Despite our best efforts, we can’t spend all our time on the New Zealand slopes. Therefore, we pulled together a vast number of other things to do in Queenstown in the winter. It’s the perfect holiday destination.
The adventure capital of New Zealand and possibly the world, Queenstown is situated alongside Lake Wakatipu in a picturesque alpine setting. The city offers it all, from relaxing to extreme adrenaline adventure.
The city is home to the world’s first commercial bungy jump, exquisite mountain scenery, crystal clear waters, winter skiing, and vibrant nightlife.
Having lived in nearby Wanaka for the better part of five full ski seasons (usually extending our stay from May to October), I have spent quite a lot of time discovering things to do in Queenstown in the winter.
New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere therefore, winter is from June to August.
The snow generally stays in the higher elevations, and it rarely snows in Queenstown itself, which is at lake level. Also, except for the ski fields and where noted, this can also be a thing to do in Queenstown in the summer list!
As American expats who have been living in and exploring NZ for over 20 years, we see things from both a local’s perspective and from that of a visitor. Therefore, we understand what it’s like to come here and have things be similar, but not always exactly what we are used to. We share the information on this page from this perspective.
Things to do in Queenstown in the winter
- Extreme sports / Adrenaline rush activities
- Family fun
- Animal encounters
- Relaxation and rejuvenation
- Queenstown Winter festival
Whether you looking for heart-pumping adventure, romantic evenings, or family fun, you will find it amongst the things to do in Queenstown in winter.
First, let New Zealand inspire you…
Snowsports are the most popular of the things to do in Queenstown in the winter
The ultimate winter ski destination, there are several world-class ski fields in the Queenstown area.
In fact, it was ski season that inspired us to live half the year in the region. Here are the highlights. For more details, visit our complete guide to New Zealand skiing and snowboarding.
- The Remarkables
Featuring runs for all abilities, it’s a favourite of experienced skiers for its 1.5km ‘in-bounds’ backcountry run, black diamond runs, and terrain park. Most of the 45-min drive from Queenstown is easy, with a final windy and unsealed road up to the mountain. Alternatively, there is a shuttle bus from town. Reserve your shuttle bus tickets, or reserve as a package with your ski pass from Klook
- Coronet Peak
Also featuring runs for all abilities, we always find a fun atmosphere at Coronet Peak, possibly driven by the live music often playing on the heated decks. There is a shuttle from Queenstown, but the fully paved road is easy to drive. Reserve your shuttle bus tickets, or reserve as a package with your ski pass from Klook
- Coronet Peak night skiing
Night skiing is available on Wednesday and Friday nights (plus Saturdays during school holidays). Note that night skiing requires a separate pass and that Coronet Peak closes between their day and night sessions. The photo above is my daughter many years ago. There is hot pizza, cold beer, outdoor fires, and live DJs to keep you happy during your ski breaks.
This family-friendly ski resort was our favourite, as our girls were in the training centre. As it is over the Crown Range summit from Queenstown, see the Wanaka section below for tips on driving here. Select from a range of ski packages and lift pass options at Cardrona
Adrenaline rush things to do in Queenstown in the winter
Source: Destination Queenstown
Source: Destination Queenstown
It doesn’t take long to understand why Queenstown was monikered the ‘adventure capital of the world.’ If your idea of fun is heart-pumping, adrenaline rush activities, then this is the section for you to read.
While I am not an adrenaline junkie, my family loves it. Therefore, I have personally done only one of these, but living locally for so many years (with kids on National snowsports teams) means I both live with and have talked to plenty of people who have, and this is their recommended list:
- Kawarau Bridge bungy
Regardless of where you have bungy jumped before or where you want to go next, here is your opportunity to jump off at the world’s first commercial bungy jump bridge. Reserve your Kawarau bridge bungy jump
- Nevis bungy
So, you took the plunge at Kawarau, and now you are hooked. Good news, there is Nevis, the highest bungy jump in New Zealand at 134 metres. As a result, the freefall is 8.5 seconds of pure terror and excitement. Not for me, but if you are fearless, then reserve your Nevis bungy jump
- Jet boat
Dare I admit, I loved our jet boat experience. While there are several jet boat companies, we opted for locally owned and operated KJet whose 60 years of experience includes the world’s first commercial jet boat. Our boat travelled at speeds up to 95/kph and could turn 360º on a dime. Launching from downtown Queenstown, it travels along the Shotover and Kawarau rivers. Reserve your KJet Boat ride (discounted)
- More extreme things to do in Queenstown in the winter
If that’s not enough excitement, there is also a Skipper Canyon Jet Boat (narrowest canyons on the Shotover River), tandem paragliding (photo above), and tandem skydiving. And for an indoor option, try iFly, a simulated freefall experience.
Family fun during winter in Queenstown
- TSS Earnslaw Steamship
A classic steamship, cruising on the TSS Earnslaw was one of the first things we did on our initial visit to Queenstown over twenty years ago. Built in 1912, it’s the oldest passenger steamship (still operating) in the southern hemisphere. Enjoy the stunning scenery surrounding Lake Wakatipu and be sure to visit the boiler room and watch coal manually fed into the furnace. Reserve your TSS Earnslaw steamship cruise. Or, make a day out of it with a stop at the Walter Peak High Country Farm which includes a fabulous gourmet BBQ. Reserve your steamship cruise, farm visit, and BBQ
- Skyline Gondola with optional luge
I love the views overlooking Lake Wakatipu, the Southern Alps, and the city from the viewing area at the top of the steepest gondola in the southern hemisphere (see image at top of page). Also at the top is the luge, an exciting ride for the entire family. With the shorter days in winter, there is also a night luge option. Reserve your gondola and luge adventure (discounted)
- Queenstown Gardens
Nestled along Lake Wakatipu, these botanic gardens are free to enter and date back to 1867. While my favourite spot is the rose garden, it’s the oak and fir trees that we planted in 1866 by the city’s first mayor that are generally the drawcard.
- More family fun things to do in Queenstown in the winter
While not unique to this city, there are plenty of additional family fun things to do in Queenstown in the winter like mini-golf, ten-pin bowling, frisbee golf, and ice skating.
Family fun animal encounters
- Kiwi Birdlife Park
Conservation is key here. It’s one of many places in New Zealand featuring a nocturnal kiwi house, therefore an opportunity to see the elusive birds. There are also tuatara, other native reptiles, and a 5-acre forest teeming with native birds.
- Deer Park Heights
Deer Park Heights is a scenic drive through a working deer farm and an animal encounter (stroll amongst and feed some of the tame animals), that we last visited before it was used as a film location for Lord of the Rings. (Read next: New Zealand Lord of the Rings Filming Locations You Can Visit)
Things to do in Queenstown in the winter with your partner and friends
- Onsen Hot Pools
A relaxing and rejuvenating soak at Onsen, one of NZ’s famous hot pools. It offers spectacular outdoor views overlooking the Shotover River Canyon is a must-do for every Instagrammer visiting Queenstown. It’s best in winter, as the cooler outdoor temperatures complement the experience. The Onsen pools generally need to be booked well in advance. Reserve your Onsen hot pool here.
- Fear Factory
Self-proclaimed as New Zealand’s scariest haunted house, Fear Factory has a minimum entry age of 7; however, children under 15 must be accompanied by an adult. If you scare easily, be warned the live actors inside are very good at what they do. Reserve your Fear Factory entry (discounted).
- Helicopter tour
Get a bird’s eye view of the stunning snowy mountains, and land on a remote spot with snow at your feet. Also great for families. (We didn’t do this as we opted for a fly-cruise-fly from Queenstown to Milford sound (see below). Reserve your helicopter tour with Alpine landing
- Hop-on-hop-off beer and wine tours
This is one we haven’t tried, but the ratings and reviews scream success and fun. So if you are looking for an opportunity to try out the best craft beers, wines, and scenery, don’t miss these discounted options for the Beer Tour or the Wine Tour
- Queenstown Winter Festival
An annual party, now only 4 days, features games during the day, live music, a party atmosphere at night, and fireworks. Most of the activities are free, but some are ticketed. This typically takes place in July, but you can get more information from the festival’s official website.
Queenstown offers the highest concentration of bars and restaurants in the country, but we have our two favourites.
If you ask just about anyone either Where to eat in Queenstown? or Where is the best burger in New Zealand?, you will get the same answer – that being Fergburger. It may not look like much on the outside, but these burgers really are as good as they profess to be. In fact, just about every time we crossed the hill to Queenstown, we ate here, which is why we have no other restaurants to recommend personally.
Below Zero Ice Bar
With two ice bars in town, you have a choice. We are pleased to see that our favourite Ice Bar currently offers discounted entry. Reserve your Below Zero entry
Day trips are among the key things to do in Queenstown in winter
There are so many options, I am just going to feature my two favourites: Wanaka and Fiordlands. But, if you are looking for more destinations, check out Arrowtown (a historic gold mining town) or Glenorchy (a paradise for outdoor adventure with scenery so stunning it’s often used in movies). Also, Queenstown is a frequent starting point for a road trip along the west coast or the ending point when driving Christchurch to Queenstown.
With stunning lake views surrounded by the majestic Southern Alps and Mount Aspiring National Park, Wanaka was my second home for years. The shortest way to Wanaka from Queenstown is over the steep and windy Crown Range road, and you will want to bring snow chains and check that it is open before you set out.
Once in Wanaka, you’ll want to add a photo of the Wanaka tree to your Instagram, dress in layers and hike to Roys Peak, enjoy a wine tasting at Rippon Winery, and tackle the giant maze at Puzzling World (discounted.) Adrenaline junkies may also want to do the world’s highest waterfall cable climb.
Fiordlands National Park is NZ’s largest national park, covering 1.2 million hectares, as well as being a World Heritage Area. More importantly, it’s one of New Zealand’s masterpieces of nature, a must-see for any visitor to the country, although not convenient to get to via land in the winter due to frequent road closures.
- Milford Sound
It’s the most accessible of the sounds; therefore, the most famous of the glacially carved fiords. Rather than the long drive with an overnight adventure, we opted for a fly-cruise-fly option, and it was a fabulous way to enjoy the sound in winter for both our kids and us. Reserve your Milford fly-cruise-fly (discounted)
- Doubtful Sound
The deepest of the sounds is surrounded by ancient rainforests and plenty of wildlife. Booking a Doubtful Sound day cruise is top on our list for our next visit. However, we may be tempted to wait for summer and do an overnight cruise.
- Hiking: Fiordlands National Park is home to three of NZ’s nine Great Walks: Milford Track (4-5 days), Kepler Track (3-4 days), and Routeburn Track (2-3 days). According to DOC, these walking tracks should only be attempted during the winter by fit, experienced and well-equipped people. Check DOC for more on the Great Walks.
Don’t forget to come back to Queenstown in the summer!
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What are your favourite things to do in Queenstown in the winter?
More from the South Island you might also like … or check out 18 Extraordinary Things to Do in the South Island.
Photos on this page are either shot by our team and watermarked as such, in the public domain, or some stock photos were supplied by DepositPhotos.