque location.
Day 7: Activity day
For your last day, see why Queenstown is deemed the “Adventure Capitol of New Zealand.” Queenstown is home to three different bungee jumps (one of which was the first commercial bungee in the world), skydiving, jet boating, paragliding, parasailing, canyoning, quad bike tours and so much more. The options are truly endless, and after a week here, you’ve likely seen most of these activities taking place. Decide which one (or more!) looks most fun for you and end your week with a bang.
Most activities only take a couple of hours, so there is time to squeeze in two (some of them even offer deals if you pair them up). But if that is enough, spend the rest of the day relaxing in town before one last meal to cap off an unforgettable week.
Need to Know
Looking for more adventure-fueled travel inspo? Check out my guide, An Epic & Jam-Packed 5 Days in Sedona, Arizona.
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to New Zealand.