New Zealand / Aotearoa: the land of the long white cloud and the very high bungee jump. Adventurous types and adrenaline junkies froth this place because there’s so many ways to live on the edge. But what if you’re a slightly more cautious type? Well, there’s plenty of stuff to do in New Zealand that is outdoorsy without being necessarily daredevil.
I recently travelled to Queenstown / Tāhuna, on New Zealand’s beautiful South Island, as a guest of Tourism New Zealand.
I had never been to Queenstown before, because I’d always associated it with snowboarding, something I have never done, and will never be brave (or stupid, depending on who you ask) enough to do.
Travelling there in March was a real eye-opener. Technically, ski season runs from June to October (but snow can fall as early as April). So in March, there’s plenty of sunshine to enjoy and no snow to throw yourself at aggressively. A great result for me!
I shocked myself by being wholesome and outdoorsy plenty of times during my five-day South Island trip, so I rounded up a bunch of these experiences for you to try next time you hop over to visit our wildly attractive neighbours in the non-ski season months.
Things To Do In Queenstown New Zealand
Scaling a mountain from the comfort of a little carriage is my kind of outdoors activity in New Zealand. The Skyline Gondola takes you 480m up and is the steepest cable car in the Northern Hemisphere, meaning you will feel slightly daring doing this on your Queenstown trip.
As you ascend to the top of Bob’s Peak, you’ll see simply stunning views of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu as well as the Remarkables (they truly are), Coronet Peak, Cecil Peak and Walter Peak.
There’s a bar and a restaurant up there, so you can refill before you head back down to earth.
Skyline Gondola is currently upgrading to 10-seater cars and will be closed during that time, but will be up and running in July.
Otago Central Rail Trail
If you want to indulge in some light physical activity while in New Zealand, perhaps a bike ride is for you? The Otago Central Rail Trail is an old railway track converted into a bike trail, weaving through wineries, over old (but safe!) bridges, through dark tunnels and through cute lil’ small towns.
You can hire an e-bike if your quads aren’t up for pumping — we were kitted out by Bike It Now! in the small town of Clyde, about an hour’s drive east of Queenstown — and bike the trail for as long or short as you like.
My friend and I did the 60km-ish One-Day Wonder tour from Auripo back to Clyde, but you can get picked up earlier if your glutes are complaining.
Milford Sound Flight and Cruise
Milford Sound / Piopiotahi is THE place to clap your eyes on when you’re in the Queenstown area — stunningly gorgeous fjordland that makes you feel like you’re in Lord of the Rings, or an episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (millennials know).
There’s a few ways to experience Milford Sound — you can catch a coach from Queenstown but it will take a good few hours (3+ to get there). My friend and I went the fly/cruise option with Southern Alps Air.
The idea of this is that you get the best of both worlds and can see Milford Sound from the sky and from the water. However, due to low visibility we weren’t able to land that day, so check the weather before you book.
One of my favourite experiences on my recent New Zealand trip was a guided walk led by Guided Walks New Zealand. I may not be an adrenaline junkie, but I do love getting out in nature and whenever I travel, I try to work a hike into my itinerary.
The bonus of a guided walk is that you learn stuff along the way. I’m always that loser who stops at every informative sign I come across, and our guide was like a Human Informative Sign.
She picked us up at our hotel and immediately started bombarding us with fact bombs, but they were all welcomed. I learnt SO much that day about the Māori history of the area, not to mention the fact that New Zealand has no venomous snakes. Like, at all. (This made for a much more relaxing hike, tbh.)
We did the Mount Aspiring day walk but there’s loads of different guided hikes on offer.
Lake Wanaka Kayaking
I have a running joke with a friend of mine because we always say we’ll go kayaking while on holiday, but we never actually get around to it. Even though she wasn’t on the Queenstown trip with me, I kept up that tradition and did NOT go kayaking — but if I did it would have been on beautiful Lake Wanaka!
Less hectic than white-water rafting (I do not wish to perceive rapids), kayaking is a more smooth and relaxing experience, plus you get to experience those incredible New Zealand views from a more up close and personal angle. I definitely want to break my kayak curse on Lake Wanaka some day.
Paddle Wanaka offers several different kayak tours and experiences in the area, so hit them up if you’re wanting to achieve your goals in NZ.
A frankly genius balance of being outdoorsy and being lightly buzzed, if you want to experience the glorious vistas of the South Island but not jump off a cliff, a winery tour is a good option.
The Central Otago region is known for its Pinot Noir and as any white wine girlie will know, the South Island produces a *chefs kiss* Sauvignon Blanc. No matter what your poison is, New Zealand has you sorted when it comes to wineries.
An incredibly unique way to combo wine tasting with an authentic Māori cultural experience is through WanaHaka tours.
The only experience of its kind in the South Island, WanaHaka’s owner Joe combines his two passions: wine and his Māori heritage.
The company offers tours that visit Central Otago wineries in the Wanaka and Queenstown areas — like Mt Rosa, Amisfield and Māori Point — and provide a rich history of the Māori culture along the way.
If your idea of being “outdoorsy” involves relaxing in warm bubbling water while enjoying the stunning vistas of Queenstown, you should try the Onsen Hot Pools.
My friend and I did this on our last day in New Zealand and it was such a glorious way to cap off the trip.
You get your own private pool (for 1-4 people) and if you select the Outdoor Onsen like we did, you cop a spectacular view of the Shotover River and Grant Peak while you’re at it.
The complimentary drink and snack didn’t go astray, either.
So there it is — a bunch of semi-outdoorsy but completely safe activities to hit up next time you’re heading over to visit our neighbours in New Zealand. If you’re looking for more ideas of what to do in Queenstown, hit up our itinerary HERE.