We spent the last week of our 1-month-leave in Queenstown, New Zealand; thanks to the buy-1-get-1-free special deal from Jetstar. I have actually been to the north island NZ several times for work and some additional long weekends, but this would be my first time to visit the south island. We went in mid-June, around the start of the southern hemisphere winter.
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- Queenstown airport: AMTs, Local mobile SIM
- Transport from the airport to Queenstown city centre
- Queenstown accommodation
- Activities in Queenstown:
- Food Places, Winery & Cafes in Queenstown:
Arriving at the Queenstown Airport
The New Zealand immigration officer scanned my passport, acknowledged that I’m an Australian permanent resident, smiled and welcomed me to New Zealand. He then scanned my wife’s passport, realised that she isn’t an Australian PR, his behaviour changed completely and had to ask these questions (still in a nice way though):
- What is the purpose of your visit to New Zealand?
- Where will you stay in New Zealand?
- How long will you be staying in New Zealand?
Haha, seriously? At this point, I find it really funny. He has just welcomed me 2 minutes ago, and now he is asking us these compulsory tick-box questions LOL. Just in case you don’t know, Australian citizen and permanent resident can visit, live, and work in New Zealand freely. I think it almost works the same way with NZ citizen in Australia (I think).
ATMs at the Queenstown Airport
- A generic ATM can be found in the airport baggage carousel, just past immigration.
- An ANZ ATM can be found in the arrival section, past customs.
Local NZ mobile SIM card shop at Queenstown Airport
If you would like to buy a local NZ SIM card, a Vodafone stall can be found in the arrival section. NZ$50 can get you a 3GB data deal, which should be enough for a week (unless you are binge watching Netflix).
Transport from Queenstown Airport to the city
Several options are available for transport from the airport to Queenstown:
- Taxi: Will cost you around $35.
- Bus (Connectabus): One way airport-city costs $12. Alternatively, you can buy a 7-day-pass for $47. The Connectabus stop can be found around 50m walk straight from the airport arrival exit.
- Car rentals: You can find the usual rental companies (Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz, Thrifty) at the Queenstown airport.
Map: Directions from Queenstown Airport to Queenstown city
Our plan was to relax for a couple of days in Queenstown to enjoy the city, before continuing with our road trip around the south island. We have decided to stay at a low budget accommodation for the first couple of days, at the Haka Lodge hostel, renting out a private room via Booking.com.
Honestly, we regretted this decision as the hostel has thin walls and sealing, therefore we can hear everything next door and also above us. Not to mention the kitchen is exactly above our room, so you can imagine the noise! I recommend you to spend that extra $20 per day to stay at a proper hotel or bed & breakfast.
Learning from our mistake – after our road trip to Lake Tekapo and Glenorchy, we went back to Queenstown and stayed at the Melbourne Lodge Bed & Breakfast. It costed just around $15 more than the Haka Lodge, but we had a nice private room with a quiet environment. The location isn’t bad either, with just around 10 minute-walk to the city. While Haka Lodge was right at the city-centre edge.
We were thinking to get an AirB&B instead, however the nicer homes are a bit far from the city centre, requiring us to rent a car for the whole week. While we were looking to stay in the middle of the city to be able to enjoy it more, and can walk anywhere anytime.
Things to do in Queenstown
In a week we spent in Queenstown, here are the things we did. Note that we took our time with a slow pace, with many relaxed and idle moments to enjoy the Queenstown city life.
1. Shotover Jet Boat
Located just around 10-minute drive from the Queenstown city centre, Shotover Jet Queenstown claims to be the world’s most exciting jet boat ride.
See our photos and videos of the Shotover Jet Queenstown experience here.
2. Helicopter Ride
My wife and I both have never rode on a helicopter before, so we might as well do it in Queenstown. We chose the Alpine Snow Landing excursion, by helitours.co.nz, because there was an offer available at a local travel shop.
See our Queenstown helicopter ride video and photos here.
3. Road trip to Lake Tekapo
If you have an extra 2 to 3 days idle in your Queenstown visit, a road trip to Lake Tekapo can be a good option. The drive itself will take around 3 hours. But as we made several stops for coffees and to view the lookouts, it took more like 5 hours for us.
One interesting happened during our road trip, where we came across a house relocation. See the photo below with a nice lake and mountains background.
And here is the map for the Queenstown to Lake Tekapo drive:
Visit the Tekapo Springs
Once you are in Lake Tekapo area, be sure to visit the Tekapo Springs where you can find / do:
- Hot pools
- Day spa
- Ice skating rink
- Snow tube
Make sure you check first, if these attractions are open. As some of them will not be open all year long, depending on the season.
The Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo
4. Road trip to Glenorchy
Another good road trip option from Queenstown is Glenorchy. It will only take you a 45-minute relaxing drive with a beautiful view. And once you are in Glenorchy, there are a number of cute cafes and brunch places in town for you to relax at.
Map: Directions from Queenstown to Glenorchy
Be sure to also visit the Glenorchy pier, a beautiful spot to take photos and selfies.
5. Milford Sound – Fly and Cruise
Since we did not book our Milford Sound experience in advance, most of the bus-tour companies have sold out their seats. And the ones available were not recommended by the travel shop we went to. So our last good option was to fly to Milford Sound instead. And since we already had a helicopter ride in the same trip, we chose to fly by plane.
See our Milford Sound fly and cruise experience (photos and videos) here.
6. Skyline Queenstown
Located at the city centre edge within walking distance from Queenstown city, you can take the gondola up the hills at the Skyline Queenstown. Here are the list of things you can find and activities you can do at Skyline:
- Gondola with a spectacular view
- Luge race with your friends or other people
- Watch the Haka
- Stratosfere: Dine at the top
- Or just grab a casual lunch or coffee at the Market Kitchen
7. Onsen Hot Pools
There is no better way to enjoy our last day in Queenstown than the Onsen Hot Pools. With a private hot pool room, looking at the hills and outdoor scenery.
Watch my Onsen hot pool video here.
Restaurants / Food in Queenstown
Honestly, this is probably the most overrated food place I’ve been to. The queue is quite long (it took us 20-30 minutes to get our burger), and it wasn’t that great. I can name a couple of burger places in Sydney that are better. However, if you are visiting Queenstown, then why not try this overrated burger restaurant, so you can put it on Instagram and tick the “have tried” box.
2. Vudu Cafe
If you like brunch food and good coffee, then this is the place for you. There’s also a seating option outside where you can enjoy the water view.
3. Joe’s Garage
This is probably my favourite food place in Queenstown – an American style garage brunch / breakfast food, with great coffee and friendly staff. I even bought their branded trucker’s cap.
4. Pedro’s House of Lamb
This is a unique food place with great reviews and high ratings on the usual review websites. We decided to try based on these. Most people call them in advance to order the lamb for delivery or pick up. But we didn’t know this, so we just went there. Turns out they only have 1 table to eat in, luckily it was empty. Oh and they only have 1 menu: Lamb with potatoes.
5. The Winery
We went to The Winery almost every night in Queenstown. They provide wine tasting where you can choose any wine you want. Though it is not free, they have a great collection of local and international wine, with a selection of small-medium-large tastings with a reasonable price. Surprisingly, the many of the locals come to this place to watch live rugby. So it is quite relaxed for a wine tasting place.
6. Patagonia Chocolates
Another good option to have coffees, chocolates or ice cream, located by the water in Queenstown city centre.
7. Cookie Time
A cute little place where you can have coffee, dessert and cookie. The cookie is surprisingly good!
The list concludes our one week visit to Queenstown in the winter. Queenstown is definitely a town I can live in. And I wouldn’t mind trying to live there one summer or one winter.