Travel

7 Epic Winter Experiences You Can Only Have in Queenstown

Snow-capped mountains, gold rush villages, and deep soaks in hot pools await.

things to do queenstown
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Few places in the world can compare to Queenstown. It has one of the most scenic airports in the world, which is fitting for the picturesque city of Queenstown. From the plane ride in, you’re staring down two colossal snow-capped mountains on either side and once you step onto the tarmac, you’re reminded of the impressive scenery around you.

Surrounded by ancient mountains and nestled on the shores of Lake Whakatipu, Queenstown is nirvana for the adrenaline seekers. Still, this Apres-ski destination is more than just an adventure capital. Beneath the mountains are charming gold mining towns with rich history and boutique shops, vines producing pinot noirs in the hills, and down alleyways are bars and restaurants serving everything from Mexican to Polynesian cuisine.

Plus, with this being Queenstown, the day trip options will have your jaw on the floor, staring down the intimidating peaks of Milford Sound and racing down fresh powder at Mt Cook.

Whether you’re after a heart-pumping experience, a laid-back wine and dine venture, or simply want to find the prettiest places in New Zealand, here are all the tastes, tempos, and temperatures to inspire you to go further than you’ve gone before.

MORE: The Coolest Dome Airbnbs in New Zealand

things to do queenstown taco medic

Eat your way around the world

Despite its small-town nature, Queenstown offers diverse choices when it comes to dining. Walk down one street and find Blu Kanu, a vibrant collision of Asian and Pacific flavours. Across the road, hidden in an alley, is Taco Medic, hand pressing corn tortillas right in front of you and filling them with everything from fish to chilli prawns and chicken. For great Japanese, slink over to Kappa, the unassuming, simple Japanese restaurant hidden up a narrow stairwell. The sashimi platter is a favourite, and their agedashi tofu warms the soul.

Arguably the best restaurant in Queenstown is Botswana Butchery, an iconic restaurant that has spread to locations around the world, including Australia. Book a table here if you’re looking for a quintessential Queenstown experience. Another quintessential and more casual foodie bucket list ticket is Fergburger. It’s very much a tourist destination, but it’s worth the wait in line. Try the classic Fergburger or be adventurous and wrap your hands around their more creative burger options. Next door is Ferg’s Bar, Mrs Ferg for gelato, and Fergbaker. Yes, Ferg is trying to take over Queenstown, but we don’t mind because everything they serve is good, including gelato on a below-zero day.

things to do queenstown nomad safaris
Photo supplied by Emily Parker

Go on safari

There might not be lions or elephants on this safari, but there are scenic drives and Lord of The Rings filming locations. Nomad Safaris is a great tour company offering everything from 4WD and ATV experiences with commentary from knowledgeable and comedic guides. Traverse through rivers and stop to pan for gold, and venture up mountains for vista views. A particular tour highlight is Skippers Canyon Road, also known as New Zealand’s most dangerous road. Not to worry, the experts have permits and are well-versed with the landscape. In the end, when you’re standing in front of endless layers of jagged mountains blanketed in snow, you’ll be thankful you took this tour. It might be the best decision you made on the trip. With that said, Skippers Canyon Road is only open, permitting weather conditions.

If you’re looking for a quick tour around Queenstown, tailored to your interests, Queenstown Taxis offer a sightseeing tour for groups of all sizes. Guests will see spectacular views over Lake Wakatipu and across the Remarkables. Visit the original AJ Hackett Bungy bridge and a stopover in Arrowtown. You can also venture further outside Queenstown to Mt Cook, Milford Sound, and Wanaka, which have spectacular scenery from mountains to mirror-like lakes.

things to do queenstown queenstown ice bar

Do an ice luge in an ice bar

Did you know Queenstown has three ice bars? It might seem a little excessive for such a small town, but each offers something different. Queenstown Ice Bar recently opened in Feb 2022, when New Zealand’s borders were still shut. Now that they’re open, it’s the perfect place to don a winter jacket and sit on ice chairs, drinking from ice cups, surrounded by ice sculptures. Unlike other ice bars, this one opts for a lounge scene, with more seating, also set for bigger groups. Behind the bar are premium cocktails on offer, all designed to be sipped in below 10 conditions. The ice luges are also a lot of fun, especially when everyone in the bar starts cheering on the drinker. Enjoy a unique night out at Queenstown Ice Bar.

things to do queenstown
Photo: Miles Holden

Visit an old gold rush village, for shopping, scenery, and food

If you’ve never heard of Arrowtown before, then maybe you’ve heard of Arrow River‚ÄĒthe famous gold-bearing body of water known as the first site where gold was discovered in Otago. The gold rush is over, but people are still visiting the scenic town. The main street is a small narrow strip of buildings, resembling an old wild west movie set. Inside these historic buildings are modern boutique shops, restaurants, and jewellery makers.

The Chop Shop is packed with visitors and locals enjoying breakfast or lunch during daylight. It’s a small cafe, but the dishes flying out of the kitchen are city quality. Expect hearty, wholesome meals from ricotta pancakes to the classic smashed avo on toast and a Turkish eggs dish for the colder days.

At night, the streets are empty, but the restaurants and bars are full. The Fork and Tap is the local pub. They have local craft beers on tap, Otago wines, and pub favourites. Inside, it’s cosy, and the sunny garden bar is perfect for those clear afternoons. This charming, historic structure is a must on a visit to Arrowtown.

Although, if you’re looking for something more foreign, check out La Rumbla down the street. This hidden restaurant is also small, but inside is a lively, relaxed atmosphere, serving dishes from the streets and culture of Catalonia. The menu is designed to share. The ceviche is always amazing, the seafood fideos is saucy and delicious, and you can’t go past a simple serving of local fried calamari.

things to do queenstown
Photo supplied by Zelia Horrell

Mountain biking with wine

One of the best ways to get a feel for a place is to ride around town. Only this town spans over rivers, bridges, mountains, and valleys‚ÄĒbut you get the gist. Pick up an e-bike for the day from Better by Bike in Arrowtown. Unlike a regular bike ride, e-bikes give you that extra boost, which helps when riding long distances. Hop on a bike and follow the Arrow River trail. It runs alongside the glacial river, over many bridges, and through farmlands and around mountains. Every part of this ride has grand views and will have you crossing impressive structures, including an 80-metre swing bridge. Once you get to the famous Gibbston Wine Region, it’s a matter which wineries to choose.

A visit to Kinross offers a discovery of the Central Otago and Gibbston sub-regions. Kinross is a stunning vineyard with snow-capped mountains in the background and lush rolling hills of vines in the foreground. Taste wines from different winemakers’ expressions of the area to get a sense of the grapes that grow in the challenging climate. You can also have lunch at the bistro, alongside more wine.

Nearby, you can visit Peregrine, Mt Rosa, Cargo Cellar Door, and Gibbston Valley Winery.

At the end of the day, if you’re too tired to ride back, Better by Bike will pick you up and drop you back into Arrowtown.

things to do queenstown onsen hot pools
Photo supplied by Liz Marshall from Onsen

Soak in a hot pool with views

A soak in a hot pool is a great idea, whether it’s summer or winter. You’ve most likely seen the Instagram photos of people in a cedar-lined hot pool overlooking a mountain. Well, that’s Onsen Hot Pools, the best place in Queenstown to relax and be pampered. While they do offer some great spa packages, we’re here for the soak. The hot tubs come in different shapes and sizes. The outside hot pools have the best view of the Shotover River and mountain peaks. Some are inside and have views of other landscapes. Whichever you choose, it’s a relaxing experience nonetheless.

The cedar hot pools are particularly magical in the evenings when the sun is setting behind the mountains. When you step in, the water is steamy, 38.3 degrees, and the views are 180 degrees. You get a complimentary drink, a snack, towels, and a change room. Although, prying yourself away from the hot pool after the hour is up is challenging.

After a good soak, walk next door to Broken Heart Gin Garden for wholesome, German-inspired dishes such as schnitzel and a gin flight. The Bella is a crowd-favourite and highly recommended to taste on any visit.

things to do queenstown ski
Photo: Miles Holden.

Carve up a mountain

Queenstown’s most popular time of year is winter. It’s not hard to see why. The town becomes a winter wonderland blanketed in pure white, which also means the skiing and snowboarding here is legendary. There are plenty of mountains to choose from too.

Coronet Peak is a 25-minute drive from central Queenstown and offers a premier winter playground with views and different slopes from beginner to expert. They also offer lessons, which if you’re interested in snowboarding, ask for Ellie‚ÄĒshe will get you carving up snow in no time.

Further afield are the Remarkables, known for its big mountain terrain and sun-soaked chutes. If you’re looking for a thrilling ride and a bit more of an adventure, you can test your skills at one of seven parks in the mountains. With that said, they do have beginner areas and offer lessons too.

The other ski areas are Cardrona, famous for skiers and beginner skiers, and Treble Cone, which is a little further a drive but is also the South Island’s largest ski and snowboard resort. They’re home to the longest vertical, so if that’s your type of ride, check it out.

Also, here are some ski packages and deals to help you save on your next trip.
The Remarkables Ski Pass and Transport Packages
Coronet Peak Ski Pass & Transport Packages
Cardrona Ski Packages

things to do queenstown
Photo: @qtqueenstown

Where to stay in Queenstown

Queenstown is spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation. You can stay in lodges by a lake or in the mountains, self-catered holiday homes for longer stays, and of course, hotels and resorts. If you’re looking for something centrally located, the Novotel Queenstown Lakeside offers lake and mountain views and is right in the heart of town. Walk to restaurants, shops, and hiking trails nearby. You can also catch shuttles to the ski resorts and other major attractions. The QT Queenstown offers a quirky stay, as they always do. The rooms offer mountain and lake views and the restaurant is world-class. For a taste of apres-ski for the avant-garde, QT is where you want to stay.

MORE: These are New Zealand’s 10 Most Wishlisted Airbnb Stays

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Travel

Find Volcanoes, Wine Islands, and Thrills in Auckland

One minute you're on a ferry to wine island, the next you could be bungy jumping off of New Zealand's tallest tower.

things to do auckland
Photo: Natasha Bazika

The city of Auckland is a free spirit. It is easily the most geographically blessed city in New Zealand. Within an hour, you could be tasting wines on an island, chasing more than 50 volcanoes, or leaving footprints on a black sand beach. Keep in mind, that Auckland is the country’s most populous city but certainly doesn’t feel cramped.

Instead, the city is buzzing with trendy eateries, boutique shops, quiet streets, and expansive green parks. Around every corner, you’re never too far from something beautiful to see.

From world-class wines to kickass thrills, here’s where to find what you’re looking for in Auckland.

things to do auckland

Seek the thrills

If you thought Queenstown was the home of the adrenaline rush, wait until you see Auckland. In the middle of the city, you can jump off a sky tower or a bridge, zip through the jungle, and scream on a high-octane jet boat ride. The Sky Tower, which can be seen from every corner of Auckland is more than just a landmark. Take a ride to the top and sign up for a Skywalk, where you can wander around the platform, which just so happens to be 192 metres above the ground. If that doesn’t get your heart pumping, you can always jump off it. It’s New Zealand’s highest jump, and can only be described as just like being a movie stuntman, or a superhero. 

The other iconic place to jump off of is the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Unlike the Sky Jump, this one will have thrill seekers dipping their hands and head in the ocean. It’s a 40-metre Bungy, and a great experience. Although, if you’d rather still take advantage of the bridge views, book a climb, which takes you right to the top for sweeping views of the city.

Another way to take in the city is via Auckland Adventure Jet, which takes passengers for spins and tricks on the water.

Just a 35-minute boat ride from Auckland is Waiheke Island, where thrill-seekers will find Eco Zip Adventures. Across three separate lines, you will zip high above a working vineyard and lush, ancient forest canopies, soaking up incredible views back to the city and beyond.

things to do auckland
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Sip wine on Waiheke Island

Whether you want to spend a weekend or a day, Waiheke Island is a must-visit. It’s around a 35-minute ferry ride to the island from Auckland, and once there you can hop from winery to winery. The island is quite large and the terrain is rugged, so trust the experts and book a tour with Ananda Tours. The small, family-run business is owned by Jenny who has been on the island since before the vines were planted and she’s the best person to seek out when getting the Waiheke Island experience. You can book a private tour or group tour, and they can be catered to your preferences and tastes. A few standout stops include Kennedy Point, where they produce fully certified organic Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay wines. You can also state estate-grown olive oils, which the island has plenty of. Enjoy a tasting on the deck with views of Kennedy Bay, or enjoy a picnic under the olive grove.

For the best views on the island, head to Batch Vineyard. As the highest vineyard on Waiheke, you will be treated to panoramic views of the rolling hills, blue waters, and even Auckland city. Their sparkling wine, Blanc de Blancs is a must-try.

When it comes to lunch, there are two spots to choose from. The first is Stonyridge, which is also where you can taste premium award-winning wines, including a Cabernet blend Larose‚ÄĒNew Zealand’s cult wine. The second is Mudbrick, a romantic spot, set amongst beautiful gardens with even more spectacular views, and a bar and bistro serving up some of the best dishes on the island.

things to do auckland
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Eat your way through the city

Auckland’s dining scene isn’t pretentious, but the food quality is good enough to rival the best restaurants in New York‚ÄĒbut the city doesn’t like to brag. Instead, it celebrates good food in every setting, from waterside restaurants to trendy Mexican eateries in a shopping centre.

Inca, is helmed by critically acclaimed chef, Nic Watt. Inspired by Watt’s travels to Peru, diners can expect to find Nikkei cuisine, including spicy chicken karaage, hand-pressed corn tacos filled with pork cheek and spicy tuna. You wouldn’t expect to find such a good restaurant in a shopping centre, but there it is.

Another great trendy restaurant is Hello Beasty, which is home to the famous, prawn and crab toast. This work of art starts with a slice of crispy deep-fried bread, smothered with prawn and crab mousse. On top, there are slices of wagyu, drizzled with a sweet and sour sauce. Although, there are plenty of other great dishes on the menu, including a Sichuan tuna tartare, Korean fried cauliflower, and potstickers swimming in chilli oil. Try the yuzu mandarin soda if you’re looking for something fizzy to go with dinner or lunch.

Deli De Bossi is a recent opening and already becoming a favourite breakfast spot. Apart from coffee, you can get all kinds of toasted sandwiches, filled with everything from mushrooms to hams and salamis.

Another iconic eat-hit list is Parade in Ponsonby. Here, the burgers are served in a pretzel bun and filled with chicken or beef.

Most of these restaurants are casual, but if you’re looking for something a little fancy, book a table at Kingi. Taking cues from Sydney’s own Josh Niland, the dishes at Kingi focus on sustainable seafood, caught locally by local fishermen. The blue cod wings are a must. They’re covered in burnt lime and served with a ranch sauce for dipping. The stracciatella with feijoa is also a standout dish, that’s light and a great start to a meal. Inside, the dining room is cosy with bench seats, fire heaters, and exploded brick walls.

After dinner, walk down the street and grab dessert from Miann. The flavour of the day is always chocolate, and they serve up seriously good desserts. Try the tasting platter for a piece of each pastry on the menu of the day, or pick one that is most desirable to you. Although, the tasting platter is only $23 and you’d be missing out on tasting a little of everything they offer if you didn’t get it.

things to do auckland
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Discover art, culture, and movie magic

One of the best ways to learn about a city or country is by visiting its top museums and galleries. The Auckland War Memorial Museum sits atop a hill in Auckland’s Domain, which also happens to be the city’s oldest volcano. This museum is one of the most important as it tells the story of New Zealand’s natural and military history. Take a self-guided walking tour to explore at your own pace. There are plenty of interactive features for the kids and adults. The museum also hosts exhibitions. An ancient Greek exhibition is currently on display and is one of the largest exhibitions the British Museum has ever loaned to Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Art lovers, spend a few hours wandering around the Auckland Art Gallery, Toi O TńĀmaki. You will find artworks from around the world, including a Picasso or two. Although, the exhibitions are a real treat. Yona Lee’s, An Arrangement of Five Rooms is an incredible installation, spanning multiple rooms, which you can sit on and touch‚ÄĒto immerse yourself in the artwork. Declaration: A Pacific Feminist Agenda, is another must-see exhibition exploring the most pressing issues of our times: climate change and resilience, tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty), activism and social justice.

While art and history museums are insightful and a great way to educate a visitor, there are some other museum types that can be a lot of fun and interactive. Weta Workshop Unleashed is a new Auckland attraction and an incredible experience you don’t want to miss. Step into the world of filmmaking, explore how horror, sci-fi, and fantasy films are made and at times feel as if you’re in a movie. Comedic tour guides will introduce you to movies that are in production and explain every aspect, from prop making to effects, and more. There are even mysteries to be solved, making it fun for the whole family. It’s truly an unmissable experience in Auckland, and one of the best, unique tours you might ever experience.

things to do auckland
Photo: @sidwithlens

Walk on a volcano

Erupting over 100,000 years ago, Pukekawa is one of Auckland’s oldest and most popular volcanoes. Today, the Domain parkland is the remains of the explosion crater and most of the surrounding tuff ring of Pukekawa. Most days you will see people running around the park, families picnicking on the weekend, and tourists snapping photos by the pond or under a magnificent tree, grown from an experiment conducted by the Auckland Acclimatisation Society. Enter from one end, enjoy a picturesque walk, and exit through the historic Parnell shopping and restaurant area. On a sunny day, the atmosphere is charged with romance, but even in the rain, it’s a moody, beautiful sight to see. The Auckland War Memorial Museum’s large neo-Greek architecture is also a standout, commanding top-of-the-mountain views.

where to stay in auckland

Where to stay in Auckland

If you’re looking to sleep on top of the world, you can’t beat a room in Cordis Auckland’s new Pinnacle Tower. From the pillowy-cloud-like beds, guests have sweeping views of the city from the Sky Tower to Rangitoto and Mount Eden. Enjoy a breakfast buffet in the Eight restaurant downstairs, and canapes and drinks in the Cordis Club lounge on the 14th floor. There’s also a health club, spa, and swimming pool. The hotel is within walking distance to some of the best eateries in Auckland, making it a prime option.

Although, if you’re looking to stay in the heart of Britomart, Auckland’s hub of shopping, eating, and drinking, then The Hotel Britomart is where you want to be. From its exterior of hand-made bricks to its beautifully timber-lined rooms, The Hotel Britomart does detail like nobody else. Plus, the best of downtown waterfront Auckland is just outside your front door. With 5 Green Star Design and Build ratings from the NZ Green Building Council, The Hotel Britomart is the country‚Äôs ONLY 5 Green Star hotel, and has sustainability built in from the ground up.¬†

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