When it comes to free and cheap things to do in Queenstown, you’ve landed in the right place. This list is packed to the brim with local secrets on how to enjoy QT on a budget. After spending a year living here and pinching serious pennies, I’ve discovered just about everything to do if you’re tight on funds or don’t feel like shelling out more cash after a $200 bungee jump.
Lucky for you, I’m here to share all of my findings so you can live like the locals and enjoy all of the free things to do in Queenstown. I’ve also thrown in a few budget activities because, despite contrary belief, not everything in Queenstown costs an arm and a leg.
This article is for you whether you’re a budget traveller, a large family, or looking for a cost-free afternoon. Keep reading to discover all that Queenstown has to offer.
BBQ on the Lake
Most locals will agree that few things beat having a lakeside barbeque with friends. The council graciously provides grills for free along Lake Wakitipu towards Glenorchy in Saint Omer’s Park, allowing anyone to cook up a feast free of charge. All you need to buy is the food, some tinfoil, and a box of beers! And if you get too hot slaving over the BBQ, jump in the lake to cool off.
Hike Up the Tiki Trail
Feel like visiting Skyline but don’t want to pay $44 for a ride on the gondola? You can actually hike up the Tiki Trail, which will land you right at Skyline, where the gondola arrives. The Tiki Trail hike is definitely one of the best free things to do in Queenstown. It’s perfect for budget travellers who want to enjoy the best of the area without spending a fortune. It only takes about 45 minutes to an hour to hike the Tiki Trail to Skyline. It’s short but very steep.
If you’re keen for some fun before hiking back down, purchase a single luge ride for $14 or 3 for $26.
Note: The Tiki Trail closes during the winter months but reopens in October. If you’d like to walk up to Skyline during this time, you can use the access road from Lomond Cresent.
Climb Ben Lomond
Want to get a little higher for the best view around? The Tiki Trail is actually the first part of the Ben Lomond hike, which carries on for an additional three hours for stunning vistas over Queenstown and the surrounding areas. After about an hour up from Skyline, you’ll hit the saddle, perfect for a quick lunch stop. But continue trekking, and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with the view. Just be warned, if you hike in winter you’ll hit the snowline as you get closer to the top. It doesn’t melt until about October, so come prepared!
Cycle Around Lake Hayes
If you aren’t travelling with your own bike, there are tons of places to rent cycling gear in town to explore the endless trails in the area. After getting your hands on a bike (rentals start at around $20), take off to Lake Hayes. Lake Hayes is a picturesque area between Queenstown and Arrowtown with an 8km walking and cycle loop.
Soak in Views from Bob’s Cove
Bob’s Cove is one of the most iconic short hikes in the area. The hike is one of the best free things to do in Queenstown if you want to stretch your legs without hiking an entire mountain. Follow the road towards Glenorchy out of town for about 20 minutes – it’s just past Wilson Bay.
The walk is flat for the first 20 minutes before climbing gradually uphill to Picnic Point. The lookout from Picnic Point is insanely beautiful.
Borrow a Dog
If you’d rather visit Bob’s Cove with a furry friend in tow, borrow a dog from one of the locals in town! There are always people looking for dog walkers in Queenstown, so join the Volunteer Dog Walking Facebook group and keep your eyes out for a companion to take on the trail or around town for the day.
Drive to Glenorchy
Follow Shotover Street out of town towards Glenorchy for one of the most stunning drives of your life. When I really need to get out of the house but don’t feel like spending money, this is one of my go-to’s in Queenstown. The road twists and turns along the lake, with unmatched mountain views the entire time. There are tons of lookouts along the way to stop for photo ops and destinations like Wilsons Bay, Moke Lake, Mt Crichton, and Bob’s Cove along the road.
If you make it all the way to Glenorchy (roughly an hour’s drive from Queenstown), be sure to pop into the Trading Post. The Trading Post have the best chocolate chip cookies on the South Island (a claim I will firmly stand by!). Be sure to also snap a picture with the bright purple and pink lupins in the summer!
Visit the Chinese Settlement
Pop down to Arrowtown for some more free Queenstown fun with a visit to the historic Chinese settlement. Sitting just beside the Arrowtown trails along the river, this historic site gives visitors a look into what life was like in the early and mid-1800s for immigrant gold miners. The settlement models an interesting contrast between the European-style main street and the modest accommodation the Chinese miners built for themselves. There are great informational plaques throughout the free site.
Tour the Lake District Museum & Art Gallery
While in Arrowtown, stop by the Lake District Museum, a true treat for any history buffs. With $10 entry for adults and $3 for kids, this is one of the best cheap things to do in Queenstown. Established in 1948, this quaint museum has tons of hands-on displays depicting the life of the Maori people, early European settlers, and of course, the gold miners. There’s also a small art gallery with some distinguished works. You can also hire a gold pan if you feel like trying your luck in the river.
Explore Sam Summers Hut
Since we’re on the topic of mining, another one of the best free things to do in Queenstown is to trek to Sam Summers’ Hut. This historic hut dates back to the 1930s and can be found along the Mt. Crichton Track. Summers himself used to stay in this hut on long mining excursions. Today, it can be used for quick overnight stays for free. However, at the end of 2021, this hut will be reverted to historic status and will no longer be available for overnight accommodation. That said, Mt Crichton is a pretty easy two to three-hour loop. In addition to Sam Summers’ hut, the loop passes plenty of additional mining features and tunnels along the way.
Find Crazy Deals on Bookme
If you have your eye on a Queenstown activity or are curious about what’s out there, use Bookme.com to find the most insane deals in town. Take 40% off on various cruises and jet boats, 45% off a helicopter flight, or 50% off meal vouchers. You can even find huge savings on hotels, spa packages, transportation, and wine tours. Paragliding or skydiving steeply discounted? Yes, please!
Wander Around the Queenstown Markets
Queenstown is home to some lovely local markets to peruse. The two largest ones are along Marine Parade in town and at Remarkables Park every Saturday. Both markets welcome local artisans selling their goods. Find spoils like handmade jewellery, natural soaps and shampoo, pottery, photographs, sheepskin slippers, and more. Strolling through the market is among the best free things to do in Queenstown, so long as you can resist buying something!
Self-Guided House Tour of Kelvin Heights
Suppose you’re into architecture and curious how people live large in Queenstown. Head over to Kelvin Heights to check out some magnificent and mind-boggling homes, all for free. We’re talking massive villas, infinity pools, million-dollar views, and then some. Most of the builds are super modern and may give you some killer ideas for your next renovation.
To take a self-guided house tour of Kelvin Heights, either drive or walk around the neighbourhood. You can also stroll along the Penninsula Trail, which has some of the largest homes in the area overlooking the lake.
Swim at Wilson Bay
Hop on the road to Glenorchy and drive for about 15 minutes before hitting Wilson Bay, a sweet cove to stop for a dip. There’s plenty of parking, and the area is super dog-friendly. One of the best ways to enjoy this spot is with a small floating raft or a paddleboard! If all else fails, all you need are your swim trunks. Don’t forget the sandfly spray, though, because they’re vicious here.
Arrow River Swimming Hole
Out of all the free things to do in Queenstown during the summer, the Arrow River swimming hole is one of my favourites. I’d be hesitant to give away this well-kept local secret if it wasn’t published in Lakes Weekly last summer (stingy locals back off!).
While you can swim pretty much anywhere in the Arrow River if you walk along it, you’ll come to a few designated swimming holes with rope swings and small jumps – how’s that for wholesome summer fun? Bring along the crew, a box of beers, and a few floaties, and you’re in for a real warm-weather treat! Just keep in mind most of the area is under tree cover, so also bring a hoodie to stay warm in the shade.
Listen to the Buskers
Lining the lakefront in town are some very talented buskers, putting on a show for all passersby. There’s the piano man, the guy playing psytrance on a didgeridoo, the lovely singer and his howling dog, and many more. It’s free to listen, but consider dropping a couple of dollars in their cases to support the entertainment.
Join a Pub Quiz
If you’re looking for something during the week, local pubs will host their rendition of a quiz night with free entry and the chance to win a bar tab and other awesome prizes. The best (and most consistent) pub quiz in town is at Pig & Whistle on Tuesday. You can also find a speed quiz at Morrisons on Sunday and occasionally at Surreal, Beech Tree, and Harry’s Pool Bar.
Picnic Under the Paragliders
One of the most magical parts of Queenstown is there are frequently people falling out of the sky. Well, they’re attached to parachutes, but the effect is still there. Grab some food from Ferg or Raeward Fresh (the fancy grocery store) and spread out on the rugby field in town. On a nice day, you’ll be in prime position to watch the paragliders float back down to the ground.
Play Disc Golf
If you already own a frisbee, this is a fun and completely free thing to do on a sunny day. In the Gardens, an extensive disc golf course dates back several decades and has 18 baskets to aim at while wandering between the trees. This activity is so prominent in Queenstown that there’s even a Disc Golf Club. The club runs annual tournaments and monthly trophy rounds. But if you’re a casual player, you’ll enjoy tossing the frisbee around while taking in views of Queenstown.
Don’t have a frisbee on hand? Head to the ice rink (also located in the gardens) to rent one for $5. If it’s your first time on the course, you can even add a map and six-player scorecard for $3.
Ice Skating at the Ice Arena
As mentioned above, the Queenstown Ice Area is also conveniently located in the Gardens for some year-round wintery fun. Certainly one of the cheaper things and ideal for a rainy day, admission is $15 for adults and includes skate rentals.
Besides doing laps around the rink, the Ice Arena also has bumper cars to slide around on for $15 per person, which gets you a 10-minute ride.
Go Lawn Bowling
A final cheap Queenstown Garden activity is the Queenstown Bowling Club (founded in 1904). Bowling balls and shoes are available for $10 per person, per day. You can spend the afternoon leisurely rolling balls across the artificial green surrounded by stunning mountain views.
Taste Fudge At Remarkables Sweets Shop
There’s nothing quite like some free treats, so pop into the Remarkable Sweets Shop to sample some fudge. With a dizzying array of choices, find your favourites among flavours like rocky road, creme brulee, maple walnut, apple crumble, and more. While in the sweet shop, be sure to have a little wander around for international candy, soda, and snacks.
Stargaze at Coronet Peak
Coronet Peak is the closest ski mountain to town, and taking a drive up is one of the best free things to do in Queenstown. The views are second to none, offering a sprawling Queenstown scene with lakes, mountains, and even the city down below, perfect for photo ops on a sunny day. But for a truly memorable experience, drive up Coronet on a clear night after the sun goes down. It has some of the best stargazing in the area. A dreamy idea for a date night – pack a picnic and a couple of beverages. It doesn’t get more romantic than this!
Go Sledding at the Remarkables
Since skiing in Queenstown can cost anywhere between $150 and $200 per day, you may want a more affordable way to enjoy the snow if you’re on a budget. In the winter, grab a sled and drive up the Remarkables to slide down for free! This drive is one of the most beautiful in New Zealand, with many places to stop for photos in between switchbacks.
You won’t have access to the lifts without a ski pass, but you can walk up a small slope with your sled in the designated area. While this is certainly a more thrilling free activity for kids, if you’re looking for a more challenging way to enjoy the Remarkables, strap on some touring skis and hike to the top of the mountain. It won’t cost anything besides your energy. Just be sure you are an experienced skier, go with others, and have the proper avalanche safety training and gear.
Local Tip: If you’d rather skip driving the 13km winding road yourself (or don’t have snow chains for your car), busses leave from town every 30 minutes and cost $15 for a round-trip journey.
Hike to Lake Alta
One of the most remarkable features of the Remarkables is Lake Alta, a stunning alpine lake halfway up the mountain. While frozen over and buried under snow in the winter months, come summer, this body of water is a pristine, sparkling turquoise and an ideal day hike. The walk starts from the base building and follows the Alta chair lift before peeling off into alpine wetlands leading to the lake.
While the hike itself is free, do note that there’s a $10 road toll to drive up the Remarkables in the summer months. So bring cash!
Local Tip: Before hiking Lake Alta, have a look at the Remarkable cameras to check out the mountain conditions. Also, if you have a season pass from the previous year, you get two free trips past the toll.
Get a First Table
Enjoy the best of Queenstown’s dining scene at half price through First Table. This genius platform allows restaurants to offer up the first table of the evening for 50% off. It’s $10 to make a booking, which is well worth it when you’re eating a big steak dinner for a fraction of the actual cost. If you’re keen on trying some of the pricer restaurants in town, like Jervois, Rata, or Tatsumi, you’ll find most of them on First Table. A good rule of thumb is the nicer the restaurant, the faster the bookings go. Be sure to log on at 9 pm sharp every evening to have your full pick of restaurants.
If you want to save some extra cash while eating out, there are plenty of affordable restaurants on First Table as well, like the Saigon Kingdom and Joe’s Garage.
Day Hike on the Routeburn Track
You’d have to be living under a rock if you don’t know about New Zealand’s Great Walks. One of the biggest draws for outdoor enthusiasts, the Great Walks are some of the most beautiful tramps in the world and are generally multi-day hikes.
The Routeburn Track is one such walk that spans 30 kilometres between Glenorchy and Te Anau. The Routeburn Track has breathtaking views and huts along the way and most people do it over three days.
There are different ways to do a free day hike on the Routeburn track from Queenstown. There is a short and very easy nature walk from the car park. It’s about a 30 to 45-minute loop.
If you’re looking for something slightly more strenuous, hike to the Routeburn Flats Hut, the first of many along the way. It’s about 14 kilometres round trip and is relatively easy the entire way. Pack a picnic to enjoy at the flat before hiking back out.
Finally, the longest recommended day hike is to the Routeburn Falls Hut, the second of this Great Walk. It’s about an hour and a half uphill past the Flat Hut and offers stunning vistas of the valley below. It takes about 7 hours to get there and back (if you walk quickly), so start early!
But for anyone who wants to do the entire track, the best kept local secret is that the huts are only $15 outside of peak season before jumping to $100 per night during the last week of October. For an affordable Great Walk experience, do the track at the very beginning or very end of winter. Just be sure to check track conditions and the avalanche report.
Local Tip: To avoid costly transportation on the way back, organize a key swap through one of the many Queenstown Facebook groups. There’s almost always someone headed to the track!
Watch Sunrise on Queenstown Hill
It doesn’t get any more iconic than the sunrise at Queenstown Hill. This walk is around 2 to 3 hours return – though you can easily make it up in an hour with a good pace. It weaves through pine forests with plenty of information about the history of Queenstown. Once you break through the trees, you’re treated to glorious views of the Remarkables and surrounding peaks. Just before the top, you’ll come to the Basket of Dreams, but don’t stop there. Keep climbing until you can see Kelvin Heights on the other side of the hill – that’s when you know you’ve made it!
Sunrise in Queenstown is a spectacular treat, far better than sunset. If you time it right, you’ll have a technicolour show at the top of the hill, with deep purples, hot pinks, dazzling orange, and the yellow of the sun breaking through over the bright blue lake. Truly nothing like it.
Go Freedom Camping
If you have a self-contained vehicle, freedom camping in Queenstown is one of the best free things to do. Fall asleep and wake up to mesmerizing views as most freedom campsites are along the lake, surrounded by towering, snowcapped mountains.
While there are a handful of freedom campsites around, the best ones are the Twenty Five Mile Stream and the Kingston Campsite. Twenty Five Mile is closer to town, but Kingston has the better views. Choose wisely or spend a night at both! Just don’t forget the sandfly spray.
Spend the Night at Moke Lake
Don’t mind paying for a night of camping? Stay over at Moke Lake. This scenic spot is only about 30 minutes from town and surrounds a mirror lake with plenty of tracks to explore.
It’s accessed from Glenorchy Road, down a 7-kilometre gravel track. In the winter, you can only reach it with 4WD, but standard cars and campervans can easily make it in the warmer months. Camping is only $15 per person per night ($7.50 for children 5-17 years old) and boats are welcome. Though keep in mind dogs are not permitted as there’s tons of wildlife in the area.
Self Guided Lord of the Rings Tour
Any Lord of the Rings buff will start drooling at the thought of a trip to Queenstown. With so many instantly recognizable locations, a self-guided tour is a perfect activity for a sunny day.
Some notable spots to visit that are easily accessible from Queenstown are:
- Twelve Mile Delta (Ithilien Camp)
- Kawarau Gorge (The Argonath on the Anduin River)
- Lake Alta (Dimrill Dale)
- Paradise (Isengard)
- Skippers Canyon (Ford of Bruinen)
- Earnslaw Burn Track (featured in The Hobbit)
For a full list of Lord of the Rings filming locations in New Zealand, check out the Department of Conservation website, including all access points and Google Maps directions.
Trip to Paradise
There’s nowhere as peacefully breathtaking as Paradise. This little slice of heaven stays true to its name with showstopping views and the quietest atmosphere, which is always welcome after a busy weekend.
Paradise is about an hour from town and about 20 minutes from Glenorchy, with great views along the way. If you feel like stretching your legs, there’s a walk that starts from the old homestead and even accommodation if you plan to spend the night.
Just out for a quick trip? Be sure to snap a picture of the Paradise sign because you know what they say – pics, or it didn’t happen!
Walk or Cycle the Queenstown Trail
With 110 kilometres to enjoy, the Queenstown Trail is a free multi-use pathway for walking and cycling. It connects Queenstown to surrounding areas like Frankton, Arrowtown, and even Gibbston, so hop on a bike and start making your way around! The trail follows the lake, travels through gorges and past wineries. If you’re looking for free transportation around Queenstown, this trail will be your new best friend. Pack a picnic and get cycling (or walking!).
Watch Bungee Jumpers at the Bridge
If you’re not much of a thrill-seeker yourself (or simply on a tight budget), you can still relish in the adventurous spirit of Queenstown. The AJ Hackett Bungy jump at Kawarau Bridge has a stellar viewing platform where you can watch people hurl themselves towards the turquoise water below.
The bridge is also along the Queenstown Trail and near different wineries if you feel like making a day out of spectating!
Explore the Vineyards
Speaking of wineries, Queenstown is home to some of the best vineyards in the world. If you’re tight on funds, take your own walking tour of Gibbston, Amisfield, Akarua, or the dozens of other vineyards in the area. Even consider popping in for a quick tasting as these usually don’t run more than $10 – $15 per person. If you feel like diving deeper into the Queenstown wine world, there are often steeply discounted guided tours available on Bookme.
Have a Fergburger or Pie By the Lake
Did you even go to Queenstown if you didn’t have a Fergburger? Grab one of these famous sandwiches and make a beeline for the lake to enjoy it with a view. Just beware of the local pups roaming around, ready to snatch the burger out of your hands if you’re not careful!
Local Tip: Skip the colossal line and call in your Fergburger ahead of time. You’ll be able to breeze past the crowds and take it to go.
If you aren’t much of a burger person, grab a Ferg pie or specialty sandwich from the bakery next door.
Rent an Aquabike, Paddleboard, or Kayak
If you want to enjoy the lake in style, rent a cruiser to explore! At the far end of the lake towards the Gardens during summer months, you’ll find Paddle Queenstown, which will happily rent you a paddleboard, kayak, or the unique aquabike.
It costs $30 to rent an aquabike for twenty minutes and $25 for 45 minutes on either a paddleboard or kayak. That’s cheaper than a formal lake cruise!
Sink a Few Pints at Happy Hour in Town
Score epic drink deals during happy hour in town. Instead of a standard 4-6 pm, each venue’s happy hour varies slightly. Here are some of the best deals:
- Yonder: Enjoy tap beers and house wine for $6 from 3-6 pm. Cocktails join the deal at 9 pm.
- World Bar: Beer, wine, mac n cheese balls, and fries available for $7 from 4-5 pm. Mixed drinks drop to $6 from 9-10 pm.
- Miss Lucy’s: Happy hour runs Wednesday to Sunday from 4-7 pm and includes $7 house beers and wine, $6 spirits, and an $11 Remarkables cocktail.
- Little Blackwood: Daily from 4-6 pm with tap beers and house wine for $7 – $9.
- Bungalow: Okay, technically not a happy hour, but every Tuesday from 7-10 pm, Bungalow throws Taco Tuesday with an assortment of $2 tacos (and plenty of tequila).
And if all else fails, head to some of the best bars in Queenstown. The Ballarat and 1876 each boast $5 (or $4.50 in the case of Ballarat) cocktails all day, every day. Or, sit outside and sink a couple of afternoon pints at Pog Mahones, who also rent frisbees for disc golf!
Time Tripper Underwater Observatory
Another cheap Queenstown activity is the funky underwater observatory right on the lakefront. It’s super easy to breeze right past this attraction, but it’s worth the stop for any fans of marine life or those curious about what lies beneath the surface of the lake.
For $10 per person (and $5 for kids under 14), you get to experience an enchanting cinematic journey travelling back 90 million years before soaking in the scenes from the underwater viewing platform. At the viewing platform, you’ll see the likes of ducks, fish, and even slimy eels that may keep you from ever dipping your toes in the lake again!
Glenorchy Animal Experience
If you’d rather hang out with land-dwelling creatures, the Glenorchy Animal experience is another great activity for kids and adults alike. This sweet attraction has sheep (yes, lambs, too), ducks, horses, cows, pups, goats, alpacas, and so much more. There’s a sheep shearing demonstration at 2:30 pm each day and lots of chances for close encounters with hand feeding and other fun activities. So if you’ve been dreaming of getting up close and personal with some of New Zealand’s finest animals, this is the place to go.
Local Tip: The Glenorchy Animal Experience is $20 for adults but can be found on Bookme for $14 per person!
Bounce Around at the Trampoline Park
Throw a few backflips at the SITE Trampoline Park. Trampolining is the perfect Queenstown activity on a rainy day. For just over $25 per person for an hour, you get access to an insane compound with trampolines covering the floors and walls, a massive airbag to try out new tricks, super tramps for maximum height with minimal effort, bounce boards, foam pits, skate ramps and more insanely unique features. If an hour isn’t enough, add on another for $15.
Perky’s Burger Deal
Are you dreaming of a sunset dinner on the lake, minus the steep price tag? It doesn’t get much better than the Perky’s Floating Bar deal with Devil Burger. These two local businesses teamed up to offer any burger, fries, and house beer or wine for only $20, which you get to enjoy aboard the boat. Talk about a cheap date night in Queenstown!
Feed the Ducks
It may seem ridiculous to add this to the list, but if you’re questioning why ‘feed the ducks’ counts then clearly you haven’t spent enough time here. The Queenstown ducks pretty much run the town – they stop traffic, nibble on your crumbs and call the shots at the lake. Bring some leftover Ferg to sprinkle at your feet and watch as they come running. Or better yet, buy some of the designated duck food for $2 a bag by the lake!
For some wholesome outdoor fun, hit the 18-hole mini-golf course located right at the base of Skyline. The holes are diverse and interesting and will keep anyone from kids to adults entertained. It’s only $15 per person for all 18 holes, it’s $15 per person. There’s also a glow-in-the-dark mini-golf course at Thrillzone, which is slightly more expensive, but ideal for a rainy day.
Ride the Water Taxi
Skip all the traffic and spend the day riding the water taxi! A single ride only costs $10 per person ($15 for a return trip) and grants you a steady sail on Lake Wakitipu.
Departing from the Queenstown lakefront every hour, the water taxi ferry service stops at Bayview, the Frankton Marina, and the Hilton at the Frankton Arm. Soak in gorgeous views and get from Point A to Point B for half the price of a taxi. It’s perfect if you’ve had a few too many drinks in town!
Now that you know all of the best free and cheap things to do in Queenstown, you’re ready to live as the locals do. What’s your favourite free thing to do in Queenstown? Drop a comment below!
For more articles on Queenstown, check:
- 20 Vegan-Friendly Restaurants in Queenstown
- 20 Best Bars in Queenstown
- 18 Best Cafes in Queenstown
- 11 Best Japanese Restaurants in Queenstown
- 17 Things to do in Queenstown
- 13 Best Arrowtown Cafes (20 minute drive from Queenstown)
- 21 Things to do in Tauranga (a flight away to the North Island, but still a great place to visit)
- 28 Best Restaurants in Queenstown
- 6 Best Indian Restaurants in Queenstown: Picked by a Local