The Budget Travel Guide to Queenstown, NZ

Why Visit Queenstown?

There's probably not too much need for selling the benefits of visiting Queenstown here - it's consistently one of the most popular tourist destinations in the whole of New Zealand. Indeed, although it's home to only 18,000 permanent residents it receives almost 2 million visitors per year! The popularity of this resort town is apparent as soon as you arrive, it's packed with travellers looking to take advantage of the activities on offer - from bungee jumping and skiing to hiking and ziplining, if you're a thrill seeker this place is basically heaven.

Not only is there plenty to do, Queenstown is a beautiful place, surrounded on all sides by beautiful scenery. The town is built around Lake Wakatipu and is bordered by stunning snow capped mountains, hence its popularity as a winter sports destination.

It's also home to many sites that were used in the filming of the Lord of the Rings series, as well as The Hobbit, The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe and Prince Caspian. As soon as you arrive, you'll see why - it truly is one of the most picturesque towns in a country full of breathtaking natural beauty. Like many, we arrived for a couple of nights and stayed for a week or more, sucked in by the laid back atmosphere, friendly people and attractive surroundings.


As above – the resident population is a tiny 18,000 but the town is packed with tourists most of the year


It’s known along with the rest of NZ for being very safe, the only problems tend to be alcohol related issues in the town centre


At a latitude of 45 degrees south, it’s one of only 3 countries located at this latitude – alongside Chile & Argentina


A long warm summer with temps up to 30 degrees and cold winters with frequent snowfall

Sister Cities

Aspen, Colorado and Hangzhou, China are official sister cities

Famous For

Skiing, Beautiful Alpine Scenery and Adrenalin Sports

I feel I know Queenstown quite well. I’ve been to places that have the same sort of spirit elsewhere in the world but nowhere in quite such a magnificent setting. — Sir Ian McKellen

Things to Do in Queenstown

…on a budget! One thing about Queenstown is that with all the adrenalin filled activities on offer it can get very expensive very quickly. Here’s some of the highlights you can enjoy on a backpacker’s budget.

Underwater Observatory

Only worth it if you can get a buy 1 get 1 free or you may be very disappointed! This was a cheap way to spend half an hour looking at the fish in the lake.

Price Guide: 5NZD on bogof

The Queenstown Gardens

We tend to gravitate towards gardens as free activities on sunny days and these gardens are fab – pine forests, lakeside views, rose gardens and frisbee golf are just some highlights

Price Guide: Free

Tiki Trail

It’s possible to hike all the way to Ben Lomond in a day, although we didn’t make it that far. The walk up the Tiki Trail to the Skyline is great and offers incredible views of the town

Price Guide: Free

Sunshine Bay Track

Another lakeside walk, this starts a little way out of town past the wharf, but is another opportunity for some great views and photographs

Price Guide: Free

Karawau Bungy Bridge

Not for the fainthearted take a jump if you’re feeling brave! Or enjoy a bacon sandwich and watch jumpers – just outside town.

Price Guide: £

Skyline Gondola

This is the alternative to walking up the Tiki Trail and free tickets are given away by many agencies if you book tours with them. A picturesque cable car ride to the complex.

Price Guide: 33NZD Return

Tours & Day Trips from Queenstown

If you’re happy to spend a little more seeing some of the amazing sights on offer around the town, these are our top picks. If you can just choose one – make it a Milford Sound Cruise, it was one of the best days we had in New Zealand.

Milford Sounds Cruise

Milford Sounds is one of the most beautiful places you’ll see – stunning in the sunshine and spectacular in the rain, it offers unparalleled scenery. Expect to see glaciers, waterfalls and fur seals.

Price Guide: ££

Lord of the Rings Tour

New Zealand is a must visit for fans of Sir Peter Jackson, and Queenstown is home to some spectacular places used as filming sites for the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. Click to find out more.

Price Guide: ££

Winery Tours

Hire a bike and do a DIY tour of the wineries, or take a group tour – Central Otago is home to over 200 vineyards and the region is famous for its amazing Pinot Noir.

Price Guide: ££

Queenstown is off the chain! It’s officially the best place in the world — Goldie

Queenstown - The Remarkables

In the words of Stephen Fry, “The view of Queenstown and The Remarkables is the greatest sight on earth” – a quotation it’s hard to disagree with once you’ve seen this spectacular place. It was named by a surveyor in 1857 who was awestruck after seeing the dramatic peaks silhouetted against a sunset sky, and has kept the name of The Remarkables ever since. An interesting fact is that it’s one of only two mountain ranges in the world to run from North to South, the other being the Rocky mountains in the USA.

If you are heading to New Zealand for ski season, there really is no better place. It’s just 35 minutes from Queenstown, lift passes are available for under 100NZD per day and there are frequent buses to the resort, making it super accessible. The resort covers 220 hectares with slopes for all abilities: 30% beginner, 40% intermediate and 30% expert.

Maori Legends of Queenstown

As with many inhabited areas of New Zealand, the town of Queenstown was first resided in by Maoris, and their legends are preserved and continue to be told to visitors today. The main legend here which you’re sure to here if you take a tour, is the story of the giant Matau and Lake Wakatipu.

The story goes that he was burnt to death in his sleep after kidnapping the daughter of a chief – as he burned, the snow and ice surrounding him melted from the heat and formed the lake. If you see the lake from above, you’ll notice that it forms an S position which is meant to be reflective of the giant sleeping curled up on his side. In addition to this, an island can be spotted from above or at close range which is said to be Matau’s heart which continues to beat today.

Where to Eat & Drink in Queenstown

You certainly won’t go hungry although you may have to do some digging to find budget dining. The town is home to tourists of all incomes so there are many boutique restaurants if you want to splash out. If not, here’s our choice of cheap eats in Queenstown.


7 Searle Ln, Queenstown 9300

We are big country music lovers so a stop off here had to happen! Its a great themed bar and even better, they sell a 1 liter stein of lager for just 10NZD

Price Guide: £


42 Shotover St, Queenstown 9300

Yes this is on every list of eateries in Queenstown but rightfully so. It’s surprisingly reasonably priced considering just how good these burgers are – prepare yourself for the queue!

Price Guide: ££

Red Rock

48 Camp St, Queenstown Central 9300

This is included for the heavily advertised 10NZD breakfast which is a real bargain. It’s a little greasy, very carby but perfect for a budget hangover cure

Price Guide: £

Pub on Wharf

88 Beach St, Queenstown 9300

Classic pub food at reasonable prices – they do a brilliant all day brunch. Drinks are also pretty reasonable and it’s good in the evening with live music many nights.

Price Guide: ££

The World Bar

12 Church Lane, Queenstown, Queenstown Central 9300

One of our favourites, it’s well known in town for its tea pot cocktails. Spend an afternoon in the beer garden and enjoy a bargain lunch menu with discounted mains.

Price Guide: ££

Pog Mahones Irish Pub

14 Rees St, Queenstown 9300

Included for its great views of the lake, this is the perfect place to watch the world go by. Drinks and bar snacks at good prices and often buskers to entertain.

Price Guide: £

Whenever I get stressed I just want to hop on a plane to Queenstown. — John Travolta

Small Group NZ Tours including Queenstown

If you’re looking for a more extensive trip to New Zealand and are interested in small group tours, we’ve had brilliant experiences with G Adventures – and they offer the awesome itineraries below.

New Zealand South Island Encompassed - 16 Days

An action packed itinerary that covers all the main stop off points in South Island, this offers 3/4 days to enjoy everything that Queenstown has on offer.

Price Guide: From 2199USD

New Zealand Encompassed - 24 Days

The ultimate express tour of the North and South Islands – 3.5 weeks gives you time to see the highlights of each. Including 3/4 days in Queenstown again.

Price Guide: From 3499USD

New Zealand - South Island Multisport - 15 Days

If you’re looking for a more active break, New Zealand is the perfect country and this is the perfect tour. Hiking, trekking, biking, kayaking and more make this one you won’t forget.

Price Guide: From 3099USD

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