Queenstown

New Zealand

Queenstown would have to be described as the jewel in New Zealand’s crown. Incredibly picturesque and made famous by The Lord of the Rings trilogies, it has firmly staked its claim as a skiers paradise offering up several great resorts close by, but also a sophisticated town and endless extreme activities.

Scout Loves

  • Spectacular lake and mountain views.
  • A fun town that’s easy to get around and pedestrian friendly.
  • Bustling nightlife.
  • The chance to ski a variety of mountains.
  • More than 65 restaurants and bars ranging from backpacker cheap-eats to haute cuisine.
  • Shopping’s an equally diverse bunch with tons of ski and outdoor suppliers mixed in with exclusive boutiques such as Louis Vuitton.

Scout Tips

  • The surrounding ski resorts are a drive from Queenstown, up winding and often dangerous roads. Scout recommends utilizing the frequent resort buses.
  • The center of town can be Party Central, especially during Australian university holidays.
  • Side trips to Wanaka, Arrowtown and Glenorchy are worthwhile considering, each offering opportunities to take in incredible lake and mountain views.
  • Any intermediate skier and above will enjoy a heli-skiing trip that gets you into some great backcountry and some thrilling helicopter rides at the same time (See Southern Lakes Heliski).

Scout Review

Queenstown is an adventure-seekers playground and one of the most spectacularly beautiful places in the world. Nestled on the shores of the beautiful Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by majestic snow-capped mountains, the town has boomed and is now one of the most popular ski destinations for Australians and Kiwis. With two resorts close by (Coronet Peak and The Remarkables) and two further afield (Cardrona and Treble Cone) there’s some fun and interesting terrain for all levels of skiers.

Those used to the might and size of ski resorts in the Northern Hemisphere may be a little disappointed – these resorts are small, usually only a handful of lifts and runs in each, and the snow quality can vary from great powder days to man-made slush intermixed with rock-hard ice. With an average of three meters of snow each season, they don’t get many powder days although it does mean the weather can be fantastic.

But with all the other activities on the side plus restaurants and parties a plenty, nothing beats Queenstown as a fun destination and the chance to get in some turns during the Southern Hemisphere winter.

When to go

The ski resorts usually open in early June and close in the first week of October. The most reliable snow falls in late July and August. In the first few weeks of July the town is jumping with party-going Australian university students. This is also the time for New Zealand school holidays so the resorts are crowded.

Queenstown Accommodation

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There are many options for accommodation in Queenstown ranging from backpacker hostels to boutique luxury lodges. Depending on your style and budget, you’ll be able to find something that fits your needs. If you don’t want to rent a car, choose a hotel that’s within walking distance to the town area and close to ski resort bus stops. Some options also exist a little out of town and a few of those hotels provide shuttle buses in. Frankton is close to the airport and has several options, but some may find it to be a little too far out of town.

Here is a list of Scout's top accommodation options in Queenstown:

Rees Luxury Hotel & Apartments - The Rees is one of Queenstown’s favorite hotels, ideal for couples wanting a high quality apartment or stylish and modern hotel room, and who would sacrifice a center-of-town location for incredible views – this hotel is the perfect grandstand for those wanting to sit back and stare in wonder at The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu. Located 20 minutes walk from downtown, or via the complimentary hotel shuttle.

The Spire Hotel - The Spire is an ultra chic, modern hotel right in the center of Queenstown. As cool as the decorations are, the hospitality is warm and the service attentive. Located in the centre of downtown Queenstown, the Spire is perfect for people who like to keep up with the trends.

The Dairy - The Dairy is one of Queenstown’s most popular guesthouses with a distinct laid-back feel to it and unbeatable service. and avoids the snootiness of some of Queenstown’s most exclusive boutique hotels. Yet it retains a quality of service which is arguably even better than some of the more up-market hotels. Ideal for anyone who enjoys a smaller hotel without sacrificing some of the luxuries of the big chains.

The Sofitel - Sofitel Queenstown Hotel and Spa is a French inspired luxurious getaway right in the heart of Queenstown. Conveniently located right beside a transport hub where ski buses can pick you up and take you directly to the slopes, Sofitel Queenstown has some great facilities that go along with any 5 star hotel. 

Eichardt's Private Hotel - One of Scout’s favorite Queenstown hotels – elegant, warm, luxurious and centrally located. Steeped in history and effortlessly sophisticated, Eichardt’s is a cut above.

Azur - Azur is one of Queenstown’s top luxury lodges and it’s somewhere you go to be completely spoilt. Accommodating a maximum of 18 guests, Azur has extremely personal service, ideal for sophisticated couples wanting a romantic, secluded and special escape.

The Commonage - The Commonage Villas have perhaps some of the best views in town – thanks to their prime position on Queenstown Hill. Luxuriously appointed and spacious, these self-contained villas would make the ideal base for families or groups who are looking for a special home away from home. Each villa feels private and secluded, and there are various options for one, two or three bedrooms. 

Element Escapes - If you are looking for a modern and convenient apartment that’s relatively close to Queenstown, Element Escapes is a good choice. The property consists of two apartment complexes that are situated at Kent St and Panorama Terrace, both on the Queenstown Hill behind the main downtown area. Perfect for small groups of friends who want a modern style of apartment close to Queenstown.

Blanket Bay - The perfect place to come and relax after a hectic week on the slopes. This beautiful lodge has spectacular views, stunning architecture, huge rooms and highly-personalised service. A top choice to tag onto the end of a hectic week of skiing in Queenstown or Wanaka to relax and unwind before heading back to the ‘real’ world (or the perfect base for a heli skiing holiday!). Did we mention it is all-inclusive!

The Novotel Queenstown LakesideThe Hilton, and the Crowne Plaza are also fantastic options for those wanting to stay close to downtown Queenstown, and suited to any budget.

Scout can book full packages to New Zealand including lift passes, rentals and accommodation. We are unable to help with bookings for accommodation only. Please use the general inquiry form on the contact us page to inquire about New Zealand ski packages.

Resort Activities

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Queenstown has more activities (other than skiing) than any other ski resort in the world. From the classic and exhilarating bungy jump to a more sedate but equally spectacular gondola ride up to the Skyline restaurant and visitor complex, there’s something for everyone. These activities tend to be a little quieter in winter so there’s no need to book ahead – all have offices in downtown Queenstown so wander amongst them when you first arrive and take your pick.

There are several heli-ski operators in Queenstown all accessing similar terrain in the backcountry around the area. Read our review of Southern Lakes Heliski to get a taste of what it’s like.

Getting There and Around

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Flying

Air New Zealand, Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar fly directly from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Where possible it’s worth getting the direct flight to give yourself more time to enjoy in Queenstown. There are many daily regional flights from the main NZ cities of Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.

Driving

It’s possible to drive to Queenstown after flying into Christchurch. It’s a spectacular drive, but one that you should take your time on. It takes about six and a half hours in good weather, but longer if it’s snowy.

The drive from Wanaka has two options over the stunning Crown Range road (often featured in car ads) or via Cromwell. Both take about an hour, but take care on the Crown Range road as it’s twisty, and busy with ski traffic in the mornings and afternoon.

Orientation

Queenstown centre is small and easy to get around without a car. However, due to the town’s size and location on a lake, surrounded by mountains, it has spread out so some hotels can be a distance from downtown. Frankton is a small village area near the airport with various shops and services.

Distance to Ski Resorts

Queenstown’s ski resorts are not accessible directly from Queenstown. Coronet Peak is a 20-minute drive and The Remarkables is about 40 minutes up a steep dirt road.  The road starts just past the airport.

Cardrona is on the Crown Range road to Wanaka, about 60 minutes from Queenstown and Treble Cone is about 1 hour 30 minutes (past Wanaka), with the last part being a very steep and hairy dirt road.

MAGAZINE
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Photo: Aspen Snowmass

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