Queenstown, New Zealand on a Budget

by  Sonia Narang | Updated on May 11, 2022

New Zealand’s southern gem of Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the world. And luckily, there are many ways to enjoy the lakefront town without spending your savings on expensive bungee jumps, helicopter rides, or skiing. For those arriving in Queenstown by plane, book a window seat — the landing affords dramatic views of Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables mountain range. Get ready for a trip full of postcard-worthy scenes. Here's how to do it on a dime. 

What to Do & See

Begin your day with a leisurely walk around Queenstown Gardens, located on a quiet peninsula that juts into the lake. Just a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of downtown, this garden’s lakefront trail is full of stellar views. Visitors can also play Frisbee golf or roam among the flowers and trees.

Then, head over to the Queenstown Skyline, a gondola ride that whisks visitors 1,475 feet to the top of Bob’s Peak. From there, soak in the panoramic aerial views of Queenstown and the surrounding mountains. At the top, you'll find a range of hikes and walks, and for those seeking a bit of adventure, two luge tracks.

It’s easy to find lovely scenic views by driving or hiking to higher elevations around town. Better yet, admire the stunning scenery along the 45-minute drive north to Glenorchy, a spectacular road trip with plenty of photo opportunities along the way. Athletically inclined nature-lovers can bicycle, jog, or walk along the Queenstown Trail, a peaceful path that hugs the lakeshore from the Queenstown Gardens eastward to Frankton and beyond.

While there are a few lake cruises to choose from, including one on a century-old steamship, our favorite way to cruise along the glorious blue waters of Lake Wakatipu is on an adrenaline-pumping jet boat. Hop on a KJet boat at the Main Town Pier in the city center for an hour-long ride, complete with 360-degree spins across Lake Wakatipu and two local rivers. Alternatively, for an even more thrilling and faster ride through a narrow stretch of rocky canyons in the Shotover River, try the Shotover Jet.

What to Eat

Don’t miss the famous Fergburger, which attracts locals and visitors alike. Vegetarians need not worry, as there’s a cleverly named, delicious “Holier Than Thou” tofu burger with a spicy satay, coconut, and coriander sauce. Meanwhile, those with a sweet tooth should venture next door to Fergbaker for chocolate almond croissants, scones, cupcakes, mini-tarts, and eclairs. Savory staples include focaccia, bread rolls, and bagels.

At the base of the Skyline gondola, Bespoke Kitchen is a delightful spot for healthy, freshly squeezed juices and farm-fresh brunches (gluten-free and dairy-free options available). Bespoke has one of Queenstown’s best pastry and dessert selections, including loaves of rich chocolate buttermilk cake, lemon drizzle pound cake, and apple and blackberry shortcake.

For fine dining that won't break the bank, head to Lombardi’s Restaurant. Located inside the posh Hotel St Moritz, this restaurant features mouthwatering eats (ranging from wood-fired pizzas to fresh seafood) and charming décor. To take your experience to the next level, reserve a table overlooking the lake. Or, for a quick bite or a picnic lunch, head over to downtown’s always-bustling Four Square, a New Zealand grocery store chain with a wide selection of gourmet cheeses, wines, chocolates, bread, dips, dairy products, and more.

Nearby Places to Visit

Queenstown is 25 minutes by car to Arrowtown, a former 19th-century gold-mining city that's now buzzing with cafés, eateries, and a scenic riverside trail. Stop for lunch at the Postmasters Residence Restaurant, a carefully preserved cottage where the town’s postmaster once lived (the flavorful tomato soup is a must). Also, visit the historic Arrowtown Chinese Settlement for a closer look at the village where Chinese settlers once lived.

The serene town of Glenorchy is worth visiting just for the drive. The Glenorchy-Queenstown Road curves alongside Lake Wakatipu for an incredibly scenic road trip, perhaps one of the country’s best. Once there, bask in the awe-inspiring surroundings, famously depicted in films such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Chronicles of Narnia.   

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