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11 BEST Day Trips from Queenstown in Winter (2024)

A close-up of snow-covered mountains in Queenstown in winter.

Summary of post: the best day trips from Queenstown in winter, including options for travelling with or without a car! 

It’s no secret that Queenstown is one of New Zealand’s best winter destinations. 

Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and world-class ski slopes, with a vibrant lakeside town centre for après ski activities, Queenstown is a real winter wonderland.

I live in Queenstown and in this guide, I’m covering my favourite day trip destinations from Queenstown in winter. 

While there is so much to do in winter in Queenstown, there are also some seriously excellent day trips close by if you’re either not into skiing or simply want to mix up your activities a bit.

All of these day trip locations can be visited year-round, but I’ve specifically highlighted winter-friendly activities like snowy scenery spots, low-elevation (aka non-icy) walks, cosy cafes, wine and beer tasting, and some great indoor activities for blustery days. 

So without further ado, here are the top winter day trips from Queenstown!

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The 11 BEST Day Trips from Queenstown in Winter

1. Arrowtown

The storefront for the Gold Nugget in Arrowtown on a day trip from Queenstown in winter, surrounded by snowy scenery.

Travel time from Queenstown: 20 minutes by car or 1 hour by public bus

Best way to get there: by car or public bus

The historic gold-mining town of Arrowtown somehow becomes even more charming in winter, with the scent of woodsmoke filling the air and plenty of cute cafes and shops to spend some time in.

Since it’s located just 20km from the Queenstown town centre, this is by far the easiest day trip from Queenstown—especially because you can take the public bus there if you’re visiting Queenstown without a car (or simply don’t feel like driving!).

✔️ Things to do in Arrowtown in winter:

2. Glenorchy

A viewpoint along the Glenorchy Lagoon walkway in winter, with three people standing at the end of a boardwalk next to a peaceful bench, looking at a view of the lagoon and mountains in the distance.

⏱ Travel time from Queenstown: 45 minutes

→ Best way to get there: by car or tour

The scenic drive to Glenorchy is gorgeous year-round, but there’s something about the snow-capped mountains in winter that make it feel even more special.

The road to Glenorchy is truly one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand, which is saying a lot in a country filled with so much natural beauty! The area is also home to some beautiful Lord of the Rings filming sites.

Driving to Glenorchy takes about 45 minutes one-way from Queenstown, and there are also options for tours if you don’t have a car.

This is one of those trips where the journey is just as good as the destination, so take your time on the drive and enjoy some stops along the way.

✔️ Things to do on the drive to Glenorchy, and in Glenorchy, in winter:

  • Stop at the Bennett’s Bluff lookout for a gorgeous photo-op.

  • Walk into Bob’s Cove for a beautiful, short winter walk amongst the native beech forest.

  • Pop into Mrs Woolly’s General Store for a hot pie and coffee, and maybe pick up a cute local souvenir, too!

  • Visit the Glenorchy Wharf and photograph the famous Glenorchy red shed with snow-capped mountains in the background.

  • Take a stroll along the Glenorchy Lagoon Walkway. On a calm day, the water reflects the surrounding snowy mountains.

  • Have lunch at Akin Cafe (formerly called the Glenorchy Trading Post).

  • Shop for locally-made gifts at Frank’s Corner.

  • On the drive back to Queenstown, you could consider popping into Moke Lake for a walk—however, I only recommend doing this if you have a 4WD car and also if it hasn’t recently snowed, as the road to Moke Lake can be tricky in winter.

→ Visiting Queenstown without a car? No problem. This tour will show you lots of the best spots around Glenorchy!

3. Wānaka

Lake Wanaka in winter, with snow-capped mountains in the backdrop and an empty pontoon floating on the lake.

Travel time from Queenstown: 1 hour 10 minutes

Best way to get there: by car

Like Queenstown, Wānaka is a hugely popular winter destination in New Zealand. 

Wānaka boasts 2 fantastic ski fields close by. It’s surrounded by stunning scenery and epic trails, and has a lovely town centre with a lot to offer. 

Basically, Wānaka is pretty epic. 

If you’re looking for a family-friendly day trip from Queenstown in winter, it’s hard to look past Wānaka. There is a ton to do there and you can easily fill an entire day (or more) with fun activities!

Now, there are two ways to drive from Queenstown to Wānaka. The quickest way is over the Crown Range Road, and a slightly longer way is via Cromwell.

Both drives are beautiful, but I love the Crown Range Road for its high-elevation views. Bonus points because you can usually play in the snow at the scenic lookout at the summit! 

However, the Crown Range Road is a steep, twisty road and it can sometimes be tricky in winter. Check up on the road conditions before attempting the drive.

If the Crown Range Road is closed and you need to drive via the Kawarau Gorge Road and Cromwell, don’t have FOMO in the slightest because that way is awesome, too.

✔️ Things to do in Wānaka in winter:

4. Cardrona

The front of the historic Cardrona Hotel and pub, with a vintage car in front of the building and red writing that says "Cardrona Hotel."

Travel time from Queenstown: 50 minutes

Best way to get there: by car

Cardrona is located along the drive from Queenstown to Wanaka via the Crown Range Road, but it’s also worth mentioning as a day trip in and of itself.

This little township is best known for its famous and photo-worthy historic hotel, but there are some other excellent things to do in the area, too!

✔️ Things to do in Cardrona in winter:

  • Ski or snowboard at the epic Cardrona ski field.

  • Spend a day snowshoeing, tubing or cross-country skiing at Snow Farm. This is such a fun place for people of all ages, and there’s nothing else quite like it in NZ!

  • Enjoy a hearty meal and warming drink at the historic Cardrona Hotel pub.

  • Sample locally-crafted spirits at the Cardrona Distillery.

5. Milford Sound

A view of Mitre Peak and Milford Sound from the Foreshore Walkway.

Travel time from Queenstown: 4.5 hours-12 hours return depending on your mode of travel—see below for options.

Best way to get there: by tour

Milford Sound is a must-see destination in New Zealand—and you can easily visit it as a day trip from Queenstown by taking a tour! 

There is a lot of bad advice online suggesting that you can drive to Milford Sound and back as a day trip from Queenstown. 

While technically you can drive yourself as a day trip from Queenstown, it’s not a good idea—especially not in winter! 

It’s far too long of a journey to drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound as a day trip, particularly in the winter months when the daylight hours are short.

Additionally, the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound can be dangerous in the winter months, with avalanche risk and icy conditions being major concerns.

Instead, leave it to the experts—hop on a scenic flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound, or enjoy a heated coach tour where you can sit back and relax and let someone else do the driving while you enjoy the scenery.

Most of the Milford Sound tours from Queenstown will include a cruise on Milford Sound, which is truly spectacular in the winter months with snow-capped mountains surrounding you.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to pack warm layers (including a beanie and gloves) and a warm, waterproof coat—Milford Sound can get a lot of rain at times, and it’s best to be prepared. 

✔️ The Best Tours from Queenstown to Milford Sound:

✈️ Fly-cruise-fly: this splurge-worthy, half-day tour is the quickest option for visiting Milford Sound as a day trip from Queenstown. Between check-in, the flights, and the cruise, plan for 5-5.5 hours for this experience.

🚌 Coach-cruise-coach: one of the most popular tours from Queenstown to Milford Sound, this option lets you experience the scenic road to Milford Sound from the comfort of a heated coach. This tour is a fraction of the cost of flying, but does make for a much longer day—allocate about 13 hours for this trip!

6. Gibbston Valley

The front of the Mt Rosa cellar door in the Gibbston Valley wine region near Queenstown, with mountains in the backdrop.

Travel time from Queenstown: 30 minutes by car

Best way to get there: by car or a wine tour

If you’re a wine lover, then you won’t want to miss a visit to Queenstown’s gorgeous wine region: Gibbston Valley.

Located just a half-hour drive from Queenstown, the Gibbston Valley wine region is tucked away under the mountains in a lush valley filled with rolling hills and vineyards. It’s a picturesque place to sample some wine, to say the least.

The area is best known for its pinot noir, but it also produces aromatic whites like pinot gris and riesling. There is some excellent rosé produced here, too.

There are a lot of wineries to choose from, including the popular Gibbston Valley winery, but my favourite cellar doors are Mt Rosa and Kinross.

There are quite a few options for getting to the Gibbston Valley wine region, including driving yourself. However, for obvious reasons, it’s much better to visit the wineries via a tour if you plan to have more than a glass!

✔️ The Best Gibbston Valley wine region tours:

🚌 Hop on, hop off bus: this is my favourite affordable option for visiting the Gibbston wine region—you have the flexibility to visit a number of excellent wineries (and other attractions) at your own pace!

🍷 Wine sampler tour: if you’d prefer to take a guided tour, this is an excellent choice which includes 4 tastings at all of my favourite wineries in the region.

🚲 Cycle hire from Arrowtown: active wine-tasters will love this option—it makes for such a fun day and includes a return shuttle from Queenstown.

7. Bannockburn

Tyson from Weekend Path walking along the Bannockburn Sluicings Trail, with dried wild thyme plants along the trail and craggy cliffs in the distance.
The Bannockburn Sluicings Track is a unique and little-known trail near Queenstown.

Travel time from Queenstown: 1 hour

Best way to get there: by car or a wine tour

Yet another gorgeous vineyard-rich area near Queenstown, Bannockburn is a great place to visit for wine tasting, walks, and excellent local food.

Getting to Bannockburn is a bit more out-of-the-way than going to the Gibbston Valley wine region, so if you enjoy off-the-beaten-path places, you’ll love it here.

Unless you plan to do a wine tour, the best way to get to Bannockburn is to drive yourself.

A wine tour option is certainly not a bad idea, though—particularly the hop-on, hop-off bus that stops at lots of great spots!

✔️ Things to do in Bannockburn in winter:

8. Routeburn Track Day Hike

A view of a meadow and snow-capped mountains from Routeburn Flats, one of the best day trips from Queenstown for hikers.

⏱ Travel time from Queenstown: 1 hour 15 minutes to the Routeburn Shelter trailhead

→ Best way to get there: by car

If you’re an avid hiker, consider day-tripping from Queenstown to the Routeburn Shelter, where you can hike a section of the famous Routeburn Track to Routeburn Flats and back.

While much of the Routeburn Track isn’t safe to hike in the winter unless you’re an experienced alpine hiker, the trail from the Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Flats is typically doable in winter. 

This is one of the South Island’s best hikes and takes you through fern-filled beech forest above the sparkling emerald-blue Routeburn (river).

I’ve hiked this section of the Routeburn Track several times during the winter months and it is seriously magical with snow-capped mountains adding to the already-stunning scenery.

That being said, check with the DOC office in Queenstown before embarking on the trail in winter, just to make sure the conditions are alright on the day you plan to visit.

And please don’t continue past Routeburn Flats because the trail is typically too icy and unsafe in winter from that point on.

Hiking from the Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Flats takes about 2 hours one-way, and then you simply reverse your steps to return to your car (after having a picnic lunch break, I hope!).

In the winter, I love bringing my small backpacking stove on this day hike so I can make a hot tea and cup of soup to warm up at Routeburn Flats before turning around.

9. Cromwell & the Lake Dunstan Trail

The Cromwell Historic Precinct, with a collection of old-timey storefronts that look like a scene from a Western film, including a shop called the "Belfast Store" and another called "George Stumbles."

Travel time from Queenstown: 1 hour

Best way to get there: by car and then a bike hire/shuttle for the Lake Dunstan track

While the town of Cromwell isn’t the most exciting destination in New Zealand, the drive from Queenstown to Cromwell is super gorgeous. This scenic drive passes through the lovely Gibbston Valley wine region and follows the Kawarau River Gorge, and you also have options to detour to Arrowtown and Bannockburn along the way.

The reason I’ve included Cromwell in this day trip guide, though, is because it’s a hub for embarking on one of the best scenic cycle trails in the country: the Lake Dunstan Trail!

The Lake Dunstan Trail is a fantastic cycle trail linking the towns of Cromwell and Clyde. It’s accessible year-round, and winter is honestly a better time for cycling it than summer, in my opinion, because it’s not as hot out (in fact, it’ll likely be pretty cold—so bundle up!).

A good section of the trail is carved into the rocky cliffs above Lake Dunstan, making for some seriously epic scenery to cycle through!

I recommend hiring an e-bike and taking advantage of a shuttle service so you can cycle the trail one way, as doing the entire trail as an out-and-back is 80km+ and best left to experienced and hardy cyclists (which I, for one, am not!). 

✔️ Things to do around Cromwell and Lake Dunstan in winter:

  • Hire a bike to cycle the Lake Dunstan Trail from Cromwell to Clyde, or vice versa.

  • Wander through the Cromwell Heritage Precinct and pop into the cute local shops. While there, make sure to get a cinnamon roll and hot drink at Pinot Junction!

  • Have a meal at the Stoaker Room, where they cook delicious food in French Oak pinot noir barrel cookers known as “stoakers.”

  • For a treat, soak in the River Rock Estate hot tubs while enjoying a glass of their wine.

10. The Blue Pools

The emerald-blue water of the Blue Pools along the Haast Pass Highway, with a swingbridge above the water.

Travel time from Queenstown: 2 hours one-way

Best way to get there: by car

❗️Note: The Blue Pools are closed at the time of publishing this, but I’m including them here for future planning purposes and will update this guide once they’ve reopened!

The Blue Pools are located along Haast Pass on one of the most beautiful short walks on the South Island.

These glacier-fed, super-blue pools of water are so mind-bogglingly vibrant that they almost look fake (like blue food colouring has been dropped into the water!).

It’s best to visit the Blue Pools on a sunny day, as this is when they look their most blue.

You could combine a trip to the Blue Pools with some visits to nearby Haast Pass waterfalls like Fantail Falls and Thunder Creek Falls.

This drive does make for a pretty long day trip from Queenstown, to be honest, but I think it’s worth it if you won’t have another chance to see the Blue Pools on a longer road trip between Queenstown and Franz Josef. 

For a special treat on the drive back to Queenstown, consider booking into the Secret Sauna at Lake Hawea—it’s the perfect way to warm your bones after some wintery walks!  

11. Doubtful Sound

A person wearing warm clothing looking out at Doubtful Sound from the deck of a boat.

Travel time from Queenstown: 12-hour+ return trip from Queenstown

Best way to get there: take a tour

If you’ve already been to Milford Sound and can’t get enough of Fiordland (I don’t blame you), then consider a visit to the remote, wild and beautiful Doubtful Sound.

Doubtful Sound is one of the most peaceful places on the planet if you ask me—it’s been nicknamed the “Sound of Silence” because of its serene surroundings.  

This beautiful fiord is surrounded by mountains dripping with waterfalls, and it’s filled with an abundance of marine life including dolphins and seals. 

Now, I do need to tell you that visiting Doubtful Sound is a BIG day trip from Queenstown. 

Getting there involves a 2-hour drive to Manapouri, then a boat ride on Lake Manapouri, then a shuttle bus over Wilmot Pass…and then finally a 3-hour cruise of Doubtful Sound itself. Then you have to repeat the journey in reverse on the trip back to Queenstown.

All in all, you’ll be looking at a 12-hour return day trip from Queenstown, which is best left to the experts by taking a full tour from Queenstown rather than driving yourself to and from Manapouri.

That being said, I always think a trip to Doubtful Sound is worth it, as its the type of place you might picture in a dream. I actually find this trip quite relaxing since someone else is doing the driving, which means you can take a nap on the coach trip back to Queenstown!

⛴ Check Doubtful Sound tour availability here.

When is Winter in Queenstown?

Winter in Queenstown runs from June through August.

If you’re planning to ski or snowboard, July and August are typically the best months for snow in Queenstown.

Tips for Driving on Day Trips from Queenstown in Winter

A photo taken from the inside of a car looking out the front window at the Crown Range Road with snow covering the sides of the road.
Roads like the Crown Range Road can get icy and snowy in winter, so please drive carefully!
  • Daylight hours in winter in Queenstown are short, and it’s best not to drive on road trips early in the morning, or at night, to avoid black ice on the roads.

  • While you don’t need a 4WD car in Queenstown in winter, I do find it helpful for navigating winter driving conditions on the South Island and for getting up the ski fields. I’d say 4WD is a “nice to have” rather than a “must have,” though.

  • In winter in Queenstown, you’ll need to carry snow chains with you and know how to use them. If you’re hiring a car and have never used snow chains before, just ask and they’ll be happy to show you how to put them on your car! (Most car hire companies in Queenstown will provide snow chains, but check with them when you book).

  • Check up on road conditions before heading out on your road trip, as some roads (like the Crown Range Road) are prone to closure during the winter months and you don’t want to get caught out!

Need to Hire a Car or Campervan for your Queenstown Trip?

🚙 Car Hire: I use and recommend Rentalcars.com for comparing prices from the top car rental companies in NZ.

🚐 Campervan hire: Motorhome Republic is my go-to resource for comparing campervan rentals in New Zealand. I’m a big fan of JUCY vans in particular!

Thanks for Reading my Guide to Day Trips from Queenstown in Winter!

Jac from Weekend Path wearing warm winter clothes while standing outside on the deck of the Doubtful Sound cruise ship.
Yeah, that’s me wearing a beanie and two hoods at Doubtful Sound on a winter visit—it was cold, okay?! 🤣

I hope this has helped you plan a fun winter visit around Queenstown.

As always, please leave a comment or send me an email if you have any questions and I’ll reply as soon as possible!

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