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.

Please PIN IT for later!

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

11 of the best photography spots in Queenstown

Photography in Queenstown – a local’s guide to the best photography spots in Queenstown!

We moved to Queenstown in July 2018. I was lucky enough to transfer here with my job, we were previously living in the sunny Bay of Islands on the North Island, but alas a change was due and now we’re here among the snow-capped mountains of the South Island.

We are incredibly lucky to live in one of the most beautiful towns in the world. But as pretty as it is, Queenstown is not without its problems. As with all resort towns long-term accommodation is a nightmare to find. We got lucky with a cute two bedroom place just outside of town, but the process was stressful – we ended up living in  a cheap hotel for two weeks while we waited for our apartment to become available. Anyway, the pros and cons of living in Queenstown is a story for another day.

11 of the Best Photography Spots in Queenstown

So, here we go our guide to the best photography spots in Queenstown including 27 of our prettiest pictures. You can bet it will convince you to visit. P.S if you have more time I urge you to explore more of this gorgeous region on an epic South Island Road Trip.

  1. Bob’s Cove
  2. Glenorchy
  3. Skyline Gondola in Queenstown
  4. Fernhill
  5. Moke Lake
  6. Doubtful Sounds
  7. Arthurs Point
  8. Sunshine Bay Walking Track
  9. Cromwell
  10. Helicopter flight to Milford Sound
  11. Cardrona Hotel

If you plan on visiting Queenstown for a vacation only then you HAVE to check out my guide to 24 hours in Queenstown

1. Bob’s Cove

15 minute drive from Queenstown on the Glenorchy road is Bob’s Cove. One of my favorite spots in the Queenstown area. You can chose to go for a short and easy walk around the lake here, or if you’re feeling more active hike up the steep hill to Picnic Point. Here, at Picnic Point is where the best views are.

2. Glenorchy

Approximately 40 minutes drive from Queenstown is the cute and extremely photogenic town of Glenorchy. The drive here in itself is a sight for sore eyes, with the drive consistently named as one of the most photogenic in the world by media outlets. Whilst in Glenorchy be sure to take a photo outside the bright red boat shed. There are also a few cafes here to get your caffeine fix, if you want to try a yummy kiwi pie – then, Mrs Woolies General Store is your place.

This Lord of the Rings guided tour includes stops at many sights in Glenorchy and departs from Queenstown CBD.

Additional tip | If you have a 4WD vehicle drive further afield into Paradise for truly stunning South Island scenery.

glenorchy, new zealand

3. Skyline Gondola in Queenstown

From Queenstown you can hop on the Skyline gondola for approximately $79 which includes some luge rides. Our top photography tip for the Skyline gondola is to walk up to the take-off point for Paragliding – just follow the signs for NZone paragliding. You can grab a coffee or some food from the restaurant on-site at Skyline, sit on the balcony for great views of Queenstown.

4. Fernhill

Fernhill is a neighborhood just outside the town of Queenstown. Put simply, it’s the very steep hill at the edge of the lake – about a 20 minute walk from town. The best views here can be seen on the walk from the Heritage hotel into town via the walking track. Sunset is pretty spectacular from this spot too.

5. Moke Lake

Moke Lake is a 20 minute drive from Queenstown on the Glenorchy road, just take the turn off called Moke Lake Road. The scenery here is very Lord of the Ring’s, in fact Moke Lake is a very popular filming location for many TV series and movies.You can walk around Moke Lake on the loop track which takes approximately 90 minutes.

6. Doubtful Sounds

Doubtful Sounds is a full-day trip from Queenstown, it’s the less-visited sister of Milford Sound. But in my opinion Doubtful Sound is even more spectacular, not only is it less-crowded with just two boats on the water at any one time it is also much larger. You can book a day trip to Doubtful Sound through many of the tourist shops in Queenstown or online. If you do plan on self-driving to Doubtful Sound, we highly recommend spending the night in the nearby towns of Te Anau or Manapouri.

One of the best tours you can book in Milford is this glass-bottomed luxury catamaran that will surely get you the best photos of this stunning natural wonder!

doubtful sounds cruise

7. Arthurs Point

Arthurs Point is a suburb of Queenstown about a 10 minute drive from town. The best views here can be seen from the famous Onsen Hot Pools (book in advance!) or the Nugget Point Hotel. FYI – all these photos below were taken from our balcony at Nugget Point Hotel.

Arthurs Point, Queenstown

8. Sunshine Bay to Queenstown Walk

You can start the Sunshine Bay walk from Queenstown at One-Mile Carpark, the return journey will take you approximately 2 hours in total. Alternatively, you can drive to Sunshine Bay beach about a 10 minute drive from town and just walk some of the path before returning to your car. The best photo spot here is from the jetty at Sunshine Bay beach.

9. Cromwell

The commuter town of Cromwell is a 45 minute drive from Queenstown, it is a huge fruit-growing and grape-growing region. There are also a selection of cafes and restaurants in Cromwell if you fancy stopping here for lunch or dinner. The best views in Cromwell can be seen from the jetty in the old town.

10. Up in the air – a helicopter ride to Milford Sounds

The ultimate bucket list item whilst in Queenstown is a helicopter ride to the famous Milford Sound. This trip will vary in price depending on the company you choose, if you have a little more money in your pocket try to book a trip that includes a landing on a glacier.

This helicopter tour includes an alpine landing and is one of the most luxurious helicopter tours in the area!

11. The Cardrona Hotel

The Cardrona Hotel is one of the oldest bars in New Zealand and is located on the road to Wanaka, about a 45 minute drive from Queenstown. Be sure to stop in for food or a beer, especially on a sunny day as the Cardrona Hotel has a huge beer garden.

cardrona hotel new zealand

Where to stay in Queenstown

Glebe Apartments – centrally located (next to Queenstown Gardens in the CBD) these stylish apartments are a great option. You can choose from Studio, One; Two or Three bedroom apartments.

Cranbury Court Apartments – are again centrally located on Glebe Road, just a 5-minute walk from the CBD. FreshChoice supermarket is also close by. You can chose from One, Two or Three bedroom apartments.

Apartments at Spinnaker Bay – luxurious apartments with great lake views, these apartments are located on Frankton Road. You can walk the Frankton Track into the CBD – taking about 25 minutes. The apartments here are very stylish – choose from One, Two or Three bedroom apartments.

The Whistler Apartments – also located on Gorge Road, these apartments are a very popular choice in Queenstown. Just a 5-minute walk from the center of Queenstown. There are two supermarkets very close by – Raeward Fresh and Freshchoice. Choose from One or Two bedroom apartments.

The best photography spots in Queenstown

Phew guys, and that’s a wrap on the best photography spots in Queenstown. Hopefully these photos have captured your imagination enough to make you want to visit Queenstown and take heaps of photos.

We love it here, we really do – there’s so much to do and see. As is the case in the rest of New Zealand it is expensive, but most of these photo’s were taken in places that are free to enjoy.

Of course, if you have any questions feel free to ask – we’ve been living in Queenstown for a year and consider ourselves ‘kinda experts’. And last but not least – please tell me, where was your favourite spot in Queenstown from this list?!

Why not read | A locals guide to Queenstown

PIN IT for later!

Introducing 27 of the best photography spots in Queenstown and how to get there. Plus all of our local secrets to convince you to visit.
Introducing 27 of the best photography spots in Queenstown and how to get there. Plus all of our local secrets to convince you to visit.