How to Visit Queenstown on a Budget
Being one of the most popular tourist hotspots of the country, Queenstown is more likely to evoke “tourist traps” than “budget travellers’ dream”. Nevertheless, even those who don’t intend to spend hundreds on ski field lift passes, jet boat tours, skydives and bungy jumps can still experience some awesome aspects of Queenstown. Free hiking trails, affordable day trips and even an affordable cruise and birdlife park make up some of the more budget-friendly experiences. And if you plan to stay awhile, there are tens of hostels, as well as the odd holiday park and budget B&B to help keep the costs low.
Plan your affordable trip to the “Adrenaline Capital” with this travel guide to Queenstown on a budget.
Budget Tips for Queenstown
- You don’t need a car to enjoy Queenstown. Public buses are available to get to nearby suburbs and towns
- Book your accommodation as early as possible, especially for the summer months, to avoid disappointment
- Stay in Queenstown’s budget accommodations
- There are very limited freedom camping spots in the Queenstown area, so campers will need to book into the holiday parks as far in advance as possible – more information at Where to Camp in Queenstown
- Non-campers, book into self-catering accommodation so you can make your own meals and save money on food. There are Four Square and FreshChoice supermarkets in town, but you’ll find cheaper groceries at New World, Countdown and PAK’NSAVE near the airport
- Be choosey about the paid activities you want to do – see the 10 Queenstown Must-Dos for research
- Fill up the rest of your itinerary with the 16 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Queenstown.
For more general budget advice, check out the 11 Ways to Save Money When Backpacking in New Zealand.
Free Activities in Queenstown
When it comes to free ways to enjoy Queenstown, it’s all about getting out and exploring. The best way to do that 100% for free is on your own two feet, tackling the Queenstown walking and hiking trails. Popular short walks include Queenstown Hill (2h30mins return) and the Tiki Trail to Bob’s Peak (one hour-oneway), both taking you to two different scenic vantage points overlooking the town and Lake Wakatipu. For something more relaxing, try the Frankton Walkway along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. The track might be three hours long oneway, but most just like to turn around when they’ve had enough. Finally, for an epic adventure, do the Ben Lomond Track (6-8 hours return), which rewards hikers with panoramic mountain and lake views. Learn more about these walks and their locations in the 16 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Queenstown.
Another way to explore is by taking one of the many scenic day trips from Queenstown. Drive or take the bus to historic Arrowtown for its beautifully preserved gold-rush buildings and river walks or go to Lake Hayes for another picturesque lake surrounded by mountain scenery. If you have your own vehicle, you can get a little off the beaten track to Moke Lake to hike the two-hour Moke Lake Loop Track, far from civilisation. Head further afield and you’ll reach Glenorchy, famous for its Lord of the Rings scenery, the gateway to the Mt Aspiring National Park and its cute little red boat shed.
And for a quick free thing to do in town, check out the Queenstown Gardens. These picturesque lakeside gardens provide an oasis away from the busy town with various native and exotic tree plantations, ponds, water features, memorials and an 18-basket disc-golf course. You can rent some discs/frisbees for cheap from the town’s sports stores to have a go!
For more free activities, see the 16 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Queenstown.
Cheap Activities in Queenstown
If you have a little room in your budget, there are some affordable tours and attractions in Queenstown worth considering. For instance, did you know you can take a cruise on the lake for about NZ$40?! Southern Discoveries (see Viator and Tripadvisor for more info) offers a journey on New Zealand’s longest lake, lasting 1h30mins with sailings throughout the day and at sunset. Get a front-row seat to the stunning scenery of Lake Wakatipu and learn all about the glacial history and pioneering stories, with onboard narration throughout the experience.
Learn about New Zealand’s unique bird species at the Kiwi Birdlife Park (see Viator and Tripadvisor for details). Yes, this is the place to see a real kiwi bird in a special nocturnal enclosure and learn about the threats that New Zealand’s native birds have faced since human settlement. You also may get the chance to see other native species like the prehistoric tuatara and the Auckland green gecko. Admission is around NZ$40 per adult.
Queenstown’s other cheap experiences are those reminiscent of a tourist hotspot, with indoor attractions like the family-friendly Odyssey Sensory Maze (details on Viator and Tripadvisor) and the downright scary Fear Factory (Viator/Tripadvisor). They are among the 11 Things to Do in Queenstown on a Rainy Day.
Check out more cheap experiences in the 16 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Queenstown.
Cheap Eats in Queenstown
While there’s plenty of self-catering accommodation in Queenstown to help you save money on food, you might be tempted to try out the local cuisine. There are still ways to stick to your budget by seeking out the cheap eats!
Iconic cheap eats in Queenstown include the NZ$10 meal deal of Eriks Fish & Chips (Earl Street) and the NZ$5 empanadas of Empanada Kitchen (Beach Street).
Other affordable dining highlights include Fergburger (Shotover Street) and Devil Burger (Church Street) for their oversized gourmet burgers priced between NZ$10-$20. Dinner deals are all part of the charm of 1867 (Ballarat Street) who not only serve the cheapest pints in town but have a new meal deal every day of the week, as listed in the Cheap Eats in Queenstown.