On our first trip to New Zealand, we spent almost a week in Queenstown. It’s been our favorite destination worldwide since for our family from the many places we have traveled to. Its stunning scenery, outdoor activities, and vibrant culture make it one of the best places for a family getaway.
Top Thing To Do: Shotover Jet Boat Ride. The best excursion we’ve ever done!
Where To Stay: One of our favorite hotels in downtown Queenstown is the Novotel Queenstown. The Novotel has the perfect location, making exploring the town easy.
Where To Eat: Fogo Brazilian BBQ Experience
How To Get There: Queenstown (ZQN) is the closest airport, just a few minutes from downtown. Long-distance international flights require a connection in Auckland (AKL)
Getting to Queenstown
Queenstown is located on the South Island of New Zealand. Getting there from the U.S. normally involves a stop in Auckland.
Coming from Australia? You can fly directly into Queenstown airport from large Australian cities like Sydney.
United recently added flights directly to Christchurch, the South Island city. If you have enough time, you could pick up a rental car and do a scenic drive between Christchurch and Queenstown.
Flying from most cities in the U.S. means you’ll probably be switching planes in Auckland, on the North Island.
We flew from Los Angeles to Auckland on Air New Zealand’s premium economy. This is the best premium economy product in the world, as of 2024.
Most U.S. to New Zealand flights leave late, arriving in New Zealand early in the morning. In Auckland, you’ll transfer to the domestic terminal for a flight to Queenstown.
If you’re flying into Auckland, consider spending a few days on the North Island. However, we’d recommend doing this first and saving the fantastic scenery of the South Island for last!
We then switched to the domestic terminal as the sun was coming up for the flight to Queenstown, which was just over one hour.
Getting to Queenstown from the United States was a long journey, but the scenery on landing made it all worth it. Make sure you have a window seat. We didn’t stop looking outside for the last 20 minutes of the flight!
Once you land, the airport terminal is small and easy to find your way around.
From the airport, rent a car or get a private transport to downtown. If you’re planning any further away excursions, you may need a car, but for our trip, we got by just fine without one. Our next trip will involve renting a car for several-days to Milford Sound.
Where to Stay
We highly recommend staying in the downtown Queenstown area. This bustling area is just a short walk to Lake Wakatipu, where you can enjoy stunning views and outdoor activities.
Both hotels also have family-sized rooms that can fit four people, which can be surprisingly hard to find for families used to traveling in the United States.
Crowne Plaza Queenstown
The Crowne Plaza Hotel Queenstown is another excellent option. This hotel boasts a stunning location overlooking Lake Wakatipu, offering great views of the mountains.
The hotel’s location is just as good as the Novotels, within walking distance of Queenstown’s best attractions, restaurants, and shops.
Top things to do in Queenstown with a family
From luge rides and the skyline, gondola rides up to Bob’s Peak, there are many ways for families to have fun. And it’s set against the stunning backdrop of New Zealand scenery!
NOTE: Our guides focus on unique local attractions. We want to explore things that can’t be found at home, and we only include places that we’ve been to.
If you search for “best things to do in (random city),” you’ll find many of the same things: wax statue museums and believe-it-or-not attractions. But if we’re flying around the world to visit somewhere, we want to see something new first.
Shotover Canyon Jet Boat Ride
Without question, this is the coolest excursion we have ever done! This was easily the best part of our trip to Queenstown. While it might sound a bit over the top, we’d return to Queenstown for this excursion.
The Shotover Canyon Jet Boat ride will take you on a high speed boat jet boat ride through the narrow canyons of the Shotover River. Imagine a high speed boat ride down this canyon:
Shotover Jet is sure to be a hit with older kids. Young children will enjoy it, too, depending on their adventure level.
Ours was seven years old the first time we rode on it, and while she wasn’t sure about it at first, after the first 360 spin, she was hooked!
TSS Earnslaw Steamboat & Farm Tour
The Walter Peak High Country Farm Tour on TSS Earnslaw offers a fun insight into New Zealand’s rural life.
Our second favorite thing to do, this day trip lake cruise tour starts with a steamboat ride across Lake Whakatipu, providing beautiful views of the lake and its surrounding mountains.
Leaving from downtown Queenstown, check out this authentic steamship and even look inside the engine room.
Upon arrival, explore the working sheep farm and see farm dogs herding the sheep. We spent several hours here watching a sheep herding and shearing demonstration, then walking the farm and finding plenty of animals to pet and feed.
After the farm tour, there’s a few different meal options. Enjoy a delicious lunch, dinner, or light snacks and drinks in the historic homestead.
This tour is a great option for the entire family, especially for younger children who may not be ready for the excitement of a jet boat canyon ride. We did both, and plan on doing both again on our next trip!
There is also a steamship cruise without the farm tour, but our entire family enjoyed the farm tour and would do it again. Click here for your TSS Earnslaw experience options, including farm tours with lunch or tea.
The return steamboat scenic cruise provides more stunning views of Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding scenery.
Exploring Downtown Queenstown and the Gardens
One of our favorite things to do was just walking around downtown, with the amazing views and food. The downtown area covers a small area, and no car is needed if you’re staying downtown.
For a more relaxed outing, take a stroll through the Queenstown Gardens. This beautiful park is just a short walk from central Queenstown and offers a peaceful escape amidst stunning scenery.
Glacier Helicopter Landing
This 50-minute Glacier Explorer Flight is a great choice to take in the fantastic mountain scenery of Queenstown, complete with a landing on a glacier! Or combine a helicopter ride with a tour of Milford Sound (see below).
Note that this flight is weather dependent, and the weather didn’t cooperate to allow this on our recent June visit.
Family rafting trip
Family Adventures rafting trip is a 4 1/2 hour river adventure suitable for younger kids as young as 3! Enjoy the fantastic views as a guide helps you navigate the Shotover River’s rapids.
Other rafting trips also offer stronger rapids for confident swimmers who don’t mind the chance of entering the water during the trip!
Coronet Peak Ski Area
Coronet Peak in Queenstown is a great winter day trip. Just a short drive via shuttle from Queenstown, this was the first place our Florida-born kids saw snow!
The shuttle has great views on the way up to the ski area.
While we didn’t try skiing, we had a blast snow tubing and letting the kids explore the ice castle, which even had an ice slide.
Skyline Gondola & Ride the Luge
Take in the views of Queenstown by hopping on the Skyline Gondola.
Once you’ve reached the summit, there’s plenty to do.
The Stratosfare Restaurant: Enjoy lunch or dinner with stunning views of Lake Wakatipu and the mountains. They offer packages including gondola tickets and dinner for a family for some savings.
Try out the Queenstown Luge, a gravity-fueled cart that takes you on an exhilarating journey through twists, turns, and tunnels.
Milford Sound is one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand.
It’s a long drive to get there, but worth it.
With younger kids, it can be too long of a day – 12 hours or more with return bus trips. For that reason, we skipped it on our first trip to Queenstown.
There are some faster (but more expensive) options for this tour, including round-trip helicopter transportation from Queenstown (4 hours), but the flying options depend on the weather. During our first short trip in June, the weather didn’t cooperate, so it was a long bus ride or not at all.
For us it was not at all, with a 4 year old that long on a bus didn’t sound like a vacation.
Here are the different options for transportation to and from Queenstown.
If you have enough time, spending two nights in the small town of Te Anua is a great option. This will let you have a more relaxed day driving to and from Milford Sound before returning to the Queenstown area.
The best things to do in Milford Sound are to take a scenic cruise and enjoy the stunning views of the mountains, cliffs, and waterfalls. There are also plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife, including seals, dolphins, and penguins.
Kiwi Park Queenstown
Kiwi Park Queenstown is an excellent place to see and learn about New Zealand’s wildlife, including the Kiwi bird.
Queenstown Ice Arena
This one’s not exactly unique to Queenstown, but it was cold and rainy and we were looking for something indoors to do. Ice skating at Queenstown Ice Arena saved the day with animal-themed sleds to help push around our first-time ice skaters!
And a new addition since our last trip: ice bumper cars!
Heading back home! Unfortunately, our time in Queenstown was over, but we’ll be back.
This area has been unlike any other place we’ve been. That includes some incredible places, like Switzerland, where the scenery is perhaps even better. But New Zealand is our favorite for combining scenery, things to do, great food, and friendly people!
If you’re looking for a fantastic Queenstown holiday, look no further. From jet boating to bungy jumping, there is something for everyone in Queenstown. While it’s not the closest place to get to, it’s worth the journey.