Queenstown is more than just a place to ski (though it is home to four world-class ski fields, by the by).
The reason why visitors stretch their trip from a day, to two days, to a long weekend, is because it’s the sort of town that entices you to linger. It’s difficult to pass up indulgent breakfasts at sun-filled cafes by the lake and the lure of Central Otago wineries. There is the terrain – which is vast and varied – to explore by foot or by sky. The view over the Southern Alps always spectacular.
Here’s our jam-packed guide to getting the most out of a long weekend in Queenstown.
Breakfast: The Boat Shed
Get to know Queenstown from the water’s edge with breakfast on the Frankton waterfront. The Boat Shed building dates to 1869, when it started life as the New Zealand Railway Shipping Office. Extensively renovated 10 years ago, it’s now a gorgeous, light-filled cafe and bistro with views across Lake Whakatipu to the Remarkables. Expect all your brekkie favourites: highly rated are the chorizo scrambled eggs on crispy potatoes, and the blueberry French toast with honey and thyme mascarpone, fruit and caramelised lemon pistachio. A great place to linger before heading out for a lakeside walk along the Frankton Track to get the lay of the land.
Lunch: Gibbston Valley Winery Restaraunt
The Central Otago region is home to vineyards that produce some of the finest wines in the country – if not the world. Especially when it comes to pinot noir. From Queenstown, it’s a 25-minute drive to the bucolic Gibbston Valley, where you can sit down to a two- or three-course set menu with matching wine, or order à la carte. For the red meat lovers there’s premium New Zealand lamb rump or scotch fillet of beef, for pescatarians the whole baked flounder. After lunch, stay for a tour of the country’s largest wine cave and grab something to take home from the cellar door and gift shop.
Take a scenic heli-tour
Looking down, the sapphire blue of Lake Whakatipu shimmers like a gemstone and the Southern Alps stretch out forever as you climb out of Queenstown Airport. Glacier Southern Lakes offers a variety of flights, most of which include an alpine landing. A flight to Earnslaw Burn takes you over Skippers Canyon and Rees Valley, before landing on Clarke Glacier, where you can get out for an incredibly Instagram-able walk on a stunning glacier. Or work a sunset flight to The Remarkables into your schedule, stepping out onto the snow with a glass of bubbles or beer to watch the sun set over the Southern Alps.
Ride the famous gondola
No visit to Queenstown is complete without a ride on the Skyline Gondola. The southern hemisphere’s steepest gondola rises 480 metres above the town and the lake, giving stupendous views across to The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, Walter Peak and Cecil Peak. After getting your fill of the view, jump behind the controls of a luge and fly down an 800-metre track, taking a chairlift back up (to do it again, obviously).
Then, get yourself organised for your next two days of skiing or boarding by picking up your gear from one of the many rental stores in town. Or even better, get Snopro to come to you and do the fitting at your accommodation.
Rātā is a restaurant with a proud sense of place. Named after a native tree with bright red flowers, the menu is a journey through Aotearoa New Zealand, utilising the organic local ingredients sourced sustainably. Start with a plate of Te Kouma Bay oysters, blue paua (a native shellfish) or smoked eel. Try the raw venison with wasabi, and if the table is hungry, the Merino lamb shoulder could be for you. The wine list leans heavily on Central Otago, so pinot noir fans will be in heaven.
It might have the facade of a 1980s motel complex, but looks can be deceiving. Located a few kilometres out of town overlooking the lake, the Sherwood is an eco-friendly hotel that’s become an integral part of Queenstown’s community. Largely powered by solar, the hotel sets the sustainability bar high, composting all its organic waste back into the kitchen garden and even shipping out leftover soap to aid agencies, in order to be cleaned and reconstituted.
The stylish rooms range from cosy studios to family apartments, and feature local artworks, recycled kilim rugs and great views of the mountains. Sit around an open fire in a communal courtyard strung with fairy lights, wander the kitchen gardens, sweat it out in the Scandinavian sauna or sign up to a yoga or meditation session. Gigs, DJ sets, comedy shows and community workshops are all regular fixtures. A great place to feel part of a town vibe.
Breakfast: The Chop Shop Food Merchants
Wake and take a 20-minute drive to the riverside former gold rush town of Arrowtown for breakfast at this locals’ favourite. It’s hard to pick from the (mostly) Asian fusion menu, which includes Japanese pancakes, ricotta hotcakes, Turkish poached eggs, pork belly bao buns, corn fritters and bang bang poached chicken salads. Excellent coffee seals the deal. Take a wander around the Arrowtown Chinese Settlement – where Chinese gold miners set up camp in the 1870s – after breakfast if you have time.
Ski or board at Coronet Peak
Leave Arrowtown at 9.30am and you can be on the mountain by 10am (this town is incredibly user-friendly). Coronet Peak was New Zealand’s first commercial ski field and is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2022. Spend a few hours exploring the 280 hectares of terrain, making sure you get to the summit viewpoint for an incredible view over Queenstown, before skiing the long, cruisy M1 blue run back to the base.
The terrain is fantastic for intermediate skiers, but there’s plenty also for beginners and experts. Book a half-day lesson (either group lesson or private coaching) or a performance workshop if you’re an advanced skier or boarder looking to extend your skills.
Lunch and après-ski: Broken Heart Gin Garden
Head down to Queenstown’s first boutique gin tasting room, only a minute from the bottom of Coronet Peak Road in Arthurs Point. Sample from 12 different gins, distilled locally by Broken Heart Spirits, winner of Best New Zealand London Dry at the World Gin Awards 2022.
If gin’s not your thing there’s plenty more to wet your whistle, including local beer (try the Oktoberfest-inspired lager) wine, vodka, whisky and even a quince liqueur. Local takes on classic cocktails include Rhuby Rogers (with rhubarb gin, of course), a Negroni Noir (with pinot noir gin) and an Orange Spice Espresso Martini, made with spiced rum.
The glass-fronted tasting room keeps things warm, but if it’s sunny there’s no better spot than outside on a long table.
Dinner: Tanoshi Teppan and Sake Bar
Queenstown’s fields may not be as far-flung as Japan’s resorts, but dinner at Tanoshi could have you thinking you’re in Hakuba. It’s a cosy retreat here on a cold night, with a great kitchen smell and a bustling atmosphere. The tapas-style menu serves up contemporary versions of Japanese classics. Think sashimi, edamame, beef skewers, pork dumplings and crispy tofu, plus traditional rice bowls of roast beef, pork cutlet, tempura veggies or garlic soy chicken. The chef’s choice is always a winner and the service is exemplary. Tanoshi has two restaurants: in Cow Lane in the middle of town, and in Frankton near the airport.
Drinks: Ferg’s Bar
It’s only a two-minute walk from Cow Lane Tanoshi to this new and highly anticipated cocktail bar on Shotover Street. Ferg’s Bar has exceptional pedigree, coming from the team behind the legendary burger joint, Fergburger. The fit-out is reminiscent of a 1920s speakeasy, all dark timber and warm mood lighting, with seating on old-style bar stools. The drinks menu is immense, and you’ll find some seriously creative signature cocktails, including a Cookies and Cream for those with a sweet tooth (made with vanilla-infused vodka, several sweet liqueurs, cookie cream and chocolate cookie gelato), and the Lunatic Juice, with New Zealand botanical rum, cherry liqueur, lime juice and bitters. There’s also a selection of mocktails (try the faux champagne concoction, made from elderflower syrup, riesling verjuice, orange bitters and soda water). If you’re still feeling peckish, the crispy fried chicken and miso-glazed tofu sliders from the late-night bar menu could well tempt.
Vegetarians and vegans will love the thoughtful breakfast options at this sunny cafe on Church Street in the centre of town. You’ll be needing carbs before you hit the slopes, so it’s hard to go past a bacon or vegan butty (the vegan option has crispy tofu, mushroom, hummus and kumara chips) or the corn and jalapeno fritters, served with poached eggs and bacon (or mushrooms and roast tomatoes). The sweet rice pudding (made with sweet coconut beetroot rice) is also a winner.
Ski: The Remarkables
Known by locals simply as “The Remarks”, this north-facing ski field has incredible views over the Southern Alps and is a great all-rounder, packed with challenging features for freeriding snowboarders and plenty of gentle slopes for beginners (including undercover magic carpets for the kids).
It’s a slightly longer drive than to Coronet Peak and the road is a bit trickier, especially when icy, so consider taking the Ski Bus which leaves at regular intervals from Duke Street in the centre of town.
Book in for a lesson if you can and try to make it up to the lookout for a view over the lake back to Queenstown. Make sure to stop by the Ice Bar for a cool (or hot) drink after a long day.
Après-ski: Altitude Brewing Taproom
Stop off on your way back down the mountain for après-ski at a chic industrial brewery on the shores of Lake Whakatipu. Altitude Brewing has been churning out amazing craft beer since 2013 and it all happens at this casual taproom in Frankton. Sit inside at a beer keg bar stool, or nab a spot in the sun outside with a view back to the Remarkables. Sample a huge range of ever-changing beers. The Mischievous Kea IPA (named after the native alpine parrot that loves to destroy cars) is amazing, as is the Slopestyle Session XPA and the Powder Day Pilsner. There’s usually an on-site food truck, so you won’t go hungry.
Dinner: Little Aosta
Freshen up and head back to Arrowtown for an Italian dinner. Recently opened Little Aosta is the sister restaurant of Arrowtown’s already acclaimed Aosta. The brainchild of Kiwi chef Ben Bayly, Little Aosta takes the homestyle cooking of Northern Italy and pairs it with the best ingredients from the South Island. Case in point is the PPL pizzetta, which is topped with paua, a New Zealand shellfish, purple potato and lardo (a type of salumi, or cured meat). Woodfired venison meatballs with tomato and sage sugo is a standout dish on a mains menu big on shared pasta dishes – just like at an Italian family home. Wine comes in a carafe and the vibe is casual and chatty. Save room for dessert (the vanilla panna cotta in particular is amazing).
Drinks: The Blue Door
Google Maps won’t be required to find your way to The Blue Door bar for a nightcap. Step outside Little Aosta, turn right and walk down the laneway until you see a blue door. Enter the historic stone building to discover a dimly lit den with some seriously cool vibes. An open fire blazes in the corner and a DJ spins tunes (or a live band plays, depending on the night). The cocktail list packs a punch and excels especially when it comes to whisky. Retire to a leather armchair with an Old Fashioned or hit the cosy dancefloor and go out in style. The bar only holds about 30 people, but the party often spills out onto the laneway. Enjoy Arrowtown’s best nightlife and hope you don’t have an early flight the next morning.