From glacial lakes and world-class ski fields to colonial villages and boutique wineries, there's something here to tempt visitors, no matter what your interests are.
While Queenstown is the best-known spot in Central Otago, the region has no shortage of beautiful places to visit. One of the wonderful things about staying in Queenstown is all the charming towns that you can get to within an hour or two.
Aside from the ski fields and wineries, there are a several places to visit that are worth your time. You can see Arrowtown, Glenorchy and Kingston in a few hours, while a trip to Wanaka, Cromwell and Gibbston Valley can easily take up a full day or longer if you have the time.
The view of Lake Wanaka from Roy's Peak
Wanaka is about an hour’s drive 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 - and a picture-perfect lake ringed with mountains. 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 makes a great base for skiing, with Cardona, Treble Cone and Snow Farm ski fields not far away. In summer, you have the option of all the water sports, trout fishing, and hiking in the nearby Mount 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.
The main street of the historic town of Arrowtown
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, explore the old Chinese settlement down by the river and visit the museum located in the old bank 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 - a fun way to spend a couple of hours in the summer.
Gibbston Valley vineyard
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, are several 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 Mount Rosa Wines 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, you can also join a wine tour from Queenstown. And, if wines don’t excite you, there are a couple of good breweries in Gibbston Valley.
The star attraction of this day trip is the journey itself – the route from 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, head to the lake for more beautiful views and wander into the old red shed to learn a little bit about the history of the town.
There are some excellent walks and hikes around Glenorchy, including the start of the Routeburn Track, New Zealand's most popular Great Walk. There are also good horse trekking trails and fans of the Lord of the Rings can visit several filming locations.
If you can, head back down to the lake around sunset for spectacular views of the setting sun shining on the water and disappearing behind the mountains.
Reflections of the surrounding mountains in Lake Dunstan
Cromwell is a country town on the route between Queenstown and Wanaka, 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 good restaurants and vineyards, so make the time for a leisurely lunch when you visit.
The road between Kingston and Queenstown
Kingston is a small settlement across the lake from Queenstown. Its main claim to fame is the old station and train which are located 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 lot 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.