Short day trips from Queenstown

Short day trips you can take to places located within two hours from Queenstown on the South Island of New Zealand and things to do there.

Apart from going on scenic drives around Queenstown, you can take a short trip to a city or town close to Queenstown and do some activities there instead of just sitting in a car and driving around.

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Below you will find a couple of suggestions for where you could go and what you could do.

At the end of the article, you will find a list box from which you can select a day trip and display it on a map.

The following day trips are listed in this article:

Day trip to Arrowtown

Arrowtown is the closest town – a 20-minute drive – you can visit from Queenstown. It is known for its autumn festival and fall foliage on the hillsides in autumn.

The Lakes District Museum is located in Arrowtown. If you are into history, culture, and art, you can visit this small museum. Entry to the museum is not free of charge.

Arrowtown also offers opportunities to walk, play golf, eat and drink, and shop. However, most people visit Arrowtown only to see fall foliage in autumn. You can drive through the town, stop to stretch your legs, and wander around looking at historic buildings and houses.

Then drive on to Lake Hayes and stop briefly at the lake. You can walk around the lake if you wish. The Lake Hayes Walkway is an easy loop walk of about 2 – 3 hours around Lake Hayes, which offers views of mountains in the vicinity.

Lake Wakatipu and Cecil Peak in Queenstown on the South Island of New Zealand

Lake Wakatipu and Cecil Peak in Queenstown

When you are done at Lake Hayes, drive back to Queenstown, but instead of heading back to the city center, drive to the golf course on the Kelvin Heights Peninsula. You do not have to play golf there if you do not want to. You can also go for a walk. There is a trail – the Kelvin Peninsula Track – that goes around the golf course.

You can park somewhere near the golf course and then follow the trail in a clockwise direction around the golf course. This walk offers views of Lake Wakatipu toward Cecil Peak and Walter Peak. You do not have to do the entire walk, but rather walk just far enough to get to a section with pine trees; they smell nice in summer.

Once you are done on the peninsula, you can drive back to Queenstown and visit the Queenstown Gardens and go for another relaxing walk there too.

See the driving route for the Arrowtown day trip on the map.

Day trip to Glenorchy

A day trip to Glenorchy is a must-do if you are staying in Queenstown. Glenorchy it is a short drive of about 30 – 45 minutes from Queenstown and offers gorgeous scenery.

You will start to already enjoy the views as you are driving on Glenorchy – Queenstown Road from Queenstown toward Glenorchy. And on the way back, you will get a different view of the landscape.

When you reach Glenorchy, you can stop briefly to stretch your legs on the Glenorchy Lagoon Walkway, which is a short and easy walk around a wetland that offers good views toward Mount Alfred from the lagoon.

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Once you are done with the walk, you can drive on to the Dart River Bridge, which is a one-lane bridge, to get views over the Dart River and toward Paradise and Lord of the Rings scenery from the Isengard Lookout.

There are several walks you can do in the Glenorchy area, but if you want impressive views, walking will involve climbing up a mountain and such walks will highly likely take longer and one hour return.

The best season for a day trip to Glenorchy would be winter. The mountains look nice with snow and the light is just perfect for photography. It can be difficult to get to Glenorchy in winter if the road is hazardous or snowed in.

If you cannot make it in winter, you can also try autumn. You should be able to see some fall foliage in the area.

See the driving route for the Glenorchy day trip on the map.

Day trip to Wanaka

A nice day trip from Queenstown would be one to Wanaka, which lies about an hour’s drive away from Queenstown. Wanaka is like Queenstown with its mountains around a lake, but it differs because it has a different character and feel to it. It is also a better place to visit in autumn than Queenstown is.

There are two main routes from Queenstown to Wanaka: one through the Cardrona Valley and another one via State Highway 6 to Cromwell and then on to Wanaka. You may want to follow Crown Range Road and Cardrona Valley Road to Wanaka because you will then be able to get good scenic views from the lookout at the highest point of Crown Range Road.

When you reach a large pullout – the Crown Saddle parking lot – at the top of Crown Range Road, there is a trail called the Rock Peak Track that you can walk on to reach the transmitter station at Rock Peak (1485 m / 4872 ft).

Lake Wanaka from Mt. Roy on the South Island

Lake Wanaka from Mt. Roy on the South Island

Cardrona Valley Road is not very scenic in that it is quite straight, long, and boring to drive on. However, about 17 km (11 mi) after passing the Crown Saddle, you should see a sign for the Cardrona Alpine Resort.

You can drive up this gravel road – if it is open – to get some scenic views of mountains and the valley.

Drive on to Wanaka and then stop at Lake Wanaka to snap a couple of photos of the iconic lonely tree standing in the water at Roys Bay. Other than taking lots of pictures, you can do several activities in Wanaka such as walking, jet boating, skydiving, horseback riding, or visiting a place like Puzzling World.

If I had to choose to do only one activity in Wanaka to see the gradeur of the place, I would hike up Mount Roy. Mount Roy offers gorgeous views of Mount Aspiring, the Matukituki Valley, and Lake Wanaka. But the walk up Mount Roy is hard and you need to be quite fit, so another option would be to do the Diamond Lake walk or the Mount Iron walk.

You could also just stay in your car and drive down the Matukituki Valley along the Matukituki River. Note that the river banks are a haven for sandflies in summer – and also in autumn – so carry protection or stay in your car because they bite hard and leave bumps on your skin.

If you are in the mood to see a glacier, you could continue driving down the Matukituki Valley to the Raspberry Creek parking lot and then do the Rob Roy Track to see the Rob Roy Glacier. Note that the road down the Matukituki Valley is a gravel road and that you may have to ford small streams occasionally, so a 4WD car would come in handy if you want to go down there.

You would have to drive about 51 km (32 mi) or 1 hour and 10 minutes from Wanaka town center to get to the Raspberry Creek parking lot and then walk 15 minutes to the start of the walk at a swing bridge.

Blue Pools on the South Island of New Zealand

Blue Pools on the South Island of New Zealand

The walk itself is about 3 – 4 hours return according to the Department of Conservation, so you will have to be very selective about the things you choose to do in Wanaka if you want to fit a lot within one day.

See the driving route for the Wanaka day trip on the map.

Day trip to Makarora Valley

A day trip down the Makarora Valley would require a bit more time from Queenstown than to Wanaka – about half an hour to an hour more – but there are a couple of places in the Makarora Valley that are worth visiting.

The first one I can think of the Blue Pools. It takes about 2 hours (137 km / 85 mi) to get to Blue Pools from Queenstown but the location is worth paying a visit. There is a swing bridge and the color of the pools is something special. Just be prepared to be bothered by sandflies.

You could drive further and make a brief stop at the Gates of Haast – 156 km (97 mi) or 2 hours and 10 minutes from Queenstown – to cross a one-lane bridge and see the force of the water of the Haast River before paying a short visit to Thunder Creek Falls, which is about 1 km (0.6 mi) from the Gates of Haast.

See the route for the Makarora Valley day trip on the map.

Day trip to Central Otago

You could spend an entire day in Central Otago driving around and looking at the mostly empty landscape. I love this place! It is so barren yet so beautiful.

Follow State Highway 6 from Queenstown to Cromwell.

St. Bathans Blue Lake on the South Island of New Zealand

St. Bathans Blue Lake on the South Island

You can stop at Roaring Meg on your way to Cromwell if you wish. Once you pass Cromwell, go right on State Highway 8 toward Alexandra.

Before you reach the highest point of State Highway 8 when driving toward Clyde and Alexandra, you should see a turnoff on your right, which you can follow to reach the Clyde Dam Lookout.

After you get back onto State Highway 8 from Clyde Dam, take the shortcut that follows Springvale Road to State Highway 85 in Central Otago and then go left on State Highway 85 and follow signs for St. Bathans & Blue Lake. You will drive through several small towns before you see any signs for St. Bathans.

If you continue following Loop Road after you leave St. Bathans, you should see Fiddlers Flat Road on your left about 3 km (1.9 mi) before you reach State Highway 85 again.

Fiddlers Flat Road runs along the Manuherikia River for about 5.5 km (3.4) before you reach Falls Dam, which is a large body of water that drains into a concrete structure.

Part of Hawkdun Range can be seen from the end of Fiddlers Flat Road. This is a very picturesque place to visit in winter. A 4WD car is useful to have to drive down Fiddlers Flat Road toward Falls Dam, although you could use a 2WD car and then walk part of the way when the gravel becomes too rough to drive on.

Glenorchy Lagoon in winter on the South Island of New Zealand

Glenorchy Lagoon in winter on the South Island

When you get back onto State Highway 85 when coming from either St. Bathans or Falls Dam, go left and drive until you reach the junction of State Highway 85 and Ida Valley – Omakau Road, which will be your cue to turn back, since the views do not get any better after this point.

On this last part of the scenic drive, you will be able to see Hawkdun Range on your left along the entire way.

» See the Central Otago day trip on the map

Driving routes for the day trips from Queenstown on a map

Below you will find a map displaying all of the short day trips that were mentioned in this article.

Note that driving distances and times are automatically calculated by Google and are one-way distances and times. Ensure you add enough time to return to Queenstown.

 

Day trips:



Total Distance:


Total Time:

 

Map 1. The driving route for a short day trip from Queenstown.

 

Note: Places can change and/or become inaccessible. The information presented here was accurate when it was gathered.

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