How to Plan a Cheap Trip to Queenstown
Being one of the most popular tourist hotspots of the country, Queenstown is more likely to evoke “tourist traps” than a “budget traveller’s 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.
How to Save Money in Queenstown + Tips for Visiting Queenstown on a Budget
- 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 having to pay extra somewhere else
- 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 and the 5 Free Camping Spots 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 45 Best Things to Do in Queenstown for research
- Fill up the rest of your itinerary with the 20 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.
Is Queenstown Expensive?
In short, yes, it’s pretty expensive. Queenstown is one of the most expensive towns in New Zealand where you’ll find that accommodation, tours and food are all a little more expensive than other New Zealand cities. See typical New Zealand prices in How Expensive is New Zealand?
How Much Spending Money Should You Take for Queenstown?
How much spending money you should take to Queenstown depends on what you want to do and whether you want to eat out or self-cater. Activities range from no cost (walks, for example) to mid-range adventure activities (NZ$180 for a bungy jump, for example) to luxury experiences (NZ$1,990 for a helicopter picnic). Food ranges from NZ$20 per day or less to self-cater to around NZ$150 for dining out three times a day at mid-range to premium restaurants.
On average, around NZ$150 per day is a comfortable amount to have available for spending money in Queenstown. But with our activity recommendations and money-saving tips in the budget guide to Queenstown, you can reduce those costs to about NZ$30-$50 a day.
What is the Overall Cost of a Trip to Queenstown?
Budgets tend to range from NZ$1,700 for a solo 7-day trip to NZ$8,000 for a family of four. Your budget also depends on what type of accommodation you stay in and how many (and what) paid activities you do.
However, you can reduce your budget substantially by staying in dorm rooms (up to NZ$30 per night), making your own meals (up to NZ$20 a day) and doing the free and cheap activities in Queenstown (up to NZ$50 a day). Making the cost to Queenstown (without transport to get there) a maximum of NZ$100 per day for budget travellers, i.e. around NZ$700 for 7 days.
Plan your budget by using NZ Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to New Zealand Cost?
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.
Free Walks in Queenstown
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 15 Best Walks in Queenstown.
Free Day Trips from 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 20 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$50?!
Cheap Cruises on Lake Wakatipu
Southern Discoveries 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. See Viator, Tripadvisor or Klook for more details about the cruise, as well as read reviews and get the latest deals.
Kiwi Birdlife Park
Learn about New Zealand’s unique bird species at the Kiwi Birdlife Park. 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. Check out Viator and Tripadvisor for details.
Cheap Indoor Attractions
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, Tripadvisor and Klook) and the downright scary Fear Factory (on Viator and Tripadvisor). They are among the 20 Things to Do in Queenstown on a Rainy Day.
Check out more cheap experiences in the 20 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 Erik’s Fish & Chips (13 Earl Street) and the NZ$10 all-day breakfast at Red Rock (48 Camp Street).
Other affordable dining highlights include Fergburger (42 Shotover Street) and Devil Burger (5/11 Church Street) for their oversized gourmet burgers priced between NZ$10-$22. Dinner deals are all part of the charm of 1867 (45 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 Top Cheap Eats in Queenstown.
For more food recommendations that aren’t quite as cheap but, ya know, check out The Food Guide to Queenstown: Places to Eat & Food Tours.
More About Queenstown
That’s it from the travel guide to Queenstown on a budget, but certainly not the end of our Queenstown advice! Check out the following articles for more tips:
- 10 Queenstown Travel Tips for First-Timers
- Queenstown – Guide for Backpackers
- 21 Epic Adventure Activities in Queenstown
- 15 Things to Do in Queenstown at Night
- The Ultimate Guide to the Queenstown Ski Season
Finally, check out even more money-saving tips in The Travel Guide to New Zealand on a Budget and scout out all of the 31 Best Free Things to Do on the South Island. You might like to plan the rest of your trip using the South Island Budget & Backpacking Itinerary: Two Weeks or South Island Budget & Backpacking Itinerary: One Week.