The unrivaled and never-ending natural beauty of New Zealand is the reason we welcome thousands of overseas visitors and touring locals every year. While each corner of the country has something unique to showcase, we tend to be partial to our slice of paradise in Central Otago and the more remote South Island gems.
When planning your Queenstown itinerary and considering travelling further off-grid in the surrounding areas, there are countless activities and experiences that seamlessly blend sightseeing with a deep connection to nature and our classic Kiwi landscapes. We’ve been looking under bushes, scouring riverbeds, and hiking up peaks to locate the best off-grid and remote activities in Queenstown and beyond for your next adventure in the South Island.
Activities in Queenstown
A tour down the famous Skippers Road and into the canyon requires a well-equipped 4WD vehicle and a driver that knows the twists and turns. Tours with Nomad Safaris will take you down one of the most adventurous roads in the world and into the gold mining past of Queenstown in the 1890’s, a world when Skippers Road was hacked by hand into the side of the cliff to provide access to the goldfields of the Shotover River!
Head further into Mount Aspiring National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Area, and navigate the braided rivers that streak their way across Central Otago. Exploring the glacier-fed Dart River could take days on foot, but by climbing aboard a purpose-built jet boat the entire adventure is the perfect half-day excursion. Staying in Queenstown? There is transport available from Queenstown twice a day.
Moke Lake is a popular swimming spot and short day hike destination in summer. If you’re looking to experience those things but with a more off-grid twist, opt to camp out at the Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite at Moke Lake and wake up in paradise. This is a great campervan spot to save for later or a good excuse to pick up some basic tent or car camping essentials.
4. Freedom Camp at the World Home of Bungy – Kawarau Bungy Centre
Escape the ‘norm’ and park your self-contained van in the carpark of the Kawarau Bungy Centre for a free and truly unique freedom camping location in Queenstown. Slot a bungy jump into your morning van life routine and try for a dunk into the Kawarau River, guaranteed to be more effective than a banquet of coffee! With a cafe, great food, and large viewing deck on-site, this the perfect spot to chill out and enjoy some Kiwi history.
Not to be taken lightly but also not to be feared, the Otago Rail Trail is the most popular cycling trail in New Zealand. You can hit the trails in sections for day trips or embrace the nature trails around you and make the 152km journey over 4-5 days. As you stay at accommodation along the track and enjoy the kilometers flying by, the bond with your natural surroundings will strengthen with each section you tick off.
Further off-grid in the South Island
1. Overnight stay in Milford Sound
Wanting to make your Milford Sound cruise experience last a little longer? Blend luxury and untamed landscapes with a stay at the Milford Lodge, the only accommodation in Milford Sound. Prefer to completely unplug? Drive your self-contained campervan to Milford Sound and stay at the Premium Rainforest Campervan Park. With 20 powered campervan sites and unlimited access to the ancient rainforest around you, this is the ultimate Milford Sound must-do if you love to ground yourself in nature. Be quick and book your site as this is the only campground in Milford Sound and availability is limited in the summer months!
Get up, close and personal with every crevice of the cliffs in Wānaka with a half-day or full-day guided outdoor rock climbing tour with Wānaka Rock Climbing. If you’re a complete nook novice there are options to suit all abilities! A guided climbing tour provides the perfect chance to learn more about the sport that has a good chunk of the South Island population tied up in it.
Stargazing from anywhere in the remote pockets of South Island is amazing, but you can also experience New Zealand’s only hot pool AND stargazing experience at Tekapo Springs. Begin the experience by learning more about the astronomy and far away galaxy that exists above New Zealand. When the sun goes down, head outside to float and soak with your friends or loved ones while marveling at the night sky in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve!
The true way to disappear off-grid is to head underground, but if you do it in Te Anau you’ll be lucky enough to be guided by thousands of glow worms that had the same idea. Te Anau Glow Worm Caves provide the perfect escape from the stress of above-ground life with a journey into limestone caves, 12,000-year-old tunnels, underground waterfalls, and a scattering of glow worms recreating the night sky below ground.
The Great Glenorchy Alpine Basecamp is a truly off-grid and eco-conscious alpine experience with mountain accommodation, various guided tours around the peaks, and remote ski tours in winter. As well as the amazing experience, you can feel more confident that your good time doesn’t come at a cost to the environment as the carefully-designed and managed escape runs a low-footprint, more sustainable approach to their relationship with nature. Although there’s no wifi, guests can feel fully connected to the raw beauty of their surroundings.