Insider’s guide to Queenstown

29 November 2019

Located in the South Island of New Zealand, Queenstown is surrounded by the Southern Alps and situated on the shores of beautiful Lake Wakatipu. So, it’s no surprise that this small town of around 30,000 permanent residents sees a whopping three million visitors each year!

But what is it that makes Queenstown so popular? Is it the stunning scenery; the great big mountains and beautiful lakes? Or the abundance of adrenalin activities and its vibrant nightlife? Maybe it’s the beautiful wine region of Gibbston Valley or the beautiful hikes that are on offer.

Most visitors coming here already have a long list of things they want to do and places to see, but we want to share a few insider’s tips with you, so you don’t miss out on some of the favourite spots among locals.

5 amazing places to eat and drink in Queenstown

One of the reasons Queenstown is so popular is because of the food! Queenstown is filled with amazing restaurants serving classics from around the world but also unique creations. Here are some of the best places to check out and what they serve!

1. Vudu Café

If you want to find locals at breakfast, then Vudu Café is likely where they’ll be. This small café uses the highest quality seasonal ingredients in every amazing breakfast and brunch dish! Top tip: check out their cabinet for some of the best raw treats in town.

2. Chop Shop Food Merchants

Chop Shop is a favourite among Arrowtown locals. If you’re looking for a good breakfast or brunch spot, then this is one not to be missed. Their interesting menu has everything from classic eggs benedict to delicious Nasi goreng and one of the best bloody Marys in town.

3. Yonder

Yonder is one of the trendiest café/bars in Queenstown. Serving an awesome breakfast but also a huge range of local craft beers, it’s got something for everyone! They’ve developed a name for themselves as the go to place for the most delicious vegan food in Queenstown.

4. Atlas

Want to try craft beers from around New Zealand? Well, Atlas is the best bar in Queenstown for that! They serve many beers by the single keg meaning the menu is constantly changing. If you’re eating there, you can’t go past their steak and chips, this is a staple among the local biking community and one of the best value meals in town.

5. Blue Kanu

Blue Kanu is by far one of the best (and most unique) restaurants in Queenstown. They serve amazing Polynesian food with a twist! They’ve also got an extensive cocktail menu, perfect for a date night or a get together with friends.

Local’s secret tip – Look for restaurants on First Table. This awesome website gives you 50% off your food for a $10 booking fee.

Top 4 hikes not to be missed

Hiking in Queenstown is one of the most popular activities. But aside from the most popular hikes that attract large crowds such as Queenstown Hill and Ben Lomond Track, what else can you do? Well, plenty, and a few hikes that stand out include:

1. Mt Crichton Loop Track

This short but stunning hike is a local’s favourite. The Mt Chrichton Loop Track starts just outside Queenstown and the loop takes between 2 to 4 hours to complete. The path is well maintained and perfect for the solo traveller or families. Make sure you keep an eye out for Sam Summers hut, an old gold mining hut, to get a glimpse into what life was like during the gold rush days.

2. Lake Alta

Lake Alta takes you high above Queenstown into the rugged landscape of the Remarkables mountain range. Luckily, the road to the Remarkables Ski Resort cuts off 95% of the trip and makes this beautiful hike to an alpine lake accessible to almost everyone! There is something quite special about walking up the trail in summer when you’re so used to skiing down it in winter.

3. Sawpit Gully

It doesn’t get much more off the beaten path than hiking the beautiful Sawpit Gully near Arrowtown. The 7.2-kilometre hike climbs just over 300m above Arrowtown for magnificent views of the gorge below. Imagine classic New Zealand tussock grass and sweeping views of lakes.

4. Lower Wye Creek Track

The Lower Wye Creek Track is a slightly harder track than the rest mentioned, however, the views are well worth the climb to the top. The trail is a 16.6-kilometre long trail (return) located just outside Queenstown that is both off the beaten path and home to very spectacular views! Be sure to only hike this trail in summer though as it does enter alpine terrain.

5 things to do in Queenstown with kids

Queenstown is first and foremost about the amazing outdoor activities the landscape here is perfect for. From amazing bike paths to adrenalin-filled activities to learning about New Zealand’s local animals, here are the best activities in Queenstown that you can also do with the kids!

1. Ride the off-the-beaten-path bike tracks

What could be more enjoyable than a relaxing ride around Queenstown’s stunning landscapes? From a bike, you can cover more ground and on a hot summer’s day, you can enjoy the cool breeze. Some great trails to enjoy include:

  • 7 Mile Bike Park – For keen riders or simply for those who want to give a few jumps a go, 7 Mile Bike Park is perfect. It has bike tracks to suit all levels and most jumps can be sidestepped if you want. 
  • Station 2 Station Cycle Trail – If you really want to explore an area of Queenstown that few other people get to see then the Station 2 Station Cycle Trail is a great place to start. On this tour, you’ll ride from Mt Nicholas Station to Walter Peak Station – a 14-kilometre ride with magnificent views. This self-guided tour includes bike rental and your boat cruise to and from both stations which can only be accessed by our Spirit of Queenstown Scenic Cruise and TSS Earnslaw steamship. This is a truly unique bike trail in Queenstown.
  •  Coronet Peak Downhill Tracks – If you’re a keen rider then be sure to head to Coronet Peak for some of the longest downhill runs in Queenstown. The best part is that you can take a shuttle to the top and ride down as many times as you want.

2. Go Jet Boating

Jet boating is easily one of the best activities to do in Queenstown. But with lots of tour operators to choose from it can be hard to know the best place to go. 

A local favourite is KJet. These guys were the first jet boat operators in Queenstown and their adrenaline-filled ride starts from right in town which is super convenient! This 1-hour tour also speeds down not one, but two rivers and takes guests for a splash on Lake Wakatipu!

3. Spirit of Queenstown Cruise

Enjoying a cruise on Lake Wakatipu might not be a locals’ secret, but aboard Spirit of Queenstown you’ll be able to enjoy the longest cruise on the lake that also offers family discounts. 

This breathtaking cruise takes you far away from Queenstown to enjoy different views of the more remote areas around the region. The cruise lasts for 1 hour 30 minutes and is one of the best value activities in Queenstown.

For extra fun, perfect for the whole family, you can also turn your cruise into a farm tour and enjoy our Mt Nicholas Farm experience. Here, the kids can get to know the animals, tour Mt Nicholas High Country Farm, and enjoy a delicious farmers platter lunch before returning to Queenstown.

4. Gold panning in Arrowtown

Queenstown was largely established by one of the biggest gold rushes in New Zealand. Today the land is protected from commercial gold mining operations, but recreational gold miners can still find small nuggets in the river beds around Arrowtown.

Head to Dudley’s Cottage in Arrowtown and they can show you all the tricks of the trade. Then you’ll have the option hire a gold pan and test your new skills in the Arrow River. The kids will love paddling around in the water on a hot summer day.

5. Kiwi Birdlife Park

New Zealand is home to many native bird species you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Many of these birds are either rare, endangered, nocturnal, or all of the above. That’s where the Kiwi Birdlife Park comes in. Here, you can see these beautiful birds and support a great conservation effort! It’s a win-win situation that the whole family will enjoy!

Best places to go for nightlife in Queenstown

When the sun goes down in Queenstown the fun certainly isn’t over! Queenstown’s nightlife is just another reason this town is loved by locals and cherished by visitors!  

1. Bar 1876 

If you’re after a cheap place to grab a beer then 1876 is one of the best bars in Queenstown to get a great deal. They serve $5 beers, wine, and cider all day and during happy hour you pay only $4!

2. Sundeck 

Sundeck is one of the nicest bars in Queenstown with some of the best views. Here, you can enjoy a glass of wine or cocktail with tasty tapas. The rooftop bar overlooks the beach in Queenstown and is the perfect place to watch the sun set!

3. Little Blackwood

 Live music really sets Little Blackwood apart and creates the perfect atmosphere to enjoy some of their signature cocktails and delicious food! Open late, you can always have a great time at Little Blackwood!

4. Searchlight Brewery 

Searchlight Brewery is one of the smallest breweries in Queenstown. Although small, the beer is amazing and the prices are even more so! This hidden gem is located on the outskirts of Queenstown and is mostly unknown to tourists but is generally packed in the evenings with locals!

5. Bluedoor Arrowtown

Hidden down a small lane in Arrowtown, Bluedoor is recognisable by its distinctive blue barn door. This small and cosy bar is a hive of activity mid-week for its open mic nights and on a Friday or Saturday night it will be filled with Arrowtown locals enjoying the live music.

Now that you have all the local secrets about Queenstown, your time here is sure to be even more enjoyable! For more information, blogs, or to book an amazing tour in Queenstown or Milford Sound, visit us at our booking office in Queenstown or check out our website!

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