Queenstown – the backpacking capital of New Zealand and hub of all things adventure travel on South Island. If you’re travelling around South Island, then you will end up backpacking through Queenstown sooner or later: everybody goes to Queenstown.

But will there be shenanigans?

There’s always shenanigans in Queenstown.

A ski town in the winter months, an outdoor adventure town in the summer months, and a party town all-year-round, Queenstown never really lulls. If you’re someone that prefers life in the slow lane, it may not be your draw. But for everyone else – particularly the young, dumb and full of… ahem… rum – it’s a real treat!

…IF you do it right.

Travelling New Zealand is pricey and a trip to Queenstown is especially expensive. The accommodation in Queenstown is expensive as are the activities and nights getting absolutely plastered in its numerous clubs and venues. Visiting Queenstown without first getting the score would be a total mistake, particularly if you’re backpacking New Zealand on a shoestring budget.

That’s exactly why YOU need this budget travel guide for Queenstown! It’s loaded with travel tips and secrets for backpacking Queenstown on a budget. Pretty soon you’ll be buzzing, banging, and bouncing around with the best of them.

Say what you want about Queenstown, but man, it never gets boring.

A backpacker paragliding in Queenstown during sunset
Or ugly. | Puripat Lertpunyaroj (Shutterstock)

How Much Does Backpacking Queenstown Cost?

A trip to Queenstown will eat away at your budget: it’s simply too jam-packed with goodies not to! Eating out, drinking out, and getting out and doing ridiculous hair-raising things are all part of the quintessential Queenstown experience.

However, with a little bit of conservative and concerted effort, you’ll find keeping your daily budget for Queenstown in check is totally possible. It’s just going to require a dedication to the budget backpacker lifestyle.

I’d say for someone who wants to live a comfortable backpacker lifestyle in Queenstown, a daily travel budget of $45-$80 per day is sufficient. BUT (and this a massive but), I haven’t incorporated any activities in that.

The Skyline gondola en route to the luge track in Queenstown
Adventures sold separately.

There are a stupid number of activities for tourists in Queenstown of the high-octane and high-disposable income variety. To manage your budget successfully, you’ll need to give careful consideration to what you want to do in Queenstown. Skydiving, snowboarding, throwing yourself off bridges with only a thin elastic rope tied around your ankles…

These things all cost the big bucks.

  1. Lodging – Unless you’ve got a crew to split an Airbnb with, you’ll want to stick to hostels. You can find cheap backpacker hostels in Queenstown for around $15 a night, however, the average is really more like $20-$30 a night.
  2. Transportation – Queenstown is rather small and walkable, however, there is a rather cheap and comprehensive bus network if you need it. The main suburbs of Queenstown are all linked by $1.50 bus rides provided you have a GoCard (more on that later).
  3. Food – Welcome to Down Under where you’d have to push your mother down the stairs for a fiver on three separate occasions just to buy her dinner to apologise! You can grocery shop a typical budget traveller meal for <$5 but otherwise, eating out is nearly always going to cost you $10+ even at the cheap end of the spectrum.
  4. Booze – Ditto to eating out, boozing by the light of the moon (or sun) is costly – usually at least $5 for a standard beer in the pub. Other drinks are comparatively more expensive, and pretty soon you’ll be lavishing in the goon-life just to stay at a typical Queenstown backpacker level of inebriation. Doobs are extra, of course.
  5. Attractions – Oh, geez, Queenstown’s attractions tend to be more activities of the surging adrenaline kind. That varies considerably. A bungee jump is around $140, hiking is free, and a couple of rides on the Skyline luge will start from about $40.

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    A Daily Budget in Queenstown

    To give you a little more sense of the cost to travel to Queenstown, here are some averages I nutted out:

    ExpenseBroke-Ass BackpackerFrugal TravellerCreature of Comfort
    Accommodation$5-$14$15-$30$35+
    Food$9-$16$18-$25$30+
    Transport$0-$3$4-$10$15+
    Nightlife Delights$5-$15$16-$30$35+
    Activities$0-$20$20-$45$50+
    Total per day:$19-$68$73-$140$165+

    NOTE!!! Up until now, all monetary denominations have been given in approximated USD totals. Now, I’ll be switching to NZD for the remainder of the article any time a denomination is given.

    As of writing this (December 2020), 1 USD = 1.40 NZD.

    Queenstown Budget Backpacking Tips

    Queenstown on a budget is certainly possible. With a few of the budget backpacker tools-of-the-trade and a few extra Queenstown-specific tricks, you’ll be laughing at New Zealand’s ridiculous prices of everything in no time.

    A budget backpacer in Queenstown shows off his second-hand shopping score at the waterfront
    Nothing like a good haul from the op-shop! | Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar
    • Pre-drink – Pre-drinks before any romp around Queenstown’s raging nightlife is a complete necessity! It’s worth considering smuggling booze into venues in a flask too.
    • Cook your own food – This is a MUST to properly knock down your travel costs in Queenstown! Eating out in Queenstown is expensive, so whether you’re using nifty portable backpacker stove or you’re just staying in a hostel with a kitchen, cook for yourself.
    • Hit up the second-hand shop – For gear shopping in Queenstown, you’re loaded on choices – the main hub is chock full of fancy-pants stores featuring top-of-the-line snow and adventure gear! But… so are the second-hand shops! If you need to get any backpacking gear while you’re in town, go pre-loved.
    • Dumpster diving Look, you may not be about the racoon life, but the fact is that the tourist spots in New Zealand are an absolute gold mine for the regular trashcan spelunker. Tourists throw away a lot of tasty treats… contingent on your standards.
    • Walk – C’mon, man, Queenstown is not big at all! Plus, it’s a hiking destination. Forget the buses and taxis!
    • Go busking – Got an instrument, pair of poi, or a burgeoning interest in ventriloquism? Then go busking! While I had much more fun busking in nearby Wanaka, Queenstown is very much the busking capital of New Zealand.
      Hang drum specialists may want to diversify their routine though. Last time I was there, there were three all within 50 metres of each other.

    Why Should You Travel to Queenstown with a Water Bottle?

    Whilst there’s a lot that we can do when it comes to travelling responsibly, reducing your plastic consumption is one of the easiest and most impactful things you, as a bonafide environmentally-aware sex-machine, can do. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, don’t take plastic shopping bags, and forget straws. All of this just ends up in landfill or in the ocean.

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    Where to Stay in Queenstown

    Queenstown may not be big, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to figure out where to stay in Queenstown – there are almost TOO many accommodation choices!

    From fancy hotels to swanky Airbnbs right down to the humble backpacker abode, Queenstown has plenty of accommodation options to choose from. Most of them are located in the central area of Queenstown as well as pretty much everything and anything else you’ll need. If you’re not staying on Shotover Street – the happy-haps place to go in Queenstown for backpackers and party people – you’ll probably be less than 5 minutes walk from it.

    Now, if you do want a more chill experience in Queenstown, then don’t go to Queenstown!

    …I jest. Kind of… but you would be smart to find a place to stay outside of Queenstown’s small but dense central sprawl.

    A panoramic photo of Glenorchy's lakefront - the top place to stay outside of Queenstown
    Not getting out of Queenstown would be a mistake.

    You could stay in one of the outer suburbs – Fernhill is quieter as is Frankton (which is where the airport is) or somewhere like Arthur’s Point which is above the town. However, there aren’t any hostels outside Queenstown’s main hub, so you’ll have to look for a cheap Airbnb as an alternative budget accommodation.

    Lastly – and particularly if you’re touring the South Island by car (or van) – you could just NOT stay in Queenstown at all! I strongly, strongly, strongly recommend taking the 45-minute drive to the much more peaceful Glenorchy up the lake; there are even campsites along the way! You could also check out Arrowtown – a deliciously charming historic mining town – about 20-30 minutes outside town.

    I’ll be covering accommodation hacks and camping in Queenstown later on in the travel guide, however, I do have to say this: do not attempt freedom camping in Queenstown. Particularly in a car/van, but I’d be wary of even going full hobo-style.

    Queenstown has cracked down hard on freedom camping. They really seem to have fetishised fining hapless travellers. Usually, I’d be all gung-ho about freedom camping in New Zealand as long as you’re sneaky and respectful, but not in Queenstown. It’s just not worth it.

    Best Backpacker Hostel in Queenstown: Adventure Queenstown Hostel

    Best Backpacker Hostel in Queenstown: Adventure Queenstown Hostel

    Look, most of Queenstown’s best hostels are pretty same-same; kickass amenities, chill backpacker vibes, and the neato extras like bicycle parking and snow gear storage. Adventure Queenstown hostel is exactly all that, HOWEVER, the kitchen is fucking stacked to the rafters!

    If you and your freshly-made Queenstown hostel crew aren’t cooking up communal feeds, getting plastered on cask wine, and then having sex in all the dorm beds, then you aren’t doing Queenstown right.

    Best Cheap Hostel in Queenstown: Base Queenstown

    Best Cheap Hostel in Queenstown: Base Queenstown

    It’s a cheap place to stay in Queenstown and one that’s down with the party life! It’s not the cleanest, it’s not the nicest, and the power outlet situation is pretty grim, but you get what you pay for. Which in this case, is not a lot.

    And, it’s in a sweet location – the dead centre of town! It’s close to all the best bars and clubs, and the staff are fully expecting you to come back to the hostel blind and stupid.

    Dreamy Honeymoon Suite in Queenstown: The Love Shack

    Best Airbnb in Queenstown: The Love Shack

    I’m not gonna lie: it was the name that sold me! As far as Airbnbs in Queenstown go, there a lot. But I dig this one.

    It’s outside the noise of the centre sprawl up in Arthur’s Point. There’s a fireplace – perfect for the backpacking snugglebugs – and a downright gorgeous outdoor deck. It’s a perfect base for exploring Queenstown from outside Queenstown; you may just spend the day inside!

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    Top Things to Do in Queenstown

    There are so many goddamn things to do to Queenstown that you’d really have work on being bored. However, given its status as the adventure capital of New Zealand as well as being a massively famous international destination for adventure travel, most of Queenstown’s activities are adventure activities… and suitably expensive.

    Keeping that in mind. I’ve tried to mix up the suggestions of what to do in Queenstown for different vibes of travellers. The adventure activity classic hits, things to do in Queenstown for free, on the cheap, or even GTFOing on Queenstown altogether: every backpacker is a unique special soul.

    Some of us prefer Wanaka.

    1.Bungy Jumping – The OG Advenure Activity in Queenstown

    Speaking of the classic hits, bungy jumping is the title track! AJ Hackett Bungy is the only choice of operator for bungy jumping in Queenstown as well as the progenitors of the commercial bungy jumping industry. Kawarau Bridge is the location of the world’s first commercial bungy jump, though AJ Hackett now has two more locations plus a zipline, sky swings, and a human catapult (which I was disappointed to discover wasn’t quite exactly how I envisioned it).

    A backpacker in Queenstown does a bungy jump from Kawarau Bridge
    You said there’d be refreshments! | Photo: Judith Lienert (Shutterstock)

    Oh and fun fact that I just learnt! Bungy jumping was originally inspired by the vine jumping traditions – the Nagol jump – of the people of Pentecost Island, Vanuatu.

    2. Skiing in Queenstown – #Snowbumlyf

    If you’re in Queenstown come the winter powder, you’re in for a helluva time! With 4 ski fields (technically, 5, but the Soho Basin is more for upper-middle-class snowbums), easy access even from town, and an absolute wealth of gear hire shops around, a day on the ski fields is the absolute highlight of any winter trip to Queenstown. Get on the slopes at:

    A man and his son skiing at Treble Cone near Wanaka and Queenstown
    Suit up! | Photo: Jo Munday (Flickr)
    • Coronet Peak – The closest ski field to town – only 25-minutes from Queenstown’s centre – there are tracks for all skill levels, however, it’s particularly suited to newbies of the powder life.
    • The Remarkables – A bit further out of town, it’s the full skiing holiday experience: a ritzy snow-lodge at the base, three sun-drenched snowbowls to carve, and 350-hectares of terrain to explore.
    • Cadrona Alpine Resort – For some of the most consistent snow patterns in all of the Southern Alps (and, most likely New Zealand), ski Cadrona.
    • Treble Cone – It’s closer to Wanaka than Queenstown, but it’s worth the trip for the views alone!

    Now, obviously a skiing holiday in Queenstown is gonna cost: gear hire plus passes alone is already a budget-killer. Make sure you invest in some of the multi-day/multi-field passes to stretch your Kiwi dollars a bit further.

    3. Hiking in Queenstown – Cheaper Than Skiing

    The much more free summertime alternative to skiing, hiking in the Queenstown area is mint! Alpine delights, stunning vistas of mirrored lakes, and all manner of secrets to find. Day hikes for the beginner trampers are on offer as well as multi-day bonanzas and even one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. Try your boots at:

    A backpacker hiking in the Queenstown area at the viewpoint on the Ben Lomond trail
    Ben Lomond knows how to treat a backpacker right.
    • Ben Lomond Trail – A meaty hike in both challenge and length (7-9 hours approx.) but with the payoff of some of the best 360° panoramas of the region.
    • Moke Lake Loop Track – A bit of a local’s favourite, this 2-3 hour hike of the gentler variety will give you those mirrored glass effects over the water on a calm day. It’s an absolutely wicked place to hike (and camp) on a cloudless, starry night.
    • Routeburn Track – The trailhead is closer to Glenorchy than Queenstown, but I simply can’t mention one of the poster children of New Zealand’s tramping scene. It’s 2-4 days of backcountry hiking (emerging from close to Te Anau and Milford Sound) with scenery that often has this trek considered one of the best hikes in New Zealand.

    4. Second-Hand Scores: Shop Like Your Grandma!

    I know I already mentioned this in the budget tips section, but, brah, the op-shops in Queenstown are downright unmissable. There’s no wrong way to travel, however, if you backpacked Queenstown and didn’t check out the second-hand shops, then that’s the wrong way to travel. My favourite op-shops include:

    • The Hospice Shop and The Salvation Army – Two proper op-shops right next to each other doing second-hand shopping right: cheap as balls.
    • The Walk-In Wardrobe and Recycle Boutique – Two shops in town that are more like boutique vintage stores than straight second-hand stores. You’ll find some killer scores, fo’ sho’, but the prices are considerably less appealing.
    • Wastebusters (Wanaka) – One of the best op-shops I’ve ever been to in my entire life! Just another reason to visit Wanaka. 🙂

    5. Busking to the Blasted

    Another repeat from the budget tips, but if you got, flaunt it! Even if all you’ve got is an out-of-tune djembe and an equally off-key pair of lungs, a night busking in Queenstown is a blast. Besides, you’re busking to the hammered twelvies of Queenstown’s backpacking scene – I can guarantee you two things:

    1. People will throw you cash.
    2. Come the morning, no one will remember a fucking thing.

    6. Bomb the Skyline Luge

    Honestly, I’m generally not a tourist activity sorta traveller, but blitzing a 1600 metre downward Mario Kart-style track on custom-built luge karts while accompanied by reaching views of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu is worth every penny.

    The Skyline Luge track - awesome activitiy for tourists in Queenstown
    Blue shell sold separately. | Photo: Boyloso (Shutterstock)

    Pre-roll a couple of doobs, pre-pack some lunches to save some cash, and just bomb the day away.

    7. Too. Many. Parties.

    Friday night, Saturday night, goddamn Tuesday night – doesn’t matter! Every night is a party night in Queenstown!

    If you’re looking for things to do in Queenstown at night, just take a stroll down Shotover Street and through the town centre to hear the bassy wobbles emerging from the venues of the night. Drink, drugs, and debauchery – the triple Ds of the Queenstown nightlife scene!

    8. Forget the Powder Hounds – This One’s for the Rockhounds

    There is also plenty of rock climbing in Queenstown too! For indoor climbing, head to the Basecamp Adventures Queenstown Climbing Centre. There are also plenty of tour organisers around town to organise a day on the walls outside instead.

    A traveller rock climbing in the Remarkables near Queenstown
    For more of Queenstown’s best views, climb a sheer vertical rock wall with just your bare hands. | Photo: Stefanos Nikologianis (Flickr)

    As for the climber-climbers (you know who you spider monkeys are), yes, there are an absolute myriad of routes around, both around Queenstown and Wanaka too. It’s mostly sport climbing mixed with a bit of trad climbing (and even some ice climbing), but you’ll also find some bouldering around Wanaka.

    9. Free Feeds at Fergburger

    Fergburger – one of Queenstown’s finest cheap eats – is ALWAYS busy and packed with tourists. Most backpacker guides for Queenstown would tell you to eat there, but I’m going to tell you to dumpster dive there!

    The trash cans are always overflowing and the queue is always out the door. Five minutes of hovering around like an over-eager bin chicken and you’re guaranteed a feed!

    10. Skydiving Over The Remarkables

    For one of the most remarkable experiences of your life, jump from a plane hovering 15,000 feet above the spectacular Southern Alps of New Zealand and gracelessly fall like a rotund Kiwi bird all the way back down to earth. Generally speaking, the views while skydiving are mindblowing no matter where you do it, but the South Island of New Zealand is just that extra bit mindblowing.

    A man tandem skydiving in Queenstown over the Remarkables
    Gravity is for losers!

    Backpacking Queenstown 3-Day Itinerary

    Wondering how to spend 3 days in Queenstown? Not sure just exactly what the ultimate itinerary for Queenstown should look like?

    Allow me to assist.

    Day 1: Queenstown’s Must-Sees and Dos

    Map of the Queenstown travel itinerary
    Click the pic for the full map!

    You’re gonna start the day before dawn because I’m a knob like that. 😛

    Morning: Before the sun even rises, get yo’ ass to the top of Queenstown Hill – one of the best places to visit in Queenstown for aspiring travel photographers. It’s the only time of day you’ll ever see the viewpoint quiet, and the sunrise is guaranteed to tickle your retinas just right (unless it’s raining). Plus, seeing sunrise just means you get to walk back down the hill during golden hour.

    After that, it’s brekky time! A $10 feed at Red Rock Bar Cafe ought to do you right, but you can supersize to the full smorgasboard if the walk left you hangry.

    Midday-Afternoon: Now, I reckon it’s time to do one (or more if you can swing it) of Queenstown’s must-do activities. Honestly, out of all the hella adventurous stuff to do in Queenstown that I’ve listed, it’s just gonna be a matter of choosing what you like!

    Peronally, I’d go and bomb the Skyline Luge bacause opportunities like that don’t come along very often! A bungy jump, rock climbing, or even white water rafting on the Shotover River are all other recommendations.

    Southern Lights - Aurora Australis - over Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown

    Evening: Time for munchies, methinks! If you feel like pushing the budget a bit, go eat at a fancy restaurant. Hell, just eat at the Stratosfare Restaurant and Bar up the top of the Skyline for dinner with a twinkling view of the lights and lake.

    Otherwise, pick your posion. Personally, I’d suggest Mexican and margaritas at Loco Cantina. That’s a combo that never gets old.

    Night: Man, you are a keen bean – go get some sleep! You were up before dawn!

    If you want to party the night away, go for it, but I’m suggesting you save your spoons. You’ve still got 2 more days in Queenstown and plenty of time left to get loose.

    Day 2: Winter or Summer?

    This day is easy to plan, but it depends on what season you’re visiting Queenstown in.

    Day 2 in Winter: Go skiing! Or snowboarding Or tobogganing… just hit the slopes!

    Coronet Peak is probably the place to visit in Queenstown for one day’s worth of skiing. All the gear and facilities you’ll need are there, and it’s super beginner friendly! Spend the day there until you’re absolutley pooped.

    A man skiing at Coronet Peak ski field and resort - best place to visit in Queenstown in winter
    Powder power! | Photo: Roderick Eime (Flickr)

    Day 2 in Summer: In summer, go for a hike. A dope hike though – don’t be a pansy. Tackle the Ben Lomond Trail.

    It ain’t an easy day hike; it’ll probably take you all day. But for the views at the top, man, you won’t regret it.

    Night: Again, I feel like you’re probably too wrecked for partying. I’m saving that for night three.

    Just have a nice dinner – somewhere romantic and candlelit with your significant other. Walk the shimmering lakefront at night and whisper sweet nothings into each other’s ears.

    And if you’re alone? I dunno, get a pizza and go back to the hostel to cry yourself to sleep. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

    Day 3: Day Trips – That’s What!

    That’s right – today is the day to get out of Queenstown! There are lots of cool places to see near Queenstown. While how you get there is really dependent on how you’re travelling New Zealand, it’s still totally worth the adventure.

    I’ll cover some suggestions for day trips from Queenstown in the next section, but for the purpose of day 3 of our itinerary, I suggest either Glenorchy or Wanaka. They’re both in opposite directions, so it’s one or the other, but you really can’t go wrong with either of them.

    Famous Instagram spot in New Zealand - That Wanaka Tree
    That Goddamn Wanaka Tree | Photo: Winston Tan (Shutterstock)

    Honestly, if you don’t mind a smushy itinerary, you could probably jam them both into one day as long as you start early. You could even take a lunch break in Queenstown on the way back through – perhaps that towering greasy delight from Fergburger?

    Hiking, swimming in the lake, or just aimlessly driving, spend the day exploring the mesmering scenery of the landscape surrounding Queenstown. And then, after the sunsets… then it’s finally time to party.

    Night: You do you – that’s the only rule of the night! You have an entire party town slammed with pumpin’ venues, and then the inevitable kick-on’s at someone’s hostel or Airbnb (or just in the park).

    Pick your poison for the night: drinks, doobs, or cocaine through a bendy sippy straw – it’s all good! Just make sure don’t miss your flight the next day.

    Day Trips from Queenstown

    Ok, so about those day trips – there are heaps! So, here’s my pick of the lot.

    Where?Driving Time (from Queenstown)Public Transport?Deetz
    Glenorchy45 minsYeah – a shuttleBarely big enough to be called a village, the picturesque settlement of Glenorchy is the Yin to Queenstown’s Yang in just about every way. It’s quiet, devoid of tourism, and complete bliss.
    Paradise20-30 mins past GlenorchyNoYup, Paradise! Continue north from Glenorchy on the aptly named ‘Road to Paradise’ and pretty soon you’ll arrive at an even tinier settlement called Paradise. The road continues on from here to a hiking trail, or you can just wander the insanely beautiful and lush greens here (there are also a couple of filming locations for the Lord of the Rings near here).
    Arrowtown20 minsYeah – a regular busSomething of a hidden gem on South Island (despite its accessibility from Queenstown), but that’s probably because there isn’t much in the way of adventure tourism here. It’s a charming gold rush era village that still maintains a lot of its historic charms.
    Wanaka1 hourYeah – a coach busOh, my sweet, darling Wanaka. How I miss thee, but how I understand that the same lake can never be stepped in twice.
    Wanaka is a delight in every sense of the word, and staying in Wanaka is honestly a fantastic alternative to Queenstown. It’s still a tourist town; it’s just considerably more low-key in comparison to Queenstown.
    It’s more chill, the locals are a bit more open with tourists as a result, and hot take alert, it’s prettier.
    Astrophotography panoramic photo of a starry night sky above Glenorchy and Lake Wakatipu
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    Queenstown Travel Guide – Extra Tips and Advice

    Now you’ve got a good scoop of what to do in Queenstown and where to go, let’s get into the nitty gritties. Travel is about more than just beautiful, life-changing experiences. It’s about stats and number-crunching and sweet glorious travel insurance!

    Welcome to the world of adult responsibilities.

    Best Time of Year to Visit Queenstown

    Look, Queenstown is basically an all-year-round destination: winter is for the powderhounds and summer is for the adrenaline junkies. Both seasons suitably pack out exactly how you would expect peak season to go.

    Winter (June through August) is when Queenstown becomes a snowbum’s paradise. Parties up the wazoo attended by only the youngest, dumbest, and most full of cum, and, of course, there’ll be plenty of New Zealand’s silkiest and most intoxicating white powder… I’m talking about the snow!

    Backpacking Queenstown in winter visiting the waterfront just before sunrise
    Less like a Winter Wonderland and more like a theme park… A very cold theme park. | Photo: skyearth (Shutterstock)

    Summer (December through February) is for every other kind of outdoorsy holiday in Queenstown. Hiking, climbing, and a whole bunch of the adventure-themed tourist activities are the main attractions in Queenstown at this time of year. Be warned, however, in both the summer and winter seasons, prices go up.

    Lastly, spring and autumn could be considered the shoulder/off-seasons though it’s still backpacker central and hardly quiet. Weather patterns can be unpredictable and turn quickly, but, honestly, you’re travelling New Zealand: get used to that.

    But I will say that when the winds pick up on Queenstown’s lakefront, that shit bites! Make sure you know what gear to take hiking and for other outdoor adventures, even in the warmer months.

    Getting In and Out of Queenstown

    Your visit to Queenstown will more than likely start at Queenstown Airport in the suburb of Frankton outside the city centre. Given Kiwis’ amicable hospitality for all things hitchhiking life, you could probably even thumb a ride to your hostel!

    Arrival over the alps. | Photo: Anupam hatui (Shutterstock)

    Failing that, there are heaps of transport options sitting right outside the airport arrival gate waiting to take you into Queenstown:

    • Public Buses – Which sorta cost $2 NZ but also sorta don’t: see the next section.
    • Shuttles – With Super Shuttles, which is who’ll you’ll almost definitely ride with, it should be $15 NZ for one person with each extra person in your crew being an extra $5.
    • Taxis and Limos – A taxi from Queenstown airport to Queenstown’s centre ought to be around $35 NZ. As for limos… Bro, do you even broke backpack?

    Otherwise, if you’re not flying in, buses to Queenstown run from other major cities… not that South Island has many. The InterCity network buses cover that, but honestly, I’d rather hitchhike.

    Finally, for those travelling New Zealand by campervan (or some other vagabond Bat-Packer-Mobile), parking in Queenstown is a bitchin’ pain-in-the-ass nightmare-from-hell. I already mentioned to watch yourself freedom camping (or freedom parking) there, but even parking your warhorse in town for the day is a pain.

    Try this aptly titled post on where the hell you can park in Queenstown to figure out where to leave the shaggin’ wagon for a day’s adventuring.

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    How to Get Around Queenstown

    Getting around Queenstown is honestly a snap. Small, well-connected, and easily walkable is the name of the game in Queenstown. Still…

    Let’s talk about Queenstown’s buses: they’re blimey cheap! IF you get a Bee Card – the tap-on, tap-off style of cashless transport card.

    The first bit of good news is that with a Bee Card, every ride is $2. Two-measly-dollars! The second bit of good news is that $2 gets you all around the Queenstown area – Arrowtown, Frankton, Arthur’s Point, etc.

    The third bit of good news is that the Bee Card works in several other regions around New Zealand including Dunedin – a city on the southeast coast. That’s dope because Dunedin is dope and definitely worth checking out (though Dunedin to Queenstown vibe-wise is an aged, smoky scotch to a Jagerbomb).

    So the question then is, what’s the bad news? Absolutely nothing! The Bee Card used to cost $10 to purchase but they discounted it to $5, so I’m considering that good news.

    Purchase the card for a fiver from the bus driver (cash only), top-up for a minimum of $5, and then it’s $2 bus rides all the way! Considering the bus ride from Queenstown Airport costs $10 without a Bee Card, it’s totally worth it. (Unless it’s literally the only bus you’ll catch while backpacking through Queenstown.)

    They are around in hordes and are, as is typical of the New Zealand backpacker life, expensive. Uber is around too which may net you a cheaper ride.

    Dude, in all seriousness, Queenstown is really not big. Even the walk from the airport to Shotover Street is only 8 km! Maybe that’s a bit extreme, but walking around Queenstown is super easy (and usually super pretty).

    Is such a recommendation: travelling around Queenstown by bicycle is a blast! In truth, most of Queenstown’s hostels will probably have a bicycle hire… so do it!

    A man travelling the Otago region by campervan camping outside Queenstown
    Can I get a ‘Heaps Yeah!’ for the vanlife?

    Safety in Queenstown

    Yeah, look, it’s New Zealand: Queensland is totally safe to visit. One time, a man stubbed his toe in New Zealand, and that was probably the worst thing that happened there that year.

    Some people are still assholes, of course, so hide your money and passport well when visiting Queenstown, particularly in the hostel and clubs. Is anything likely to get nicked? Not really, but there’s no sense leaving yourself open.

    Speaking of, I’m sure there’s been no shortage of punch-ons take place in the streets of Queenstown during the early hours of the drunk-hazed mornings. Its nothing out of the ordinary for a backpacker-centric resort town, but still, party safe, yo! Good vibes only.

    A busker at the Queenstown lakefront market pats his dog
    Ruff!

    Otherwise, it’s nothing else but the standard safety tips for backpacking anywhere in the world: be good, be smart, and trust your gut. And take care when exploring the adventurous highlights of Queenstown and doing the crazy shenanigans (like jumping out of a plane at 15,000 feet). Your mum wants you home in one piece.

    Want to keep your money safe?
    money belt compressed png

    You should always have emergency cash hidden on you – pick up this awesome security belt with its hidden pocket before you travel, it’s perfect for hiding money, a passport photocopy.

    Get your money belt here.

    Get Insured Before Backpacking Queenstown

    Yassss – snowboarding, climbing, or brawls over babes on Shotover Street, injuries happen on the road. Consider getting your ass insured before you take off travelling to Queenstown (and the rest of the planet)!

    The Broke Backpacker is all about World Nomads Travel Insurance. Several members of the team use it, and they’re one of the most trusted travel insurance providers for both itinerary-less globetrotters and mountain-conquerors (at elevations under 6000 metres).

    We’ve even reviewed World Nomads! You can give that a squizz and see if they’re the provider right for you.

    will in the wild

    A message from Will, the OG Broke Backpacker

    “Once upon a time, I almost lost my leg in a sweltering jungle… 

    I battled a seriously nasty infection that snaked up past my knee and by the time I made it to a local hospital they wanted to amputate. I was delirious, unable to walk, and in a lot of pain but I managed to call my insurance provider – they moved me to a much better private hospital where the doctors were able to save my leg.  

    I wracked up $15,000 in hospital bills, but these were completely covered by my travel insurance. Luckily, I still have my leg today, and whilst it is permanently damaged, I’m grateful every day it’s still attached!

    Moral of the story: consider getting travel insurance before you head out into the wilds, people!

    And if World Nomads doesn’t seem right for you? Then check out our comprehensive comparison of the top travel insurance companies, but, please, DO consider getting some sort of coverage.

    Queenstown Accommodation Travel Hacks

    Even Queenstown’s budget accommodation is still kinda pricey and all broke backpackers need to save their dollaridoos. While it can get kinda crusty sometimes, there are ways to travel for free. And sometimes these ways include a shower!

    Try…

    You are gonna have a monstrously difficult time trying to find a host in a backpacker hub like Queenstown, but give it a shot regardless – staying places with Couchsurfing is great! Plus, the free stay ain’t too shabby.

    Just dress to impress when you message your potential host. Maybe tell them you’re travelling with a cobra or something cool to make you stand out.

    Backpacked pretty much anywhere else before? Have you been kicking around New Zealand’s other tourist areas before Queenstown? Then you’re probably already hooked up in Queenstown somehow.

    Dip into your socials and send a shoutout to your fellow backpack-slingin’ mongrels! More than likely, somebody will know someone or somewhere you can sleep, pitch a tent in the yard, or even help out for a bed.

    Your best bet would be to see if any of the hostels around the city are taking on live-in workers (with payment of a bed and maybe food). There’s also the possibility of finding a gig through a volunteering platform like Workaway. There are things around, but they’d be tougher to sniff out in the dead-centre of Queenstown – branch out.

    As I said, freedom camping is out. Backpackers on two feet with their favourite outdoor adventure gear strapped over their shoulders can still find a sneaky clearing or homey bridge to pitch under – always – but there’s a rather pricey risk involved. As long as your smart and creative though, you’ll probably be fine.

    HOWEVER, around Queenstown are some delicious campsites that make staying in Queenstown look like a very unappealing option. Most of the free campsites near Queenstown require a self-contained-certified vehicle and sticker (the local council are serious weiners), with the only free place to camp legally for non-self-contained vehicles being 30-minutes drive from Queenstown in the Gibbston Valley.

    That’s why you may find yourself needing to pay for camping in Queenstown. Forget the holiday parks – you may as well just book a hostel at those prices – but the DOC-managed campsites around town are a bit more fairly overpriced. Your choices are Twelve Mile Delta and the Moke Lake Campsite.

    Two girls camping at Moke Lake near Queenstown feed the ducks
    Whoever said that you need the hostel life to make friends! | Photo: Spaceships Rentals (Flickr)

    Some Extra Free Things to Do in Queenstown

    Travel budgets for Queenstown tend to be in dire straits UNLESS you’re sticking to the cheap activities. And what’s even better than cheap activities?

    Free activities!

    A beautiful photo of a horse and mountain taken on the Road to the Paradise from Glenorchy
    The real Isengard. | Photo Gabor Kovacs Photography (Shutterstock)
    • A spot of frisbee golf – Head over to the Queenstown Gardens to find an 18-‘hole’ course (they’re more like baskets). A round of frisbee golf in the gardens is totally free, however, you’ll need to bring some frisbees (which you can buy all over Queenstown). So, it’s more like semi-free.
    • Go walking in Queenstown – I couldn’t rightfully put this under the hiking section because that’s really stretching the concept of hiking; they’re two walks in Queenstown starting basically from Queenstown!
      The Queenstown Hill trail takes you up the hill over Queenstown for some seriously impressive views (although you can safely expect to be sharing the trail with others). The Tiki Trail is another chill and short hike-lite that – while lacking in impressive views on the ascent – offers arguably even better views than Queenstown Hill from atop Bob’s Peak.
    • Lord of the Rings scavenger hunt – Tours are stupid – go find the LOTR filming sites around Queenstown yourself! All you need are the GPS coordinates (enclosed in the link), a healthy bit of brave stupidity, and possibly a lifelong treasured companion that would follow you to the ends of the earth.

    Here’s a cheeky push to get you started:

    • Lothlorien – Forest in Mount Aspiring National Park
    • Isengard – Paradise
    • Ithilien Camp – 12-Mile Delta
    • The Argonath on the Anduin River – Kawarau Suspension Bridge
    • Ford of Bruinen – Skippers Canyon
    • Dimrill Dale – Lake Alta

    Books to Read About Queenstown

    Look, to be perfectly frank, bar a few photography books, there aren’t actually a whole lot of books set in Queenstown. Instead, I just ripped a few suggestions from our backpacking New Zealand guide:

    • Pounamu Pounamu – A short story collection penned by the esteemed Witi Ihimaera, the same author of ‘The Whale Rider’ (another highly recommended read). Pounamu Pounamu depicts themes of Maori culture, identity, and perspective in 1960s New Zealand. It’s an important read for any traveller of New Zealand seeking a deeper insight into the country and its people.
    • Field Guide to the Wildlife of New Zealand – This gorgeous photographic field guide illustrates New Zealand’s glorious wildlife in all its majesty. A must-read for a nature lover hiking in Queenstown and New Zealand.
    • The Penguin History of New Zealand – Did you know that New Zealand was one of the last countries in the world to be discovered by man (sometime around 1300 A.D. by the Maori)? Find out more bong-night trivia in this book!
    • Explore New Zealand – A great choice for someone who chooses a driving holiday in New Zealand (or just the straight vanlife). This book has 61 routes in total, and each contains a detailed map and full-colour photography that illustrates some of the highlights of that road trip.
    • The Bone People – Winner of the Booker Prize in 1985, The Bone People is the story of Kerewin, a despairing part-Maori artist who is convinced that her solitary life is the only way to face the world.  This novel speaks about New Zealand’s people, its heritage, and its landscape with great perceptiveness.
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    Eating and Drinking in Queenstown

    While finding someone serving up a mean kai in town is not a problem, actually choosing where to eat in Queenstown is more of a struggle. You are absolutely loaded for choices!

    Around every corner is a bar, cafe, or restaurant. There are budget-minded fast food joints, hipster-wank espresso sheds, ritzy restaurants, plenty of international cuisines, and, of course, the humble blotto 3 A.M. kebab – the most time-honoured of traditions Down Under

    Finding somewhere to eat in Queenstown isn’t hard: finding somewhere cheap to eat in Queenstown is the challenge.

    The Best Restaurants in Queenstown: Cheap Eats Edition

    Eat well, eat cheap, and eat lazy at Queenstown’s finest dispensaries of budget cuisine:

    A double whopper burger from Fergburger - popular cheap restaurant in Queenstown
    As a vego, I find this distasteful. As a hungry raccoon, lemme just unbuckle my belt. | Photo: Esmée Winnubst (Flickr)
    • Slice Pizza – My absolute favourite deal in all of Queenstown: all-day-long single large slices of pizza for $2! Take that lass you’ve been wooing at the hostel for a picnic in the park, broke backpacker style.
    • Fergburger – Look, they’re honestly not the best burgers I’ve ever had (based on what I sampled from the bin out front), but they are cheap! …Ish. You can fill yourself up for a tenner at least.
    • Fergbaker – Fergburger’s sister pie shop serving up pies and pastries for less than $5. Honestly, go this over the burger.
    • Loco Cantina – If you’re staying at Nomads Queenstown, they actually run little partnership discounts with Loco Cantina for guests (although why you would stay at a Nomads Hostels anywhere in New Zealand or Australia is beyond me). Loco Cantina runs a whole bunch of other deals, however, open to everyone, and in keeping with their clientele’ budgets. 2-for-1 Taco Tuesdays at only $5 a taco – that’s a loco bargain!
    • Red Rock Bar Cafe – Also knows their clientele with a $10 all-day-breakfast of the ‘knock your hangover over’ variety (which you were probably awarded for getting too stuck into the margaritas at Loco Cantina on Taco Tuesday).

    Nightlife in Queenstown

    I’ve already made plenty of not-so-subtle references to the night-vibe of Queenstown, but, yeah, it’s a total party town. Think East Coast Australia vis à vis Gold Coast/ Byron Bay meets Banff (or Hakuba or any other powderhound’s Mecca where the drunk Aussies make their pilgrimage to).

    Now, I’m admittedly a bit of a party snob; I like my parties to be a very certain way with a very certain type of crowd. Queenstown is not that – it’s a straight backpacker party town.

    But for the backpacker/tourist/early-twenties binge alcoholic thing, you’ll have an absolute fucking hoot in Queenstown! Load up on pre-drinks, go trawl the streets bouncing from one venue to the next, and keep drinking until you wake up sometime, somewhere, next to whoever made bone buddy status that night.

    A newly married couple pose for a photoshoot in front of Queenstown's waterfront
    Bone buddy status achieved.

    And, yes, duh, drugs are never far away. They’ll be expensive, as it’s New Zealand, and probably kinda mediocre quality, as it’s New Zealand (ganja and psychedelics notwithstanding)… but they’re there and more than serviceable! Between the booze and the other delights of the night, a good time is never far away.

    Loco Cantina and Winnie’s are both mainstays of Queenstown’s nightlife scene (and the Below Zero Ice Bar seems kinda cool – pun totally intended), however, throw a rock and you’ll hit somewhere to party at in Queenstown.

    Listing Queenstown’s hottest clubs and bars is kinda pointless; a late-night wander through the town will land you where you want to be.

    Backpacker Work in Queenstown

    Queenstown is an absolute gem for travellers working on the road. Many backpackers doing a working holiday in New Zealand (New Zealand being a supreme destination for a working holiday) just end up living and working in Queenstown.

    Obviously, the ski fields – though very seasonal work – provide heaps of job opportunities. Besides, if you know anything about the lifestyle of working the ski fields anywhere in the world (just re-read the ‘Nightlife in Queenstown’ section for a clue), you know it’s backpacker-friendly.

    That’s not to mention the multitude of hospo jobs floating around Queenstown! With so many bars, clubs, cafes, and restaurants around, jobs in the service industry are everywhere. Could you possibly land a cash gig there for those without a work visa?

    Honestly, I’d eat my own Thailand Elephant Pants if you couldn’t.

    A snowboarder in Queenstown at a lookout in the Remarkables overlooking Lake Wakatipu
    I’m yet to hear a single traveller bemoan their stint lapping up the hedonism of ski field work. Sometimes they even get some work done too! | Photo: Dajahof (Shutterstock)

    Lastly, how’s the digital nomad life in Queenstown? Well, considering the cost of living in New Zealand, not that great unless you have a very lucrative online job. Those working as an English teacher abroad may find the life in Queenstown to their liking – slopes to carve in the winter months and steeps to hike in the summer months – but it’s a hard sell considering your proximity to Southeast Asia.

    If you’re looking to get into online English teaching and the digital nomadic lifestyle, you’ll need a TEFL certificate. With one in hand, you’ll find doors opening for you all over the world! Check out MyTEFL for getting your TEFL certificate online: they’re one of the simplest and most professional course conductors on the web AND Broke Backpacker readers get a 35% discount on their course fee! (Using the code BACKPKR at the checkout.)

    Make Money Online Whilst Backpacking Queenstown

    will laptopKeen to live the digital nomad dream while travelling the world? Who the hell isn’t?

    Teaching English online is a great way to earn a consistent income on the road. Depending on your qualifications, you can work remotely from your laptop and make a positive impact on the world! It’s a win-win!

    Check out this detailed article for everything you need to know to start teaching English online.

    Final Thoughts from this Queenstown Travel Guide

    Just have a blast! Queenstown is massive draw for tourists from all around the world. Nestled by the pristine Lake Wakatipu amongst the stunning mountainous terrain of South Island’s Otago region, Queenstown is a gem to visit.

    It’s expensive, yes, but by now, you should have enough tips and tricks to make backpacking Queenstown on a budget extremely possible. Besides, it’s backpacker bloody central! A few hours in town and you’ll be meeting travel buddies, partners-in-crimes, and entire troupes of troublemakers in no time!

    Which I suppose is the last thought of the Queensland travel guide: just be cool, yo. Sure, it’s backpacker central, a tourism capital, and a neverending pandemonium of parties and shenanigans, but there are actual locals in Queenstown too. Kiwis who were born there and no doubt watched it change immensley over the last few decades.

    So just be kind to them and their home, yeah? Don’t wreck the place. Have fun and let loose, but don’t do it like an asshole.

    And the last, last thought of the travel guide? Don’t get stuck in Queenstown! The South Island of New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places on Earth to travel – don’t miss out on it.

    And failing all that, Wanaka is still only an hour up the road. And it’s like 100x better than Queenstown.

    A goat backpacking Queenstown on a shoestring budget (without a backpack or shoestrings)
    Queenstown is still majestic though… in it’s own unique and little bit special way.

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