Queenstown is by far my favorite place in all of New Zealand.
Yes, there are other beautiful places to visit (Milford Sound, Matamata, to name a couple) but Queenstown stole my heart from the moment our plane cleared the clouds and its stunning landscape met my eyes.
It was probably because my hyped-up excitement for seeing NZ came crashing down when we first landed in Auckland on a rainy day and nothing looked anything like what I imagined.
And our walk from the international terminal to the domestic one soaked us to the bone and we missed our connecting flight to Queenstown and I ended up fighting back frustrated tears for two hours in the airport waiting for the next flight.
To be fair I was sleep-deprived and disappointed. We had saved for this once-in-a-lifetime trip for six years and I wanted it to be as magical as I had imagined it would be.
But once we were on our way to Queenstown, the landscape started to change and when we finally cleared the clouds it was like we had entered into a whole other world.
I couldn’t stop smiling. THIS was the New Zealand I had dreamed about and looked forward to. We had finally arrived.
And from that moment on, Queenstown forever had a place in my heart. I could have spent our entire two weeks there and would have been perfectly content.
But you’re here to learn about what things there are to do in Queenstown, so let’s jump in. I’ve even added a few of our videos to give you a better idea of just how beautiful it really is there.
PLACES TO EAT
I am starting with this one because, well, food. I really don’t need to say more.
It was one of my first thoughts when we landed because I’ve heard so much about New Zealand’s fish and chips and could hardly wait to get my hands on some. New Zealand did not disappoint.
After we dropped off our luggage at our motel, we headed right back out to find this place my husband heard about online. It’s a quaint little place, kinda like a food truck, only bigger, with some seating. (We were thankful for the seating because it was quite chilly!)
We each ordered a fish and chips with a drink and boy, our mouths were in for a treat! It was SO good!
Erik’s Fish and Chips was our go-to place whenever we were too tired to visit a restaurant. Or when we just wanted some awesome fish and chips. I still crave their food!
(I recommend the Hoki fish; it’s cheaper than the cod and sweeter; a win-win.) 🙂
So, it was our first full day in Queenstown and Joe’s Garage was on the agenda. It took a little bit of time to find because Queenstown doesn’t really have much of a main street. We thought we were heading down an alley at one point and literally ran into the restaurant.
I loved the restaurant and the atmosphere, it felt like you were having breakfast at the local diner with all the guys. And the staff were so friendly! We weren’t really sure what to expect, it was our first restaurant experience in New Zealand but let me tell you, they outdid themselves. I mean, just look at these plates!
My mouth waters just thinking about the amazing breakfast we had at Joe’s! The bacon was incredibly thick, the eggs so fresh and everything else was perfectly seasoned. It was very filling, too.
Of all the breakfasts we enjoyed in New Zealand, Joe’s served up the best! Overall, the experience was wonderful and the prices were reasonable, too.
My only regret was that we did not make it back a second time before heading out of Queenstown. It will definitely be on the list when we visit New Zealand, again.
This trip to New Zealand was planned entirely by my husband since the location was a surprise to me until six months before we boarded the plane. So each night after we arrived, he would pull out his itinerary and fill me in on what he had planned for the next day.
When he was telling me about this little burger joint that was world famous, I really didn’t know what to expect. I can tell you right now though, I did not imagine just how busy it would be. I’m pretty sure everyone in Queenstown ate there for lunch.
We were lucky to get there when we did because the line was just outside the door when we arrived. By the time we got our food, the line had tripled. The next day we saw the line wrap around the block. Crazy!
We took our food to the lake front so we could enjoy the sun and the view, which in my opinion is the best part of Queenstown. My husband was a little dramatic about his first bite of his Fergburger, but when I tried the fries, I totally understood.
The hype is real, folks. Hands down, best fries I’ve ever had! I know my fries, so trust me when I say theirs are fantastic!
And their burgers are incredible, too. Mouth-watering, for sure! We only had three days in Queenstown and we wanted to try as many places as we could, but I do regret not getting more Fergburger.
Steve scheduled us to visit Brazz after walking all day, exploring Queenstown so it probably wasn’t the best time to go since it’s a nicer restaurant and we were exhausted and wind-blown by the time dinner rolled around. But we stuck to the schedule and enjoyed a nice meal. The food was very good but the best part was this drink:
They do not have Arnold Palmer’s in New Zealand, so Steve had to explain what it was when he tried to order one. The waitress said she would see what she could do and came back with this amazing mix of everything from the garden. haha Seriously, though, it was an explosion of flavor and I am not all that fond of tea and lemonade together. I only wish she gave us the recipe so we could recreate it.
The only drawback to our experience at the restaurant was once we got our food, we never saw the waitress again. I don’t remember the reason we needed her, I think part of our order wasn’t right or we really wanted another one of those amazing drinks. We weren’t sure where to go to find her or another waiter so we just left it alone.
I know restaurant experiences are different there than in the states. And since they don’t offer refills, I guess they feel there isn’t a need to return to the table. It really isn’t a big deal, just something to keep in mind when you visit.
One of the things we were most looking forward to while in Queenstown was hiking the Ben Lomond. We were excited to get out in the hills and enjoy the beautiful scenery of New Zealand.
Before we ventured out in the rain on our hike, we rode a gondola to the top of the mountain, then rode the luge down a few times and enjoyed a buffet lunch at the Stratosphare.
I loved all the different options they provided, things I am not used to finding at buffets. I tried to take some of everything I’ve never had before so I could try it. The food was very good, the dessert bar even better, even though I’m not big on sweets, Steve indulged enough for both of us. 🙂
But better than what they serve is the view you get to enjoy while you dine. Nearly every table has a perfect view of the valley below. Even though we went on a rainy day, we could still see the beautiful countryside and the lake.
WHERE TO STAY
There are many places to choose from in Queenstown, from hostels to motels to campsites.
Initially, we had another motel in mind but it was booked when we went to reserve the room. I am SO glad it was; the hotel we stayed at was awesome and I could not imagine anywhere else having better views!
It was magical to wake up every morning with The Remarkables being the first thing you see. I never got used to that view!
Crown Plaza was a great place to stay for all the reasons you would list a nice motel as having. The bed was heavenly, the amenities awesome, and the staff always went above and beyond to accommodate our needs. I even melted their blow dryer on accident and even though I was an emotional wreck over it, they were so sweet and didn’t even charge us for the damages.
The balcony was my favorite part of our room, we spent SO much time out there, enjoying the view and the activity on the water across the street. I cannot emphasize this enough: the view was INCREDIBLE! I don’t think we could have picked a better place to stay with a more perfect view. Every time I looked out the window it took my breath away!
Crown Plaza has a nice restaurant in the lobby but we never ate there so I can’t give a review of their meals, although I can attest that the smells coming from there were mouth-watering. 🙂
WHAT TO DO
Let’s just start this section by stating that Queenstown is where New Zealanders go to vacation. There is SO much to do! Every other store front in the town seems to be an adventure depot where you can sign up for bungee jumping, kayaking, tours, etc. If you are in the market for something, they probably offer it.
However, I can only review the things we did, so here are the attractions/tours we took part in and what we thought of them:
This was the first activity we did aside from exploring on our own. Our guide met us at our motel bright and early and we had the entire excursion to ourselves as another couple that were supposed to go had to cancel.
Our guide, Jack, took us to key parts of Queenstown and gave us some history as well as some knowledge about the filming locations of the Lord of the Rings, which we drove to several.
We then went to Skipper’s Canyon, one of the top ten most dangerous roads in the world. I am scared of heights but it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Except for the one time a tour bus needed to pass and we had to back up a ways. That got a little scary but our guide was well adept at handling the jeep and the tight roadway.
We also drove through some trails into gold-mining country which led into Deep Creek a few times. We then mined for gold and enjoyed some coffee/hot chocolate and a snack at one of the most beautiful spots along the creek. So fun!
(Just a heads up, its a bumpy ride so if you can’t handle rough terrain, this might not be for you.”
If there was one word to describe our time with Nomad Safaris, it would be AMAZING! We never stopped smiling.
I think the video below can show you better:
Ben Lomond Track
As you already read at the beginning of this post, we were very much looking forward to this hike.
Taking the gondola to the Strastofare restaurant, riding the Luge and hiking the Ben Lomond is an all-day event and is usually bundled together in a package that you can buy most anywhere in town. It’s free to hike but I couldn’t imagine not taking the gondola to the start of the trail, which costs money.
Even though it rained the entire time, words cannot convey just how beautiful the views were! We might have passed three people the whole time, it felt like we were completely alone and it was a great time for us both.
And even though we were not able to reach the top, we are very much looking forward to returning one day and trying again, but this time we are hoping for a dry and sunny day. 🙂
Here’s a video of our time on the mountain:
Of course, Queenstown has all the adrenaline-pumping activities you could ever want, but if you don’t wish to spend all your money on thrill-seeking, there is the perfect solution of relaxation just across the lake at the gardens. There’s a fun playground for kids, Frisbee golf to play, tennis and an immersive trail with stunning views. We spent several hours on the trail and at the lake shore. It was so wonderful to take in all the scenery and even though there were plenty of people around, it didn’t feel crowded, especially the further in you followed the trail.
I understand this isn’t in Queenstown, however, there is a day tour that leaves from Queenstown which is what we took.
And I highly recommend doing this for a couple reasons. One, the tour bus driver is very knowledgeable about the area and you learn some neat things on the way there. Two, the bus windows extend to the roof so you get to take in so much of the incredible views, which you would not be able to do in your own vehicle. And three, the roads are a bit dangerous so if you are not used to the winding, tiny roads near Milford Sound, it might be best leaving those to locals.
The day tour makes a few stops along the way so you can get out and take pictures and take in the scenery. This was probably one of our favorite tours we did. The views really are indescribable, especially the closer you get to the ocean. And at one point we stopped among some gorgeous mountains to fill our water bottles up in the spring.
When we got to Milford Sound, we took a boat out on the water, had lunch out there, then headed back in. I’m not sure if it is like this all the time, but it was incredibly windy when we went, felt like you were going to blow off the boat. But we got to see penguins and seals which were so neat to see in the wild!
It was a long trip but completely worth it!
Here’s just a glimpse of what you would see:
TIPS (and things to expect)
- Things are smaller in NZ. (Ex. roads, homes, cars, parking spaces) This is important to know if you are planning to do any driving; with tight corners and so many people not used to driving on the opposite side of the road, they get a lot of accidents.
- Meals are not smaller. Most times just one meal could feed both Steve and me. And if you are staying at a motel, most do not have a microwave so reheating your leftovers might not be possible. Something to keep in mind.
- Bring sunglasses. The sun is pretty strong and you will want a pair with you.
- Also, bring a jacket, the sun feels warm but when you hit the shade it gets very chilly.
- Cross at crosswalks. Trying to cross elsewhere might get you killed, especially if you are not used to drivers driving on the left side of the road. (I’m not exaggerating here. I was nearly hit by a bus my first day in New Zealand. If my husband hadn’t been with me to pull me back on the sidewalk, I would have been.)
- Soda is expensive. Expect to pay $4 for an 8 oz bottle. They ship most everything to their islands so it’s going to be costly. However, if you buy a large soda (I think they are 3 liters there) and use glasses, it’ll be much cheaper.
- They rarely do refills at restaurants. So drink slowly. haha
- Since there are no refills and usually no tipping, wait staff at restaurants do not stick around so make sure your order is good before he/she leaves after delivering your food.
- NZ’ers say “zed” for the letter “z”. That took some getting used to. lol It’s not important to know, just thought it was interesting.
- Dates are different. What we would write 1/18/18, they would put down as 18/1/18.
- NZ’ers use the word “queue” for “line”. That tidbit will come in handy if you are traveling a lot by bus.
- Expect to fall in love not only with the land but the amazing people!
Alright, this was our list of things to do in Queenstown but like I said, for a small place, there really are so many things you can experience.
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About the author
Kimberly McGraw is the founder of Life Worth the Living, a blog focused on helping mothers live their best life. Her desire is to help moms find purpose in who they are as a person, not just as a mom. Life Worth the Living has been featured in Making Sense of Cents, Outwit Trade and Believe and Create.