We made a once-in-a-lifetime trip to New Zealand’s South Island in 2019. We took a grand tour of the island from Christchurch south all the way to the Catlins. New Zealand is full of many amazing things! One of the most beautiful areas we visited was Queenstown. This is the main tourist hub on the South island where people come to ski, hike, and shop. Here are a few of our family friendly recommendations for the area.
Our favorite adventure in Queenstown was the gondola ride up the hillside. This hugely popular venue dominates the skyline in the city. It starts with a gondola ride up to the top of the mountain. The gondola ride is steep, so it provides fabulous views out over the entire valley. There are several things to do once you get to the top, but we went up for the luge track.
We were trained to use a wheeled luge, or sled, (push forward to go, pull back to stop– it’s not rocket science) and then sent down the track, screaming along as fast as we dared. We took multiple rides before the gondola took us back down to town. Our boys were still talking about this adventure as the best thing they did in New Zealand! This adventure is run by Skyline Queenstown.
Just up the road from Queenstown is a small town called Arrowtown. This is an old mining town that has many quaint shops and restaurants that feel like they are hundreds of miles from the busy streets of Queenstown. There is also a small mining village recreated to look as it did a hundred years ago. The houses in this small area were built by Chinese immigrants who came to work in the mines. The houses are so small, and built right into the hill, that it seems impossible that people lived there. We enjoyed half a day exploring Arrowtown and the change of pace it offered.
Another short side trip from Queenstown leads out to Glenorchy. This one is more about the drive along the lake than the destination, though you do end up at a beautiful little town. The mountains reflect off the crystal clear water as you drive, and there are plenty of places to stop and take pictures. We even enjoyed a few hikes along the way. When you arrive at Glenorchy, make sure to drive to the top of the hill to look back over the town. Then enjoy the ride back to Queenstown.
We stopped on the drive to Glenorchy just outside of Queenstown and walked a track called Bob’s Cove. This trail is easy and beautiful. It walks through the trees and down to a beautiful little cove. There is an old kiln right on the beach to view, and the water color is gorgeous. We enjoyed this small stop on the drive, and in the summer this would be a great place to swim and play.
If you make it to Queenstown, it is definitely worth the short drive to Wanaka. This city is a short drive over the mountain to the north. Wanaka has a wonderful venue called Puzzling World. Inside there are optical illusions, hundreds of puzzles to solve, and even a large maze to conquer. We spent a half day at Puzzle World, and it was one of the most memorable things we did in New Zealand. Make sure to stop by if you get anywhere near Wanaka!
Shop & Eat
Queenstown has the best shopping district on the South Island other than maybe Christchurch. There are plenty of places to eat, shops to buy souvenirs, and a beautiful waterfront area. One restaurant that you should try is called Fergburger if you can possibly get inside. It is constantly loaded with customers trying one of their amazing hamburgers.
To read about more adventures in New Zealand, search the name of a city on the South Island in our search box!