It’s no secret that Queenstown is in one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand.
Beyond the perimeters of the soaring peaks of the Remarkables and the meandering coves of Lake Wakatipu, there are endless more kilometres of picture-perfect panoramas and outdoor adventures to soak up – as well as interesting local heritage and, if you know where to go, world-class wine too.
Discover it all on these incredible day trips from Queenstown.
50-60 minutes from Queenstown / 58 kilometres
It doesn’t take long to leave Queenstown behind and find wine country playing out in your rear view mirror. Thankfully, Central Otago is one of New Zealand’s most scenic wine regions: it’s rugged and mountainous, but also spans lakes, rivers and rolling farmland.
Home to over 80 wineries, the area is famous for producing some of the world’s best Pinot Noir and a vivid repertoire of white wine varietals.
Beyond the cellar doors, the indulgence continues in the form of fine dining, character-filled cafes and lovely al-fresco dining spots where fresh, seasonal produce is key. Central Otago is the undisputed home of summer fruits, so don’t be surprised to repeatedly spot cherries, apples and apricots on the menu.
What travellers also love about a day trip from Queenstown to Central Otago is the change of pace. It’s low-key, oozes country ambiance and there’s barely an adrenalin-pumping activity in sight.
There’s also some rich heritage – you can pan for gold along old gold mining trails – some unique wildlife and historic rail trails to find dotted between the vineyards and small character-laden towns.
45 minutes from Queenstown / 46 kilometres
True outdoor enthusiasts will love rustic little Glenorchy. The town itself is tiny – home to less than 500 people – but the adventures to be had in its midst are big, which is its main appeal.
For an idea, it was here in Glenorchy’s surrounding landscapes that many of the scenes from Lord of the Ringsand Narnia were shot.
It is the gateway to some of New Zealand’s best hiking trails, including the popular day hike to Mt Alfred, the Rees and Dart Track, the Greenstone/Caples Track and the Routeburn Track – one of the Great Walks.
Step by step, you can venture your way into Middle Earth territory.
Not keen on walking? Glenorchy also traces the shoreline of beautiful Lake Wakatipu.
Horse trekking, jet boating and kayaking are also popular local activities. Either way, snow-capped mountains, idyllic green forests and stunning blue waters come guaranteed.
1 hour from Queenstown / 66 kilometres
Wanaka is where the South Islanders go on holidays, so it’s bound to be good.
For travellers, it flaunts many of the same activities as a Queenstown holiday but often at a lower price, so it’s perfect for those travelling on a budget.
Perched on the shores of Lake Wanaka at the heart of the Southern Alps, it’s the natural beauty that’ll first strike you about Wanaka – as well as the friendliness and warm hospitality of the locals.
You could easily spend a day simply strolling around the lake, unpacking a picnic and taking in the views and laid-back town vibes for peaceful day of sightseeing at an un-hurried, enjoyable pace.
For many however, those placid lake waters prove too hard to resist. Paddle boarding, kayaking and jet-skiing are all popular in the warmer months, as are sightseeing boat tours into the nearby mountain, lake and island landscapes that seem as straight out of Middle-earth.
Wanaka is also a favoured launching pad into hiking and biking adventures in the surrounding peaks that form part of Mt Aspiring National Park.
Come winter, there are three ski fields on Wanaka’s doorstep and the town springs to life with a lively après ski scene.
Milford Sound and Fiordland
3 hours and 30 minutes from Queenstown
There are many ways to arrive at Milford Sound – including by cruise, on a scenic flight and on foot. But the incredible splendour of it all is in no way lost on those who approach by self drive.
In fact, the journey from Queenstown into the heart of Fiordland National Park to what is one of New Zealand’s most famous sights is an unforgettable journey in itself.
The road winds and weaves through a myriad of spectacular landscapes – through glacier-carved valleys and native rainforest, past clear blue lakes and trickling streams so clean you could drink out of them, and over the Main Divide of the incredible snow-capped Southern Alps.
This all serves as a momentous build-up to the final show; when you finally do arrive at Milford Sound, you’ll be greeted with even more wow-factor natural splendour.
Think waterfalls bigger than Niagara Falls, sheer-sided blue fjords, drastic mountains ranges and more lush rainforest.
The entire journey presents a never-ending line-up of brilliant photo opportunities.
Yes, it is a long day trip from Queenstown, but it is an absolute must-do experience while visiting the South Island that cannot be missed.
By Tijana Jaksic