What are the best day trips from Queenstown? These are my top day trip recommendations, along with the best things to do at each location. There’s so much going on in Queenstown, and it’s so conveniently and centrally located to many places on the South Island of New Zealand that it’s a great home base for exploring Wanaka, Milford Sound, Te Anau, Glenorchy and more!
Queenstown, New Zealand is a beautiful and adventurous destination with a wide range of activities to do in the area. If you’re looking to explore some of the surrounding areas, here are some great day trip options:
#1 In Best Day Trips From Queenstown
A must-see destination in New Zealand, Milford Sound is located about 4 hours away from Queenstown by car. The drive is breathtaking and passes through beautiful mountain landscapes and winding roads. It’s the perfect day trip from Queenstown. Once you arrive, you can take a boat cruise through the fjord to see the stunning waterfalls and wildlife.
Milford Sound is my absolute favorite place on earth. It’s difficult to get to, which makes it incredibly untouched and natural. My first attempt to visit Milford Sound was disrupted by an avalanche threat (common for Spring in New Zealand) which closed the only road in. On my second trip I was finally able to visit Milford Sound, but strong winds prevented me from kayaking the sound (which remains one of the top items on my bucket list!). I suppose I’ll just have to return!
Queenstown to Milford Sound by car or bus is just under 4 hours, but plan for more! The road to Milford Sound is beautiful and winds through Fiordland. You’ll definitely want to pull off and take in the views. Try and get on the road early. You’ll avoid the crowds, and you’ll also have the best shot at avoiding the winds that pick up later on in the day.
Can’t miss stops along the way to Milford Sound:
- Mirror Lake – this is well marked along the road and worth seeing on your way in. The calmness of the morning makes the lake a perfect reflection of the mountain range. As winds pick up later in the day your view may not be as good on the way out.
- Cascade Creek view point – if you’re traveling during Lupine season then this is an absolutely must-see! The Lupine fields are incredible and a great photo opportunity.
- The Chasm – a very short walk from the parking lot (also well marked from the road) this is a great opportunity to stretch your legs and grab a cup of coffee from Coffee Cat, a great little coffee truck usually found in the car park.
- Milford Walk – This path starts at the parking lot for the Milford Sound visitors center and has incredible views of Mitre Peak. You’ll also find the Milford Sound swing along this path. Depending on time, this is a walk you could do after you explore Milford Sound.
Pro tip: Plan ahead! There’s very limited cell service along the drive, and after Te Anau there are no gas stations. (Te Anau is about two hours from Milford Sound)
#2 In Best Day Trips From Queenstown
Only a twenty minute drive from Queenstown, Arrowtown is a quaint day trip. There is a surprising amount of things to do in this small historic gold-mining town, ranging from restaurants, museums and shopping to hiking and golfing.
Arrowtown’s history dates back to the mid-1800s when gold was discovered in the area. The town quickly grew and became an important hub for gold mining in the region. Today, you can still see many of the town’s original buildings and artifacts from its gold-mining past.
One of the most popular things to do in Arrowtown is to visit the Arrowtown Chinese Settlement. This historic site was once home to Chinese miners who came to the area during the gold rush. Today, you can explore the restored buildings and learn about the lives of the Chinese miners who lived and worked in Arrowtown.
Other popular things to do in Arrowtown include visiting the Lakes District Museum, taking a scenic walk along the Arrow River, and exploring the town’s many shops and restaurants. The town is also surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery, making it a great place to go hiking, biking, or horseback riding.
There are several hikes, ranging in length, with great views of the Queenstown basin and Remarkables.
- Tobin Track: 30 minutes each way
- Sawpit Gully Track: 3-hour loop
Lastly, stop by Chard Farm for some Central Otago wine tasting!
#3 In Best Day Trips From Queenstown
Glenorchy is a small town located about 45 minutes’ drive from Queenstown, New Zealand. It’s situated at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu and is surrounded by stunning mountain scenery, making it a popular day trip destination for visitors to Queenstown.
Start your day in Glenorchy with a meal at Glenorchy Café & Bar – The GYC. They serve all day breakfast and it’s incredible.
Next, take your pick of a few scenic walks. There are a few scenes in Lord of the Rings that were filmed in Glenorchy, so that should give you some idea of how gorgeous it is!
- Glenorchy Lagoon Scenic Walkway – 1.5 hour loop
- Glenorchy Waterfront Reserve – public park
Glenorchy is also a great place to go horseback riding. There are several companies in the area that offer horseback riding tours through the stunning mountain landscapes.
On your drive back to Queenstown there are two must-see stops:
Mrs Woolly’s General Store – order a famous gelato and hot pie.
Bobs Cove Recreation Preserve – Take Bridle Track return loop (about a 2 hour hike). You’ll pass a nice beach and a super fun jetty to jump off of! The trail takes you to a scenic peak with an outstanding view.
Of all the day trips from Queenstown, Glenorchy is my favorite.
#4 In Best Day Trips From Queenstown
Wanaka is a charming town located about one hour’s drive from Queenstown. It’s known for its beautiful lake and mountain views, as well as its skiing and snowboarding in the winter months. In the summer, you can go hiking, biking, or even take a scenic flight over the area.
It goes without saying that Wanaka has a lot going on. The downtown area is lively with great restaurants and shops lining Lake Wanaka.
Additionally, Wanaka is also a great place to go hiking. There are several beautiful trails in the area, including the Rob Roy Glacier Track and the Mount Aspiring National Park. These trails offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains and are a great way to experience the natural beauty of the area.
In the winter months, Wanaka is a popular destination for skiing and snowboarding. The town is home to several world-class ski resorts, including Treble Cone and Cardrona.
Other popular activities in Wanaka include kayaking and paddleboarding on the lake, taking a scenic flight over the area, and visiting the local wineries and breweries.
Must do things in Wanaka include:
Lavendar fields – this tricky plant to grow anywhere else does exceptionally well in the New Zealand climate. Explore the lavendar fields and enjoy their beauty and fragrance!
#ThatWanakaTree – conveniently located and easy to get to, this iconic spot for photos is a fan favorite. Sadly, vandalism in early 2020 left the tree without its lower limb.
Roys Peak – another popular photo spot and scenic overlook, this is about a half day hike, rated moderate to strenuous and well worth it for the views!
There are also many great restaurants in Wanaka, and these are my top picks:
Kika – the words ‘hip’ and ‘creative’ come to mind when describing this award-winning fine dining restaurant tapas cuisine and atmosphere.
Charlie Brown Crepes – a much more budget friendly option, but the food and service are outstanding. Plus, it’s such an adorable set-up!
Ruby’s Cinema – offers a great movie and meal in a unique setting.
#5 In Best Day Trips From Queenstown
Te Anau is a small town located on the South Island of New Zealand. It’s situated on the edge of Lake Te Anau, the largest lake in the South Island, and is a popular day trip destination from Queenstown.
The best way to explore Te Anau, in my opinion, is to take an early morning trip to Milford Sound from Queenstown, and stop in Te Anau on the way back. The glow worm caves in Te Anau are some of the best in the world, and are a super unique activity and worth doing while you’re in the area.
One of the most popular activities in Te Anau is taking a boat trip on Lake Te Anau. The lake is surrounded by stunning mountain scenery, and the boat trip offers visitors the chance to take in the breathtaking views and learn about the history and ecology of the area.
#6 In Best Day Trips From Queenstown
Similar to Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound is another stunning fjord located about 4 hours away from Queenstown in the Fiordland National Park. You can take a boat cruise through the sound to see the amazing scenery and wildlife. The cruise will take you through the narrow waterways of the fiord, past stunning waterfalls, and through the pristine wilderness of the Fiordland National Park.
One of the highlights of visiting Doubtful Sound is the opportunity to see wildlife in their natural habitat. You might spot dolphins, seals, penguins, and even whales as you cruise through the fiord.
For those who want to explore the area on foot, there are several hiking trails in the area, including the Kepler Track and the Milford Track. These trails offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains and are a great way to experience the natural beauty of the area.
#7 In Best Day Trips From Queenstown
Mount Cook National Park
Mount Cook National Park is about a 3-hour drive from Queenstown, but it’s definitely worth the day trip. It’s home to New Zealand’s highest peak, Mount Cook, which rises to a height of 3,724 meters (12,218 feet).
One of the most popular activities in Mount Cook National Park is hiking. There are several hiking trails in the area, including the Hooker Valley Track, which takes you through stunning alpine scenery and past the Hooker Glacier.
If you prefer a more leisurely experience, there are several scenic drives in the park, including the Mount Cook Road, which offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers.
Another popular activity in Mount Cook National Park is stargazing. The park is home to some of the clearest skies in the world, making it a popular destination for stargazing enthusiasts.
If you’re looking for a more adrenaline-fueled adventure, there are several opportunities for mountaineering and skiing in the area. The Tasman Glacier, which is the largest glacier in New Zealand, offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the country.