4 Great Winter Day Trips From Queenstown
Make the most of your winter stay in Queenstown with one of these great day-trips
With so many activities to do in Queenstown, many visitors miss out on what’s going on outside Queenstown! Embrace the towering peaks and mountain roads and spectacular lake scenery this winter and go exploring just a little further afield.
Getting out of Queenstown for a day trip is not that difficult. Within a few hours, you could be at the beach, in a vineyard or exploring historic gold mining ruins.
If you love nothing more than hitting the road with some good music and good company, then this one’s for you. Here are 4 of our favourite day trips from Queenstown. Pack your lunchbox, it’s time to take a road trip.
Queenstown to Glenorchy
One of our most favourite day trips! The 45-minute drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy is an absolute must-do. Glenorchy is a picturesque little town at the head of Lake Wakatipu, and the journey there is equally as impressive.
With stunning lake and mountain scenery, gentle bends, plenty of photo stops and a feeling of venturing into the wild, it’s no wonder that the journey from Queenstown to Glenorchy is often featured amongst the world’s most scenic drives.
Arriving in Glenorchy, you will feel a million miles from the bustle of Queenstown. Enjoy the cafés, walks, activities like jet boating or horse trekking, or just find a quiet spot to sit and soak it all in. Glenorchy is pretty much the end of the road before the majestic Mt Aspiring National Park takes over.
Tip: Pull over at Bennett’s Bluff, about half way to Glenorchy. Easily one of the most photographed views in New Zealand, the view from Bennett’s Bluff takes in Lake Wakatipu and views all the way west to Glenorchy and beyond. The vision encapsulates all that is raw, stunning and utterly beautiful about the Southern Alps.
Queenstown to Milford Sound
Yes, you will see brochures for Milford Sound at every tourist stop and information centre there is! But it’s hard to deny that Milford Sound is well worth the visit, truly spectacular and equalled only by the journey there.
The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound will take around 4 – 4.5 hours. If it’s too much to do in one day, you can break the journey with an overnight stay in Te Anau, or choose to do one of the tour options by bus or plane.
But if you’re up for a good old fashioned road trip, then you’re in for some of the most amazing (and challenging) driving there is to find in New Zealand. The road to Milford Sound is a feast for the senses, and it begins as soon as you leave Queenstown with the devilish section of State Highway 6 known as the Devil’s Staircase. The journey eases off as you venture through farmland areas before arriving in Te Anau. From Te Anau to Milford Sound, the driving gets interesting again, but also breathtaking. Take your time as you wind your way towards the water.
Once you arrive at Milford Sound, you will be instantly rewarded for your efforts. Take a scenic boat cruise and explore the 16-kilometre stretch of water from the Milford Sound marina to the open sea for views of Mitre Peak, waterfalls and if you’re lucky dolphins, New Zealand Fur Seals and penguins.
Tip: Keep your wits about you as you pass through the Homer Tunnel. This 1.2km tunnel is carved through solid rock. There is just enough room for a bus and a car to squeeze past each other.
Queenstown to Kawarau Gorge
A shorter drive, but no less impressive is the journey from Queenstown to Cromwell via the Kawarau Gorge.
The Kawarau Gorge showcases the dynamic landscapes of the region. The 50-minute drive takes you through wine country, dramatic gorges and gold mining heritage before finishing up in Cromwell for the Highlands Motorsport Park.
Scattered along State Highway 6 at Gibbston Valley you will find an impressive selection of wineries, restaurants and cellar doors. The road soon begins to wind its way into the gorge with views down to the mighty Kawarau River. The Kawarau River is Lake Wakatipu’s only outlet, it is a powerful body of water that has carved the steep, jagged walls of the gorge.
Tip: Keep your eyes out for gold. You are entering an area that 100 years ago was bustling with gold miners seeking their fortune. As you approach the Goldfields Mining Centre, you may start to spot the remnants of gold miners’ houses, small lean-tos and caves amongst the rocky canyon walls.
Queenstown to Catlins
The south coast of the South Island is an area that is often overlooked by Queenstown holidaymakers. But if you’re looking for a taste of the real New Zealand at a slower pace, you’ll love the south coast experience.
The rugged southern coastline is famous for an abundance of marine wildlife. It is a wild and beautiful journey that will take you through rural heartland, rugged coastline and native forest.
The journey begins south of Queenstown and the thrilling Devil’s Staircase. From here you pass through farmland as you head towards the coast. Two hours south of Queenstown are the small seaside towns of Riverton and Colac Bay. Explore these small, sleepy towns, or continue to Catlins and Curio Bay. The journey to the Catlins Coast will take around 3 and a half hours, along the Southern Scenic Route.
The Southern Scenic Route meanders its way from Queenstown to Dunedin, via Te Anau and the south coast. You can choose to bypass Te Anau and head directly to the Catlins to explore the wild (and chilly) beaches.
Tip: You may be lucky enough to spot some of the marine wildlife that feeds on the nutrient-rich waters of the Foveaux Strait. You may be lucky enough to spot fur seals, New Zealand sea lions, passing whales and the precious Hector’s dolphin or the area’s most famous resident, the rare yellow-eyed penguin (hoiho). There’s also a good chance you may spot Little Blue Penguins, fairy penguins, albatrosses, gannets and petrels.