While the merits of Queenstown as a travel destination are difficult to deny, it’s not a must-see for every type of traveler. For example, city-minded sojourners who want to work remotely at hip coffee shops in Auckland or Christchurch might not find the outdoor sports vibe of Queenstown so appealing.
Over the next several paragraphs, I’ll explain some of Queenstown’s top activities, which will hopefully help you decide whether to go or not. If you do decide it’s the right choice, I’ll also tell you how many days you should spend, and recommend a few places to stay.
Where to Stay in Queenstown
Assuming you do end up thinking that Queenstown is worth visiting, you’ll need to find a place to stay. Some travelers prefer hotels, such as Sofitel Queenstown or Novotel Queenstown Lakeside, which is right on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. Personally, however, I’ve found that Airbnb apartments are more affordable and also more unique, particularly if you wish to stay outside the busy town center.
What to Do in Queenstown
Go skydiving (or bungee jumping)
Without a doubt, my favorite memory of Queenstown was jumping out of a plane several miles above the ground, even if the jump technically took place in Wanaka instead of Queenstown. One Queenstown adventure activity I didn’t consider, however, was bungee jumping. Although bungee operators here have an impeccable safety record, it’s just not something I can imagine myself doing at this point.
Take a jet boat ride
Another exhilarating pursuit that may make Queenstown worth visiting for you is a jet boat ride. Although the particulars of both the vehicle and the route it will follow may vary depending on which company you choose, the experience is the same: Speeding atop the water in a way that will make you feel like you’re quite literally rocketing along its surface.
Travel onward to Milford Sound
The bad news? Although Milford Sound looks close to Queenstown on the map, it’s actually nearly four hours by car; many travelers (particularly well-heeled ones) decide to hop propeller plane flights to get there. The good news? If you can bear the drive (or don’t mind taking an all-inclusive tour), a visit to the Sound is very worth it. It evokes the fjords of Norway, albeit without the colorful villages along both sides of it.
(Or Lakes Wanaka and Tekapo)
For some travelers, the larger South Island experience is much of what makes Queenstown worth visiting. I can empathize with this: It wasn’t until I had spent a day frolicking amid the lupines of Lake Tekapo, and marveling at the bizarre tree submerged in Lake Wanaka that I was able to properly appreciate Queenstown, both its heart-racing adventure tourism, as well as its creature comforts.
Don’t neglect the town center
Indeed, whether because of casinos, hotels or restaurants serving up cuisine from all around the world, downtown Queenstown is developed to an extent that very few other South Island road trip destinations are. Additionally, once you’ve finished eating and drinking, or simply walking along the lake shore, you can ascend the Skyline Queenstown cable car for one of New Zealand’s most stunning panoramas.
How Many Days Do You Need in Queenstown?
I would generally say to spend a day in Queenstown for each activity you plan to do. So if you plan to skydive or bungee jump, go for a jet boat ride, and take a day trip to Milford Sound, I’d suggest spending at least 3 days in Queenstown.
You may even spend four, in this case: Weather can cause your skydiving time to get pushed back or even canceled, so you’ll need to be flexible.
Another reason that spending more days in Queenstown rather than less makes the most sense? Queenstown is relatively far away, geographically speaking. It’s a half-day drive from Christchurch, and several hours from Tekapo, Wanaka and Aoraki/Mt. Cook. Therefore, it would be more worth it to spend more days and explore the location in this case.
Other FAQ About Visiting Queenstown
Is Queenstown the most beautiful place on Earth?
Queenstown is a very beautiful city, but it’s hard to say it’s the most beautiful place on earth, or even in Middle Earth (aka New Zealand). What I will say is that seeing the mountains rising above Lake Wakatipu is a sight for sore eyes after the long drive to get there!
Which is better to visit, Auckland or Queenstown?
If you’re looking for a proper city with distinct districts, lots of co-working spaces and excellent air connections, Auckland is your best choice. Choose Queenstown, meanwhile, if adventure activities and a laid-back, small-town vibe are more your speed.
Why do tourists go to Queenstown?
Tourists go to Queenstown for adventure. In the summer, this entails skydiving, bungee jumping and jet-boating; in winter, it’s all about skiing. There are some travelers that come here for the general ambience of the lakeside town center, although not very many.
The Bottom Line
Is Queenstown worth visiting? Absolutely, although this statement comes with some caveats. Given Queenstown’s relatively far distance from other New Zealand destinations, particularly Auckland and Christchurch, you’ll need to be clear about how you’re going to spend your days here to make the trip worthwhile. Indeed, it’s also a good idea to decide in advance how long you’ll be in Queenstown. One thing is for certain, if you do end up making it to Queenstown, you’re almost sure to leave happier than you arrived. Myself and everyone I know sure were!