Can you visit Queenstown New Zealand on a budget (A Locals Money-Saving Guide)

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!)

helicopter over queenstown

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.

remarkables mountain, queenstown

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

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!

bobs peak, skyline gondola queenstown

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).

lake alta, remarkables, queenstown

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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We have been renting & working full-time in Queenstown for two years. Here's our local's guide to enjoying Queenstown on a budget.
#queenstown #newzealand
We have been renting & working full-time in Queenstown for two years. Here's our local's guide to enjoying Queenstown on a budget.
#queenstown #newzealandtravel

How to have the BEST 24 hours in Queenstown

Spending 24 hours in Queenstown on a budget – can it be done? Why yes, yes it can. Read on to find out more about the best Cafe’s, hikes and sunset spots!

We’ve been living in Queenstown since July 2018 and as you may have seen from our Instagram & Facebook – we are absolutely loving life here. Queenstown is a stunningly beautiful town. Plus, there’s lots of things to do in Queenstown. And what’s even better is that a lot of my favourite things here are free. I guess, that’s the beauty of living in such a naturally majestic place.

Built around Lake Wakatipu with ragged mountains as far as the eye can see, the town of Queenstown has been a popular tourist destination for decades. Notorious for being expensive, I’m here to prove that it can be enjoyed on a tight budget.

So, let’s get down to business – here’s our top tips for getting the most out of your 24 hours in Queenstown.

If you’re a keen photographer you’ll love our guide to 27 photos that prove Queenstown is a photographers paradise

How do I spend a day in Queenstown?

  1. Have breakfast at Bespoke Kitchen, next to the Skyline Gondola or The Boatshed on the Frankton Walking Track
  2. Take the Skyline Gondola and marvel in the views at the top, then, have some fun on the luge up there
  3. Go for a walk at Bob’s Cove, 15 minute drive from Queenstown and very photogenic with its bright blue waters
  4. Go for a hike at Moke Lake and marvel at the Lord of the Rings-esque scenery
  5. Grab a takeaway dinner and eat it onboard Perky’s Floating Bar in Lake Wakatipu
  6. Watch the sunset at One Mile Car Park at the end of town or out at Wilsons Bay

First stop on your 24 hours in Queenstown should be breakfast with a view

I love Bespoke Kitchen on Isle Street, just below the Skyline Gondola. It specializes in healthy goodness and is open for breakfast & lunch. Breakfast here will set you back approximately $15-$20. Even though the coffee here is awesome my recommendation is to wait to have your caffeine hit at your next stop.

Other recommendations for breakfast in Queenstown are Vudu at 16 Rees Street and The Boatshed at Frankton Marina (approximately a 15 minute drive from Queenstown).

wilsons baby, queenstown, new zealand

Second stop of your 24 hours in Queenstown is the Skyline Gondola

Yep, the ticket for the Skyline Gondola is not the cheapest but I promise the view from the top is worth it. An adult pass (including 3 luge rides) is $57. Once at the top be sure to take lots of photos/selfies from the viewing platform. And watch the famous AJ Hackett bungy in action then, grab a coffee from their onsite cafe before making your way up to the surprisingly fast luge. You could spend several hours here, up above it all but you’re on a tight schedule remember. So, down you go for your next stop.

Next stop on your 24 hours in Queenstown is to the bright blue waters of Bob’s Cove

Grab a sandwich or pie from Fergbaker on Shotover Street (approx. $8). Then, hop in your car to drive 15 minutes to one of my favourite places in all of Queenstown – Bob’s Cove. A turquoise water paradise surrounded by native bush. Here, you can simply laze on the lake beach and take it all in or walk the steep hill up to Picnic Point for the epic views. My recommendation is to eat your lunch here while taking in the beaut views before making your way down.

couple travelling queenstown

Venture into the wilderness at Moke Lake

On your drive back into Queenstown swing a left down Moke Lake Road to witness the Lord of the Rings-esque scenery of Moke Lake. It is a gravel road so drive slowly, plus there’s lots of lambs and rolling green hills on your drive in that I’m sure you’ll want to photograph. Spend an hour taking photos along the lakes edge. If you want to hike around Moke Lake it will take you about an hour and a half. It’s one of the best (& thankfully easiest hikes in Queenstown). More of my favorite hikes in the area include Queenstown Hill hike, Wye Creek track and Lake Alta track on top of the Remarkables. For the hiker in your life why not consider one of these awesome gifts for hikers.

moke lake queenstown

Dinner stop of your 24 hours in Queenstown

You’re probably getting hungry after all that hiking, so it’s time for dinner, And because you’re on a budget my suggestion for dinner would be to grab a takeaway and go to one of our favorite spots to eat it.

In Queenstown our top suggestions for a takeaway are:

Then hop on board Perky’s Floating Bar – a boat permanently docked in the lake where you can bring your own food & purchase reasonably-priced drinks. Laze on a beanbag and watch the madness of Queenstown around you. Perky’s is also a great place to chat to locals.

bobs cove, queenstown

Now, it’s sunset o’ clock

To finish the day on a high, walk along the lake to One Mile Car Park for one of the best sunset spots in town. Bring a bottle of wine and a picnic blanket. Perhaps some cheese & crackers too. Then watch the majestic mountains turns a hazy pink for a few moments.

Some other great sunset spots are Wilson’s Bay – a 15 minute drive away towards Glenorchy and Sunshine Bay beach.

Fun fact – most days of the year you can legally drink your own booze along the lakefront in Queenstown!

And there you have it – our 24 hours in Queenstown on a budget

No doubt Queenstown is an epic place to visit. It is after all the postcard for New Zealand tourism. You’re spoiled for choice with things to do from bungy jumping to white water rafting to visiting the region’s many wineries. But as you’ve probably guessed, my favourite thing to do in Queenstown is to explore the natural beauty New Zealand is renowned for. I have to admit my favourite spot is Bob’s Cove, it’s my happy place here in Queenstown. See – I told you at the start- 24 hours in Queenstown on a budget can be done!

Tell me – what’s your favourite place in Queenstown? I would love to hear about it in the comments.

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Queenstown can be enjoyed on the cheap. Here's our top tips for getting the most out of your 24 hours in Queenstown on a budget.
#queenstownnewzealand #queenstownphotography
Queenstown can be enjoyed on the cheap. Here's our top tips for getting the most out of your 24 hours in Queenstown on a budget.
#queenstownnewzealand #queenstownphotography
Queenstown can be enjoyed on the cheap. Here's our top tips for getting the most out of your 24 hours in Queenstown on a budget.
#queenstownnewzealand #queenstownphotography