With borders opening and restrictions easing this year, no one would blame you if you’ve eaten through most of your annual leave. But there’s so much catching up to do. Should we really let an allotted amount of days per year prevent us from seeing a world we weren’t able to for two years? We think not.
Now we all know New Zealand is bloody close to Australia. Queenstown is literally three-to-four hours away from our East Coast, making it a superb choice if you can’t mess around with days of transit time or piss off your boss by going into arrears.
With an enormous amount of flights now landing in New Zealand’s South Island hotspot daily, we’ve put together a three-day, snow-free Queenstown itinerary. Whether you work remotely or partially for one of the days, use one annual leave day to take or want to take a sicky for the Friday or Monday — that’s your call and we will not be held responsible for any work-related consequences.
Queenstown: Day 1
Fly + check into your Queenstown accomm
You’re going to lose a couple of hours on your way over due to the time differences but luckily Queenstown doesn’t get dark until around 8-9pm during Daylight Saving Time. A good thing, really, given landing into Queenstown Airport is B-E-A-UTIFUL. You’ll for sure be in the mood to dump your stuff at the hotel and quickly start taking in the destination.
An epic way to do that is with KJet adventures — the only airport transfer you can do by jetboat. Fast boating around Lake Wakatipu is something a lot of people do in Queenstown anyway, so this really is a two-birds-one-stone situation given your limited time. Alternatively you can be boring and get an Uber to your accommodation.
Head to dinner in town
Depending on what time you land, save your money on the flight food and grab something in town instead. Queenstown Ferries are around $5 a pop (one way) if you’re staying a bit out of the centre with pick-up spots including Hilton, Bayview and Marina. They leave every 1-2 hours daily.
Margo’s is my personal recommendation for something chilled but still vibing for grub. The coconut prawns, cowboy nachos and pretty much every taco are very good and, of course, the spicy margs to wash it all down with.
If you’re looking for something a little fancier, The Grille is a three-course sitting that will leave you beyond fulfilled. It has floor-to-ceiling lakefront windows that’ll help you take in both the region’s views and tastes for your first night. Cute.
Grab a nightcap, if you wish
Now look it’s your life but if you’ve only got one full day in Queenstown, so you might want to keep it classy for your first night. Some bars that aren’t too rowdy immediately post-dinner include, Little Mez (underneath Margo’s), Upstairs @ The Bunker and the tiki-themed Blue Kanu, but stroll around the main streets and you’ll find something that tickles your pickle.
Queenstown: Day 2
Breakfast + Queenstown markets
Grab coffee and brekky in town to kick off your first full day in Queenstown. Vudu Cafe & Larder has excellent coffee — and I’m not the only one who thinks so. You’ll likely cop a thicc line to grab your order but it moves pretty quickly. It’s open from 7.30am daily, so depending on how you’re going for time, either dine in or grab takeaway that you can chow down lakeside.
Just outside you’ll find the Lakefront Markets which are on every Saturday from 9am-4pm. Have a stroll through and digest both your food and the scenery — the stalls are full of local clothes designers, potters, wood artisans, soap makers, apothecarians, photographers, jewellers and more.
Unleash some adrenalin in Gibbston Valley
Queenstown prides itself as being the home of adventure, and even outside of ski season there’s plenty to do that’ll get the heart racing — no matter the level of thrill you wish to seek.
Oxbow Adventures recently opened in the Gibbston Valley, which is roughly a 20-minute drive from town. It’s home to jet sprint boating (the only four-seater one in the world, mind you), 4WD off-roaders and a six-person clay bird shooting range. Only keen on one? No problem. Keen on two or all three of them? Also no problem.
If you’re down to get the heart racing but don’t want to go as buck wild as a bungey jump, Oxbow is a good option to start off the day and get you in good spirits. There is also an onsite container bar that serves booze from 11am, which is something you might be craving after a spin on the road or water. I wouldn’t recommend doing it before.
Keen for something that’ll up the ante? Kawarau Bungy Centre is also in Gibbston Valley, where you’ll jump from the cliff edge towards the stunning gorge. Fun fact: you can do it nude if you want to. The centre also offers tandem and single 130-metre zip rides or 44-metre swings over the gorge if you arrive and freak the hell out. No one would blame you.
Down some local wines
After testing your heart’s racing abilities, you’re probably (definitely) ready for a drink. The good news? You’re in Gibbston Valley already, and there are a bunch of amazing cellar doors nearby. Altitude Tours is one operator that can be your deso driver for the day.
Kinross is just a five-minute drive from Oxbow and it’s a little different because it reps five local Central Otago wineries, rather than other wine doors which only show off their own. Do not leave without having some funghi pizza from the onsite restaurant. Un-be-lievable.
Mt Rosa and Chard Farm cellar doors are all within a 10-minute radius as well, so be sure to add these to the itinerary — as you can imagine, all of them are home to stunning backdrops and lovely locals that’ll make you feel right at home. In fact, Chard Farm is so pretty I would get married there if I could find someone to love me.
Most cellar doors in Gibbston Valley close at around 5pm, which is a good thing given some travel companions need a cut-off time. It also means you have plenty of time (and daylight, depending on time of year) to lap up more of Queenstown.
Head to Arrowtown
Arrowtown is a historic gold rush village around 15-minutes drive from the Gibbston Valley — and it’ll charm your socks off. Stroll the streets for cute lil’ cottages, local boutiques and hole-in-the-wall bars before replenishing yourself with dinner.
Aosta is a truly phenomenal dining experience (albeit a little bougie), with Blue Door Bar right next door — the order in which you visit is up to you. Hyde, Liquor & Social Bar just opened close by boasting cosy, speakeasy vibes, and it’s from the same people responsible for famed Queenstown nightspot The Bunker.
If you’re not much of a drinker, you can swap out the wine tour and do a scenic bike tour instead — there are a bunch of Queenstown, Arrowtown and Gibbston trail options here. That way you can still take in the regions without the pour decisions.
Get around Queenstown’s nightlife
Depending on how you’re feeling, an option is to head to the bars around town given Queenstown’s nightlife can get a bit lit. Make your choices wisely depending on how well you can back it up, with venues and times they close on weekend nights below:
- Sundeck (closes at midnight)
- World Bar (closes 2.30am)
- Barmuda (closes 3am)
- Bunker (closes 4am)
- Cowboys (closes 4am)
Also worth noting: Riverdale‘s KJ Apa and Cole Sprouse have been at Cowboys, which is as country-themed bar on Searle Lane with a mechanical bull. Knowing you could be sitting somewhere that their butt has also been is reason enough to visit IMO.
Queenstown: Day 3
Brekky at Fergburger
If you want something hard and fast after a big day (or… night), everyone in Queenstown raves about Fergburger. Avoid feeling like you missed out on something by going. Warning: there will likely be a line and it doesn’t open until 10am.
Get high with the Queenstown Gondola
Less than a 10-minute walk from Ferberger and the town’s main streets in general is the Queenstown Skyline Gondola. Within five minutes you’re to the top with an epic view over Queenstown. Sure, you could just grab a coffee and take in the scenery, but there’s a bunch of other good stuff you can do while you’re up top.
It might seem like a kid’s activity (and it can be), but luging is so much fun no matter your age thanks to the bumps, turns and speed-control — you don’t have to get stuck behind any slowpokes (just overtake ’em). Other options once you’re up top include paragliding, zip-lining, a bungy and swing and downhill mountain biking (this range is New Zealand’s first Gondola-assisted bike park).
If you’re wanting to calm your way back into the 9-5 awaiting you, I can’t recommend the award-winning Eforea Spa at The Hilton Resort & Spa enough. Even if you aren’t a guest, you can book a massage, facial, mani and more and lap up The Hilton’s indoor pool, hot tub, steam room and sauna. Of course, if you’re a guest, you get all those things whether you book a treatment or not.
Another option is Queenstown’s Onsen Hot Pools which are open from 9am to 11pm every day. The pools use pure water from the mountains and you’ll be nice and cosy with 38.3-degree temp. There are multiple pool options overlooking the Shotover River to choose from, with bookings of up to four people. Speaking of bookings — you definitely need to do that in advance. It’s a tourist hotspot.
Lunch at Tanoshi
Available in the town’s centre (Cow Lane) and more recently Frankton, Tanoshi‘s Japanese menu is next-level. Take the “Trust the Chef” menu and sit back, relax, and be pleasantly surprised. It’s only $40 p/p to do so. Queenstown airport is quite small with minimal food options, so you’ll really want to line that stomach ahead of your flight.
While you might’ve lost a few hours on the way over, you’ll gain some on the way back, meaning you can arrive home at a reasonable hour that won’t mess you up for work the next day. Fitting Queenstown into three days (or two, technically, when you factor in transit time) is a challenge but absolutely doable, however, there are so many other things to do in this amazing place should you want to extend your visit.
The good news? It’s just over the ditch. There’s plenty more long weekends where that came from.
This writer travelled as a guest of Virgin Australia and Destination Queenstown.