Read all about my trip to Queenstown: what I did, what I ate, and what I saw! This is the ultimate city guide filled with places to go, famous burgers to eat, and thrilling adventures.
Queenstown is a small city in the South Island of New Zealand. It is such a cute town, the entire place smells like a campfire, it makes you want to just cuddle up in your cutest winter loungewear with your love (or alone with a thick blanket). However, this thrilling city is definitely not made for lounging. The kiwis sure do know how to have fun and keep visitors on their toes.
I will say, the entire city appears to be a tourist trap! Everything was a tour with meals included and things like that, so if you’re into that type of trip, this place could not be better for you. It’s so easy to plan your entire week out with the numerous excursion companies they have. I even asked around to see if I could get a few restaurant recommendations for places outside of the city and no one seemed to be willing to spill the tea… It’s fine, there were plenty of delicious options in town.
It’s important to keep in mind when planning your trip that the seasons in New Zealand are almost opposite those of the United States and other surrounding countries. I went in September which is considered a winter month and I was very cold my entire trip. The benefit of this is skiing, which is very popular there and also the snow makes everything so beautiful. The con is that there are so many outdoor activities to do and they might not be as fun if you’re cold. I definitely want to go back because even though I was there for 6 full days, it simply was not enough time.
My adventures in Queenstown...
Hot Air Balloon
I woke up to a wakeup call from my hotel concierge at 5am letting me know the weather check was clear and my hot air balloon ride would be taking place and the company would be picking me up from the hotel lobby in exactly 1 hour. It was a bittersweet moment for me because it was 5am and I would not have minded going back to sleep and getting my $599 back, but that was just my tired self talking.
I laid my head back down for a quick sec and before I knew it, it was 5:53am. I quickly jumped out of bed, brushed my teeth, put on 2 pairs of pants, a crew neck with a sweater over it and my coat and I was out the door. As expected, a member of the Hot Air Balloon NZ team was waiting for me and lead me to a bus. I was the only one on it, which excited me because I thought I would get the balloon to myself. I ended up being wrong AF. We ended up stopping at 5 other hotels picking up 14 more people and the bus was full. it's fine.
We stopped at some public toilets since there would be none on the balloon, then we had about a 20-minute drive to an open field where we would be taking off. Other crew members weighed us and took payment and then began blowing up the balloon. This process took about 15 minutes and then when all piled into the balloon. We were packed in like sardines, and I definitely think the company could have limited it to 12 people in total on the balloon but I think it was like 15.
I couldn’t move 1 step, but it was actually not the worst because it was so cold and the body heat was great! Still… a little more space would have made the experience more enjoyable. We ended up being in the air for over an hour and saw some great views and took some nice photos. The pilot also set up a go pro to get some aerial shots of everyone. Nice idea, but who's going to buy a picture that has a whole bunch of other people in it as well? Not me
We landed in a local’s backyard, not sure why but that’s the spot he picked. She was not expecting this and neither was the pilot, but she was very kind about the situation.
The views were unbeatable and the whole concept of a basket just floating through the air is so wild. I really wasn’t afraid until I realized that we were 6,500 ft high and I decided to look down. My legs got weak quickly, but luckily, I had all the other people I was sandwiched between to lean on LOL. Also, because we landed in someone's backyard, she got some great photos of the balloon coming in which I was very grateful for. (see below).
They set up a quick table (in this lady’s backyard) and made mimosas, had fruit, coffee, and different pastries for us. Once we finished, they put us to work! Everyone helped deflate and fold up the balloon, it was bigger than I thought. Once we were done, the driver asked us where we wanted to go and said he would drop us off anywhere we wanted in the city.
Check them out here! https://www.ballooningnz.com
Next on my to do list was... float spa!
The float spa was a great experience. My hotel booked a dual package which included a 60-minute massage and a 60-minute float for around $189 NZD. The spa was not big, but just large enough in my opinion and very clean which is crucial for a spa.
I was nervous about the float pod, not because I’m claustrophobic, but because I’m still 12 years old at heart and afraid of the dark. Idk why but as soon as it gets pitch black my mind starts thinking the worst!
Anyways- I had my massage first which was amazing, then went into the float pod. The receptionist instructed me to take a shower to wash all of the massage oil off my body then get in the pod naked. Since I am a slight germ freak all I could think about was the number of naked bodies and butt cracks that had been in these 5 shallow inches of highly concentrated saltwater before me, but whatevaaa. It’s fine.
I got in, and just laid there. My mind was all over the place, I had no idea what I was supposed to do, and I was afraid to turn off the lights but I remember lady telling me that the whole point was for all of your senses to be deprived, so I pep talked myself for a sec, and turned the lights off. I just closed my eyes and hoped for the best.
First, I tried talking to God, thanking him for this trip and just being mindful. I also tried focusing on my breathing~
I opened my eyes at one point and felt like the pod was closing in all around me. I quickly just closed my eyes and tried to focus on my breathing some more. I’m not exactly sure what else took place in the pod, I feel like I blacked out, fell asleep, got real “zen”, idk but next thing I knew there was mellow music playing and it was time to exit the pod.
I “woke up” in a slight panic, I forgot where I was, and it was pitch black, so it took me a long moment to remember what was going on. But once I did, I turned on the lights and got my ass out of there.
After 2 showers my ears still feel salty and my hearing was quite the same for a few days after, maybe I needed to go a little harder with the q-tips but overall it was definitely an experience. I woke up really early that day, so fell asleep during my massage and kind of in the tank, so maybe I need to try again when I am a little less sleep deprived.
Time really flew, I ended up being at the spa for over 3 hours! Was not expecting that, I guess I was chilling too hard.
You definitely don’t have to go all the way to New Zealand to try this out. I know they have the spas all over the states and in other countries. Check out there website below and also go on Youtube to see what other people say about their experience!
Air Milford: This tour began like many other tours I had done, I was picked up in a van from my hotel lobby by a very friendly woman and taken to the Queenstown airport. Shortly after, I boarded a small prop plane for my 45-minute flight to Milford Sounds. This was without a doubt the most scenic flight I have EVER been it. I have also never been a nervous flyer in my life, but for the first time I felt nervous because of how close we got to the mountains, but it just added to the thrill of the experience. I actually enjoyed the flight more than I enjoyed the boat ride through the sounds.
Once we landed, a bus came to pick us up as soon as we exited the terminal and drove us to a cruise terminal. We boarded a boat where “lunch” was provided. It was a wack sandwich and soup with an apple and a piece of candy. The boat ride was close to 2 hours, it was really beautiful, the captain gave us lots of information throughout the ride and we got to have a drink of antient fresh water. Milford Sounds is one of those things everyone tells you to do when visiting Queenstown, so I did it. It was truly beautiful, all of it. The boat had an indoor and outdoor deck. I was constantly going back and forth because my view was impaired inside, but I was freezing outside. This was an expensive trip. Driving to the sounds is also an option, however, it is a full day commitment. Driving to the sounds, returning your vehicle, and catching a one-way return flight is something I know many people do as well. The drive is apparently very scenic, just lengthy. It’s a nooo from me dog. https://www.airmilford.co.nz
Skippers Canyon Jet Boat This was so fun! We took a 45-minute bus ride along a cliff to get to Skippers Canyon. It reminded me a lot of the Road to Hana in Maui which I love, but only when I’m driving. My life was not in the hands of an old man who kept taking vape breaks. Hasn’t he seen the news?? Smoking that is basically suicide. I told him too lol he said, “I promise its better than the number of cigs I was smoking before.” Ok then…
On the ride he pointed out a lot of notable landmarks and we stopped in two scenic spots for pictures which I took full advantage of. When we got to the canyon the boat driver was already in the boat waiting for us. He was spinning around and doing all types of wild tricks, I got excited. We were then given a vest, rain poncho, and thick gloves. I kindly declined the gloves because I wouldn’t be able to take my Snapchats with them on, obviously. They told me I would definitely want them because the ride was intense, and I would need to hold on to the bar which was extremely hot for some reason? I compromised and decided to wear one glove and hold my phone in the other.
On the ride, we stopped in an area where one of the Lord of the Rings films had been filmed many years ago. They help up a laminated photo from the movie to jog our memories. Many people were like “ohhh yeahhh." Not me! Never seen those movies but it was cool to be there. If you are a Lord of the Rings fan, this excursion is for you!
The ride was a lot of fun, we zoomed through the canyon, sped through tight corners I didn’t think we would make it through, and the boat did full 360’s. They had cameras strategically placed throughout the canyon, so they took some nice action shots of us. I am basically crying in all of them~ but having fun nonetheless! This is their website!
This is not the only jet boat company in Queenstown, there is a more popular one that is located just outside of town so you can avoid the nerve-racking, life flashing before your eye’s cliff drive if that’s not your thing. https://www.shotoverjet.com
To do or not do to...
The Luge. This is another one of those things that everyone tells you to do when visiting Queenstown. It’s extremely touristy and could skip it if you’re pressed for time, but it’s still fun! First, you ride a cable car straight up a steep mountain. The view is beautiful as you are going up and coming back down. I loved this. At the top, there is a bar, restaurant, gift shop, and lots of scenic spots to get a great view of the city from the top of the mountain.
When you’re ready to ride the luge, you walk up many flights of stairs to the starting point. The staff then gives you quick instructions on how to operate the luge, they test you quickly to make sure you understand, and you’re off! I was going pretty slow because I realized it was easy to pick up speed going down the mountain and there were many hard turns, so I just took it easy. I seemed to be taking it a bit too easy because a group of guys came up behind me and then sped past me. One friend did not make it in front of me before the path narrowed and he decided to just crash into me instead as a way of letting me know to pick up the pace. Luckily, there was another girl in front of me going even slower than I was, so it didn’t look like I was the one holding us up anymore. Lol.
Keep in mind that you have to purchase a minimum of 2 rides for some reason. It’s not a very short excursion, but doing it twice is not bad. I was just so cold and could not feel my hands so I couldn’t do it again. Gloves are a must next time!
I was looking forward to my cable car ride back down the mountain to continue watching the sunset.
Click their website for a visual! https://www.skylineluge.com/en/queenstown/
Did somebody say wine?
Twilight Wine & Craft Beer Tour: If there’s a wine tour, I’m there! I love tasting different wines! Now that I have tasted so many in different regions I love to really try to identify and learn the differences in certain wines. This was a cool tour because if you don’t love wine, you can taste different locally made beers as an alternative which is cool! On this tour we went to 3 different wineries. Each were beautiful, had great staff, and of course had delicious wines.
We were picked up from a station in a new Mercedes Bus. We watched a short film giving us a little information about the tour and some history on the wineries we will be visiting. When you first start the tour, you meet the other people you will be spending the next few hours with, but after a few sips of wine, they quickly become great pals. Lol Upon arrival at each stop, we were given a menu and asked to pick 3 to 4 wine or beer selections. Some brought them out all together and others brought them out individually. There were also food pairings with each wine or beer, they would pick a nice cured meat, fruit, or cheese that they thought would go well with your selections.
Once the tasting is complete, you are asked if you liked anything enough to purchase a full bottle or a case of beer. When the tour ended, Altitude tours gifted us each with a very nice wine glass and a wine opener that was airplane approved. I would definitely recommend this tour if you get a chance to go! There were so many different wine tour options I wish I had more time to experience another.
Below Zero Ice Bar:
This is one of 2 ice bars in Queenstown. I have heard about these all ice places before but had never been. When you arrive, you buy a ticket and you are given an entry time to limit the number of people in the bar at one time. When it’s your time, they give you an extremely heavy coat and gloves then you are permitted in. They tell you before you enter “you can stay as long as you want, but you probably won’t be able to stay long.” There is 1 staff member in the bar, and she takes all drink orders. It’s a really cool atmosphere inside with great music and lots of things to do. There are great photo spots as well and they even have a photo booth that emails photos directly to you. The drinks are served to you in disposable ice cups. If you get a non-alcoholic beverage, you should definitely drink it quickly because they freeze in the cup. In total this was about a 30-minute experience.
My excuse to go back...
Bungy Jump: If there’s a spot to jump off of, the kiwis have set up a bungee. There is bungy jumping everywhere in this city! On my hot air balloon, the pilot even asked if anyone wanted to jump out of that, I was shook. Thankfully everyone said no. There are many companies that offer this and if you’re not into it, you can also just watch. There are lots of viewing areas where you can just watch people jump off different ledges all over the city. A great idea if you’re looking for something stimulating, yet free to do!
Skiing: this is major in Queenstown. There are so many different ski excursion options, ski shops, equipment rentals, everywhere I looked!
Nevis Swing: This is very similar to bungy jumping and is apparently the most famous swing in the world. I would actually prefer to do this over a classic bungy jump because for some reason sitting seems like it would be a bit less scary to me.
This website lists every activity Queenstown has to offer!
When I first arrived in Queenstown, I asked my driver what a typical New Zealand meal consisted of and where I could have the best food. He told me anything with lamb and to go to Pedro’s House of Lamb. Unfortunately, I never got to try it but this was definitely a common recommendation.
Fergburger: You cannot go to Queenstown without having a Fergburger! It is known as one of the best burgers in the world. Fergburger is open almost 24 hours (closed from 5am to 8 am) and no matter what time of day, there will be a long line. I always wondered who was eating a giant burger at 9 am, but to each his own. I usually would find myself there around 3 am when the line would be at its peak unfortunately.
The concierge at my hotel recommended Devil Burger https://www.devilburger.com which was located just down the street and she claimed was just as good.
I tried both, I think there was no question that Fergburger was better. Fergburger also had the best grilled chicken sandwich that I am still thinking about weeks later. Also, Devil Burger did not have good French Fries at all. They did however have no line whatsoever and indoor seating which Fergburger did not have. Win some, lose some!
Patagonia Café: This place was always poppin! It’s an ice cream shop on steroids. You could choose from a number of different ice cream flavors, coffees, they made gourmet chocolates in house, and you could even customize popsicles. They had a full dessert menu that consisted of crème brulee, waffles, churros, all the goods! They have 2 locations in Queenstown, but I would suggest the one on Rees Street, its larger, has more seating, has a better menu, and has a 2nd floor with an amazing view.