From stargazing to pampering spa days, discover a quieter side to New Zealand’s capital of fun with our guide of laidback activities in Queenstown.
You might think this pocket of New Zealand is all mountain biking, sky diving, jet boating and white-water rapids. And while it’s true that adrenaline junkies are well catered to, those wanting to keep their heart rates at a steady pace can also find plenty of things to do when they visit Queenstown. Travellers who prefer softer adventure, a splash of spa indulgence or a leisurely putt on the golf green, can read on to discover a gentler side to Queenstown that’s suited to the more leisurely holidaymakers.
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Drift away at Salt Float Spa
There’s nothing more relaxing than leaving the rest of the world behind and spending the day at a spa, indulging in pampering treatments. At Salt Float Spa, you can discover the benefits of sensory deprivation with a 90-minute session in a Dreampod flotation tank, where 450kgs of Epsom salts are added to 600 litres of body-temperature water to form a deep, buoyant solution. This buoyancy creates an experience of weightlessness, which results in deep relaxation, resetting the body’s hormonal and metabolic balance and accelerating recovery from stress, illness or injury. You’ll carry that floating feeling for the rest of the day.
Tour New Zealand’s largest wine cave
The Central Otago wine region is world-renowned for its excellent pinot noir, aromatic chardonnay and sippable sauvignon blanc. Drive just 30 minutes out of Queenstown to Gibbston Valley, where you’ll find the largest wine cave in New Zealand. Yes, wine lovers, you heard right – the largest wine cave in the country.
Take a tour of this mammoth cave and enjoy a tasting of three of the region’s finest drops. You'll also see Central Otago's first vines – originally planted by founder and wine pioneer Alan Brady in 1983. While you’re here, pop into the winery’s restaurant for a fine-dining lunch perfectly paired with homegrown wine.
Practise your swing on the golf green
Find serenity with a swing on the golf course. Queenstown is home to six pristine golf courses within a 20-minute drive of the city centre. Three of these are championship Marquee courses, renowned for their unique design. Which one will you choose? Take a deep breath, line up your shot and sink a hole-in-one while surrounded by breathtaking mountain landscapes and a sculpture park at The Hills Golf Club. Play alongside Lake Wakatipu at Jack’s Point Golf, the ultimate scenic course. Or practise your altitude golfing at 1,500 metres in the Southern Alps with Over the Top Golf.
Wildlife encounters at Kiwi Birdlife Park
A rubbish tip turned wildlife conservation park, Kiwi Birdlife Park opened in 1986 and is currently home to over 100 native birds and reptiles. Five acres of bushland have been restored and dedicated to the conservation and rehabilitation of local wildlife. Grab a ticket and visit this wildlife oasis in the heart of Queenstown.
Meet the feathered stars of the park at a conservation show, experience a kiwi encounter and take a self-guided audio tour, allowing you to roam the park at your own pace. See ferns, kārarea (New Zealand falcons), piwakawaka (fantails), riroriro (grey warblers) and, of course, the iconic cute kiwi.
Go for gold with a gold panning quest
There’s a longstanding gold mining history woven throughout Queenstown and the Central Otago region. For a glimpse into early settler life (and a chance to strike gold) visit the old farm homesteads and gold mining villages like Macetown and Arrowtown. At Arrowtown Chinese Settlement, see perfectly restored huts in this gold rush village that belonged to Chinese miners in the 1800s, before heading to Arrow River, where you might get lucky and spot gleaming golden specks embedded in the riverbed. Get out your gold pan and start sifting!
Take a scenic cruise on the Southern Lakes
What could be more tranquil than noiselessly gliding across a mirrored lake, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and thickly forested cliffs? New Zealand’s South Island is a treasure trove of jaw-dropping natural landscapes, and one of the best ways to experience them is aboard a cruise. Three hours from Queenstown is the world-renowned Milford Sound.
En route, stop by Lake Te Anau for a picnic lunch before making the journey to the famous mountain peaks, waterfalls and dramatic forested cliffs of Milford Sound. For a cruise that’s closer to home in central Queenstown, drift away on Lake Wakatipu aboard vintage steamship TSS Earnslaw. Cruise past the Remarkables mountain range and Cecil Peak to Walter Peak High Country Farm, before returning to Queenstown Bay.
Spend an evening stargazing
The pure, clean air and unpolluted skies of Queenstown make for optimum stargazing conditions. For a romantic date-night idea, rug up and ascend to Bob’s Peak aboard Queenstown’s Skyline Gondola. At the top, you’ll have access to Skyline Stargazing’s specially constructed platform, surrounded by mountain peaks. Here, the sky is unbelievable clear and punctured with a smattering of twinkling stars and constellations. Peer into top-of-the line telescopes and discover an array of stunning celestial sights, from the iconic Southern Cross, to nebula, planets, the Milky Way and other galaxies. Afterwards, head into Stratosfare Bar, where you can warm up with a mug of hot chocolate or mulled wine.
Discover bliss at the hot pools
Immerse yourself in total tranquillity during your New Zealand escape at Queenstown's Onsen Hot Pools, a boutique day spa where a range of cedar-lined hot pools overlook the Shotover River and the stunning scenery of the adjacent snow capped peaks.
Each private hot tub offers panoramic views across the spectacular scenery of the surrounding mountains, enhanced by a relaxing soak and refreshments. You might like to go all out and opt for an invigorating spa treatment. Treat yourself to a bespoke massage, hydra-lift facial or hot stone massage to reset and recharge.
Want to explore more of the South Island? Read our Weekend Guide to Christchurch