Queenstown in summer is a flurry of activities. There is so much going on at the same time. A paraglider takes off in the air. Couples are going on walks in shorts and singlets. A runner crosses your path. Groups of people having a picnic by the lake, strumming a guitar and balancing on a slackline. Children feed the greedy seagulls with fascination. In the distance, a parasailer is set to sail. There is so much energy pulsating in the air that you can’t help but be infected too.
Summer is possibly the best time to visit Queenstown. It’s the favourite season of the year for locals and tourists (since it rains so much on the rest of the year in New Zealand) – the sun is in its full glory, all the tours are in full throttle with the good weather.
Warm days, long evenings and dazzling starry nights make Queenstown irresistible in the summertime. The sun rises easily at 5am and sets only at 10pm. That’s how much daylight you have for a whole day of fun!
With so many activities to do in Queenstown, it can be difficult to choose what to do to fully maximize your stay in Queenstown. Whether you’re looking for a family activities in Queenstown, daring adventure activities or something out of the ordinary, there is something for the young and old, the adventurous and the soft-hearted. Below I share some of Queenstown’s day tours, as well as free things to do in Queenstown.
23 Things To Do in Queenstown in Summer
Take a gondola up for a bird’s eye view of Queenstown
The Skyline Gondola sweeps up to iconic Bob’s Peak, 500m above Queenstown. Be awed by the staggering lake and mountain views on the sky deck that offers a 360-degree view of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu, but not before feasting at the restaurant that towers above everything else.
The restaurant, with its full-length glass windows, offers a one-of-a-kind view that you can take in while indulging in your buffet lunch or dinner. They serve everything from Western to Asian and Seafood cuisines.
Hot tip – try going up at sunset or on a clear night for either a view of Queenstown as the light turns soft or a galaxy of stars so close to you.
Ziptrek down the forest to a view of Lake Wakatipu
Going on a Ziptrek with Ziptrek Ecotours is one way to go downhill, while learning about conservation efforts being made to the country and the species that used to inhabit in New Zealand.
Zip from tree to tree while peeking through to Lake Wakatipu, and you can even try your hand at zipping upside down with their fun and knowledgeable guides.
I recommend wearing warmer clothing, even in summer, as the whole ziptrek route is in the shade hence it tends to get chilly!
Watch kiwis in their natural habitat
Why are kiwis such a big deal here in New Zealand? The country is almost synonymous with kiwis. Find out all about this animal at Kiwi Birdlife Park, where kiwis are taken care of in a place as close to their natural habitat as possible. It’s a great family activity and something you can do with kids as they are not only informative, but highly entertaining too!
We saw how the caretakers feed these kiwi birds, and although they wouldn’t be considered the cutest of animals, you’ll find an innocence in them as they wander about in the dark in search for food. Also learn more about what New Zealand considers as pests (which I find awfully cute, those possums!), and some common species of birds that make up New Zealand’s diversity.
Ride a horse at Glenorchy
So many people only visit Queenstown and miss out on checking Glenorchy out. I almost made the same mistake! A 40-minute drive Northwest of Queenstown, Glenorchy is famous for being the starting point of one of New Zealand’s Top Ten Classic Hikes, the Routeburn Track.
If you’d like to take in Glenorchy in a matter of hours, there is no better way to get into the heart of Glenorchy than by doing a horse riding session with Dart River Stables. As a first timer riding a horse, I got a crash course on how to ride a horse, and then I was handed over the reins to ride my own little cute horse throughout the journey. This horse ride took us through bushes, across farmland and into rivers.
Apart from being amused by the horses, riding through the different landscapes makes the entire ride a picturesque one. You’ll be surrounded by the Remarkables, and if you go in November, which I did and would highly recommend, you’ll get close to the beautiful lupin flowers that come to full bloom only a few weeks every November.
It was incredibly fascinating to watch the way horses gallop through river streams, splashing about in the water. It was such a charming sight! No wonder Lord of the Rings and several other movies were filmed in this very location!
I’d recommend putting loads of sunscreen before riding especially if you visit in summer because you’ll be right under the sun for anywhere between 2 to 4 hours!
Taste New Zealand’s finest fines
If you don’t know already, New Zealand makes superb wine, and there are many regions around New Zealand – both in the North and South islands – that dedicate themselves wholly to producing the finest wines. You can get your first taste of true New Zealand wine at a winery around Queenstown rather easily.
Amisfield is near Cromwell, an hour’s drive from Queenstown, and has 70% of its vineyard grown to produce Pinot Noir. If you’re heading North, stop by Cromwell, also a part of the Central Otago region most renowned for the quality of its Pinot Noir.
Central Otago has a unique terroir that contributes to the distinctive flavour profile and characteristics found within these wines. While in Cromwell, do the 4 Barrels Wine Walking Wine Trail, which will take you pass Misha’s Vineyard, Aurum Wines, Scott Base and Wooing Tree. Their aromatic white wines, rosés and sparkling wines are not to be missed too. I had an enjoyable time chatting with the folks at Misha’s Vineyard, who were working in Singapore for a good number of years before deciding to invest their retiring years in wine-making.
Mount Difficulty, also found in the Central Otago region, is set at a viewpoint which overlooks acres and acres of their vineyards. Take in your cheese platter and wine pairing in the most spectacular way possible – alfresco style with a view of the mountains and their vineyards.
- Get on a 4WD adventure
This is one family-friendly activity I would recommend. I brought my parents on a 2-hour Gold Seeker tour (NZD 165) with Nomad Safaris and they surely enjoyed Queenstown and its surrounds in a different way!
Hopping on board the 4WD, drive through narrow gravelled paths right on the edge of a cliff that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat because of how close you are to the cliff’s end. The whole experience is enhanced especially driving through the rocky paths, making the journey bumpier than sitting in a normal car would feel. As with all 4WD, it wouldn’t be complete if you don’t experience the bumpiness of the terrain while you’re in the car.
The tour also brings you to Arrowtown, an old settlement town that is testament to the hard work and resilience of miners who came here in search of gold and fortune. The Arrow River is said to have one of the world’s richest sources of alluvial gold. Because of that, these deposits led to the goldfish in the 1860s. It is on this river that your guide will demonstrate how gold is panned on the river bed, and how the miners used to patiently pick the little pieces out amidst the debris and mud. As you’re driven through the shallow river streams, hang on tight as the rocky, pebbly river bed will make for lots of bouncing up and down inside the car.
Even without going on a tour, Arrowtown is a lovely little town to visit if you’re looking for day trips from Queenstown.
Spice up the adrenaline by jetboating
If bungy jumping or skydiving sounds too extreme but you are still keen to go for an adventure in Queenstown, give jet boating a go. Jet boats can glide even waters that are only 10cm deep. They operate without a propeller, and can go up to 90km/h!
Taking you through the Shotover River, Shotover Jet goes around narrow canyons at high speeds and hair-swooshing 360-degree spins. With so many other jet boating companies operating in the Kawarau River and Dart River, why choose Shotover River?
Shotover River has a narrower lake, making it the choice for thrill-seekers. Having personally experienced it, I didn’t find it all too scary. The spins and the speed weren’t as heart-pumping as I’d envisioned it to be.
Did you know, gold was first found in the Shotover River?
Relax in an Onsen hot pool
Opened in 2017, Onsen Hot Pools offers a unique kiwi twist to a Japanese tradition. Boasting idyllic private cedar-lined hot pools overlooking the Shotover River, an experience soaking in a hot tub here is second to none in the region, especially when you get views like these! It surely is the perfect activity to wind down the day filled with activities.
Pools are heated to approximately 38.3 degrees and with only 5 tubs available, you can imagine how spaces are severely limited, so bookings are mandatory. You can make a choice of either the daytime pool which starts at 11am or evening pool which starts at 5pm to 11pm. How does gazing at the stars in complete darkness while soaking in an hour- or 2-hour-long hot tub sound?
Choose between Shotover River’s grade 3-5 drops, or cruise through the more playful grade 2-3 Kawarau River.
For some free things to do in Queenstown, especially in summer, try hiking! Some easy hikes include Ben Lomond (the highest peak in Queenstown), Queenstown Hill or Tiki Trail to Bob’s Peak. For more advanced hikes, Queenstown is a popular base for the region’s Great Walks.
Bob’s Cove Track
Duration: 30-45 minutes
Trailhead: 15 minutes drive away from town centre towards Glenorchy
This is one of the shortest and easiest hikes around. It only takes around half an hour walking slowly. The path follows the shoreline of Lake Wakatipu and is perfect for a late afternoon stroll. There are also opportunities to picnic if you’d like.
Duration: 2 Hours
Grade: Easy/Moderate in some parts
Trailhead: 15 minutes drive away from the town Centre towards Glenorchy, and another 5 minutes on Moke Lake road.
The horseshoe-shaped path surrounding the lake takes a few hours to finish and you’ll be rewarded with views of Ben Lomond.
Queenstown Hill Walking Track
Duration: 2-3 hours
Trailhead: 15 minute walk away from town centre on Belfast Street
In summer, don’t miss the weekend markets:
- The Creative Queenstown Market – Saturday 9am-4:30pm
- The Remarkables Market – Sundays 9am-2pm
- Arrowtown Farmers Market – Sundays
I especially love hitting local farmer’s markets (which only happen on weekends) as I get to see all sorts of local produce and handmade crafts. Sometimes you can even snag a bargain, like how I got 40 strawberries for $2!
There are so many other things you can do in Queenstown. You can:
Scenic lake cruise
Queenstown is truly the epitome of a thriving tourist town, and is possibly the most cosmopolitan town you may find in the whole of New Zealand. You will never find another town quite as buzzing as Queenstown. With so many activities to do, it’s no wonder why Queenstown is regarded as a natural playground!
If you’re here on a budget or are looking for cheap things to do in Queenstown though, you will be limited to a limited number of things you can do in Queenstown. In all honesty, you can’t really enjoy the adventure Queenstown is known for if you don’t splurge for some of these tours.
Another thing about visiting Queenstown is how touristy this town can be. You can hardly spot a local, for most of the visitors come from abroad, and most of the staff working in tourism and hospitality are more often than not, people who are in their early-twenties doing a working holiday programme. It can also be rather crowded, so I recommend getting out of Queenstown for a day trip to Te Anau, Arrowtown, Cromwell, Alexandra or Clyde. More about day trips from Queenstown coming soon!