While Queenstown is the best known spot in Central Otago, the region has no shortage of beautiful places to visit. From glacial lakes and world-class ski fields to colonial villages and boutique wineries, there's something here to tempt visitors, no matter what there interests are.
One of the wonderful things about staying in Queenstown is all the beautiful places that you can get to in an hour or two. Aside from the ski fields and wineries, there are a number of towns that are worth your time. Many people also visit Milford Sound as a day trip from Queenstown, however I think it's a bit far and suggest you consider visiting there for a couple of days instead.
Instead, spend some time exploring a couple of these towns - you can easily see Arrowtown, Glenorchy and Kingston in a few hours, while Wanaka, Cromwell and Gibbston Valley can easily take up a full day.
The star attraction of this day trip is the journey itself – the route of Queenstown to Glenorchy is a serious contender for one of the most beautiful drives in the world. The road follows the lake with stunning scenery all the way. Once you reach Glenorchy, drive down to the lake for more beautiful views and wander through the old station to learn about the old train that ran there during the gold rush. Then head into town for a coffee or beer.
There are also horse treks around here and, if you’re a fan, you can see a number of the Lord of the Rings filming locations. If you can, head back down to the lake around sunset for spectacular views of the setting sun shining on the lake and disappearing behind the mountains.
Only about 20 minutes out of Queenstown, Arrowtown is a picture-perfect colonial village, founded during the gold rush. Take a leisurely walk through the historic town, visit the old Chinese settlement down by the river and visit the museum in the old post office in town – it’s really interesting and much larger than it looks from the outside!
Arrowtown also has a number of really good pubs and restaurants, so stay for dinner or a long lunch. Slightly out of town, you can also go panning for gold, although that’s really more of a summer activity.
Wanaka is about an hour from Queenstown – either over the scenic Crown Range or through wine country in Gibbston Valley. If you have a car it's a lovely drive, otherwise there are tours available. Ringed by mountains, Wanaka is a small town with artisan shops, good coffee and delicious food, with the blue lake just across the round. Once again, there’s a large choice of good restaurants and take away options if you want to have a picnic by the lakes.
In winter, Wanaka is makes a great base for skiing, with Cardona, Treble Cone and Snow Farm ski fields now far away. In summer, you have the option of all the water sports, trout fishing and hiking in the nearby Mt Aspiring National Park (although to take full advantage of the hikes, you’ll probably want to base yourself here for a couple of days). And, just a short walk west of the township, you’ll find the Instagram famous Wanaka tree.
Central Otago is famous for its pinot noir and you’ll find many of its famous wineries in Gibbston Valley. Stretching from Arrowtown to Cromwell, you’ll find a large range of wineries, some of which only have cellar doors, others which offer tastings and a number with full restaurants and function centres.
Gibbston Valley winery and Amisfield are firm favourites and many people enjoy cycling their way through the valley, trying the different wines as they go. If you don't want to drive, there are also several wine tours from Queenstown. If wines don’t excite you, there are also a few excellent microbreweries in Gibbston Valley.
Cromwell is a country town on the route between Queenstown and Wanaka. The town is on the banks of the Clyde River and the beautiful Lake Dunstan. About 30 years ago, the lake was formed when the Clyde River was dammed, flooding the old main street of the town. Many of the old historic buildings from the 1860s were saved or rebuilt on higher ground.
These old buildings have been preserved in the historic precinct of the town, which is essentially an open-air museum, showcasing what life was like in Cromwell in the late 1800s. Cromwell is also home to a number of great restaurants and vineyards, so make the time for a leisurely lunch when you visit.
Kingston is a small settlement across the lake from Queenstown. It’s main claim to fame is the old station and train which is parked near the lake. It’s a beautiful spot and worth visiting if you’re in the area for a while, but there’s not a huge amount to see and do there. It’s also a long drive from Queenstown although, of course, that comes with lovely views of the lake and surrounding mountains and you can stop at the Devil’s Staircase lookout point on the way.
Planning a trip to Queenstown? Read our Queenstown travel guide.
Last Updated 28 May 2022