The Guide to Backpacking in Queenstown
Situated on the side of Lake Wakatipu with a backdrop of magnificent mountains, Queenstown is one of those places that is so beautiful it doesn’t look real – more like something painted in a picture. The town itself is a resort town made up of eateries, bars and accommodation.
The buzzing atmosphere is more prominent in the winter season, due to the opening of the nearby ski fields, and in the summer with the super long sunny days. Backpackers and working holidaymakers alike flock here for adrenaline activities, excellent hiking opportunities and the social scene.
Queenstown is a place where you’ll be happy to do a free activity once in a while (trust us!), for this reason, check out the 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Queenstown. You might also like our alternative budget guide, The Travel Guide to Queenstown on a Budget.
Things You Can’t Miss in Queenstown
- Do one or many of the adrenaline activities – whatever takes your fancy from the 21 Epic Adventure Activities in Queenstown
- Hike up a mountain to appreciate the scenery using the 15 Best Walks in Queenstown
- Shred some pow in winter or slush in spring with the advice of The Ultimate Guide to the Queenstown Ski Season
- Make like a drunken mooncat and party with the help of The Guide to Queenstown Nightlife
- Try one of the town’s famous eats like a Fergburger or a deep-fried kiwifruit at Erik’s Fish and Chips – see more in The Top Cheap Eats in Queenstown.
And that’s only a slither of the experiences available in this hotspot. Check out the 45 Best Things to Do in Queenstown for more activity inspiration.
Adrenaline Activities in Queenstown
We can’t start this guide to backpacking Queenstown without mentioning the adventure and adrenaline activities. Queenstown is the “Adrenaline Capital of the World” and for good reason. This town has it all!
Just outside of Queenstown is the first-ever commercial bungy jump, the Kawarau Bridge Bungy, and NZ’s highest bungy jump, the Nevis Bungy. Our favourite, however, is The Ledge Bungy with its waist harness allowing you to freestyle off “The Ledge”. Check out more on the 7 Epic Places to Bungy Jump in New Zealand.
A popular activity in spring and summer is mountain biking. You can hire a bike and take the Skyline Gondola to some quality biking trails or go to Rabbit Ridge Bike Resort for more mountain biking fun.
More Adventure Activities
Just to list a few more activities, you can do include skydiving, jet boating, white water rafting, a canyon swing, climbing, canyoning and paragliding. We list our favourites in the 21 Epic Adventure Activities in Queenstown.
Walks and Hikes in Queenstown
If your idea of backpacking is “hiking”, then you’re in luck. Take a steady lakeside stroll through Queenstown Gardens and along the Frankton Arm Track. There are a number of day hikes in order to get a panoramic view such as the scramble up the Tiki Trail to the top of the Skyline Gondola. Other popular hikes are Queenstown Hill and Ben Lomond. We’ll go through some of the most popular…
Queenstown Hill (2-3 Hour Return)
Starting from Belfast Street, Queenstown Hill is a steady climb through pine forest to a gorgeous lookout over the town.
Frankton Arm Track (1-1h30min One Way)
Walk or bike along the lakeshore of Lake Wakatipu on the Frankton Arm Track. Locals use this as a commuter route but it is a great easy grade track for visitors too. If you can’t be bothered walking back, the 11 Bus can bring you back to Queenstown. Start from the Queenstown Gardens, Park Street, Queenstown.
Tiki Trail (1-hour Return)
Starting from the base of the gondola, the Tiki Trail is the alternative way to get up to Bob’s Peak and to the start of the Ben Lomond Track. Walk through pine forest on this constant uphill climb. Start from the end of Beacon Street, Queenstown.
Ben Lomond (4-6 Hour Return from the Bottom of the Tiki Trail)
For a full-day excursion, check out the Ben Lomond Track rewarding those who hike it with stunning views over Lake Wakatipu. Try to avoid doing the hike in winter if you do not have the right equipment to tackle snow and ice. Start from either the Tiki Trail at the end of Beacon Street, the One Mile Creek Track from the Fernhill roundabout or the top of Skyline Access Road, Queenstown.
New Zealand Great Walks
Queenstown is also the gateway to New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Routeburn Track and the Milford Track (check out the review on New Zealand Sorted). Transport companies operating from Queenstown can transport you to and from these multi-day hikes in Fiordland National Park.
Check out the 15 Best Walks in Queenstown for more walking and hiking trails.
Winter Season in Queenstown
Kicking the winter season off with the Queenstown Winter Festival, Queenstown loves the cold primarily for the snowsports.
The Remarkables and Coronet Peak are the closest ski fields to Queenstown, with Cardrona and Treble Cone taking a little over an hour to get to but still worth the trip.
The best skiing and riding is from mid-season to spring (August to September) to really take advantage of all the trails in the mountains. Treble Cone and Coronet Peak are ideal for building on the vertical metres, whereas The Remarkables and Cardrona are snowsports playgrounds with heaps of features in the terrain parks. Plus, SITE Trampoline in the Remarkables Park Town Centre is an all-weather venue for practising your freestyle tricks year-round.
Find out more about the winter season in our articles, Ski Season in New Zealand, The 24 Ski Fields in New Zealand, and The Ultimate Guide to the Queenstown Ski Season.
If you’re in New Zealand on a working holiday visa and would like to experience a New Zealand ski season for work, follow our advice in What it is Like to Work on a New Zealand Ski Field.
Nightlife in Queenstown
As one of New Zealand’s top resort towns, there is a variety of bars and clubs in Queenstown.
There are pubs and bars for a quiet pint to late night clubs for pulling some shapes. We like 1876 for their drink deals and Cowboys for their fun theme.
Check out what other bars we think are awesome in Queenstown in the following lists:
- 10 Best Bars in Queenstown
- 5 Best Bars for a Quiet Pint in Queenstown
- 5 Best Nightclubs to Dance at in Queenstown
- The Guide to Queenstown Nightlife
But partying isn’t the only thing to do in Queenstown when the sun goes down. Check out how to do night skiing, night bungy jumps, ice bars, haunted house attractions and more in the 15 Things to Do in Queenstown at Night.
Grocery Shopping Tips
With a mall and streets compact with clothes, souvenirs, outdoor gear and rentals, there is no lack of shopping opportunities in Queenstown. However, the majority of these can cause serious damage to the backpacker’s budget! Especially for food shopping, where your best bet is Fresh Choice located just outside of town.
Alternatively, there is The Remarkables Park for New World and The Warehouse, amongst other retail stores. You’ll find PAK’nSAVE and Countdown near Queenstown Airport, which is best to pay a visit before you head into Queenstown. Note that all of these stores are approximately 10km (6 miles) from Queenstown town centre.
For more backpacking food tips, check out Backpackers’ Food Shopping List: 10 Must-Have Food Items.
Transport in Queenstown
Like all New Zealand towns, the centre of Queenstown is small enough to navigate on foot. It’s only when travelling to suburbs such as Frankton and Arthur’s Point that other transportation is favourable. The bus service in Queenstown is Orbus taking passengers to the outer suburbs and the nearby Arrowtown and Wanaka. Car rental companies can be found near the airport for those self-organised adventures – check out The Best Car Rental Companies in Queenstown and The Best Campervan Rental Companies in Queenstown for more details.
Transport to Milford Sound
For many of the activities situated outside of Queenstown, transportation is often included from town. Buses to Milford Sound can be booked through RealNZ (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), Jucy Cruise (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook), and Southern Discoveries (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook). Find out more about the best coaches to choose in the 10 Best Milford Sound Tours from Queenstown.
Transport to the Ski Fields
To get to the ski fields, the main operators are NZSki and Info&Snow (available on Viator and Tripadvisor). Find out more about transport to the ski fields in The Ultimate Guide to the Queenstown Ski Season.
For more information on all things Queenstown transport, check out our full guide, Public Transport in Queenstown.
Try to time your backpacking trip to Queenstown with one of the town’s awesome events!
- Queenstown Winter Festival – June (annual)
- Winter Games – August (biannual)
- Winter Pride – August (annual)
- Queenstown Jazzfest – September/October (annual)
- Arrowtown Autumn Festival – April (annual)
- Queenstown Bike Festival – February/March (annual)
- Warbirds Over Wanaka – March/April (annual)
- New Year’s Eve Celebrations – December 31 (annual)
More About Queenstown
That’s it for our guide to backpacking in Queenstown. For more backpacking tips and tricks, check out the following guides:
- The Travel Guide to Queenstown on a Budget
- 16 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Queenstown
- 10 Queenstown Travel Tips for First-Timers
- The Food Guide to Queenstown: Places to Eat & Food Tours
Finally, plan the rest of your Queenstown trip using The Complete Travel Guide to Queenstown and the 45 Best Things to Do in Queenstown.