There’s so much more to Queenstown than pricey adrenaline rushes. While it’s true that the popular New Zealand town can be expensive for the unprepared, there are many free attractions worth checking out.
In an outdoor-lover’s haven like Queenstown, there’s no excuse not to make the most of nature’s accessible assets. There’s so much more on offer, too – here are 11 must-dos that prove it.
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Queenstown Gardens lies at the heart of town and is the perfect getaway for those needing a breather from all the action. Besides being completely free to access, the gardens are a good place to relax or go for a stroll. You can even play a quick round of disc golf if you’re up for it.
View Queenstown from way up high
Queenstown’s mountainous landscapes offer some of the finest panoramas you will ever see. The best way to get a piece of this picturesque beauty is to hike up the various summits within reach of the city. Bob’s Peak is where you’ll get the best views of town. While many opt to ascend it via the Skyline Gondola, a walk up the Tiki Trail is all it takes to view it for free. Queenstown Hill is another hiking favourite that offers optimal vantage points of Queenstown.
Ben Lomond is a mountain near Queenstown that’s loved for its scenic hikes. The route you take depends entirely on your disposition: the Ben Lomond Saddle loop takes approximately 3-4 hours to complete, while the more challenging Ben Lomond Summit trek is a full day’s journey. A good level of fitness is required for the summit hike, but the climb will reward you with magnificent views of Mounts Earnslaw and Aspiring.
If you love cycling, a ride along the Queenstown Trail is an absolute must. This vast track covers 120 kilometres (74.5 miles), traversing Arrowtown, Queenstown and Gibbston to unveil the region’s most incredible natural features. There are rides for all levels: beginner routes cross leisurely points like Lake Wakatipu and the Arrow River, while more challenging journeys comprise everything from river crossings to rustic countryside terrains.
Unwind by Queenstown’s idyllic lakes
Besides being a haven for all kinds of water sports, Queenstown’s picturesque lakes are ideal for a low-cost outing. Within a 15-minute drive from downtown you’ve got the stunning Lake Hayes, which is a popular spot for walking, cycling and picnicking. For an alternative closer to town, there’s always Lake Wakatipu. New Zealand’s longest lake can be accessed in various places and is the perfect location for a scenic end-of-day stroll.
On a sunny day, Queenstown Bay Beach is everything a budget-conscious traveller could ask for. Along with being an awesome place to freely unwind by the sea, the beach is surrounded by photogenic treasures. Look across the shores to marvel at the majestic Cecil and Walter Peaks; spend a little longer exploring your horizons and you’ll have the perfect vantage point to admire the sunset.
Head on a road trip
Queenstown is the gateway for some of the South Island’s most scenic drives. If you’re travelling around autumn, you’ll want to stopover in Arrowtown, a former mining settlement which is as loved for its seasonal hues as it is for its interesting historical relics. Glenorchy is as much of a treat for hikers and nature lovers as it is for Lord of the Rings fans – the Isengard Lookout being one of the key points of interest en route. Other popular road trip locations to consider include Gibbston Valley (where many of the region’s best vineyards are located) and Queenstown’s other adventurous sibling, Wanaka.
Embrace the region’s heritage
Some of the Otago region’s most extraordinary heritage landmarks can be found in and around Queenstown. You’ve got Queenstown’s iconic TSS Earnslaw ship, which was built in 1912 and is currently the only operating vessel of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere; the Kawarau Bridge, which played an important role in the Central Otago’s gold rush operations before becoming the birthplace of commercial bungee jumping; and Arrowtown with the remnants of its Chinese gold mining days.
Be a spectator for a day
Adventure experiences don’t come cheap, but at the same time, you don’t have to be part of the adrenaline rush in order to enjoy them. Whether you’re on the fence about Queenstown’s famous thrills or you’ve already given them a go, seeing the action as an outsider is sure to be an insightful feat. Head over to the Kawarau River and Bridge to watch the various bungee and rafting operations, or venture to Shotover River to sight some of its iconic jet boats.
Browse the markets and malls
This one’s only free if you’re able to resist temptation. But if you’ve got time to kill, some window-shopping around Queenstown Mall won’t go amiss – it might even help you get ideas for souvenirs to take home. Depending on when you’re visiting, there’s going to be a selection of craft and farmers’ markets to look through – these are mostly seasonal, but come with various visual treats like busking performances, as well as its locally produced foodstuffs and artisan goodies.
Visitors from the world over head to The Remarkable Sweet Shop to sample its famous fudge. The best thing is, all its shops (there are three different locations) offer free fudge tastings every day of the week. There are more than 30 flavours to choose from and the treats and made daily in the sweet shop’s Arrowtown kitchen. If you happen to have some loose change lying around, fudge prices are usually NZ$6.50 – or cheaper if you catch the sweets on special promos.
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