There’s no avoiding it, travel can be quite expensive in its own right, and Queenstown is no exception in this regard; once you factor in the price of accommodation, transport, food and various other expenses you might not have as much money left over for adventure as you initially thought!
To help maximise your time in the beautiful Queenstown region while minimising your budget, here is a range of great activities that will provide entertainment without breaking the bank. Here’s our list of the top free and cheap things to do in Queenstown and the surrounding Otago region.
10. Browse Queenstown Mall
Location: Mall Street, Queenstown
While it’s only truly free if you can avoid temptation, if you’ve had enough of sightseeing and exploring, make your way to Queenstown Mall for a day of browsing, relaxing – and perhaps a little bit of shopping. With a great variety of clothing, shoe and accessory shops as well as a tasty selection of cafés and restaurants, you’ll be spoilt for choice when you visit this mall.
One could easily spend the entire day browsing through the various shops on offer, or merely people-watching from one of the many quality eateries that dot the area.
The mall is usually quite busy with tourists flocking to have a wander or top up their wardrobes (and stomachs) in preparation for a day of upcoming adventure.
Most of the mall’s stores are open late into the evening, too, meaning no matter what time you feel like having a browse they’ll be open to accommodate.
9. Spend the day at a Queenstown beach
Location: Frankton Arm, Lake Wakatipu
While it’s more renowned as a winter destination and for engaging in snow sports, Queenstown is also a viable travel spot during the summer months as well. If you’re visiting during the warm season, some simple pleasure can be had by enjoying the sun and sand on a Queenstown beach around Lake Wakatipu alongside other locals and visitors looking to soak in some rays.
For those looking to get more active, there is also a range of things to do at the beach including paddle boats, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, swimming in addition to just simply relaxing.
It’s always a lively scene around the waterfront during this period with plenty going on; there are often people out practising tightrope walking or playing games, while others pack a picnic and beach games to enjoy while they’re there.
It’s a great – and free – way to capitalise on warmer months of the year as the water is at an enjoyable temperature and many warmly welcome the sun to help thaw out.
8. Visit Glenorchy & Arrowtown
Location: Central Otago, NZ
Pack up your car and go on a road-bound adventure to the picturesque Glenorchy, reachable via a short 45-minute drive from Queenstown. The perfect setting for lovers of the outdoors, the region is filled with so much inherent natural beauty that even if you don’t organise any activities, you’ll enjoy simply sitting outside and admiring the view.
Movie buffs might recognise some of the landscapes here from the Lord of the Rings movies, with multiple scenes taking advantage of its natural surrounds to full effect.
Glenorchy lies on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, so pack a picnic and set yourself up for the day. The Glenorchy landscapes truly look like something direct from a postcard; it is quite a surreal location when seen in person.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to travel that far, Arrowtown is another charming nearby township, taking only around 25 minutes to reach by car. With the tagline, “Where history meets nature”, Arrowtown makes for a quirky stopover with a range of things to see and do.
The Arrow River is a must-see when in the region, and the village itself is a still standing gold-rush village. If you simply can’t choose between the two different towns, there’s nothing stopping you from combining them together and make a day of it!
7. Watch people bungy off Kawarau Bridge
Location: Gibbston, NZ
If you’re not brave enough (understandable), or not willing to pay to take the leap, you can watch on as people line up to jump from the specially constructed viewing platform at Queenstown’s famed bungy spot.
Queenstown is the “World Home of Bungy” and the “Adventure Capital of the World”, so it’s only fitting that bungy jumping should make an appearance on your trip in some form. The bridge is located just 20-minutes from the centre of Queenstown and offers beautiful views mixed with adventure, thrills, and screams.
It doesn’t matter if you’re not taking part in the actual jump – the excitement of watching other hapless people nervously take the leap off the 43-metre platform is entertaining in its own right.
While at the viewing site at Kawarau Bridge, you can learn about the history of The Bungy Tour, enjoy a bite to eat or drink from the on-site café – all while relaxing to the pleasant echo of fearful screams in the distance.
6. Go for a hike
Location: Various locations
Queenstown has a renowned reputation as a paradise for walking and hiking enthusiasts, as the region offers a number of short, day-long and multi-day walking trails that can easily be reached from the town.
Adventure-seekers also have the option of either embarking on a hike on their own or with a guided tour alongside a guide that knows the area incredibly well for some additional help and geographical context. As a result, all you’ll need to enjoy some of the best of what Queenstown has to offer is two legs and some sturdy shoes.
Some of the shorter and easier walks include the brief yet must-do walk up Queenstown Hill, the Arawata Bridle Track (90 minutes), Bob’s Cove Track & Nature Walk (1 – 2 hours), all of which provide some lovely scenery in return for the relatively little physical investment.
If you’re chasing a longer walking trail suited to a moderate level of fitness, instead try the Jack’s Point Track (4 hours) or the iconic Ben Lomond Track (3 – 4 hours).
For those in the advanced level of hiking and tramping, then the Devils Creek Track has a duration of up to 6 hours, is considered an advanced track and provides great views of the Wakatipu Basin throughout.
5. Picnic at Lake Hayes
Location: Wakatipu Basin, Central Otago
Ideally located just a short distance from Queenstown, Lake Hayes is a picture-perfect location that brings to mind an artist’s work come to life. Reachable via a roughly 15-minute drive from Queenstown, Lake Hayes is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike looking to escape the bustle tourist spots and relax with a breathtaking view.
The lake itself is accessible for swimming in the warmer months (or cooler months if you’re brave enough), while the Lake Hayes Loop is a great, short walking trail suitable for walkers and bike riders. The trail is an 8-kilometre circuit and provides stunning views of the lake and its surrounds.
There is also a local bistro on the lake at which to enjoy some culinary delights; Amisfield Bistro, where you can sit back with a big glass of wine and enjoy a shared lunch with friends.
This restaurant ranks as a favourite amongst locals, and upon visiting it won’t be hard to understand why. If you’d prefer to save some money, instead pack a picnic and set yourself up lakeside for a romantic afternoon – the choice is yours.
4. Eat at Fergburger
Location: 42 Shotover Street, Queenstown
If you ask any New Zealand local or traveller from afar who have been to Queenstown, one of their must-try foods would most likely be a Fergburger burger – these bun-encased slices of goodness have become an icon of Queenstown itself ever since launching back in 2000. But don’t take our (or the rest of the world’s) word for it; try a juicy and ridiculously-stacked Fergburger burger and judge for yourself to see if they’re all they are cracked up to be.
With a range of different burger combinations on the menu, you can play it safe and classic with The Fergburger (Prime NZ beef, lettuce, tomato, red onion, aioli and tomato relish) or stack things up a bit with the Double Ferg with cheese.
There is a range of other burger options on the menu to suit all different tastes including chicken, deer, lamb and vegetarian, most of which have quirky and inventive names relative to their ingredients.
If you’re planning to try one of these famous burgers you could be in for a lengthy wait – it’s not uncommon to see lines wrapping around the corner and onto the street as people clamour for a taste of “The Ferg”. Take the option of ordering over the phone ahead of time to avoid waiting in the large queues, and you’ll get all the burger goodness without the extended wait.
- From $11.50
3. Cycle the Queenstown Trail
Location: Various locations
Cycling has long been a popular activity in the Queenstown region, and the gorgeous Queenstown Trail is one of the main reasons why. The trail itself winds through a mixture of unspoilt land and crosses multiple suspension bridges that pass over various rivers and lakes.
A relatively easy journey with the option of intermediate and advanced tracks, the trail offers a plethora of incredible views is another spot that shows off the New Zealand landscape that was brought to fame via the iconic Lord of the Rings films.
If you don’t have access to your own personal bike, you can hire one from one of the several local operators; alternatively, if you don’t want to fork out the cash for hire, you can simply walk the track instead.
Those looking for an easy journey should follow the Lake Wakatipu (15 km), Arrow River Bridges (16 km) and Gibbston River (8.7) rides each averaging around 2 hours to complete. Intermediate riders will enjoy the Bridge to Morven Ferry Road Via Lake Hayes Estate (26 km), Countryside Ride (11.5 km) and the Lake Hays Circuit (8 km).
If you’re looking for a greater challenge the Jack’s Point Ride (12 km) takes around 2.5 hours to complete and is considered a ride not for the fainthearted.
Location: Brecon Street, Queenstown
An exciting and thrilling adventure for all ages, the Skyline Queenstown Luge is a must for friendly competitors and those looking to try something different. Situated on the side of a hill, in a specialised Luge cart you’ll zoom down the various different tracks racing your friends and enjoying the beautiful views.
You can go as fast or as slow as you like with the handlebars of the cart controlling your brakes. Once you’ve made it to the bottom of the track you can catch the chairlift back to the top to do it all over again.
The different tracks are catered to different difficulties, the Blue Track is a simple and leisurely trail with a gentle gradient, easy bends, tunnels and dips where as the Red Track is a more difficult and thrilling ride with steeper gradients, sharper corners, tunnels and cuttings.
So why does this make a list of “cheap” things to do? Though this activity may be out of some travellers’ budgets as a standalone, given that it’s part of a popular bundle pass alongside the Queenstown Gondola which nearly every visitor to Queenstown will do, it’s an extra that comes as part and parcel of most visitor’s itineraries anyway.
This all-inclusive ticket gives you access to five Luge rides as well as a ride on the scenic Gondola overlooking the beautiful Queenstown region.
- Adult $55
- Child $45
1. Play Disc Golf in Queenstown Gardens
Location: Queenstown Gardens
One of the unique attractions that have taken off in Queenstown, if you either have your own Frisbee or a spare $7, then you’re in for a treat at the popular Queenstown Gardens.
A common pastime for energetic locals, Disc Golf (or Frisbee Golf, or “Frolf” if you’re lazy and big on abbreviations) follows the same social rules as normal golf, however, instead of clubs and a golf ball, your weapon of choice, in this case, is the humble frisbee.
The Queenstown Gardens course was the first permanent course established in the country, and over the years it has grown to be an 18-basket tournament course.
Regardless of if you’ve got a great arm or simply enjoy having a throw with the possibility of it landing in the ‘hole’, Queenstown Gardens serves as an idyllic venue in which to do so.
There are scorecards and maps available to purchase to help your journey along the course – and who knows, it may just strike enough of a chord to become a new personal passion.
In addition, if you’re looking for things to see and do in and around the beautiful Queenstown region, visit our full catalogue for all the top tours, attractions and more.