Queenstown on a budget can it be done? Well, I a local am here to detail all the amazing things you can do for free/ very-cheaply in this notoriously expensive town.
Okay, I lie I’m not a local. I’ve been living in Queenstown on the beautiful South Island of New Zealand for two years. But depending on who you speak to I could be considered a long-term local or a “blow-in”. Queenstown is a very seasonal town with most “locals” coming for either the Winter or Summer season with some staying as long as their working holiday visa allows (typically a year).
My husband and I have been renting and working full-time in Queenstown for a year now so I think we’re pretty a reliable source for the best things to do in Queenstown on a budget. We’ve been saving hard since we got here (for our wedding in Italy) so, fun & cheap things to do are high on our radar. Without further ado here’s our local’s guide to enjoying Queenstown on a budget.
We recently had the best 24 hours in Queenstown – read our restaurant/Cafe tips as well as the most unique activities available in Queenstown!
Queenstown on a budget tip 1: for food takeaway is king
The restaurants in Queenstown aren’t that competitively priced, for a decent restaurant you’re talking at least $30 for a main course. Our top tip is to grab a takeaway and eat it on board Perky’s – a floating boat in the lake where you can BYO food. Perky’s also serves cheap beer & wine for only $7.50 a pop.
If you really want to experience the restaurant scene in Queenstown, we recommend downloading the First Table app. On this app you can get the first seating of the night (typically 5:30pm) at many restaurants in Queenstown for 50% off. You do have to pay $10 to make the booking & the discount doesn’t apply to alcohol.
PSSST…If you’re after the best Cafes on the South Island then you must read our detailed guide (P.S they all have awesome views!)
Queenstown on a budget tip 2: buy your alcohol from a store
It’s legal promise (with the exception of 27th December – 6th January every year). Yep, you can drink all along the lake in town – which is incredibly handy when you’re on a budget. And you’re getting a better view sitting on the lake’s edge than you are in any of Queenstown’s bars. It’s a win-win really!
Queenstown on a budget tip 3: go hiking – it’s free
Hiking is free in Queenstown plus the views are exceptionally pretty & you’re keeping active. Our top hikes in the area include: Bob’s Cove; Sawpit Gully in Arrowtown, Lake Hayes, Ben Lomond & Moke Lake.
Queenstown on a budget tip 4: taxi’s are expensive here
Get the bus if you can. You can buy a Go Card from the stand outside McDonald’s in the town centre – this means each journey will only be $2 instead of $5. The minimum you need to put on the card to activate it is $10. Read more about the Go Card here
Click here to download the bus timetable
Uber isn’t really a thing in Queenstown yet, although it is getting there. At this moment there are only a few uber drivers in the area.
Queenstown on a budget tip 5: buy the annual pass for the Skyline Gondola to save $$$
During the month of November you can buy this pass for only $40! Otherwise it’s $79 which is still a pretty good deal, especially if you plan on using the gondola a few times during your stay in Queenstown. You can read more information about the pass here.
Our top tip for the Skyline gondola is to walk up to the take-off point for Paragliding (follow the signs for NZone) for the best view at sunset. Also, if you don’t fancy walking the famous Tiki Trail up to the Skyline, you can get the gondola up and walk down. Easy-peasy!
Below is some unique local knowledge to help you really enjoy your vacation in Queenstown. I mean – did you know on the map where it says ‘Queenstown Central’ is actually in a suburb called Frankton, a 15 minute drive from Queenstown CBD. And if you plan to drive in Queenstown you need to have your wits about you – tourists have been known to stop their cars in the middle of the road to snap a photo!!
The best icecream in Queenstown: Fergbaker vs Patagonia
There’s a big debate amongst tourists as to who has the the best icecream in Queenstown. For us locals the answer’s an easy one – Fergbaker wins hands-down. Fergbaker (a sister of the super-popular Fergburger) is a Queenstown staple and a worldwide success story. The cakes and pies are also really nice. Thankfully Fergbaker doesn’t have hundreds of tourists queuing outside. Our recommendation is the hazelnut or bailey’s gelato. Yum.
Beware “Queenstown Central” isn’t actually the centre of Queenstown
Queenstown Central is the name of a new development near Queenstown Airport, it has stores such as Kmart, Whitcoulls, a liquor store, coffee shops & more. It’s in Frankton – approximately a 15 minute drive from Queenstown itself. How the developers were given permission to call it this is a huge talking point amongst locals. It must be highly confusing for tourists (and their GPS systems).
Queenstown may have the worst drivers in the world
Renting a car is probably the cheapest & most convenient way of getting around Queenstown & surrounding areas. But please be extra careful on the roads here. It’s not the locals, it’s the tourists that are the offenders. The most common offences include: going around the roundabout the wrong way; stopping the car in the middle of the road to take a photo, driving extremely slow and not using indicators. It is incredibly frustrating town to drive in, so please have your wits about you when driving in Queenstown.
A road trip is the best way to see this stunning country in my opinion, there are so many epic New Zealand road trips to take. Some of my favorites include Queenstown to Milford Sound and Auckland to Cape Reinga. Just take care when driving New Zealand roads, as you will quickly learn the roads here are a lot different to the United States.
Queenstown CAN be done on a budget
Whew, and there you have it our top tips for doing Queenstown the right way on a budget. I hope you found it helpful. Queenstown is a beautiful place, but it can be very expensive – fingers crossed I’ve given you hope that you too can enjoy it on a tight budget.
If you’re into a photography you NEED to read our guide on 27 of the best photo spots in Queenstown & how to get there
Feel free to ask us any questions about visiting Queenstown on a budget in the comment section below.
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12 replies on “Can you visit Queenstown New Zealand on a budget (A Locals Money-Saving Guide)”
Intended to have a cheap-ish break in Queenstown this winter but that went out of the window when I went heli skiing. So hard not to spend money there.
[…] Lake Alta hike is a favourite amongst Queentown locals, but very few tourists have ever heard of […]
Great to have info from a local! Queenstown looks so picturesque!
Ah good ol’ New Zealand drivers. The locals aren’t great, the roads aren’t great and the tourists are even worst. I’ve been tempted to move to Queenstown for a year, would you say there’s good coffee there?
I feel like anything becomes a great experience since there seems to be no bad view, LOL. Not sure when I’ll make it out to Queenstown, but I’m sure it’s more stunning in person.
Thanks for a fun read. I don’t know about them being the worst drivers in the word. We have some pretty bad ones in the US. LOL
I have yet to explore this part of the world, but I’ll definitely save this guide for a future trip! You’ve covered all the essentials. I love a good hike and looking at your pictures, it seems like there are some interesting trails in Queenstown!
Beautiful picturesque views of Queenstown! This is definitely a location on my bucket list. Great read and very informative.
I visited Queenstown last year and loved it! I was on a budget but managed it with making use of the free hiking trails.
Queenstown looks stunning. I think I would go straight up the gondola first thing. New Zealand is such a treasure, I think it would be wonderful to explore all the cities like this!
Love it, thanks for this guide to Queenstown! We didn’t make it down to the S Island on our last trip, but it’s on the agenda! I think in some ways a “local” who only stays at a place for a year or two might not about a few more places than a long term local. When you live abroad and know your time is limited then you definitely push to experience ALL the things!
I wish I would’ve had this guide when I was in Queenstown last year! Unfortunately I didn’t have much time in Queenstown except to go bungee jumping and eat at Fergburger (was I a typical tourist or what? haha). The tip about drinking along the lake sounds like one that would be great to take advantage of!