Known as the adventure capital and located in one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand, Queenstown really does have it all. While you could easily spend a week or more here, this 3 day Queenstown itinerary hits all the highlights with a little bit of food, hiking, cruising and adventure.
About this Queenstown itinerary
Queenstown is a small town and within the central area nearly everything is walkable. However, if you stay within central Queenstown, you’ll miss some of the best spots, so this Queenstown itinerary has you venturing out to Arrowtown and the Gibbston Valley on day 3. There is a reliable and cheap bus network to help you get there or you can use Ubers, taxis or book a day tour with shuttle transport.
This itinerary is designed so you can do it at any time of year but it’s especially good if you’re heading to Queenstown in summer. If you’re visiting in winter, you might want to add a few days to hit the slopes at the nearby Cardrona ski fields.
What to pack for Queenstown?
Queenstown is one of the most southern towns in the world so you can expect chilly weather even in summer. In winter there is often light snow in the town and the average temperature dips below 0°C. New Zealand is also known for its changeable weather so it’s best to pack lots of layers.
Being the adventure capital, the culture and fashion in Queenstown is very outdoorsy. You’ll see lots of puffer jackets, sneakers for all the lake walks, and merino wool tops. For this itinerary, you’ll be doing mostly outdoor activities so be prepared to wrap up warm with layers you can take off on the hikes and bike rides.
Day 1: Skyline, Ben Lomond, Luge, Queenstown Gardens
The best way to get a feel for Queenstown when you arrive is to get up high. So, start your first day in Queenstown with a ride up the Skyline Gondola. The Gondola takes you 450 meters uphill to the Skyline Center where you can see out across Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables mountains. From here you have options to grab some food in the café, stock up on treats at the Jelly Bean Factory or just take a seat and enjoy the views.
Ben Lomond Track
In summer, you have the option to keep going up the mountainside to the peak of Ben Lomond. This trek takes around 7 hours and promises unbeatable views from the summit. The track is not difficult, but you can only reach the peak in mid-summer as snow covers the trail most of the year. Even if you can’t get the whole way up, it’s worth continuing on at least a small way past the Skyline Center to get away from the crowds and see more of the surrounding area.
Paragliding or Luge
On the way down, skip the gondola and go for either paragliding or a luge. The luge is like a go-kart that you drive down the mountainside on a zigzagging track at high speed. There’s a beginner as well as an advanced track in case you don’t feel up to jumps and tunnels on your first go. Once you finish the ride, either jump on the gondola for another go or head back down the hill to Queenstown centre.
Spend the afternoon wandering the lakeshore, heading through Queenstown Botanic Gardens around towards Frankton, or you can go up to the Queenstown Hill Time Walk, where you’ll find exhibits on the area’s history spread along the trail. Expect to spend 2 1/2 half hours to complete the Queenstown Hill Time Walk.
For dinner, splash out on a meal at Botswana Butchery, one of New Zealand’s best restaurants which showcases the outstanding local produce including lamb and venison. The meat-heavy dishes are best paired with a glass of Central Otago pinot noir, which you’ll get a chance to try more of on day 3. See their website for details
Day 2: Bungy Jump, Jet Boat, Lake Cruise, Ferg Burger
It’s time to discover why Queenstown is called the adventure capital of New Zealand and book in for either a bungy jump, swing, or catapult. Queenstown is the home of AJ Hackett, the world’s first commercial bungy jump and you can still take the leap at their original site at Kawarau Bridge. They have also expanded to two other bungy jump sites, both taller than the original Kawarau jump at 47m (Ledge Jump) and 134m (Nevis Jump). Read more at 8 Great Places to Go Bunjy Jumping in New Zealand
Morning Nevis Bunjy and Swing
If you’ve already tried bungy jumping or want to try something different, there are also the Nevis Swing and the human catapult. Your ticket includes transport to the site and a t-shirt you can use as proof of your bravery. We did a combo ticket for both. Visit AJ Hacket for prices and booking tours.
Lunch Vudu Larder
After an adrenaline-filled morning, come back to Queenstown and settle your nerves over a lazy lunch at Vudu Larder. With a prime location right on the lakefront, Vudu Larder is one of a collection of Queenstown cafes that do outstanding breakfasts and lunch with a healthy-ish focus and lots of vegetarian and vegan friendly options. I recommend pancakes with lemon and coconut. If you have time, the other cafes to try are Yonder and Bespoke Kitchen.
Afternoon – Jetboat
If your nerve holds, you can try a jetboat in the afternoon. Choose between KJet, which starts from Lake Wakatipu and includes lots of spins and tricks as you ride up the Arrow River, or Shotover Jet which starts slightly out of town and goes speeding between the narrow canyons of the Shotover River.
For a more sedate option, there is the steamboat cruise on the TSS Earnslaw which takes you out across Lake Wakatipu towards Glenorchy and the sounds. This is a very relaxing way to see one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand with soaring snow-capped mountains and lush native bush bordering the lake. For a romantic option, book the sunset cruise with wine and cheese.
This tour is a 1.5-hour Queenstown scenic cruise taking you out to Lake Wakatipu where you’ll enjoy views of the Remarkables, Bob’s Cove, Cecil Peak and Mt. Earnslaw from the comfort of the Spirit of Queenstown.
Cap off your day with drinks at Perky’s Boat bar (a quirky boat bar anchored at the lakefront) or Lodge Wine Bar (a classier option somewhat weirdly located in the front of a men’s clothing store). For food, you must try one of the New Zealand-famous burgers from Ferg’s, the queues can be long but it’s worth it for delicious burgers bigger than your head. My favorite is the Sweet Bambi venison burger with boysenberry and brie but there are vegetarian options. Top it off with a scoop of ice cream from Mrs Ferg’s Gelateria just next door.
Day 3: Arrowtown, Arrow River Trail, Gibbston Valley wineries, Millbrook
By day 3, you should be pretty familiar with Queenstown’s small town center so it’s time to head out towards Arrowtown. It’s only a short bus ride on the blue Arthurs Point bus which will collect you from Stanley Street in central Queenstown.
I recommend getting an early start so you can grab brunch in Arrowtown at Provisions, a café down the quiet end of the main street that has a mouth-watering range of baked goods as well as one of the best Kiwi big breakfasts I’ve ever eaten.
Arrowtown is at its best in autumn when the trees lining the riverbank and the main streets are a bright fiery orange but at any time of year, this historic mining town is full of character. You could be mistaken for thinking the main street is straight out of Disneyland as the buildings still maintain their Gold Rush-era facades. Make sure to pop into The Remarkables Sweet Shop for tastings of their homemade fudge or to fill a bag with old-fashioned candies from around the world.
Arrowtown is full of boutique shops if you’re looking for a bit of retail therapy. Otherwise, for foodies, there is the Gibbston Valley Cheese store and Patagonia Chocolates, both down by the riverfront. These are local artisan producers that you’ll only find around Queenstown and Arrowtown.
While you’re in Arrowtown, take the time to walk down to the riverbanks and see the old Gold Miner’s Cottages. They’re extremely small and basic but offer an insight into the lives of the first European and Chinese settlers in this area.
Arrow River Trail
From there, you can hire bikes or e-bikes and head out along the Arrow River Trail into the Gibbston Valley. The river trail is worth doing on its own for the scenery, you get to speed over suspension bridges, past gorges, farms, and mountains and even check out the bungy jumpers as you pass Kawarau Bridge.
Visit a Vineyard
The Gibbston Valley, accessed by bike or car from Arrowtown, is where you’ll find most of the wineries near Queenstown. Almost all are open for tastings so just grab a map from the bike hire shop and stop into wherever takes your fancy. Wherever you go, the most popular wine variety is the pinot noir but you’ll also find a range of grapes including Gamays, pinot blancs and red blends. My favorite Gibbston Valley wineries are Peregrine and Mount Edward. Most wineries offer food, either platters or full bistro meals. Closer to Arrowtown, there is also Amisfield Winery which has an award-winning restaurant on site.
To cap off the day, head to Millbrook Resort for a round of golf or a spa treatment. Millbrook is set on 650 acres of beautiful grounds full of burbling streams, little stone bridges, and cottages. The massages are so relaxing I nearly fell asleep. Afterward you can enjoy tea in the lounge overlooking the golf course. The resort will happily arrange a shuttle back to Queenstown at the end of the day.
Queenstown really is one of the most spectacular parts of the world with all the dramatic scenery New Zealand is known for and plenty of activities to make the most of it. This 3 day Queenstown itinerary is just the start of what’s on offer. If you have a bit more time, consider heading out to Te Anau and walking part of the Milford Track or driving up the Cardrona Ranges to the Cardrona Distillery and Cardrona Hotel.
Where to Stay in Queenstown
SofiTel Queenstown – Located in Central Queenstown, this luxury hotels is close to the Skyline Gondola and Ferberger. It is walking distance to many Queenstown attractions, and is just 15 minutes from the airport. It is walking distance to Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown’s scenic view.
Queenstown Novotel Lakeside – Located on the lake front in town it is a prime location. There is a hot tub, restaurant, parking and free Internet.
And that is the perfect 3 days in Queenstown Itinerary. When you plan your travels to New Zealand make sure to spend at least three days in the country’s adventure capital. There are so many things to do, you could spend weeks exploring it all.
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